Falling Fast

We lived August hard. Wore it right down to the nub. Twisted and wrung and stretched out the last bits and slurped them right down. As RR likes to say, nuhfing for you mama, nuhfing for you.

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Speaking of what RR has to say, summer camp delivered one outstanding thing to us. Yes, we delivered a child who could use the potty, and got back one who couldn’t, but in exchange for basic toilet competence, we got a child who can say her Ls. Thank you, Liz, for apparently being very committed to having your name said correctly. Ls. I don’t even miss I yuv you, mama. Well, maybe a little.

Not only does she have Ls, but she also has a new, sweet, tolerant, way of correcting us. Constantly. Mama, did you fought I wanted the window open? We, of course, did. Did you fought I wanted to have you pull my hair when you put it in the ponytail? I didn’t. Did you fought I didn’t want the last cookie? I DID. She says it so gently that you can almost forget she is contradicting the very thing she said the moment before.

We didn’t get married. Even though we really thought there was a chance we could. Yes, we understand the Supreme Court’s decision was a forgone conclusion but, if that was the case, it was all the more heartbreaking that they waited til almost the last minute to decide. I have a lot of feeeelings about this but dragging them out has proven harder than expected.

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We dug in the sand, swam in the ocean, and hopped waves holding hands. Whether it was the sun or the salt air, we brought back a child at least a foot taller. We also brought back a child who consistently used the potty, at least to pee. When I dropped her off for her first day at school I wasn’t thinking, oh how cute, oh how big she is, oh my little baby is all grown up (well, mostly not) I was thinking, so help me god if my child has an accident on your watch I will…well, I don’t know what. But SOMETHING.

I have a lot of feelings about potty training AT FOUR, too, but apparently they are lodged right in that place where you can’t speak for fear you’ll choke. The teacher tells us she can multiply. And while I swallow it, I want to say: can you work less on math and more on poop?

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But she is back at school AND peeing in the potty, but not without prompting, and not with a promise of doing it again the next time, but we take what we can get. And she IS so grown up. And so tall. And suddenly her little-girlness is so much…less.

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Four years of first day of school pictures and next year she’ll have cleared the railing. She’ll be on top of it, too. She is brilliantly daring and enthusiastic and oblivious to heights (but don’t you dare help her down).

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There’s more stuck behind the feelings. How somehow I feel like we’re shooting down a steel chute with nothing to catch hold of, just the chance of locking our nails on the rivets. She’s having a hell of a ride though.

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Out of Office

I was in Kruger National Park sneaking up on a cheetah when my radio beeped loudly and I lost the moment. It wasn’t the first time I’d ignored my boss on that trip, though in retrospect, talking to her would have been preferable to listening to my ex complain about the early hour for elephant watching. Mind, she ranked right up there with my number one worst boss who, on my first day at work in my very first real job, asked me to crutch seven blocks and then berated me not only for being too slow but for having broken my ankle in the first place.


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At the time of the cheetah sighting I was on vacation and remained connected to civilization and the Embassy (we’re talking post-9/11, mid-Anthrax) by radio as required by the friendly neighborhood security officer. I was on vacation. I wasn’t working. I was vacationing.

I learned quickly that in the Foreign Service you need to be in between somewheres to not be working. Otherwise, the emails are piling up, the deadlines are shorter, the bosses shriller. Regardless, I placed a priority on work-life balance and took the shrillness and heat that came with it. There was heat, my friends. Some people don’t understand the meaning of the word vacation.

I am also very firmly in the don’t-check-your-email camp. It’s hard to avoid working when it’s so so easy to hit the mail icon on your phone. I don’t take calls or check my voicemail ever, much to my mother’s (and telemarketers) dismay. It’s vacation. Right? Turn it off and mentally rejuvenate.

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But it turns out that the work that piles up when you’re away starts to be more stressful than actually doing it. And when your mother calls and says, “By the way, we’re going out of town the week you needed us to watch RR AND we need you to dog sit Duncan*. Pity it’s when you planned your vacation.” and your wife says, “Oh but look! We can move it to the following week (profanity about your mother redacted).” then you’ll say, “Fair enough.”, completely forgetting that you are tied to the academic year and everyone else took their vacations LAST week and everything, everything, is happening the week you’ll be gone.

And you are trying very hard to get a promotion by being very awesome and it’s hard to be awesome when you aren’t actually there.

And so here I am. Feeling relieved that I’ll be working, at least a little, while I’m on vacation. I won’t be awesome, but I won’t be feeling overwhelmed when I get back. I think I’ve picked the lesser of the two evils. I hope so.

 

*Upon looking for a link to give you so that you could reacquaint yourselves with Duncan, I realized that I had not told you nearly enough about how overwhelming he is. Fortunately, my wife captured it here, here, and here. Since we’re dog sitting this week, I was up at the obscene hour of 6am to keep him from barking himself crazy. I sat in the recliner and watched Face Off. Don’t judge.

We’re Almost Going to the Chapel

We’re one step closer to the courthouse as the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rules the gay marriage ban in Virginia unconstitutional. 

You guys.

Can you imagine what it will be like when we finally stand on the steps of the courthouse? It’s this close.

Frozen Solid

What is the CRACK that is Frozen?

Is this because we never watched movies before Frozen? I feel like we need a B.F. and A.F. notation to denote which part of our lives happened before they were accompanied by Let It Go and the parts after which involve a lot of serenading.

Also a lot of braiding – LIKE ELSA MAMA! – and dress-wearing – LIKE ELSA MAMA! – and towel cape wearing – LIKE ELSA MAMA! – and long, involved conversations wherein Debra and I are are some combination of Anna, Sped (or Swed), Olaf, and Hans. There is also lots of “Hans Kissing” while RR holds your chin, ever-so-gently, and kisses you. You mustn’t kiss back and, if you keep your eyes open, you can watch her go cross-eyed as she zooms in on you.

This child, who has never touched a doll, suddenly discovered the two she has and christened them Elsa and Anna. They appear suddenly together in odd places although only Anna (my old doll with has clouded over eyes*) goes to sleep with her.

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Last night she asked me to sing Let It Go to her and Anna but, since I’m not a talented singer, she had to sing it all. the. way. through. twice before I could try again. Spoiler alert: I failed and the ensuing meltdown reached epic proportions.

Friends, I am not alone. Youtube is riddled with other children serenading the camera. Pearl Jam covered it at a concert in Italy. The Boston Globe tries to capture why it’s so popular. It’s not just the 4-yr-olds. It’s catchy, even Jimmy Fallon thinks so.

We’re a little late on the Frozen train but it appears there are no stops to get off. I don’t mind much (she’s super cute when she sings the word fractals) but I’m amazed at her capacity to remember every single word in the script as well as every single move that accompanies it. It all makes sense though. Clearly the reason she hasn’t mastered the potty is that there is physically NO SPACE in her brain for anything else.

Glad we’ve figured that out.

* Mine at 4. Cloudy eyes courtesy of that time she spent the night under the yews on a wad of Big League Chew:

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The Neighborhood

New neighbors, again. How is it that none of you rushed over here and bought the house next door (not that one*, the other one) saving me from the sword of damocles that every queer person nestled snug into a right-wing state fears? I sometimes wonder if any of you remember that I’m flagrantly living in sin with my wife. But is it living in sin if you can’t get married? Every time I see an new follower alert I wonder how quickly they will unfollow once they realize I’m not straight. Way to go, Mer, marginalize yourself so they don’t have to!

Back to the neighbors. We’ll miss this particular lot more than the last ones. But she’s newly pregnant and once that happens the timer starts ticking on our little houses. Three bedrooms and one itsy-bitsy bath seem a little snug (first-world problems) for a three person family and live-in relatives. Having just done this for an agonizing five months, I know. They are the sort that let our dog out when we’ll be home late and call if there is a strange person skulking around (not to worry, this happens infrequently). Their principal downfall is not being as concerned about zombies as the other neighbors are. We’re all in this together, folks.

We ran into their realtor at the grocery who, over her kombucha filled cart, which, to be honest, left me in an uncertain awe, told us that the incoming family was young and also expecting. I suppose one man’s three bedroom shack is another’s palace. While I was glad to hear this, there’s no automatic young=open-minded pass and so I’ve got my fingers crossed while we wait for them to move in.

The other side of the street is also in peril (and not just from zombies and hosta-munching deer). Of the three directly over, one pair permanently moved to the dementia unit after a winter mishap involving the fire department and an axe, another is facing increasing home care needs from her daughter with worsening MS, and the third couple was just recently hit by a semi after going the wrong way on a highway ramp (they are fine, miraculously, though after his stroke, he has dwindled alarmingly fast). They are all closing in on 80 which means we do a lot more Christmas tree installing and lightbulb changes.

We are astoundingly lucky, aren’t we? I think so. I’d like the luck to hold out for this next family, too. Cross your fingers!

 

*also, that turned out totally fine. I’m not a worrier. At all. Ever.

 

Routines

Oh have we played fast and loose with RR’s world. Several nights this week she has gone to be after 7pm.

I KNOW.

Oh. You were thinking about her 7pm bedtime. I saw that side-eye.

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My friends, we have put RR to bed at 7 from the start and she likes it. In fact, when we keep her up, she delivers a package of noyoujustdidn’t that would fell even the mightiest of parents. But for one reason or another we haven’t had her to bed before 8 and if you come to our house you can see the very foundations of our world crumbling before your eyes. It’s like the moment before the sinkhole. It’s not good.

Before you know it we are IN the sinkhole. And we’re making it worse by scrabbling around looking for ways to distract her from her sugar/excitement/chaotic high in ways that turn her into even more of a monster. They are well-intended gestures. Here, baby, watch a little TV while we get ready for work turns into PUT YOUR SHOES ON OR I WILL. Well, I don’t know what. I’ve never gotten to the point before where every other sentence is “So help me god if you don’t…”

When I do finish the sentence I follow through. This, of course, results in epic tantrums because for some reason she hasn’t yet caught on that if I say “Please listen or I will leave the room.” I actually will leave the room. I don’t fool around, you all. Suddenly I can see why people start to drown in a pool of time-outs. That route would be ineffective for RR who puts her own self in time out, cackling happily at the break from you, me, life, everything.

We’re trying to bring the bedtime routine back, but weekends of birthday parties and late nights and dinners drawn skeptically from the depths of the refrigerator have resulted in a the return of the wolverine*. I am not happy to see you again, no sir. Please tell me this is not what four is like**.

 

 

*Given the number of times I have compared RR to a wolverine, I’m considering a domain change. It’s a good thing countingwolverines.com is available.

**Unless you are Becky who makes no secret that four is what makes her child an only child.

Maya Angelou

The first stalker I had was the most stubborn. He was persistent, calling at all times of the day and night, progressively getting angrier, appearing in places he had no reason to be. Having never had a stalker before, although I’d admittedly called my first boyfriend a few times too many that one summer he seemed too busy for me, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do.

When I was young, I used to
Watch behind the curtains
As men walked up and down the street. Wino men, old men.
Young men sharp as mustard.
See them. Men are always
Going somewhere. 

I called the police. I’m still a little ashamed that I couldn’t handle it. After all, I had given him my phone number. Hadn’t I extended the hope of another meeting? The police didn’t see it the way I did. Where I saw a promise, they saw an invasion of privacy. His phone number was blocked and they must have had a chat because I stopped seeing him everywhere. I count myself lucky I didn’t need to do more. Though I shouldn’t have had to anyway.

They knew I was there. Fifteen
Years old and starving for them.
Under my window, they would pauses,
Their shoulders high like the
Breasts of a young girl,
Jacket tails slapping over
Those behinds,
Men.

It was the second one that startled me. What did our mothers say? Don’t go with strangers. Don’t take candy. And so how did I find myself silent at a bus stop in front of a police station while a strange man (I had gone with him, I had let him buy me coffee) wove his hand into the hair at the nape of my neck and told me to get on the bus with him? This time I didn’t give my phone number and I didn’t get on the bus but there he was, weeks and months later on street corners staring, too close by half. Eventually he lost interest, but for a year I didn’t walk alone, didn’t stay outside long, didn’t take a bus.

One day they hold you in the
Palms of their hands, gentle, as if you
Were the last raw egg in the world. Then
They tighten up. Just a little. The
First squeeze is nice. A quick hug.
Soft into your defenselessness. A little
More. The hurt begins. Wrench out a
Smile that slides around the fear.

I know more about myself now. I try to make eye contact with every stranger on the street (so I can identify you later, should something go…wrong). I am more responsible with myself, even as I tangle with the early lessons of agency and consent for my daughter. If spend too much time hugging her and missing her baby smoothness she shouts stop loving my body! and I know I’m doing my job.

When the
Air disappears,
Your mind pops, exploding fiercely, briefly,
Like the head of a kitchen match. Shattered.
It is your juice
That runs down their legs. Staining their shoes.
When the earth rights itself again,
And taste tries to return to the tongue,
Your body has slammed shut. Forever.
No keys exist.

I saw Maya Angelou, who wrote this poem*, sometime after the second stalker, halfway up the bleachers in a gym that smelled of the season’s early departure from the playoffs. She stood on a small box with a mic and she read Phenomenal Woman while my heart broke open. I was deeply in love with my first girlfriend who always sought consent and was beautiful and electric and impossible to catch. Even at the beginning she fluttered in and out of my fingers. Listening to each poem I fell more in love (with my girlfriend, with myself, with Maya Angelou) and regained some of what I’d given away.

Then the window draws full upon
Your mind. There, just beyond
The sway of curtains, men walk.
Knowing something.
Going someplace.
But this time, I will simply
Stand and watch. 

Maybe.

While my favorite poet (do you have one of these? will you tell me who it is?) remains Sandra Cisneros (have you read “You Like To Give and Watch Me My Pleasure”?) the one who made the biggest impact, the rock in the puddle, was Maya Angelou. I’m no longer a poet. I can’t weave words. But the ripples from that rock are still pooling. I will miss her voice and I’m so glad she left us her words.

 

*Poem Men, breaks mine.

Hot Damn!

I wandered through my house this morning at the fine time of 7:30 completely unimpeded by gates or screens or panting, huffing, bodies because not only have my parents moved out, but they have taken their dog.

Some of you will remember that it’s no small thing that he’s their dog to begin with. There was a very real risk he would be our dog until we rehomed him. But, my mom surprised us with a sudden desire to rescue him (not only from his crazy self but from our home, which seems to have become unfit). That’s right, while it was perfectly alright last week, it is now an environment barely fit for a flea, let alone a dog. I mean, he’s crated while we’re at work and even though he seems to enjoy it, surely it’s not good for him.

This is not an argument for him to stay, just general commentary about our apparent and sudden unfitness as dog owners. On the other had you guys, how can I have a bad attitude when I HAVE MY HOUSE BACK?

Now, I’d like my body back, my sex life back, and a whole lot of cleanliness back. I’ll take that in any order, as soon as possible. You guys. MY HOUSE. It’s MINE.

 

 

 

Three More Days

Three more days until my wife comes back home. You guys, these are the things we are going through:

–We ate tacos with our fingers as I had forgotten forks, was too exhausted to get up, and RR broke the one shell we had between us.

–She wants to watch Yeap Fwog. NO the one with the FWOG and the GWEEN PUPPY and NOT THAT ONE. They all say Leap Frog. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong.

–The dog licked her and she has milk on her sock. That’s why she is jumping from the ottoman to the couch.

–WHY DID I MOVE THE OTTOMAN???

–It’s okay, Mama, Mama will be home and put it back.

–What day is it? It’s Tuesday. What day is it? It’s Wednesday. What day is it? It’s Thursday. I’ll bet I can guess what she’ll ask tomorrow.

–We have listened to Elton John’s Crocodile Rock at least 50 times. Funny how in three years I’ve never gotten sick of her children’s music but in 3.5 seconds I wish old Elton had got crushed under the tire. Accidentally.

–I hit my head three times on the roof of the car today. I nearly passed out the second time. Oh that’s right, RR had hold of my boob when I jerked backward. A) why is she tugging on it in the first place? and B) and boys think they have the corner market on pain…

–She misses Grannie and Pop Pop and talks about them coming home constantly. When I told her they were moving to their house she looked me right in the face and wailed, NO THEY AREN’T! THEY ARE COMING HOME TO ME and then she threw her milk at my head.

–We spend a lot of time scolding my parents’ dog, Donx. Where “a lot of time” means constantly and “scolding” means practically yelling.

I came into her room to get her pants and found her not in the living room where I thought she was but standing on her rocking chair in the middle of the room balancing on one leg. Naked. I’m on the BEANS BALANCE, mama! I am so strong!

And despite the extremely helpful volunteering from our friends (hi starrhillgirl!), I’m too tired to even conceive of how they could be helpful. It’s just us, doing what we do (naked, apparently), with five cats and 2 dogs – 3 if you count my parents’ as double the work. Having anyone over would be a disaster (see: Donx) and I don’t have the energy to leave the house or to cook for anyone but myself. Also, we’re apparently cave people who can’t use silverware.

The lovely person at Love Invents Us was ruminating over being more gentle with oneself and that is definitely something I’m not able to do alone. Sure, with my wife, I’m a superhero at eating ice cream for dinner and letting the socks lay on the floor where RR threw them. But alone I can’t rest until the chores are done, the kitchen is sparkling (even after the horrible Donx splattered mud on the ceiling…AGAIN), the animals are taken care of, the laundry is put away, and our bags are packed for the upcoming day. I also can’t order pizza like I assume would be normal because I suddenly realize that I’m in control of everything and so, I, too, will be sparkling clean and healthy, just like the kitchen.

What’s wrong with me? I need my wife to come home so RR and I can get back to our slovenly ways.

PS – Excellent recipes:

Avocado Cilantro Chicken Salad
Pistachio Pesto Chicken Pasta

 

 

Nine Years Worth

While celebrating our ninth anniversary over lunch today, my wife and I were talking about our favorite trips and vacations.

There was the midnight run to Virginia Beach early in our relationship. A lazy evening on the couch turned into late night pizza on a pier.

Visiting the Grand Canyon and Wupatki Ruins in the Painted Desert, one of my most favorite places in the world. That evening in the hotel wasn’t too shabby either.

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Every trip to the Outer Banks: honeymoon, pre-baby, post-cancer, thanksgivings. Every last one.

The less-than-24 hours in San Francisco before my grandmother’s funeral, sleeping baby strapped on as we hung off the side of a cable car. I packed as much of the two years I lived there into the time we had, but there are still plenty of hidden staircases and tiny restaurants for next time.

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This time last year, Baltimore’s dolphins and Philadelphia’s cannolis (and a desperation St. Pat’s dinner at Hooters with our two-year-old).

Driving to Wyoming through Wisconsin and South Dakota and back through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, featuring the Grand Old Opry, the badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, cheese curds, the Roanoke Star, a highway porn shop, a bloody hotel room, and cases of Fat Tire.

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Freshest on our minds was last month’s trip to an isolated cabin in the Blue Ridge. While I wouldn’t have sought a location without internet access or cell reception, the fact that we didn’t have the former and could only occasionally get the latter probably made the hot tub steamier, the strawberries sweeter, and the sex spicier. I know, you have innocent ears. You’ll recover. We didn’t just romp though, we hiked, jumped streams, explored, and meditated by the river. We returned absolutely refreshed. For my part, it was exactly what was needed.

Traveling with my wife is one of the things I love best about being married to her. She’s wonderful and amazing and I’m incredibly lucky. And incredibly in love. Another nine years to come? I hope it’s far more than that.