Monday, April 25, 2016

Conversation with Maeve (age 3 1/2)

Maeve appeared in the kitchen this afternoon smiling breezily and said, When are we going to die? Still the big smile.

When are we going to die?


Oh.  Probably not for a long time. 
I swallowed the probably part but said it.

A long time?

Yeah, probably when we get really old. 

Really old like... four?

No, more, old like 100.

100!  Woah, 100.  that's a big number.  

And then she danced out.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Being Here

I am four nights into my two week residency.  The chaos of the first morning resolved (and I troubleshooted -- troubleshot? -- my way to fixing the printer even!).  

So much is different than I expected.  I've been sleeping wildly, wakeful and restless in my own narrow bed.  I've flipped the light on at 3:30 and at 5 -- read and tossed and made tea.

During the days, I'm surprised by how easy it is to be here, how quickly I move through time sitting at my desk, paced by meeting the group for meals, the clack of the train going by, the clutter of blue jays, cardinals and mourning doves at the feeder beyond my window.

Despite what I'd planned (I thought just letters, videos, messages -- no direct contact would be best and most settling), I've facetimed with the kids every day, and even when they've dissolved into tears at the end of the call, I've stayed surprisingly intact.

I wonder what it will all feel like at this time next week?  So far the practice has been simply being where I am, in this hour, in this studio.  And the time passes full and easy.

Steeped in good words; a poem I love, whose last image keeps coming to me through the day:

Endless Forms Most Beautiful
                                Catherine Barnett

Praise these eyes for opening
before the highway split
and for giving the second another second,
another second or hours,

or days in which, suddenly old enough
to sit beside me in the passenger seat,
doubled over, face in shadow,
the nape of his neck

exposed, the back of his head
more known and unknowable to me
than anything else on the skidding earth,
the child humming along with Z100's

You reached me at the right number but at the wrong time
can reach into the dirty footwell not to brace
for the irreparable but simply
to tighten his cleats, singing,

feeding the endless black laces
through the line of bright aluminum eyes.

Monday, April 11, 2016

an hour an a half after the beginning

I think I have a fever.
My printer has eaten several pieces of paper and smeared words all over torn sheets.
Said printer then experienced "printer failure" and has stopped working all together despite numerous reboots.
The beautiful brand new printer cartridges I brought here do not fit in this printer.
My phone service has been suddenly and mysteriously"interrupted" so that I can not even call tech support.

Going for advil and to buy a new printer (somewhere).

It's going to get better, right?

A Beginning

It is April 11th, the first day of my 40th year.

I am sitting at a big wooden desk looking out at an unkempt grassy field with a line of blue ridge mountains low behind the trees.  The world is greening.

This is the first day of my two week writing residency in central Virginia.  It's the first time I've ever left my family for two weeks (or more than four nights!).  And it will be the first swath of space I've created for writing in a decade.

So far this morning I've checked my email several times, mapped out a possible August road trip, sent messages to Ben about a brownie meeting I forgot about, and made cups of tea.

Soon I will get to work -- whatever that will mean.

The visual art hanging all around this place -- sculptures jutting up out of fields, paintings tacked on walls --  the kind people framing the breakfast table, the darting birds: much here inspires.

Getting started -- now that's a different matter.

But I will go, on this first day of my last year in my 30's, and see what will come.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

A Moment: dentist, principal, mess

Two things have always been true: I dread taking kids to the dentist because it means sitting in the hot seat: have I failed and let my kids' teeth rot or am I mastering basic care?  And two, the worst place one can go at school is to the Principal's office (flashback to 1st grade, sitting on the linoleum floor in the hall awaiting my sentence -- Principal's office or not --because I'd teased Elizabeth Valcheck.  I remember the dread of having to tell my parents).

In February I rustled up my courage and took the kids to the dentist.  One child sank into the chair with fear and trepidation and walked out with shiny teeth, per usual.  The other cheerfully clamored in and after the usual poking had one small cavity.  A cavity??  Yes.  There were alligator tears and a minor twinge of parenting guilt, but the cavity was so superficial, the dentist filled it without even a pinch of Novocaine.  Whew.

As he'd finished taking x-rays, Maeve and I watched the fish in the aquarium, and I checked out.  As we were about to leave, the doctor came out and waved me over:

There are quite a few.
Quite a few what? 
Seven more. 
Yes.  So we are going to have to schedule several follow up appointments.
Oh, this poor kid has my genes (flashbacks to sealants and drilling and metal fillings through elementary school.  I'd never considered genetics in the dentist-parenting-test).
Actually, these cavities are from diet.
Diet?  (how can you tell that??)  We aren't a sugar family.  I mean we have sugar, but we're not super sugar eaters.
Well, that may be true at home, but you don't know what your child eats apart from you, at school and for snack.
Actually I do.  (how dare you!) I know pretty much everything my child eats every day.
(glare -- and the instantaneous conclusion that this dentist clearly isn't cut out for working with children).

I walked to the car a condemned mother: seven cavities!  (really EIGHT since we'd already taken care of one).  I could see a slight tinge of shame washing over my child and had no choice but to normalize this mouth of cavities and chock it up to genes (and the fact that I haven't helped with brushing my kids' teeth for years and don't buy them floss).

Two months later:

I have found a pediatric dentist who is like a cartoon princess and has terms for every part of the filling process --"lollypop" (numbing gel), "sleepy juice" (Novocaine),  "raincoat" (ring around the tooth being worked on) -- has TVs mounted on the ceiling, and and uses laughing gas, which I am not quite sure is ok...

We are there for our first round of real fillings, and I am the nervous one.  Maeve and I have squeezed into the room and settled in the corner on two chairs where we draw fish and drink cups of water from the waiting room, and I shoot anxious looks at the unfazed child on the chair.  It's lunchtime and we've been here for a long time, so I've sneaked a jar of trail mix from my bag, pretty confident there's a no food policy in the office, but we're eating quietly.

My child is happily relaxed, wearing leopard sunglasses, numbed up, with mouth propped open.  I am sitting wondering if it's all right to drug a child and begin life thinking this is what the dentist is like.

Just then my phone rings.  It's the principal.  Actually, it's the vice principal standing in as the principal for a few months.  Immediately I launch into a speech about how I'm sorry I didn't call to say my child would be late for school but we're at the dentist and will in fact be coming in, just later this morning.
Oh, that's fine.  I'm calling because there's been a little incident here at school.
Slow dawning -- principals are not the people who call about attendance. He used the word "incident." But he's also the vice-ish principal not the actual one.
Oh, you aren't calling about attendance, are you?
No, no.  Well, at line up, there was some rough housing between X and Y -- (X obviously being my child).  He then recounted the incident that included their tripping over a third party, which infuriated Y and caused more aggression that ended with X -- my child -- biting Y's arm.
Wait, X bit someone?

I am trying to concentrate on what he's saying and gauge the seriousness, but just next to me, the dentist and hygienist are loving this.  I hear happy dentist voice:
so you have a sibling?  
yes (muffled from chair)
sounds like some trouble at school
mmmmhmmmm (though I am confident child in chair is not tracking phone conversation)
...oh, BIT someone?!?  

Back to phone:
Wow, he must have been really angry.
Vice principal man continues with the story -- he isn't that concerned because the two have resolved their conflict well and are back to friends blah blah, but his concern is the roughhousing at school and during lineup.  It sounds like it was more impulse control than anything else.  So the kids came to my office to talk it out -- 
Wait -- they came to your office.  Does this mean X was sent to the Principal's office?
As in he got in trouble and was sent to the Principal's office?
Ok.  Just clarifying here.  That's serious.  

Hygienist and dentist:
Oh no!  A trip to the Principal's office! 
That's trouble now!

Then, as I am wrapping up the conversation with the principal (clearly the principal, temporary or not) and desperately trying to concentrate on what he's saying and make intelligent comments about how we should handle this at home and what the consequences ought to be, Maeve overturns the entire jar of top secret trail mix -- sunflower seeds, nuts, craisins everywhere.

Trying to censor any defensiveness of my child -- though I am now caught between the stigma of going to the Principal's office and thinking I probably would have bitten the kid too -- kneeling as I scrape dusty nuts off the floor, trying to play it cool for this dentist-hygienist team who has  never met the biting child, I try wrapping up the conversation with any shred of dignity and finally hang up.


Later that day, the child waltzes off the bus.

Hey! How was school today?
Oh, it was good!
It was?
Yeah.  We played cops and robbers at recess 
(kid is smiling, bouncing along)
Hm, what else happened today?
Oh we got to read longer than normal and I finished my book -- I'm so hungry!
Yeah, you should have a snack.  So, anything else happen today?
Really? Nothing else happened? ...
Finally a pause to look at my face. Oh.  body language sinks.  I got in trouble today.
You did?

What happened?
Well, Y and I were kind of wrestling at line up and I tripped on Z, which made Y fall down, and Y was so angry that he grabbed me from behind and somehow (
starts acting this out), his arm went here (pulls his own arm up to his mouth) and my mouth was open, and somehow my mouth went like this (acts out closing his teeth on his own arm) -- i don't know how. 
You mean you bit him?
Well kind of.  But I didn't mean to.  Somehow his arm was just in my mouth.

The conversation continued...