Friday, September 20, 2013

Falling Slowly Mango Candies

It was the end of a long week, not a bad week but certainly a long one.  There were unexpected work events that had me in long meetings with a phone translator and stuck in downtown traffic.  Not my normal work life.  There was homework to oversee at night which went surprisingly well thanks to amazing teachers.  Through it all, I managed to squeeze in the assembly of a deep dish lasagna and peanut coconut soup as well as the finishing of a book for my book group. 

On Friday afternoon, my son got his flu shot right after school, and my husband and I then told our kids that we had to have quiet time.  We asked them to stay only in the house or the backyard while mom and dad rested.  We both fell asleep within minutes upstairs and woke up forty-five minutes later to a silent house. 

I came downstairs to find a note at the bottom of the stairs from my son.  It said it was his experiment.  It had "I love you" written on it with "mom" on one side and "dad" on the other with arrows pointing to two small bottles of wedding reception bubbles on either side of the paper.  I have no clue what the experiment was, but he seemed excited to show me.

A picture of outer space was left on the computer keyboard for us.  They asked if they could play outside. 

We spent the evening driving through an odd part of town, stopping in for our first trip to the huge Asian supermarket, which we all found to be fascinating.  We bought fortune cookies, mango candies, noodles, red curry paste, etc.  We ate pho and had lessons on using chopsticks.  We stopped by a big box store to redeem a birthday gift card.  We came home with a box of pirate toys and a bow-and-arrow.

We read Snow White at home, and our kids performed the song they worked on while we were napping, "Falling Slowly" from the film Once.  They'd written down the lyrics as best as they could remember them. My son's voice is angelic, pitch-perfect, and he sings from his gut when he feels safe.  I could only smile and fight tears, so proud of these creatures in my house who quietly leave us surprises while we nap on a Friday afternoon and then sing us a very grown-up song before they go to bed.

It's now after 10:30, and they're in their room listening to the soundtrack from Once, trying to really learn the words. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Recurring dream.

I have a recurring dream about the neighborhood surrounding my maternal grandparents' house.  Back when the house was built in the '40s, it was an upper middle-class area that seemed to peak in the late '80s with the onset of "white flight" to the suburbs.  When too many break-ins and armed robberies happened in their neighborhood (even at their church), my grandparents sold the house they'd raised their children and grandchildren in to live in a garden home in a safer area to the east of town.

When I go home to visit, my sister and I often end up driving around the old neighborhood, sometimes parking in front of the house our grandparents helped to raise us in, the one where we had our weekly Sunday dinners with its many cream puffs, jello molds, and casseroles. It was the immaculate house that always smelled like soap and coffee and that we always knew we were free to be our full selves in.  The house was the brightest spot of my childhood.

I have dreams, like the one last night, about trying to get to the house but finding it difficult for various reasons.  Usually it's because the area surrounding the house is so derelict.  Once, the area was a third-world slum with a triage hospital down the street treating drug addicts and patients with missing limbs. 

Last night, the area was a marshy swamp of fallen trees and mud.  I was in a boat, trying to get there but finding it hard.  I pointed to an area where the local park used to be but was now just a cavernous area of muddy trees and fallen statues. 

In my dream last night, I never got to the house that nourished me as I grew up.  I never made it there.  I just woke up.

A Sunday in 2013

I will, I will, I will reclaim the habit of these moments.

I woke up today having slept ten hours but with an escalation of the cold I'd had since Wednesday.  The extra sleep was from the second and third grade girl sleepover I'd hosted Friday night.  They were awake until 12:30 and up again at 8am.

For my own mental and physical health (and maybe the health of others I might encounter), I stayed home while my family went to church.  Shower, yoga pants, no make-up, laundry, Irish tea, my seat next to the front window to begin my book club's October assignment, Brooklyn, a book I've had for years and nearly given away but then kept through premonition of this moment.

The family comes home and life escalates, as it should I guess.  My son's best friend was outside, and eventually the gaggle of neighborhood kids ended up in our yard and the back of our pick-up playing.  As I cooked a pot of spiced lentils with chickpeas and quinoa, I kept hearing chantings of "Ready? Steady? Go!" through our open windows.  There were a lot of ninja costumes outside.

 I heard crying at one point, a neighbor girl who was at the sleepover with a cut finger.  A fair amount of blood as I washed it, rinsed it, put antibiotic cream and a band-aid, redoing it once to situate the flap of skin in the right place as the big sister told her to be brave and squeeze her hand as hard as she needed.

My husband and I went on a solo trip to look at couches, since we've been living without one since the first of the summer.  We stopped by a cool liquor store on the way home and spent a little bit of money, then on to the grocery store together, a trip to buy food and booze with no children.  It felt a little like a date.

I made a very large pan of lasagna to keep in the fridge for later in the week as I talked on the phone with my dad who told me all about my sick uncle.  We talked a lot about family drama and how Southerners are better at community support than folks on the west coast.  When my father-in-law died last month, he and my sister sent two huge boxes of sweets from a favorite bakery with a heartfelt note attached explaining the significance.  The note made me cry and the family here gobbled the Southern-style cookies.

It eventually started to spit-rain but the kids remained outside on front and back porches which was handy since I'd moved on to cleaning.  As my kids came in, I reminded them that I'd asked them to help with nothing around the house and to "just remember that."  They put their laundry away and, on their own, swept and mopped the basement.

We sat at the dining room table, my son eating lentil stew and my daughter eating leftover breakfast oatmeal, reading the book Why Should I Help?, found at a library sale the day before by our pastor's daughter who was spending the day with us post-sleepover.  We took turns reading page by page, my son very proud to have read large chunks on his own.

We all unloaded the dishwasher together as my son ate huge bites of cold oatmeal from breakfast.  I made their lunches for tomorrow as I told my husband how much I loved this mug I saw on fb that said, "World's Okayest Mom." They got in pajamas and settled in to bed.  I poured a glass a my favorite savignon blanc, and my son only got out of bed twice to tell me that he couldn't sleep.  Now my gray cat Bang Bang is purring on my lap as I nibble sweet potato chips and finish my glass.  The dog Gus Gus growls behind me, curled in sleeping position but senses atuned to every dog walking past our house.  My husband watching Newsroom in the basement, kids well on their way to sleep. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013


The film Once came out serendipitously just a few months before we took my father-in-law to Ireland to visit the area his family came from.  He became obsessed with this movie, going so far as to frame the LP cover in his office.  When we walked the Temple Bar area of Dublin a few months later, I pointed out a flower stand similar to the one in the film, and he told everyone thereafter that he saw the actual stand used in the film.

It made sense then that the family spent an afternoon this summer at my husband's studio space watching their dad's favorite movie.  Judge me all you want, but we let our kids watch too.  I figure the strong Dublin and Czech accents kept them from understanding the "inappropriate" language.  At first, my son had a bad attitude about watching it.  He wanted to watch a "kid movie" on the laptop, but I insisted he sit with the family.  On a bathroom break, he admitted that the movie was "really good."

This weekend as I organized our house, I found our copy of the Once soundtrack, given to us by my father-in-law.  My son's reaction to being handed the disc was similar to Christmas morning.  He hugged it.  He did a little jig.  He ran downstairs and put it in the computer to play it on the big speakers.  My kids had been singing "Falling Slowly" for the last couple of weeks, and now they were so excited to get to listen again.

I got a short video this afternoon of my kids sitting at the computer singing their hearts out to their grandfather's favorite soundtrack.  My son loves most the songs where the man is angrily shouting-singing.  He expressed awe at how "great" the singing is.  My daughter asked that "Falling Slowly" be put on her birthday CD and we had a conversation about which song is my favorite and why ("Gold"). 

I hold the CD sleeve in my hands just now and cry.  It was a final thing of beauty passed down to my kids from their grandfather, in the week of his death no less.

The need for grief

Bit by bit, we are reclaiming normal life through the completion of stalled house projects involving minor construction to the reorganization of drawers and closets.  Most people did this stuff before their kids went back to school.  For us, that wasn't impossible, but certainly wasn't a palatable option when faced with the choice of spending rich time with family.  And thus, the irony: I say that we're reclaiming our life when really the rich stuff of life happened in the chaos of this summer.  On my deathbed, I won't be thinking about how organized my linen closet was in my 30's. 

That being said, this weekend we're currently on the downward slope of has felt a bit like a recharging of batteries, at least a beginning of a recharge.  We're all very aware that true grieving has not happened yet, the sort of healthy grieving that lets you move forward. 

On Friday, I had a work lunch that happened to be at my father-in-law's favorite restaurant, one that we had tried to take him to on Father's Day this year, just a short three months ago.  As I walked into the restaurant on a remarkably similar sunny day, I remembered acutely how I stood with him next to the artificial rock facade of the building while my husband parked the car.  He was very wobbly on his feet and leaned a great deal of his body weight on me as we approached the restaurant.  At one point, I remember going in to ask the hostess something and gave my kids instructions to keep an eye on their grandad while I was gone. 

This memory propelled me towards a funk that lasted well through the rest of that afternoon.  As I sat through the work lunch, I found myself spacing out as I remembered the time a few years before that my family had sat at the neighboring table with my father-in-law.

While we took long weekends away in the woods, we never took a proper vacation all summer.  We never had that kind of uninterrupted string of not less than five days of sitting still.  During our scheduled vacation, we were in the week of the funeral. 

This post needs to end.  The ensuing ones should be shorter, truer to the reason for this blog.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


It makes sense that I stopped writing around the time my father-in-law fell and broke his hip at the beginning of the summer.  Today my kids both went back to school, and since three of us were up off and on all night with food poisoning (that was great timing!), I took the day off to recoup.  Part of that for me is relaunching this blog.

Our summer ended up being about two things.  A house in the woods we purchased as an investment property and the quick decline and eventual passing of my husband's father.  My children did not take a single class or swim lesson.  They saw a small smattering of their school friends but plenty of family.  I don't think either of them would say that their summer was bad.  In fact, by looking through the photos I faithfully took, I think they will remember the summer of 2012 as being about adventures in the woods and day after day after week after week spent with their huge extended family.

As my father-in-law declined, his children came to visit.  Our house became 'home base' for the comings-and-goings, something I was thrilled to be able to offer.  I adore my husband's family and loved knowing that they were around so much, despite the difficult circumstances. 

There are countless untold moments of crying, of laughing, of arguments, of whispered conversations to the side, of incomprehensible ramblings of a man standing on the doorway between this life and the next.  I wish I had written them all down.

Though then again maybe I don't.  Though this summer seemed like a blur, a whizzing past of faces that look just like my husband's mixed with the scent of wild desert sage and blackberry milkshakes, it also seemed like the longest summer I've experienced in years.  The purchase of the house was finalized the same week as the onset of my father-in-law's illness, and this week feels like ages ago.  For once, in a scurry of activity, life slowed down all on its own.  The things my family experienced this summer are seared into our memories, no need for a catalog of images on this blog.

We also got the renter set up in the house in the woods the same week of my father-in-law's funeral.  This tied up the summer.  I know I haven't taken the time  needed to grieve this passing.  There hasn't been time with all the hosting of family.  But as the days grow shorter and the rains begin and my kids go to bed again at a reasonable hour, I am hoping for time to say goodbye to my favorite old man, a man who was already old when I met him ten years ago.  He was one of my best friends, and I know his absence is going to make itself known as I read books I want to share with him and can't.

Oh Ed, oh Ed, oh Ed, what are you doing now?  I think of you every day.