Friday, January 28, 2011

A Typical Friday Night Chez Nous

Rose #3 taking a foot bath...

And Rose #2 dressed up as a Ninja/Borg/Swordsgirl...
Complete with the remnants of pizza sauce around her mouth...

If you want to come over next Friday night, just let me know! We'll warm up the foot bath for you, grab you a piece of pizza, and you can borrow Rose #2's headset.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Part III

Elapsed Time

She looked up from the computer where, her editing mind noticed, she had already typed five pages. The story was aching to be told, and Cate felt like it was about to burst out of her. She nearly couldn’t bear to rip her mind away, but it was unusual to hear anyone address her as Cate. She was Catherine Chao, novelist and mother. Not Cate, any longer.

When she met the eyes of the man standing in the bulkhead aisle, clutching a ticket and peering at the row numbers, she felt adrift. Unmoored. Completely taken by surprise. When she had seen him last, she was sobbing, and he was speechless with surprise and loss. It took some effort to find her voice, and say his name, because there was no doubt who it was. “Jace? I mean, Jason?”

He broke into an easy smile. His easy smile. “Yes, yes of course. Is that really you?”

She smiled back and held out her right hand. “Yes, of course. What a surprise to see you!” He bent to take her hand, shook it and then dropped it quickly, like he was unfamiliar with the custom.

‘I think I’m sitting next to you,” he said. “I’m so tall, I always try to sit in the exit row.”

“I fly so often, now, that I get assigned here automatically,” Cate said, and shook her head. “I feel so surprised to see you. How are you? I mean, how have you been?”

He exhaled sharply and adjusted his bag and jacket into the small seat. “I’m flying to Minneapolis for meetings. I, well, I’m hardly able to talk. I can’t believe it’s you.”

She nodded and shifted her computer so the words on the screen would not be visible to him. “I’m glad to see you,” she said softly, and smiled. Honesty was usually a good approach. “I can’t even recall how long it’s been.”

“Fifteen years,” he said. “Cate, how have you been?”

She also exhaled in a sigh that shuddered. Then she clasped her hand to her mouth. Removing it, she said, “You know, good. Really good. And also bad.”

He looked at her with his brown, flecked eyes and for a moment she was locked. Just like college, just like fifteen years ago. Then she shook her head once, and her long hair jumped with the motion. He said, “Will you tell me?”

She looked around for a moment, considering. “I’d rather hear what you’ve been doing. I’m sure it’s much more – you know – engaging.” This was not necessarily true, but it bought Cate a few minutes. Time to think, to impose a filter on her brain, to compose her jumbled thoughts.

Jace steadied himself, Cate thought. “Well, you know,” he began. “I just got back to the U.S. a few months ago. Before that I was in Africa for three years, and in France for awhile before that.” He smiled, paused, remembering. “Do you remember – I was thinking that my entire life would be like an extended Peace Corps stint.”

She nodded and smiled too. “Yes, I remember. I remember you talking about it.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Part II...

No one threw rotten tomatoes at me, so here's another snippet:

Elapsed Time
The first time she heard that voice say her name was over 15 years ago, in freshman honors English at the University of Wisconsin. A large class of 80 students broke out into small discussion groups and Cate, painfully shy and still feeling rubbed raw from homesickness, carefully opened the door to the small classroom where her discussion group was meeting. There was a single table in the middle of the room, with eight chairs around it, and placecards set up at each seat. Catherine Solomon was in the middle on the far side, next to Jason Cross and Lauren Rich. Cate took her seat and nervously arranged her pencils and notebook, wondering the whole time if she shouldn’t have brought her laptop. She did not look up when the boy – Jason – sat next to her. But he quickly tapped her shoulder and said, “Hi. Hi there. My name is Jason. You’re Catherine?”

She stole a glance to the side, and smiled. And nodded, because her voice felt about a million miles away. She looked at him in wonder. He looked old for a freshman class. He was very, very tall – she guessed 6’5”, but she was terrible at guessing heights. He was dark – dark brown hair, dark eyes, and very tan skin. Cate looked down at her own skin and shivered, because she was so chalky pale. She stayed out of the sun, and out of the way of tall, handsome creatures like this boy.

The professor came into the room and handed out a class list and the course syllabus. Cate carefully read the syllabus and was delighted to see that she hadn’t read everything that was required. She was also excited to see the words “Daily Journal Requirements” on the last page.

“A daily journal,” Jason whispered under his breath, to her. He sounded wondering, not disgruntled.

“Cate,” she whispered back. He raised one eyebrow and wrinkled his nose in confusion. “I prefer Cate, not Catherine,” she clarified.

“Ah,” he said, even quieter. “Jace.”

Cate peeped at him during class and half-listened to the same first day speech she had heard in her other classes already. When the professor ended class, she turned her detailed attention to putting her books away. She did not dare look at Jason – Jace – and she felt rather than saw him get up.

She turned to leave the class and was stopped by a large, strong hand that touched her shoulder. “Where are you heading next, Cate?”

“Oh. I’m done for a few hours. I was planning, well, to go over to the union. I am meeting a friend there.” This was not true. Cate had not made any friends, yet, in college.

“Mind some company?” He fell easily into step with her as she left the classroom and turned into the dark tiled hallway. Cate flushed. What was happening? In her not so small high school, no boy ever – ever – gave her a second look. They all knew who she was, of course. Everyone did. She was straitlaced plain old Cate. Never been to a party. Never kissed a boy. It was old news, and she was too scared to be anything else.

“Sure,” she said, all those thoughts and images of high school flying by in a mere second. She looked again at him. “Don’t take this wrong, really, but how old are you? You seem older than everyone else in that class.”

He laughed, and slipped his well worn backpack over his shoulders. He had little round gold glasses that he peered through at her. “I am older, probably, than you. I traveled with my family during high school. We’ve been in Europe and in Africa for the past few years.”

She was instantly fascinated. Cate’s family never traveled. “Why? What brought you there?” She followed through the door he held open for her, and they were suddenly blinking in the bright September midday sun.

He smiled and turned his face to the sky. “What a lovely day.” Then he looked right at Cate. “My father is a missionary. We were mainly in Eastern Europe and in Africa. Then, for a while, in Paris.”

Cate felt utterly, utterly provincial. “I know it sounds so American, but my family hardly ever left the Midwest. Iowa, actually.” As they walked toward the union, Cate noticed that he walked close to her.

“What other classes are you taking, Cate?” He looked right into her eyes when he talked to her. It was not Iowan, and it set her off balance.

She recalled the list she had taped to her closet door. “Honors English – well, you know that one. Honors French. Creative Writing. Women Writers of 19th Century England.”

“Hmmmm. I’m engineering, all the way. Honors English is a requirement.”

She frowned. “I don’t know anything about engineering. What kind of engineer?” She tilted her head to the side, listening and waiting.

“Civil. Someday I am going to construct villages in Africa. Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire. Bridges, wells. That kind of thing.”

She couldn’t think of a response. Crafting stories, her lifetime dream, or crafting wells and bridges. There was no comparison, and no commonality.

When they got to the union, Jace strode confidently through the main hall toward the patio. He called out greetings to several groups of students, a couple professors, and even the older woman serving pretzels and beer behind the counter. Cate fell back a few steps, the familiar anxiety and dread replacing her earlier wonder. When a tall woman with sleek, long dark hair, long legs and carefully painted lips bounded up to Jace – like a horse! Cate thought for a moment – Cate mentally bowed out of the day. Feeling like a kid, she waited until the woman finished her effusive greeting, and then she cleared her throat. “Um,” she murmured, "I’ve just realized I’ve got to get something before my next class. It was nice to meet you.”

Jace turned from Horse Girl and with real alarm in his voice, said “No, Cate, no. Let’s go find a table.”

She shook her head and frowned. “No, I really need to go. I’ll see you later, in class the next time.” As she turned and left, hurrying out of the crowded union hall, she chided herself. Silly, silly, silly.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Want to Read a Story I Wrote?

So a long, long time ago I started writing a story about a woman who runs into her first love on an airplane 15 years after they broke up. (This is a totally fictional story. It is not autobiographical. OK?) I nearly finished it last summer, and it ended up being really long. Not long enough to be a novel, not short enough to be a short story. It's actually not even all the way done. But I'm going to start putting it on my blog in short pieces for you all (I mean you THREE) to read.

Enjoy? If you like it, leave a comment! If you don't like it, well, shoot. I wish you did.

Elapsed Time

When she got to the plane that night, Cate limped over the threshold, and could barely smile at the flight attendant who welcomed her. But she did smile – Cate was nothing if not Midwestern, and polite. She hated flying, though, and she gripped her red Minnie Mouse phone tight to her ear. “Yes, bunny, I have the phone you chose.” And after a pause, “Yes, I love you. I’m on my way home. I’ll pick you up at Nai Nai’s, but it will be late. You probably won’t even wake up.” Then, after another moment, “Yes, bunny, we’ll have breakfast together tomorrow.”

The flight was full, and Cate knew just where she was sitting. She had an exit row seat – not because she needed the leg room. At 5’5”, she wasn’t that uncomfortable in a regular seat. The need for an exit row seat was driven by her own superstition. If she was in an exit row, it would be a safe flight. Period.

The seat next to her was empty, even though there were only a few minutes before takeoff. Cate carefully retrieved her laptop before shoving her tote under her seat, and she sat down to write. She had a fierce story bubbling up inside, and even though she didn’t like to write on planes, she felt compelled to start typing. Her fingers shook on the keyboard as she gratefully let the words pour out. Typing was strange too – normally she wrote longhand. The feeling of that ache in her shoulder, and her hand curling around the pen meant that she was truly hearing the story and setting it down. Within a few keystrokes, her fingers became more sure on the keyboard, and her mind was engaged. She felt that familiar sensation of tunnel vision, as if her mind was focusing on something very far away but that she knew was there. Her eyes were unfocused and her hair was tumbling out of its ponytail. She was, in a word, transported.

Transported – the reason she had been writing, every day, for every minute she could snatch between kindergarten, nursery school, and chicken nugget dinners, since her husband died. It was a ticket out, a way around, a departure from the rest of her life. Alone. The mother of two little girls. No family, except her mother-in-law (former mother-in-law? Ex-mother-in-law? What do you call the mother of your deceased husband?) who disliked her. Dislike was too kind a word. Cate remembered the first time she met Nai Nai, the way Nai Nai’s brown eyes, which seemed so friendly, like a dog’s, looked her up and down. Cate blushed, setting off her pale white skin next to Michael’s gorgeous olive complexion. Nai Nai turned away from her and said to her beloved only son, “She staying for dinner at my home?”

And so Cate’s brain, long accustomed to switching over into reverie, was quickly engaged. She did not on a conscious level recognize the person who sat down next to her in the exit row, row 23, of flight 3607, New York to Minneapolis. She was typing, typing, typing, and did not feel the person’s eyes on her face or on her body. She did not notice anything until a deep, quiet voice chipped through the writing fog. “Cate?”

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Just a Question Here

Why is that no matter how early I get up on a Saturday to work, and no matter how late Rose #3 went to bed the night before - a sleepover! Her cousins! A movie! Pizza! - she STILL gets up about 13 minutes after I get up.

I confess. I put warm clothes on her, marched her down to our unheated (but finished! with egress windows!) basement, turned on Disney Channel, and told her that if she wakes up her sisters and her cousins, I am going to go completely insane and die.

Really, I just told her to be quiet and watch TV so mommy can work. I don't think that's so bad, given that it's BEFORE 6:00 A.M. on a SATURDAY.

Oh yeah. I should get to work.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Woman With FRIENDS

When I think of friends, I can't help but think of my mother. She had more friends than anyone I ever met. At her deathbed, when we were all gathered around her, someone (I think it was my wise sister-in-law Tonya) made sure to call my mother's best friends to make sure they could come say goodbye.

And they did. Her best best friend was there. She supplied the Jimmy Johns sandwiches that the whole assembled crew had for lunch. Three other women showed up too, the ones that my mother met like the DAY she moved to Minnesota, newly divorced with three young, young, young kids in tow. She managed to make best friends with those people the day she moved here, and they saw her through to the very end, coming to bid her farewell as she slipped away from us.

These women were just the top of my mom's friend list. She had church friends, neighborhood friends, friends from her PTA days, friends from the days that she led Girl Scouts, book club friends. When she was rediagnosed with cancer in 2006, she formed four healing circles of 15 people each. That's 60 friends that she didn't hesitate to call to support her as she geared up to heal from cancer. Friends who gladly gave their time and their healing energy, because she had given her time and energy to them. As she got sicker and sicker at the end of her life, we kept encouraging her to cut back on visits from friends, but I think these visits sustained her and she was wise to keep her friends around her.

My mother had a special magic about her when it came to making and nurturing friendships. I wish I had studied it more when she was alive. I wish I asked her more questions about what makes a good friend and how she could befriend anyone - I mean anyone. I remember we went to Easter services at All Souls Unitarian in New York City (in Easter 2009). She made instant friends with the guy sitting next to her. In the middle of Manhattan. On Easter Sunday.
I sure do miss you Mom. Even though I say that I'm not my children's friend, I think you and I came to be friends over the years. That means that my loss was especially keen - a wonderful mother and a wonderful friend.

A Break from Musings About Friends

Don't you just want to hug and kiss this baby?

Baby Franny, Age 10 Weeks, On The Dining Room Table At Monday Night Dinner

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cousins as Friends!

Since all of my brothers and sisters are here in Minnesota, our kids are growing up together. We see each other every week for dinner on Mondays, and the cousins have a "cousin council" (which sounds really cute but often causes great intra-cousin tension). Cousin Council notwithstanding, we're being deliberate about fostering friendships between the cousins.

For example, my sister picks up Rose #1 and Rose #2 after school on Mondays and brings them to her house for a couple of hours before Monday Night Dinner. In exchange we take her daughter every other Saturday morning. Here's Rose #3 with Kate at lunch today:

Right before lunch, we broke out the Easy Bake Oven that Rose #3 got for Christmas! The cake that we made was done right in time for dessert. It was actually pretty good! It was a Betty Crocker mix.

I have lots and lots of cousins. Let me try to think - a whole bunch in California, some in Minnesota, some in other places. It's not as easy as Monday Night Dinner, but in 2011, I would like to try to connect more with them.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Falling into Friendships

A couple of times in my life I have been really lucky to fall into friendships.

Russian class, summer after freshman year of college. I sat across the room from a woman who I just knew would become a good friend. I remember she was wearing a plaid madras jumper on the first day of class. 20 years later, we've been in each other's weddings, seen each other through hard times and good times. 10 years ago, I joked that after our husbands died, we would live together in a house where everything was white, on the beach. (I think I had just seen that Jack Nicholson/Diane Lane movie.) I still think it might happen.

Daycare, after Rose #1 was close to 1 years old. A newly adopted baby came to join the baby room, a beautiful little girl from India. Her mom used to be a lawyer at my firm. Her mom and a few other daycare moms, and their husbands, became a small circle of friends for us while their kids were friends for our kids.

Next door neighbors, a couple years ago. Our kids meshed in with their kids like a pack. There was always someone to play with outside, good for a game of cops and robbers, or girls' club (which consisted mostly of painting nails, in my opinion).

I'm always on the lookout for friends, and hoping to make new ones. Sometimes it's good to remember that many friendships just happen.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

We Are Not Our Children's Friends. And Thoughts on Bedtime.

One thing that has always been an issue at our house is bedtime. Too often I have acted like my kids' friend - giving into their demands about a later bedtime, more snuggle time, "I'm afraid of the dark," "I can't fall asleep without Mommy in my bed," and so on.

I recently had reason to learn a little more about both kids' sleep patterns and the repercussions when kids don't get enough sleep, and that did it. No More Mrs. Nice Guy. I am no longer your friend, Roses. I am your MOMMY, and you're going to sleep.

Of course, real life gets in the way, and I had to send Rose #3 to bed to wait for me to read her story while I helped Rose #2 stay on task to finish her phenology assignment. (You can be forgiven if you've never heard of phenology. No, not PHRENOLOGY (the study of bumps on one's head to predict one's conduct and temperament) but PHENOLOGY (the study of how plants and animals react to seasonal changes). Even Wikipedia says that phenology is not to be confused with phrenology.) PHENOLOGY, people. Right after dinner, Rose #2 dutifully went outside - yes, in the dark, in the snow - to take photos of the bunny tracks leading to the very large evergreen in our backyard, under which the bunnies have a big old nest. Warren. Think Watership Down sans the unpleasant parts. Going out in the snow and dark to find bunny tracks is what you have to do when you have to write an entry in your phenology journal.

  • An aside: I never read Watership Down. Perhaps I should. Anyone? If it was that or the latest Emily Giffin novel, which would you read?

  • Another aside: Emily Giffin is living my dream. She used to be a lawyer, now she is a glamorous novelist and her first book is being turned into a movie which will be out next summer. Anyone want to go?

Back to my "I'm not my kids' friends, I'm their MOTHER" theme. I suspected that Rose #3 would fall asleep waiting with her Dora book, and I confirmed my suspicion with photographic evidence, above. Then I tucked her in, turned on her fan (for background noise - am I the only one who does this?), turned off her lights, and closed the door. Phew. One down.

The other Roses are more difficult to settle. I have taken to setting a stopwatch - I do still cuddle in their beds with them - so that it's no more than 5 minutes. OK, 6. Actually, 7. But that's IT. Rose #2 can be prickly - her first grade teacher remarked that she certainly is a middle child - but she went to sleep willingly enough after I gave her the heating pad to cuddle with. Rose #1 and I talked about her strategy for falling back asleep in the middle of the night - deep breathing exercises with a stuffed animal on her stomach (to rock it to sleep and also rock herself to sleep).

Ah. Everyone down.

I won't tell you about how they all ended up in my bed, again, at 2:00 a.m.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sisters as Friends, Redux

Sigh. This gem resulted when I asked the Roses to line up on the radiator for a quick cute pictures, Rose #3 tried to "lean on" Rose #1 (you know: Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your FRIEND, I'll help you carry on...) and then Rose #1 told her to stop it, and then the Rose cry ensued (HUGE wide open mouth - see, e.g., exhibit 1 above) and then I couldn't help but laugh a little.

Another thought about friends: Facebook. Yesterday the financial press was all lit up about how Facebook is worth like 800 kajillion billion dollars or something. I wish I had 1) computer programming skills, 2) vision, and 3) thought about friends and the value of gathering all your friends together, having them post updates about themselves, and putting it all on one horribly powerful social networking site about 20 years ago or whenever it is that Mr. Facebook got his deal started.

Do you all have hundreds of Facebook friends? I have about a hundred (keep in mind that my immediate family constitutes about 27 people, all of whom are on Facebook). I have to confess to pulling up some of my Facebook friends' friend lists and staring all agog at the hundreds of names listed there. Why don't I have 355 Facebook friends, or even a more moderate 247?
  • An aside, not wholly unrelated: I wonder how many people on Facebook are not actual real people but are instead made up and posted just for fun, or for people to try out new identities, or for people to pad their friends lists.

Anyway, I digress. I refuse to worry about whether my number of Facebook friends is too low. I refuse to worry about whether a refusal to worry about such things is something that a junior high student could figure out, not a weighty matter for a middle-aged woman.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sisters (and Sisters In Law) as Friends

I am lucky to have four sisters and two sisters in law who all live here in the Twin Cities with me. We spend a lot of time together - we see each other on Monday nights for dinner. We watch each other's kids. We have holidays together. Some of us go to church together. We have all been there to see each other marry, to see our kids dedicated/baptized, to cheer on good news and to mourn losses. I am so happy that I can call my sisters friends.

I earnestly hope that the Roses will call each other friends as the years go on. Rose #2 confided in me the other day that the reason she has such a short haircut is that she wishes she was a twin; having short hair like her big sister is her way of trying to look like an identical twin. Rose #3 sometimes reaches out her little 4.5-year-old arms for a comforting hug from her big sisters when her mom is upset about something (like disobeying me, lest you all think that I am a big old meanie). Rose #1 is often the exasperated oldest but she will sometimes help me, especially with Rose #3, who has complicated clothing and dressup needs that I often don't have the patience to deal with. (Like, I Want to Wear a Summer Dress In Mid-January. I Do Not Want To Pick It Out. Mommy, I Want You To Pick It Out. WAAAAAAAAAAAH! I DON'T WANT TO WEAR THAT DRESS! IT HAS SLEEVES! I Want You To Pick Out The Sundress I Will Wear To The Christmas Party! SOB! SHRIEK!! At this point I often bow out and appeal to higher powers, like my oldest daughter, to talk my youngest one off the Getting-Dressed Ledge.)

I know it is beyond my control, but I want my girls to grow up loving each other as siblings and as friends. In 2011 I will try to sow the seeds to make this happen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Friends, Again. A Medley of Thoughts

I've been thinking about friends, since that's the theme for January. Another meaning of the word friends: Quakers. The Religious Society of Friends.

I have a cousin who went to Earlham College (and met the love of her life there). Earlham is a Quaker school. I think that Quakers have a lot in common with Unitarians (our family is Unitarian). They believe in the ministry of all believers, of equality before God (whichever god it is that you worry about being equal before), the light within. These sound familiar to me. One more redeemer, and all that.

  • Aside: Rose #1 proclaimed very proudly the other day - "Hey, We're Unitarian!" Yes! I hope she continues to feel that way about her religious upbringing.

I digress from my topic: friends and Quakers. I feel sorry that I'm not closer with my cousin who went to Earlham. We're close in age; not in geography (she lives in Colorado). Our kids aren't close in age either. I wish I knew better how to stay in touch with people far away without seeming pathetic, like I don't have enough to do here at home. (I feel worried about seeming pathetic a lot. This may be holding me back.)

My brother and I had lunch a few months ago and I confided in him my I wish that I was in the popular group at church. (Popular! Again with the worrying about being popular!) Now it is quite possible that there IS no popular group at church, but it seems like there is. The overtures I have made to other women at church - women I teach Sunday School with, women who have kids in Sunday School with my kids - have not been very successful. After hearing this my brother, who is younger than me but quite wise especially about all matters to do with human interaction, had a very astute observation. To make friends, you have to seem like you are having fun. You can't hang around the fun people and hope to be invited into their circle: instead, you have to make your own circle of fun.

Here's to making a circle of fun in 2011. I am going to try to do it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year 2011! And, My Comments on Friends

Happy New Year to everyone. We were at my brother's house last night for a kid-friendly New Year's Eve party (ring in the New Year at 9:00 p.m.) and he wished me a happy 2011, adding that he hoped it would be better than 2010.

I second that notion.

The theme for Nablopomo for January is "friends." I have a New Year's resolution to be a better friend. To initiate friendships. To honor the friends I already have.

I have a comment about kids friendships: I hate playdates. I hate them for lots of reasons. I hate setting them up. I hate when we have friends at our house that I worry endlessly about the child guest getting hurt or sick at my house. What's THAT about? I've told other people about this particular fear and they think I'm nuts. (News flash: I am kind of nuts.) I hate worrying that my kids don't have enough playdates. I hate it when my kids call their school friends on the phone and I have to worry that they aren't going to be polite enough on the phone. I REALLY hate it when they hand me the phone and I have to chat with the heretofore unknown mother of the school friend.

There. I said it. Now what to do about it? I don't want my social ineptness to rub off on my children, although I already see it a bit in Rose #1. Rose #2 told me the other day that she really, really wants to be "popular." God save me from having to worry if my kids are POPULAR. Heck, I'm just going for 1) well-groomed, 2) healthy, 3) polite, and 4) has a friend or two to sit next to them at lunch.

I understand that by writing about one's neuroses, they might dissipate. We'll see if that works.