Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

one

It’s Thursday, and Sean has an important interview on Friday at 3 pm. He’s nervous. I’m nervous. We’re all nervous. It’s a REALLY BIG DEAL and we’re all attached to the outcome.

Jane: Flora and I will do some magic at three. Draw a pentagram on the floor, sacrifice a small..

Flora: Child?

She looks at Ender poignantly as she says this, and the Unicorn’s eyes are so expressive, Ender starts to cry.

Sean: I will be very very upset if you sacrifice any small child, but especially if it’s MY small child.

Flora: But….

Sean: And it sets a dangerous precedent. Once he’s gone… who’s next in line to be sacrificed/ Hmmmm?

Flora: Cinder. The spells always call for the eldest child or the youngest child. For once, being in the middle has a bonus!

By now Ender is howling—fake crying but still—Cinder is threatening to burn Flora’s books—“WE NEVER EVER BURN BOOKS IN THIS HOUSE!!”—that’s my contribution—and Sean’s wondering if perhaps we should stop getting Flora witchcraft books out of the library.

I’m watching. Taking notes, obviously.

two

Hell froze over on Wednesday but after doing all the work and ruining supper (it wasn’t entirely my fault), I trudged through the cold and snow to have tea with a fellow artist.

I learned something important but it’s all confused inside me right now. It’s there… germinating. I suppose it’s a seed.

So thank you for that.

three

On Tuesday, we introduced Ender to Bill Waterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. Cinder had committed all ten years of the strip to memory by the time he was eight and Flora still sleeps with the complete editions we got her for Christmas—the year she was eight—under her pillow.

Flora: Under my bed.

Jane: Shall I look under your pillow to prove my point?

Flora: No!

Sean and I think Bill Waterson is a genius, and in our more dogmatic moments, believe Calvin & Hobbes should be mandatory reading for all parents—part of pre-natal classes, or maybe delayed till your kinder are three or four, but absolutely mandatory by the time they’re five. You see, Waterson captures so perfectly the inner life and logic a child, the interplay of reality and imagination. The fire and the helplessness, the freedom and the frustration…

I generally think I’m a pretty good parent for two reasons—the the first is that I remember. I remember not just being six and sixteen… but what it felt like to be six and sixteen.

I think one of the tragedies of modern prescriptive-scientific-lived-on-social-media-so-many-books-and-blogs-and-artciles-telling-you-what-you-SHOULD-do parenting is… that most people just don’t remember. They don’t remember what if felt like to be small.

They remember… facts, events, accurately or not. Things done to them, said to them. But they forget… how those things made them feel.

(The second reason, by the way, is that I’m selfish, in a self-aware way. More on that later.)

four

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,  I am super-productive, tying up all the loose ends, running, sprinting—pause, breathe—and then a prolonged interlude to ground myself, see that I’m almost done and revel in what I’m about to finish…

But even in the middle of it all, I take time—make time?—for pleasure and love, sheesha and hot tea, a lover’s embrace. Time slows down, suddenly, everything is possible, everything is clear—everything will get done.

I make time for reading too, not work-related reading (novels are now work-related reading and I do need to figure out how to reset that), but soul-nurturing reading.

You: I thought you were this hard-core atheist.

Jane: Hush. I have a tender little atheistic soul. Don’t crush it.

I read this:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

It’s quoted in this book:

Ordinary Goodness by Edward Viljoen… I’m not quite finished the book yet, and I’m not sure I’m going to get to the end. It’s making me feel kind of bad about myself.

Jane: See, I just don’t think I’ve got a drive to be good. Or kind.

Sean: What do you mean?

Jane: I just don’t think I’m that good. The way he defines the word. And I don’t really want to be. All the “practice this” sections? About how to be this person who celebrates and lives and practices ordinary goodness and everyday kindness? I read them and I say, “Fuck, who has time for that? I’d rather be writing.”

Sean: You’re an artist.

Not, I suppose, an altruist. Or much of a humanist, really.

See? Selfishly self-aware.

It has some bonuses, I won’t lie. But also pitfalls.

five

On Monday, I do something not good. Unkind. Selfish. Not even to fulfill a burning desire—more a whim, temper of the moment—I do something that makes me so conscious of my selfishness and unkindness that I weep.

I’m not going to tell you what I did. One, it’s private, two, I’m ashamed, three, it doesn’t matter.

I do something not-good that, yes, potentially harms other people.

But here’s the thing:

Even before it harms them—it harms me.

I feel awful.

six

As Monday became Tuesday, Cinder forgot to put away the dishes before he went to bed.

“It was 2:30 in the morning!” he says later. “I remembered, but I was already in bed!”

He puts them way noonish—at least, they’re put away when I get back home Tuesday afternoon.

While Cinder still sleeps, and the clean but un-put-away dishes litter the kitchen counter, Sean and I resist the urge to a) do his job b) be angry at him.

“Remind Cinder to put them away when he gets up,” I tell Sean as I head out the door.

“I’ll remind him eventually,” Sean says. “I’m not going to… ‘Good morning, you didn’t put away the dishes last night’—starting the day with being nagged about something you didn’t do last night and probably feel bad about forgetting to do… that’s not a very loving way to wake up.”

I kiss him and for a few minutes rest in the love of his arms.

He remembers what it felt like to be sixteen, six too.

seven

I remember trying to explain attachment parenting to some “this sounds fucking weird people” a decade, more ago, and saying something along the lines of, “Attachment parenting gave us this amazing, loving little son.”

I’d never say that now.

I’d say, “Attachment parenting made ME a better, more compassionate, more complete person.”

Caveat 1: I never treated it as a religion or dogma.

Caveat 2: I chose selfishly self-aware over martyr, for better or worse, every single time.

eight

Friday, we smoke seesha, Saturday, we play Bears versus Babies, and on Sunday, I have a fight with Cinder.

Well. Not a fight, exactly.

He gets angry. His anger infects me. I tell him that. He calls me a hippy, and I slam the stainless steel serrated knife I’m holding against the kitchen table, as he slammed his “switchblade-style” bottle opener against the table a few seconds earlier. I start to cry and he storms off to his room. I weep outside his door, barred. So angry, so helpless, why will he not tell me what’s wrong?

I drag myself away from his bedroom door to the kitchen. Go back to reading Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier Than You Think.

Read this:

Even If It’s Senseless, Mushrooms Matter

My friend Alta’s life was a lesson to me, and her death was a lesson to me, too. She enjoyed good health for seventy-nine years, then quite suddenly she became desperately ill, and it was clear she would die very soon. She accepted this awareness with her normal consummate grace. That was half the lesson she taught me.

The other half was about what makes sense. On the last day Alta could talk to me, two days before she died, we talked about meaning.

“I’m thinking about the meaning of it all,” she said, “and it doesn’t seem very important. What do you think?”

“Maybe it’s ‘much ado about nothing,’” I said.

“Seems like that,” she replied, adding, “You did a good eulogy for your father.”

“I’ll do yours too.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble…”

“Give me a break, Alta! What do you want me to say?”

“It doesn’t matter. Say anything you want.”

“How about if i give your recipe for the great marinated mushrooms you make?”

“That’s a good idea. They were very good. People liked them a lot.”

“Do you remember the recipe? You could give it to me now.”

“Not exactly. Look it up. It’s in my recipe box. Remember to say they shouldn’t be made more than four hours before you eat them. The mushrooms wilt.”

Mushrooms are as meaningful as anything else.

Sylvia Boorstein, It’s Easier Than You Think, pg 121

Cinder comes back downstairs to his computer. I get up, slowly. There is no anger in me. There is no anger emanating from the other room. But there is shame in me at my anger.

I go up to him and hold him, hug him.

He hugs me back.

We don’t talk, but that’s ok.

We talk later.

nine

Friday, I am trying to take some time for myself, but, children—the sheesha at the end of the day is a treat. Saturday, I run from event to event, overscheduled and frazzled, a little, but also happy.

I matter. I find out I matter, I hear I matter, I feel I matter.

And then, suddenly—I don’t.

Hello, weekend existential crisis.

ten

It’s Sunday so I no longer really remember what happened Monday (proofing) or Tuesday (proofing, an interlude for love) and all I remember from Wednesday is that it was too cold to live and yet we walked in the Ice Age anyway. Sean’s interview on Friday went well even though Flora did not sacrifice her little brother to the human resources gods.

On Sunday, I make the bathroom and a quarter of the kitchen shine. It deepens my existential crisis: I wish scrubbing kitchen counters mattered, was in the least bit fulfilling, changed the world—or at least filled my soul.

It doesn’t.

Does this? This scribbling, throwing of words into the cyber-ether?

Probably not.

Flora: Chocolate?

Jane: Thanks. I love you.

Flora: I love you too.

Sylvia Boorstein:

… when I love, I’m happy.

eleven

I guess the third Monday of 2018 will start with existential angst. But maybe not. God is not merciful—I’m not sure the universe exists—but my abstract concept of life has a wicked sense of humour.

Ender: I’m hungry!

Jane: Chocolate?

He says no. I give him a cold porkchop instead. He eats it while watching his older brother and sister play Minecraft.

Flora: I still say we should have sacrificed him.

Ender: Mom!

Jane: Flora!

Somewhere, an imagined God laughs.

And I smile.

Self-indulgently yours,

“Jane”

PS Last word this week to Sylvia Boorstein:

“We are VERBS not NOUNS
EXPERIENCES unfolding
STORIES TELLING THEMSELVES
as sequels to other STORIES
previously told.”

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

An unhappy childhood

I.

I know you all worry about fucking up your children. You wouldn’t be a thinking parent if you didn’t. I’ve got great news for you. We* had a meeting the other day, and we decided that:

1. All of our kids will need therapy anyway.

2. “Successful” parenting means they’ll need therapy for different things than WE need therapy for.

Right? We can’t get everything right, of course not. How can we? So long as we avoid/minimize doing what we know is wrong—what we know first hand is wrong… we’re doing ok.

So chill. But also, add a “saving for Joey’s therapy” line to the family budget…

II.

Proof that, on the whole, we get it right:

Flora: Mom? What does that say?

Jane: It’s an excerpt from an Ernest Hemingway book. Someone asks, “What is the best early training for a writer?” And the answer is, “An unhappy childhood.”

Flora: Well, I’m screwed then. Good thing I’d rather be an artist or a veterinarian, anyway.

Neurotic parenting for the win!

III.

Sean: What are you doing?

Jane: Wallowing in existential angst.

Sean: Again?

Jane: I put it in calendar as a regular thing. Every Monday, 8:30-8:45. Then I drink coffee. Then I function.

Flora: Dad? Is Mom crazy?

Sean: Yes. But she’s ours, and we take care of her. Now, go let the dog out while I grind her coffee beans.

Flora: You’d better give her some chocolate too.

Ender: On it!

I love them buttsacks of mine.

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-Unhappy childhood

PS Looking for me? Find me here.

 * “We” = select members of a select club I belong to called Elitist Bitches Who Don’t Like to Make New Friends, thinking mothers with issues all. No, you can’t join, but you could secretly start your own chapter. Except now that I’ve told you about it, the other bitches will probably blacklist me. Ooops. My bad…

xo

PS2 “This is a very short post, and sort of short on insight, Jane. What’s up?”

“What? Nothing. Why? What have you heard? Not true. Ssssh. I’ll be long-winded next week. Maybe. Deadlines…”

Math, penises, impaired visual memory and existential angst

I.

Somewhere, in the math word problem instructions, was the phrase “be as creative as you like.” Oops. Here comes Flora:

Question: There are five elephants at the zoo. How many big elephant ears are there in the zoo herd?

Answer: There are nine ears, because Bill the male elephant only has one ear. He lost the other one when the zookeepers were rescuing him during the flood. This is a terrible tragedy, especially as all the other elephants make fun of him. You might think elephants are all cute and kind, but some of them are evil bastards.

And, here comes Cinder:

Question: Farmer Jones’ field is 167 m long and 4 m wide. Calculate the perimeter ( P ) and area ( A ).

Answer: P = ENIS A = SS.

II.

Speaking of penises (and when don’t I?), we’re renovating our bathroom. Because we’re insane and the reconstruction in the basement isn’t enough (actually, truly: it was a sanity-saving move: this one small thing, we can do and get done NOW). We’re en route to one of those horrid stores full of home renovation crap* and Sean asks me what kind of faucet I want. I stare at him blankly.

Sean: You know there are different kinds of faucets.

Jane: Um… sure. Yeah.

Sean: Do you want one that’s like the one we have now, or do you want something different?

I spare you the long technical and thoroughly incomprehensible to me description of European versus North American faucet styles and why this matters that follows, and jump to this: I am trying, very hard, to visualize our current sink and faucet, the place where I wash my hands and brush my teeth several times a day and have done so for eight, nine years? What does our sink look like? I’m fairly sure it’s white… possibly that colour they call ecru or ivory… round? Aren’t most sinks round? And the faucet? Christ. It’s just a faucet. Water comes out of it. I gather that one of the things my considerate beloved is trying to determine is whether I want a faucet with two separate hot-and-cold taps or one swivel tap. I close my eyes. Concentrate. I have no fucking clue what our faucet looks like. He reads my mind…

Sean: You have no idea what our faucet looks like?

The kids howl.

Jane: Fine, laugh. What do you think our faucet looks like?

Flora: It’s this dark shade of silver, with a beautiful curve. A line of green just around its base.** It’s just high enough that it reflects in the mirror, and when the taps are turned off, the cold one points at Ender’s collection of orange tooth brushes and the hot one at that weird splotch of red that you say is not blood on the wall beside the toilet.***

Cinder: That is not what Mom wants to know. The faucet has three holes, and they’re less than an inch way from the back splash… and probably eight inches apart from each other―I mean the outside two. And the sink is just over three feet high, and not quite two feet deep and 30 inches―no, actually, probably only 26 inches long.

Ender, paying intense attention to the conversation, shakes his head. And jumps in…

Ender: Our faucet looks like a penis.

Cinder: Actually, I’d like to change my answer to Ender’s.

Flora: I hate to ever agree with the boys, Mom, but yeah, Ender’s right. Our faucet looks like a penis.

Apparently, so does the new one.

Or so they tell me. When I close my eyes and try to see it… all I see is flowing water…

III.

Flora: Mom? What do adults talk about when there are no kids around?

Jane: Existential angst.

Flora: What’s that?

Jane: I think… it’s like trying to figure out who the heck you want to be when you grow up. Except that you’re already grown up, and so you feel like you should have figured this out already. But you haven’t. But you think you should…

Flora: But aren’t you just you?

Jane: What?

Flora: Well, I’m a kid. But I’m me. And when I grow up, maybe I’ll be a veterinarian. Or a painter. Or something. But I’ll still be me, right?

Right. And so… is that what existential angst is? Thinking that being you―being me―just isn’t enough?

xoxo
“Jane”

PS For those of you who’ve been unfortunate enough to witness me hitting my head against a brick wall last week: I’m not quite ready for the sledge hammer, but I’ve found me a rope ladder… Don’t get the reference? Then you’ve missed “I just want my kids to be happy.” Really? I don’t, and here’s why.

Next week: why I think “The CEO has a uterus―no, wait, he doesn’t but half his workforce does” is the most important thing I’ve ever written (as my real self), and why you―yes, you―need to go change the work world.****

Math-penises-staircase-to-everywhere.jpg

Footnotes galore

*I know you love those stores. I don’t. They smell. They’re too full of stuff. Worse, it’s all―well, a lot of it―stuff I need, because a third of my house is still a skeleton of its former self. Now what have you done? I’m all post-flood weepy again… OK. Moving on…

**The green is a deposit of limestone, because… crappy housekeeper. I know you think you are―I really am.

***It’s not blood. I promise. You don’t want to know what it is… but it’s not blood.

****Having a split on-line/writing personality is getting incredibly onerous. If you’re thinking of doing it: don’t. It leads to mild on-line schizophrenia, has bizarre implications on your real life, and reintegration is a bitch.

Looking for me?  Go to the for-stalkers-and-bloggers-and-no-I’m-a-real-sane-fan! section: Find “Jane”