Thursday, November 26, 2009
"At that moment I couldn't care less. You go along with the faculties you have almost as if you are normally equipped. And then something like this happens and you realize what a defective you are."
Hit me like a thud in the chest. It so exactly describes the way I feel when I am suddenly limited by my vision loss. For the most part, given the adaptations I (and we) have made in our lifestyle, things run along pretty smoothly. Mostly, people tell me that if I hadn't told them, they never would guess that I'm blind. And I feel, what, proud? So people who can't hide their blindness should be embarrassed?
Of course 'defective' is a self-indulgent word to use. Everyone has things they cannot do and plenty of people have a lot more limitations on their lives than I do. I think it's precisely because I live life like a 'normal' person that facing my defect can be so startling.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The Heat Is On
In the summer of 1976, my sister Jenny and I learned to adapt to a life where we were playing Barbies with the nice Lutheran girls across the street one day, and trying to shake, shake, shake our booties at loud, multi-racial gatherings the next. Our parents had separated so completely that it became impossible to imagine they had ever been together. The divorce wasn’t legally final but the changes were irrevocable. My white father stayed in the very white suburbs he thought were safe, and my white mother moved to the very black inner city of Detroit where she could afford to live and go back to school.
That August, in the midst of fluctuating custody arrangements, Jenny and I were sent to a summer camp while our two younger brothers were shuttled between parents. “Urban Third World Camp” was arranged by an anti-racism group called People Acting for Change Together (PACT). The camp’s name was to recognize the low quality of life in the ghetto.
Mary and Sharon, a couple of the PACT members, were friends of my mother and had recently divorced, gone back to school, and become politicized. Both women were tall and whip-thin, had long, blond hair and wore large, wire-frame glasses. They tended to wear tight-fitting shirts that snapped at the crotch and skin-tight jeans that ended at like-colored boots or sandals. The overall effect from afar was of two streamlined swathes of color striding across the horizon. Up close, their pale selves were often serious. In the presence of black people, however, I saw them get giggly and shrill with what I assumed was excitement at the voyage away from the stifling suburbia where they’d cocooned for a decade or more. Also, I believe that they truly did want to change the world. The proximity of black people might have caused a giddy sense of efficacy simply because it unequivocally signaled being in, or at least near to, the trenches.
My mother admired and, to a certain extent, emulated Mary and Sharon, but they were older than she by just enough that she was always odd-woman-out. She was also shorter, more insecure, and tended to wear brighter colors. Plus she had just become single mother to four children, one of whom was a recently weaned infant.
Their children being older, Mary and Sharon had a lot more time to be political; they would be administrators at the camp. They each had one teen-aged child who would be a counselor and one younger child who would be a camper. My mother enrolled my sister and me with a logic that she now admits was ‘dichotomous thinking’: Anything the reverse of what was must be better. I was ten and my sister was nine years old.
On a hot Sunday, we were loaded onto one of three rickety busses along with a contingent of Detroit’s underprivileged youth. We were the only two white kids on our bus. There were well over a hundred campers; of these, four campers and two teenaged counselors were white and from the suburbs. The other hundred-plus were black and from the ghetto. Among the staff of perhaps twenty teachers and administrators, Mary and Sharon and a man named Mr. Bates were white. Everyone else was black.
According to sociologists, it takes a minority presence of at least 4-5% in a mixed group for the minority to begin to feel comfortable. We white kids were teetering at that margin and had never before experienced being in the minority. Just like us, the black kids were used to racial homogeneity in their day-to-day lives, but they could never escape their minority status in the larger world.
On the bus, I sat next to Jenny listening to rowdy outbursts from the back and the whisperings closer to us. I feared, absurdly, that our two suitcases would be lost and we would be wearing the same underwear for two weeks.
Almost immediately came the panic of group interaction. One of the adults began the singsong “Roll Call.” Starting at the back of the bus, each person sang about him- or herself while everyone else clapped and then the group sang a chorus. There was posturing in the bus aisle, self-aggrandizement, exaggerated reactions. Some kids even went twice.
The song went like this:
“My name is ______
my sign is _____
(free-form statement about self)
so check it out!"
The group responded: “Roll call, sha-boogie! Check, check it out!"
My sister and I were completely unprepared to perform like that, a feat that would scarcely be acceptable in our own bedroom let alone on a rolling bus in front of unpredictable strangers.
“My name’s Simone,
and I’m a Virgo.
I dance like Soul Train
so check it out!”
Neither one of us can remember how we got through it. My guess is that the adult in charge recognized our fear and either skipped over us or did our parts themselves.
We rode for about an hour to ‘the country:’ a litter-clogged river along which cabins squatted by skinny trees, weeds, and the occasional towering oak or weeping willow. Near the entrance stood a large auditorium, smaller classroom buildings, and staff lodging. At one end of the row of cabins was a girls’ bathroom and, at the other end, the boys’.
In the festive air of our arrival, we were given cabin assignments and clambered over each other in the dirty patch of grass where our luggage had been deposited. What had happened subtly on the bus happened freely now during this melee: hands reached out and stroked my hair. When I turned, I saw only arms, blank faces, the backs of heads. No one laughed as if it was a joke and no one ever pulled. I suppose our hair was our whiteness manifest—straight, long, blond—and while their lives had been flooded with images of white people, they’d possibly never touched one of us. I didn’t appreciate the novelty of my own hair until I thought about learning what their hair felt like. I stopped turning around to see what was happening and let them touch my hair. Later, in the cabin, I touched theirs. So soft.
Jenny and I never did anything to our hair except wash and comb it. By contrast, the girls in our cabin worked at each other’s hair with focus and intensity, sectioning and pulling tight, braiding in tiny cornrows. Their scalps gleamed where the hair was pulled back.
Occasionally someone would yelp at the pain, but mostly the girls sat quietly, even when their heads were yanked back by the force of the pull. Caught halfway through the procedure, a girl might have half her head tight in braids and the other fuzzy, with a comb or pick sticking out, stowed there by the hairdresser.
Instead of cornrows, they sometimes had multiple segmented ponytails or else put the whole thing up in a scarf. For larger sections of hair they used the kind of rubber bands that come with two colored beads to wrap around and lock in place. For cornrows, they used really tiny bands, like the ones that come around green onions or radishes, and sometimes they added beads at the ends.
Watching these beautiful girls, I felt washed-out and boring. I was torn between wanting some of those options for myself and gratitude that I didn’t have to sit still for so long.
After a day or two, a girl named Desirae asked if she could comb my hair and in return I tried to comb hers. I was used to long comb strokes and kept accidentally snapping the pick out of her hair. Her method of smaller flicks ended up teasing my hair rather than untangling it. We both improved with practice.
“It’s like corn silk,” Desirae said.
“But yours is like a cotton puff.”
Mostly, in moments like that, the curiosity was innocent and the questions and comments were free flowing. But there were also girls like Simone, tough girls who approached us with animosity and didn’t seem to ever warm up. When she came to our cabin the black girls shut up, but Jenny and I practically crawled under the floor. She was there to see us.
“Hey white girl. Who you shakin’ your hair at?” she’d ask us. Or: “Whachu got in that suitcase? Anything good?”
Jenny and I blushed and hid our faces. It seemed like she set the rules. We never would have waltzed into another cabin and started asking questions, rifling through stuff. It was so unthinkable that we had no strategy for responding; we simply watched in fear and fascination. When Julie, Sharon’s daughter and our cabin counselor, came through the door, Simone played nice, but not so nice that we didn’t fear her return.
I hadn’t experienced diversity before because I’d never been so unequivocally different. At camp, I had a two-week experience of being in the local minority, but I would never claim to fully understand my co-campers’ life experience. While there, I sensed some antipathy directed toward me, but mostly just curiosity. I wouldn’t say I experienced prejudice or racism or that I could approach an understanding of being non-white. But I did learn a lot about being white.
The director of the camp was Bill Saunders (Mr. Saunders to campers). He had two children who didn’t live with him but who were there as campers. Mr. Saunders used to make great show out of martial arts demonstrations with them. He wore leather armbands studded with silver, neck chains, and a link from his wallet to his jeans pocket. A chain ran under the bottom of his motorcycle boots and up around the ankle. When he made the abrupt, powerful movements of the forms, he clanked forcefully.
His daughter, the older of his children, followed the moves with precision. His son hadn’t quite mastered the fine motor skills but there was no mistaking the fierce look on his face. Mr. Saunders would call out numbers and the three of them would thrust out an arm with the fist clenched, then, depending on the next count, give a high kick or a lunge. We didn’t learn that.
In our daily sessions, we learned African dance and African history; we went through awareness-raising exercises. There were art classes and prayer sessions, and also a good deal of free time. We ate our meals in the large cafeteria where, not surprisingly, the six white kids sat together. Satellites from other groups sometimes approached with songs or teasing or some sort of rap. Occasionally we had an idea how to respond and entered into self-conscious conversations. I tried to be bold, especially with the kids younger than I was, but I still felt fairly certain that they were laughing at me later.
Every night there was a dance in the auditorium with someone spinning records and occasionally exhorting the crowd into more frenzied dancing. The girls primped and swapped clothes freely beforehand, but I never saw them practice any of the steps they executed on the dance floor, moves that my body couldn’t begin to replicate. My sister and I were happy to learn a couple of stock patterns that we hoped kept us respectable.
On the first night, we faced the humiliation of being the only two people in a crowd who couldn’t clap on the downbeat. CLAP! clap. CLAP! clap. CLAP! clap.
Our habit was remarkably resilient. I remember looking in wonder: How could they all be so off?
We muted our clapping and watched. Listened. Without our jarring counterpoint, we could begin to feel the groove. On the stereo, the Isley Brothers sang “Fight the powers that be.” We began to feel a little funky even. “I try to play my music, they say my music’s too loud. I try talkin’ about it, I got the big runaround. And when I roll with the punches I got knocked on the ground by all this BULLSHIT goin’ down.”
On the dance floor, bodies twisted, feet stamped the floor, voices confirmed that bullshit was definitely goin’ down.
We tried a couple of claps with the crowd and it felt really good. “The heat is on,” the Isley Brothers told us. Since that lesson, I can barely force myself to clap on the white beat.
I spent my free time at camp writing poetry in a spiral-bound yellow notebook and feeling very deep and political in a way that I hoped would please my mother. To my surprise, Mr. Saunders began seeking me out and he spent quite a bit of time with me, reading and commenting on my poetry, asking about my experiences at the camp, and generally giving me support I sorely needed.
In the couple of months before camp, my life had become unpredictable. The attention of an adult gave me glimpses of calm and order, a vague idea that someone was in charge and looking after all the details. I didn’t witness Mr. Saunders spending that kind of time with other campers, besides his own children, and I confess that I didn’t even question it. I needed it and I just took it in.
The notebook is long gone, but I remember the gist of two of the poems in particular. One was a fable lamenting the fact that no one mourned when a ladybug died even though that bug was probably very important in its own insect community. The other was an allegory using a banquet table to represent the world’s abundance and spoke in despair of the people who had no food. Mr. Saunders told me that I had a real understanding of downtrodden people.
I can see now that I was a small replica of Mary and Sharon, right down to the wire glasses and white guilt. I don’t know what motivated Mr. Saunders. I don’t know what propelled Mary and Sharon or what pleased me so much about Mr. Saunders’ attention, but as an adult I can assume that we were powerfully attracted to a black man who forgave us for being white.
I had read The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass and railed against the nonsensical cruelty he experienced. I remember trying to get my mother to explain how slavery could ever have happened, which of course she couldn’t do. The only relief came from thinking that it was all a long time ago, unconnected to anyone I knew or could imagine knowing. At the time I read that book, my family did not really know any black people. But neither did we know any racists, except for Grandpa and he was just wrong about everything and lacked any power anyway.
When I wasn’t writing, I often lay on my bunk and looked out the window toward the river. I didn’t feel confident enough to go swimming without the backup of the other white campers; neither was I keen to wander aimlessly, especially after I had stumbled upon a couple of boys smoking behind one of the buildings and been chased back to the cafeteria.
One day near the end of camp, I stared distractedly out the window wondering what my life would be like when I returned home, whether all the kids in my class would know about my parent’s divorce, or if I would even go to the same school. Then I realized that I could look through the window, but I could also look at the window and see the dust and insects, the web strings and bird droppings. At the window. Through the window. I thought I might have super powers, but kept it to myself. The focusing and re-focusing occupied me until everyone else returned to the cabin for rest period. Then I lay awake and wondered how to do good for the world.
During the two weeks, my sister and I had been sort of ‘courted’ by two of the boys. It was flattering and I’m sure harmless, but completely different from what we’d ever faced at our elementary school. The boys we knew might pass notes saying something cryptic like “do you think girlY296 is cute?” The boys from Urban Third World camp came at us directly and urgently, the way we imagined men went after women when they wanted something serious in return.
In that sense, it was frightening. My classmates would never admit to ‘liking’ a girl, let alone yell out “I love you!” in front of a crowd. Jenny and I had no experience being the recipients of such concentrated, incontrovertible attraction. Nor had we ever been in a position to actually do anything about the feelings we had for boys. The surprising energy behind the camp boys’ approach made us careful to be noncommittal, but they were cute and often funny and I’m sure we smiled a lot.
One day at the end of camp, as we walked back to our cabin, the two boys circled us, calling out questions and trying to provoke a response.
The boy in the purple sweatshirt said: “You my girlfriend. Hey! You my girlfriend. If you don’t say different I’m’a tell ever body.”
Then to his friend: “She my girlfriend now. She mine.”
I blushed and sputtered something inconclusive and probably unintelligible. He had been carrying a stick with which he swatted the weeds. Now he used it to gently touch my head, as if in blessing, and said: “You IS my girlfriend.”
Jenny and I ran back to the cabin giggling.
That evening, while we gathered our stuff to shower before the dance, Simone swished into our cabin with a group trailing after her.
“I heard some girl got raped,” she announced.
No one moved.
“I heard it was a WHITE girl.”
Everyone looked at my sister and me. We looked at each other, just to be sure.
“No one touched us,” I said.
Simone looked at my sister. “Whachu lookin at, Nosy Rosy?”
Jenny lowered her eyes.
Simone checked herself in the mirror before sauntering out, her posse snickering and whispering behind her. Desirae looked at me with wide eyes and I shrugged.
It was a stiff and complicated moment, but we’d been through enough of those in the last several days to shrug it off and keep going. Banking on cabin unity, we proceeded to the showers, shrieking and grabbing each other at any noise that we thought might indicate a rapist. I did know the basics of how sex happened, but didn’t really understand rape except that it was supposedly the worst thing that could happen to a girl.
Although it sounds counter-intuitive, I felt a greater sense of privacy in the shower than I did at other camp times. Standing under the water, my sight and hearing obliterated, I could make the world disappear in a more complete way than even when I slept. I was under the water and unmindful when the counselor from Simone’s cabin came into the shower room.
“Mr. Saunders want Kristy,” she announced.
I didn’t hear her at first, but she repeated her demand and I became aware that all conversation had stopped. I listened, re-focused, brought myself back. As everyone watched, I took my naked white girl self over to my pile of clothes and pulled them on without drying. The room was silent but for shower spray when I followed the counselor out of the bathroom.
At the auditorium, she pointed to a door beyond which I heard Mr. Saunders’ booming voice. I peeked in, certain that there had been a mistake, but Mr. Saunders motioned me over, then held up his hand for me to stop halfway between the door and his lectern.
In front of me, on rows of folding chairs, sat every male camper. Some had their arms crossed over their chests or a leg sticking out into the aisle. Most looked angry; others scared. Mike, Sharon’s son, stood out like a piece of rice in the black bean soup.
“Which one of these boys hit you on the head with a stick?” Mr. Saunders asked me.
“No one hit me on the head with a stick.”
The boys were silent. “I got a report,” Mr. Saunders challenged, “that some boy clobbered you over the head with a stick and then you ran away.”
I remembered the boy in the purple sweatshirt. “Oh, no. It wasn’t like that. He was just teasing—”
Mr. Saunders held up his hand. “It does not matter what really happened. What matters is that I got this report. Now which boy hit you?”
I looked out at the faces. “But no one hit me.”
“You know what?” he said. “It’s irrelevant who it was at this point. Just pick someone.” He made all the boys stand up and then he walked over to stand next to me.
I looked up at him in shock. I felt the laser-eyed hatred of at least 60 Black boys threatening to turn me to dust. They were afraid of me and they hated me. But officially their faces were blank.
Most of me wanted to prostrate myself and confess that I didn’t understand, I hadn’t been told, I hadn’t done anything except to be the ten-year-old girl I’d been trained to be. How could anyone be afraid of me? The rest of me felt angry and violated and misunderstood.
Unfortunately, the look on Mr. Saunders’ face told me that I had no choice but to pick some boy.
My ability to look through and then at a window had not developed into super powers, but I was learning to recognize the filters and lenses that come between the world and me. Right then, I realized one inescapable truth: I will always have the white power structure behind me like a bear on its hind legs. That’s what the boys saw when they looked at me—not a scared 60-pound girl, but an all-powerful beast ready to eat them for dinner.
I considered picking the smallest boy because he would be the least likely to try to beat me up later. I thought about pointing to one of the big mean ones who had chased me, just to show him something. I could always point to Mike and deal with the consequences later. In the end, I saw the boy in the purple sweatshirt looking at me with sad eyes.
“It was him,” I said, “but it wasn’t hitting.”
Mr. Saunders had everyone but the one boy sit. I felt a vortex of hot shame that practically dried the wet clothes on my body. The boy and I stood across the room looking at each other. I hoped my eyes told him something positive. Mr. Saunders returned to his lectern and began a speech.
“You see, it does not matter what is the truth. The truth has no place when it comes to white girls and black boys. I heard that she was clobbered on the head with a stick. Give that news enough time and she would have been raped. By a black boy. End of story. End of your life.”
I could not understand his insensitivity towards me. His negativity about the boys’ futures was depressing and confusing. If insignificant contact between a black boy and a white girl could lead to such a dire outcome, why were we even allowed at the camp? Why were Mary and Sharon and Mr. Bates so invested in spending all their free time around black people?
I didn’t understand then that Mr. Saunders’ warning came from such a powerful and deep place. We kids didn’t know that we were acting parts in his personal drama, but the story was archetypal enough that we had no problem finding our marks.
The end of the story is this: Not long after camp ended, Mr. Saunders became romantically involved with Sharon and moved into her suburban home. Some years later, he shot and killed himself in her bedroom. I don’t think he was referring to suicide when he declared that clobbering a white girl on the head would be “the end of (the boy’s) life,” but metaphorically it fits.
Eventually that night I was allowed to leave the auditorium. There was no dance. With no other energy outlet and with everyone supposedly confined to their cabins, the camp writhed like a snake under a forked stick. I was exhausted but I was the one person no one was going to let sleep.
Despite curfew, Simone kept showing up at our cabin door, asking who had done what to whom. Over and over, I said that nothing had happened, no one had hit me or raped me or done anything else to me.
“Make me about want to pop her one,” Simone said, “way she don’t say nothin’.”
She reported that the boys were still in the auditorium and that she had heard Mr. Saunders yelling. I remember some speculation about whether or not I was a virgin and had anyone seen any blood? This was followed by more whispers and glances toward me, lying on top of my sleeping bag staring at the underside of Jenny’s bunk.
After the official ‘lights out’ the boys were released from the crime tribunal. We could hear the camp come alive with whispers. Mr. Saunders clinked by in his metal and leather stamping out all noise so that, presumably, everyone could sleep. And I must have slept, because I didn’t hear anything before the broken window.
Some time after midnight our cabin was hit by bb pellets and one broke a window. The glass broke inward, falling onto the cabin floor in large and small shards. Someone turned on the light and then someone else screamed to turn it off, that it only made us more visible.
The broken window was midway between two sets of bunks and the glass had hit no one. Each of us slept next to a window, however, and we wanted to get up and run.
Julie somehow remained cool. “Everyone on a bottom bunk,” she whispered, “get on the floor next to your bed and pull the mattress down. Lay flat on top of it. Everyone on a top bunk, climb down the outside of your beds and lay on the mattress with them.”
Outside, a girl yelled, “Someone’s been shot!”
“No one’s been shot,” Julie screamed back.
In my sleepy delirium, I heard “No one” as a person’s name, as the person who had been shot and raped and clobbered on the head with a stick. The person who represented black rage against whites, white fear of blacks, sexual tension, white guilt, the loss of innocence, the flayed raw skin of everyone chafing against everything.
It was our last night at camp. With our mattresses pushed to the middle of the cabin, we huddled close together.
Julie said she would go check on the situation, which caused the rest of us to panic. Since the only alternative was going with her, we stayed put. There was no noise except the sound of Julie trotting up the path and then knocking at the door to the building where the staff stayed. Sharing my sleeping bag with Jenny, I tried to stay awake but couldn’t.
The rest of the story came in snippets that night. Every time the light came on we raised our heads and clutched our blankets. Julie reported that the shots had come from across the river that ran behind our cabin. The next time she said that no one was sure if it was private land or owned by the camp. Another update told us that according to all stories, everyone in the camp had been asleep except for the staff members who were celebrating their last night with music and jugs of wine. The police had not been called.
Julie returned for good in the middle of the night with the guarantee that nothing more would happen, that it was probably a fluke, probably kids who lived nearby, probably they were racist and didn’t want blacks at the camp. It made just enough sense. We were too tired to wonder if they’d been aiming at whites or blacks, girls or boys. We nodded and went back to sleep , our heads nearly touching in the middle of the room.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
1 large onion, chopped
couple of garlic cloves, chopped
2 32 oz cans chicken or vegetable broth
2 14 oz cans cannellini beans, drained
1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes with juice
a couple tablespoons Italian herbs: oregano, basil, thyme--amount and type to your taste
1 lb pasta--penne or rigatoni or rotini--something smallish
salt and pepper
Optional: spinach or chard, shredded
Optional: (pre-cooked) sausage of your liking
For topping: shredded cheddar or parmesan
In a large pot or dutch oven, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add broth, beans, tomatoes and herbs. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook until pasta is all dente. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. If desired, add greens and/or sausage just to wilt and/or heat through. Serve with desired cheese on top.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
When they were newborns and small babies, I would sometimes experience an even more intense physical sensation. I told Keith it felt like I was on drugs and he said, "You are. It's all the hormones."
At three years post-partum, I doubt it's hormones. This isn't the sparkly rush of first romance. It's not the deep thud of gratitude when a loved one returns from a long trip. It's a melting, spreading, softening. It's eye-watering, cheek tingling.
I think it's children. I think it's the lack of cynicism, or irony, or injury. How long will this last?
I wish I could bottle it. Or, better yet, spray it into the atmosphere.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Improvising, I said, "well, luckily, Daddy left me with a couple of kisses for you. I'll be right back."
And then I came back in with fists full of kisses. Owen sniffed away his tears. Lionel said, "I want one too!" I distributed the kisses. Owen held his kiss in his fist for quite a while. Lionel put his kiss right on his forehead and went about playing with his stuffed animals. I suggested to Owen that we could make sure his pants had pockets so he could carry daddy's kiss with him all day. Good idea! Then Lionel needed another one to carry because he'd already used his. And if Lionel was going to get another one, then Owen needed one too. And so on.
As luck would have it, my husband had left an entire box of kisses on the bookshelf just outside their bedroom. Whew! So, I brought in more. And more before nap. And more after nap.
Later I gave them each a small box left over from hardware for the chairs I had just put together. I came around the corner and saw them each kissing into the boxes, saving them for later.
I didn't want them to think that kisses were something that had to be saved up or hoarded. Tonight we played a game where they told me how many kisses they wanted and I planted them everywhere. Easy enough when they request 9. A little more difficult when the request is for eighty thirty. Or sixteen five. Regardless, it was a very fun exercise with lots of kisses on sweet-smelling boy heads. Giggles don't hurt either.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
On the Friday before a Monday birthday, I went for a haircut, to the expensive place, for a treat. Saw the same guy I'd seen a couple of times before. While he was washing my hair, I thought to myself: He's going to ask me what I'm doing this weekend. And I'll say: Well, Monday is my birthday, so I'm celebrating. And he'll say: Mine too!
And that is exactly the conversation that happened. Truly. Then I tried to tell him that I had totally known the conversation was going to happen and he sort of gave me the tamped-down rolling of the eyes which said quite clearly he thought I was off my rocker but he still wanted my tip. Turns out we are born on the same day and in the same year. There's probably some statistic about how rare that is or isn't. I know it isn't strange to think during a hair wash that the beautician is going to ask about your weekend. What is strange is the rest of it. And the fact that it was true. Word for word.
When I became pregnant after a year of trying, I knew it was twins. Now, I thought to myself, well, that's probably wishful thinking. It took a long time to convince my husband to have a child and I was 39. Of course I was going to assume that I got 2 for 1. I did tell my sister about my feeling. She said something along the lines of: well, most pregnant women have that thought. So that must be it, right? Hardly anyone knew I was pregnant. When I told my sister-in-law that my pants were already getting tight she said: not already! not possible! I did not tell my husband because he was agitated enough just thinking about one. And probably it was just me being crazy with hormones, right?
Nevertheless, on the day of my first pre-natal appointment, I couldn't stop myself from thinking that this was when I would get to see 'them.' This is when everyone else would know that I was carrying twins. And sure enough, there I am on the table with the ultrasound wand all up in there and the doctor says: Hey! Look at that! I think: There they are. My husband thinks: are those eyes? chambers of the heart? why are there two.....?
I also knew that they would be fine. I felt no need to do an amnio or any testing beyond the normal bazillion ultrasounds you get with twins. I was completely confident. And they were and are perfect. I had absolutely no intuition about their gender!
I got pregnant a second time. Immediately I felt anxious about this baby and found myself frequently having panicky moments. All I could say to explain myself was that I was worried about the baby. My husband thought it was just because the pregnancy was unplanned. Maybe. But I really wanted the baby, I was just convinced something was wrong. He would say: relax. Just think about that beautiful baby nursing after it is born. And I would burst into tears. Pregnancy hormones, right?
Had to do the amnio on this one. When we went for the procedure the baby was moving around a lot and I started to feel hopeful. Maybe my anxiety was just out of hand. I watched the baby turn and clench a fist, saw the heart beat, held my husband's hand and cried again, but tried to feel hopeful.
At 2 weeks post-test, the day I thought we'd hear the results, I woke up and heard in my head: Unfortunately this is one of those times when we have bad news.
I shook it off. It was the second birthday of my sons. I was 20 weeks pregnant and not as tired as I had been, but still not quite up to the energy level of two 2-year-olds. I was in maternity clothes. I decided to go crazy and have some caffeine that day. I had just brewed some black tea when the phone rang. Hello?
"Unfortunately this is one of those times when we have bad news."
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
30 minute easy meal
Put into a big pot: 2 C water and 32 oz chicken broth. Bring to a boil.
Add: 2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces and 1 package of orzo (rice-shaped pasta). Return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat. Stir in 2 C frozen peas, ½ C asiago or parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 tsp herb of your choice (basil, oregano, etc).
Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Before serving, stir in 16 oz prepared mild salsa.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
NOT MY ORANGE! For Lionel it came as we boarded our second flight of the day on July 19. During our brief layover, he had eaten most of an orange. As we boarded the flight, he very gingerly carried a small paper plate bearing one orange segment. Right when he stepped from the gangway/tunnel thing into the plane, the plate tipped and the orange fell to the ground. Of course he wanted to keep and eat it and although I’m not squeamish about picking up food from the floor, I couldn’t quite abide eating something from the doorway of a plane where hundreds or thousands of shoes had passed since the last cleaning.
“NOOOOOOO!” One of the stewards put the segment in the trash and Lionel fell to pieces. I could hear him thinking: okay, I haven’t slept or eaten regularly, I have been really great, but not my orange. That is the last straw.
Lionel refused to walk another inch. While the staff was exhorting people to step into the rows so others could get by, Lionel stood still in the entrance and refused to budge. I could sense the people bumping into each other all along the tunnel. I gave him a warning, counted to 5, and then picked him up and carried him to our seat in the second to last row. As Keith joked, it required 5 TSA agents to subdue him. I took Lionel into the bathroom to calm down but that didn’t work. All he wanted was to go back to the front of the plane and walk ALL BY HIMSELF to his seat. Picture an aisle jam-packed with weary travelers and then remember the lack of logic in a 2 year old. Owen and Keith were in the row behind us. A young guy completed the row with me and Lionel. He had that ‘just sucked a lemon’ look on his face, but put on some headphones and closed his eyes and went to his special place.
NEVER WAKE A SLEEPING TODDLER! For Owen, the breaking point came at the end of that same flight. He had finally fallen asleep with his head on Keith’s lap when the call came to prepare for landing. “I’m SLEEPING! Daddy, I’m sleeping over here!” These cries swiftly changed to “I want Mommy!” Finally, Keith and I switched seats, crawling over the long-suffering young man who had had to turn off his music. I held Owen on my lap, facing me, and put a seatbelt around both of us. Owen quieted and, happily, the stewardess didn’t ask us to move.
MY LIFE AS A BATTERED WOMAN. I didn’t have a breaking point so much as a moment when I realized this had to be the lowest point and it could only get better. We had arrived on a Sunday night. The next morning, Keith went off to work and I hustled the boys into their rental double stroller so we could walk to the grocery store before it got too hot (ha!). I should have known better. Even though they had slept the night before, the twins had a serious sleep debt and had been going through one new experience after another. When we got into the store, they completely lost it like they never had before. One wanted to be in the stroller and the other wanted to be in the ‘driving’ cart. No one was happy and the entire store knew it. The other customers gave me a wide berth and politely looked away. My smiles were not returned. So much for Southern hospitality!
By the time we checked out, the shrieks had reached a fever pitch. I assured the checkout woman that usually they were well-behaved but they had just had a stressful couple of days. “I understand,” she said. Well, no one else seemed to. I tried to wrangle them both back into the stroller without blocking the exit of other customers. I hoisted my backpack on and tied the other bags of groceries to the handle. Finally, I maneuvered toward the door when a Metro policewoman stopped me. “Do you need some help?” she asked gently, touching my shoulder. And then I thought about how I looked.
On the day before the moving van came to pick up our stuff, I had tripped over a box and smashed my nose into another box, removing several layers of skin. (One of the worst things you can do to a blind gal is scatter boxes around and rearrange the furniture.) The bridge of my nose was bloody and my eyes somewhat dark underneath. On the day of the move I had been helping Jerry, the driver, take apart our platform bed. While I was unscrewing one rail, Jerry unexpectedly loosened the footboard which fell heavily on my left arm. Now, a week later, I had a raised bruise the size of a grapefruit on my upper arm. In my cut-off shorts, a myriad of bruises were apparent on my thighs and shins. I definitely looked like someone who needed to be slipped a number for a safe house. I tried to explain but just gave up. Now I understood the polite lack of eye contact. Later I told Keith that I should have said: “Listen, if I don’t get home with this 6-pack before 10 am I don’t know what he’ll do!”
A week later when the movers arrived, I showed my bruise to Jerry. One of his helpers said, "Oh, thank God. Because I was thinking, 'I sure hope she doesn't have an abusive husband.'"
Some thoughts on our new house:
Downside: It really is uphill both ways. Seriously. Can’t get anywhere without going up (and down, of course) a couple of hills. This is especially fun while pushing 70 lbs of toddler in a stroller to which I’ve tied several bags of groceries while also wearing a backpack full of the ‘heavy stuff.’
Upside: Stairmaster, schmairmaster!
Downside: After any excursion into the humidity I return home looking as if I just stepped out of the shower.
Upside: Any hint of wave or texture in my hair is fully activated. The result: slightly less than straight hair!
Downside: The house smells like old people and something else I can’t quite place.
Upside: I never thought the scent of a bag of dirty diapers would smell like ‘home.’ And the incense has arrived.
Upside: Thunderstorms. Okay, the mosquitoes aren’t responsible for the thunderstorms, but you kind of have to have one to get the other.
More upsides: Lots of room, a big back yard, Keith’s brother and his family are a couple of blocks away.
Major upside: Although he is working long hours and is occasionally frustrated, Keith is energized and invigorated by his new job at the White House. He feels like he can truly do good for people who don’t have a voice otherwise and that is motivating, especially on the days when he misses cuddly time with the boys.
Overall, we are getting settled and adjusted. I am excited that I will have room to make art again and the boys are excited about everything—especially that they will get to see snow this year. They have invented 4 imaginary friends. DeeDee (a girl), DoDo (a grown-up), Sorrow (a round dog), and Cherry (a….cherry). I don’t think they actually know what the word sorrow means but it did take me aback. Maybe they’ve been reading John Irving? On the other hand, they call Saturday ‘Sorrowday’ so maybe the round dog is actually named Satur. Or, as Liz pointed out, perhaps his name is Satyr and that could mean a host of other problems!