Coming Back to My Senses

G caught me flapping my hands and muttering to myself this morning so he asked what was up.

“Carlos needs to get dressed, Vivi’s lunchbox is missing, I need to get the house organized because the cleaning lady is coming today, oh and the guys are coming to stain the deck, so Huck needs to be cooped up in the basement, which reminds me the pool is turning green but I don’t have time to take a water sample in at lunch today because I have an all-day class and we are out of groceries.”

G went back to getting dressed. I added “carry around a big load of resentment” to the list. Then, like most every other day, I got all that taken care of and managed to get myself ready for work.

By 3:30 p.m., I was in the office restroom crying into a paper towel and trying not to make any noise. This time of the day, this time of the week, I’m getting overwhelmed with feelings. Orlando. Senate filibuster. Cheeto Jesus. Father’s Day.

Father’s Day. At lunch, a friend had asked, “What are y’all doing for Father’s Day?” and before I could brace myself, I thought, “Nothing–I don’t have a father anymore.”

By 5:00 p.m., I was sitting in my car trying to remember what I did last Father’s Day for Daddy and all I could be sure of was that it wasn’t enough.

Back at home, there was the green pool and the deck guys who never showed and the groceries to unpack and the and and the and and the and.

I stood at the kitchen sink trying not to cry while getting dinner together. I couldn’t find one happy thought to hold on to, not one safe and still place to let my heart rest.

I rinsed the potatoes that came in the produce share from Collective Harvest. I was reminded of the first time I watched Daddy dig up potatoes in his garden. I’d never seen them growing and was delighted by how they hung down in a crowd from the plant that he’d lifted out of the soil with a wide-toothed hay fork.

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I pulled from the block the little paring knife that Daddy and Big Gay gave me for Christmas that year after Fartbuster and I split up. I had asked for a sky diving certificate or some good knives. They decided the knives were less dangerous. I carefully cut into the small purple potatoes without using a cutting board, the way I had been taught. The jeweled inside of each potato reminded me of a fig. I’ve never been one for figs, but that reminded me of Daddy laughing about how Grandmama Eunice loved figs so much that she would stop the car and climb over a three-strand barbed wire fence if she came across a fig tree standing in a pasture. It wasn’t stealing, because that fig tree had to have been planted by some farm family long ago. Even if the house just a memory, the fig tree deserved to be loved and Grandmama Eunice wasn’t about to let figs be wasted on cows.

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With the purple potatoes cooking in a little oil, I turned to snapping two handfuls of green beans. The texture of fresh green beans takes me right back to being a kid with an afternoon’s worth of beans to snap or purple hull peas to shell or corn to shuck. We had BIG gardens. The scratchy green surface of the bean, like a kitten’s tongue. The rewarding crisp ripeness of some and the floppy meh of others. The distinctive SNAP. The summer smell. The clatter as the pieces fall back into the collander and dinner grows step by step. When we were kids, the worst possible thing to hear was “Y’all get in the car–we’re going to the garden.” Now I ache for a peck basket and a row of green beans to work my way down.

 

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A pretty pint of blueberries and the rest of the strawberries from the fridge. I scoop a handful of the blueberries gently into my fingers and pour them into my mouth. Most of them perfectly sweet, but always that bitter one. Farm fresh blueberries take me back to a late June trip to Maine with Richard. We ate breakfast on the hill overlooking Bar Harbor. He ate a cinnamon roll as big as his head (I have the photo to prove it) and I devoured a blueberry muffin made with the biggest blueberries I had ever seen. We took our traditional “feet picture” with the sailboats and bay in the background. That photo turned out to be the last one of a long series. Memories. Most of them perfectly sweet, but always that bitter one. I ate another handful of blueberries then stirred the supper.

I can’t say I suddenly felt happy at that moment and all was right, but I felt more solid. When my brain is racing far ahead and my heart is twisted and panting with the struggle to keep up, I have to come back to my senses. Sight. Touch. Sound. Smell. Taste. Memory.

Check Back in Ten Days

Something cracked in me this Sunday, after the massacre at Pulse in Orlando. I couldn’t say anything about it for a day, Then I jumped on the social media outrage train. But I didn’t say anything HERE. No blog words about Orlando, or home-grown terrorism, or guns.  Nothing about Islamophobia and homophobia (I agree with Morgan Freeman–it’s not really a phobia; it’s just people being assholes.)

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I couldn’t think of any words that wouldn’t just blow away in the hurricane of hot air. Many LGBTQ friends have cried out in the last two days, asking “Where are our straight friends?”

Here. I raise my hand.

Here’s what I would say:

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that your safe space was poisoned by that violence. I’m sorry that churches have spewed shit about “Love the sinner, hate the sin” for so long. I’m sorry that you have grown up in the Land of the Free having to watch over your shoulder that you aren’t caught kissing the one you love in public. I’m sorry that people will say “This is an attack on ALL Americans” when the truth is that queer citizens have stood in the front ranks of that attack. I’m sorry that the body count rises. I’m sorry that it’s been your problem to bear. Too often alone.

I am numb with outrage. All I’ve done is make a breathless space for the pain and the outrage yet I have sat still.

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Five days ago, it was #RapistBrockTurner that had me outraged. I bet his family was tickled pink at the news from Orlando because it wiped him off the front page. Maybe his mother can finally decorate the new house and his dad can grill steaks. Man, I was pissed about that. But did I do anything?

What were we all talking about five days before the Stanford rape case? The #gorilla? What was his name? Harambe? I didn’t get too worked up in that case but it seemed to be all anyone was talking about online. Poor parents (I’ve been there). Poor gorilla (he didn’t do anything wrong). Poor zookeepers. Poor zoo animals. Poor Harambe.

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I was mad about #HB2 in North Carolina. If y’all are so concerned about pedophiles, go watch Dennis Hastert’s house. Hang out in the men’s room where boys haven’t been safe EVER. Can’t we all pee in peace? I was mad about that, but the only thing I did was shop at Target, but I always shop at Target.

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If I keep going back five days and five days and five days, through the newsfeed of my outrage, I’ll get to Charleston. I’ll remember that massacre too. I was mad. Heartbroken. Sorry. And I didn’t do anything except bitch about it on the internet.

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Well, like I said, this week has been different. I joined Moms Demand Action to join the fight against the chokehold the NRA has on our government. I educated myself about specific, actionable changes, common sense gun laws. I signed petitions to ban the sale of the AR-15 to civilians after seeing an interview with the engineer who designed it. I contacted my representatives. I have started talking to my five year old about guns. “If you ever see a gun, do not touch it. Go find a grownup and tell them.” I looked up how much money each of Georgia’s Congressional representatives have received from the NRA (congratulations to Senator David Perdue on $1.9 MILLION in support).

Yeah, I’m mad right now. And I want to stay mad, even when the next horrible thing comes along, probably in a week at the rate we’re going. I made a vow to myself that I’ll check in every week to see what ACTION I have taken to make sure my silence is never mistaken for consent.

So much of this feeling of silence and helplessness started when I slid into depression around my dad’s final illness and death. I looked up from that darkness and saw my country going mad for a fascist who is nothing but a bullshit artist. I remembered calling some politician a fascist in front of Daddy and he said, “Do you even know what that means?” I answered, “A political idealogue of the far right who uses strict control of the media and a jingoistic sense of nationalism to sway the masses.” He said, “OK…I guess you do.” Daddy was a die-hard conservative. I can’t imagine what he would think of his Grand Old Party today. I haven’t been saying those things in this space but it’s time to reclaim my voice. I have the right and the responsibility to call out bullshit. We are not this.

One reason I didn’t write about some of these issues–politics, LGBTQ rights, rape culture, gorillas–was that I couldn’t BELIEVE it was necessary to say some of these things explicitly. Apparently, it is.

I’ll check on myself in 10 days and see what actions I’ve taken. Y’all are my accountability partners.

Ending The Week On An Up Note

On Friday mornings, ESP camp holds “Fair and Flag.” For the fair, each unit sets up a table filled with the crafts they made that week. The vocational class sold granola, muffins, and bread they had cooked (I can testify that all three are delicious). The older teens sold door mats that had been painted with different designs. I got one that has stripes like Charlie Brown’s shirt. The younger teens sold watercolors and Christmas ornaments. I bought the interlocking hearts.

Carlos’ class sold painted canvases–with one decorated balloon cookie thrown in with the purchase. I paid $5 for the one that said C-A-R-L-O-S in the corner:

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Recognize it? That’s Carl and Ellie’s house from the movie “Up.” I would have paid $500 for this remembrance of a fantastic week.

The “flag” part of Fair and Flag is a crazy cheering circle that celebrates the kids and the sponsors and the parents who all pitched in to make the magic. Carlos didn’t like the noise, so we sat off to the side with his counselor, Miss Abbie.

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She was dressed like a member of Troop 54 just like Russell in the movie. Carlos counted the twelve yellow dots painted on her face with the tip of his finger. She giggled. He counted all the blue things in her costume. He was so perfectly himself. I finally walked over to join the cheering circle and in a minute, he came and stood in front of me so I could cover his ears with my hands. Abbie told me all the things he’s done this week, like making a Cheerios catapult, singing “Green Machine,” playing in a tent with JoJo (from his preK class!), and telling her all about his kitties, Jinxie and Rufus. He got a shout-out yesterday at Flag for being a great song singer.

Y’all.

He has NEVER talked this much. I don’t know if it’s ESP camp magic or if it’s Vivi being out of the house this week, but his speech has exploded.

(I just had to take a break from typing this so we could have a sing-a-long at bedtime and teach Daddy the “colors song” and pretend to play “kitar.”)

He’s using expressive language, like “I love it there” and “Want to go back to camp.” He’s NEVER reported to me at the end of the school day about what he had done. Now, he talks about the Amanda Show and how she does tricks with rubber bands and he can name five of the kids in his unit.

He’s soaring.

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A Letter Home

Oh, Happy Day!

I opened up the mailbox to find a real envelope with a real stamp…a letter from Vivi at camp!

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Before I even took it out of the mailbox, I was asking myself if I should open it right away or wait until G gets home. In less than a second, I decided he would be OK with me opening it right away. So I flipped it over…

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And I began to get a little worried that I…

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NEVER TAUGHT MY DAUGHTER HOW TO SEAL AN ENVELOPE SO THE LETTER DOESN’T FALL OUT SOMEWHERE.

This kid knows how to sign in to her Google account, create docs, save and email them. She does not, however, know that you have to pull the little white strip thingy off the sticky part and smoosh it together.

Or maybe she’s pulling my chain?

Somebody Loves You That Much

I had been OK with Vivi being away at camp…until about 11 p.m. on her birthday. All afternoon, I had been hitting Refresh on the camp photo page. I know they celebrated her day by singing at meals, and her unit had cake, and she got that big pink care package that G and I left for her at the trading post, but I needed to SEE some of it.

The photos went up and within minutes I started crying. Out of 225 pictures, I only found four with her visible. In two, she was daydreaming in the back of a canoe, her paddle vertical in the water. In one, she was walking with her unit but she seemed alone, sucking on her finger. In the best photo, she stood with her counselor:

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Simply seeing her face wasn’t enough for me. Is she happy enough? Does she look like a girl on her birthday? Is she OK? My mind whirled down the path of worry but there was just no knowing.

I hadn’t realized how much I was hoping to see a photo of her giggling with her tentmates or at the center of some shenanigans. I couldn’t stop the tears that sprang from my eyes. G gave me hug and reminded me that she is probably having a blast.

Still, my mom heart kept asking, “Is she happy enough?”

As I went to bed, I could hear anxiety and insomnia creeping up behind me on shuffling feet. It was 11:49 p.m. so I told myself that once the clock turned to 12:00 a.m., it wouldn’t be her birthday anymore and I could put down the whip. While I waited for the minutes to tick by, I remembered a conversation that Daddy and I had about birthdays and birthday cake.

It was sometime last year, probably at Cowtail because my Aunt Dixie was there. We started talking about birthday cake and I told Aunt Dixie, “I still remember the cake you made for Shannon for her second or third birthday–it had pink frosting and daisies with petals made from marshmallows and you had dyed the center of each petal with pink sugar.”

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Aunt Dixie laughed and said, “Gosh, I remember that cake! It was a recipe from Good Housekeeping and those durn flowers took me forever.”

“Well, it was worth it because I still think of that cake and how pretty it was. Now that I’ve got kids I understand how much effort it takes….”

And Daddy finished my sentence–“when somebody loves you that much.”

Exactly. That’s what that pink cake covered in sugar sparkling flowers was–a visible way of seeing how much Aunt Dixie loved her daughter. Somebody loves you that much, enough to stay up all night snipping sticky marshmallows and dipping them in pink sugar just to see the delight in your eyes on your birthday.

Daddy used to make me cakes for my birthday. Coconut cakes because they were our favorite. He went to the trouble because he loved me that much.

That memory helped me understand why I was struggling with being apart from Vivi on her birthday–making a fuss over her has always been my way of showing her “somebody loves you that much.”

I looked at the photo of Vivi and her counselor again and my heart was soothed. See that book in her hand? That’s the sixth book in a series that she’s been reading. It was in her birthday care package that was delivered at camp. Look how much she’s read in one afternoon! I couldn’t make her a cake that day, but I gave her something she finds just as sweet.

She’s been gobbling up a story. A book that was ordered for her, kept a surprise, packed in a special pink box with glow bracelets and puppy stickers and a disposable camera and gel pens and a camp bandana…all because somebody loves her that much.

I hope she stayed up until she was finished with the book. She has her green camp lantern, and she has extra batteries. She even has books seven and eight waiting for her at home. All because somebody loves her that much.

Wobbly

When we were on the spring break cruise, Carlos felt the roll of the ship under his feet and got the funniest confused expression on his face. He shouted, “WOBBBBBBBBBBBBLLLLLY!” every time we swayed from wall to wall walking down the passageway. He still says it when he slips and falls or stumbles. Well, his summer has gotten off to a wobbly start.

The camp we were counting on for the first week of the summer was full. Oops. There just aren’t that many options for a five year old who melts down at noise and crowds, so he spent days bouncing back and forth between G’s office and my office. He carried his little Spiderman backpack filled with Matchbox cars, Paw Patrol stickers, and tablet like he was getting paid to do it. I let him push all the elevator buttons and we played I Spy from the glass bridge between buildings at least once a day.

For the second week, we had both Carlos and Vivi signed up for the children’s theater camp that she loves. After the first day, the director reported that he wasn’t interested in doing any of the camp activities. She asked if we could send something to entertain him until he warmed up. The second day he spent face down in his Kindle Fire. By the third day, they emailed to say that he wasn’t ready for that camp and they would be glad to give us a refund when we picked him up. Before lunchtime, please and thank you.

Sigh. I flashed right back to last summer when he was getting sent home from daycare for tantrums. I felt those old fears of “life for him is always going to be difficult because he doesn’t know how to fit in.” He spent the rest of that week at his internship with me.

Seriously…my kid gets drummed out of THEATER camp? Can’t he just be a tree in the big finale?

We were counting on two more weeks of that camp and now the summer plan was crumbling before my eyes. G hustled around and found a spot for Carlos in a Montessori camp for the weeks that we needed. Excellent–the summer was saved!

I mean, how’s he gonna get kicked out of Montessori camp…not composting?

Just in case, we went out and bought this composting bin and it’s Carlos’ new favorite thing. He spins it like he’s calling Bingo at the VFW.

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Dang, that kid is cute, even with his do-it-yourself bangs and that crazy-eye face he makes when he says “CHEEEEEEEEESE!”

Today he went to yet ANOTHER camp. He’s signed up for four weeks of day camp at Extra Special People. His pre-K teacher suggested it and I’m so glad she did. It’s a program “where individuals with developmental disabilities don’t just survive… they thrive!” At first, I thought he wouldn’t qualify–his challenges aren’t really that tough. We’ve ruled out autism and developmental delay. The stuff on his IEP is social interaction. He takes his shoes off when he’s not supposed to. He tunes out talking if it’s not interesting. He hollers if he doesn’t want to go along.

I felt guilty sending my kid to “special” camp when he’s pretty ordinary. Except when he isn’t. I even checked with the camp director to make sure that we didn’t take a spot from someone else. I actually said, “he could survive the Y camp, but he might spend part of the day curled up in a ball.” They assured me that there was a place for Carlos at ESP.

He seems to agree.

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When I picked him up, he was downright chatty! He told me about saying the pledgeallegent, singing Rainbow Submarine, eating lunch, and going bowling! There was a scavenger hunt and circle time and apple slices with peanut butter.

I hope I will always remember how he starts every sentence with “Mommy?” I do think I will always remember something he said tonight. We were talking about tomorrow being tie-dyed shirt day and he said, “Mommy? Today? I love it there.”

Not so wobbly any more.

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This Isn’t About Me. It’s the Penguin.

Sooooo…Vivi is at sleep-away camp for the first time ever in her whole entire almost nine year life. Yep.

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I’m fine.

Seriously. Totally OK.

But I’m concerned about Pengy.

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He stayed like this the whole ride home.

He doesn’t look like he’s OK with this AT ALL. I think he thinks that she’s growing up so quickly. I bet he thinks that he’s not quite sure what to do with himself without her. I can just look at him and tell that he’s wondering if she’ll ever come back and if she’ll still need him then.

I’m fine, but the penguin is struggling.

Pengy and Vivi have been inseperable since she was about 18 months old. We met Pengy on a trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Since that day, there’s been no other friend for Vivi. He sleeps under her chin every night. He snuggles under her elbow while she’s reading a book. He even sits beside her at the dinner table some nights.

Pengy has been to many cities and a couple of countries. The rule is, Mommy carries Pengy while we travel. We have lots of rules about Pengy–Pengy stays in the car if we go out running errands. Pengy stays home instead of riding to school in a backpack. Carlos is not allowed to touch Pengy.

And she’s gone for a week. Who is Pengy without his Vivi?

When she first started talking about sleep-away camp, the question of Pengy came up–would he be safe in the woods? Was he too old to sleep in a tent every night? Santa brought Vivi a Siamese kitty, which she named Artemis and declared to be her second favorite friend. Artemis went to camp. She’s young and strong and not afraid to sleep in the woods at night.

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Things change, right? Kids are supposed to grow and move on to other stages in life and sometimes we put away childish things. Pengy will always be #1, the original beloved. Nothing can take the place of Pengy. Still. It’s hard.

So yeah. I’m fine. But the penguin is lonely for his girl.