Friday, May 14, 2010

Using the Broken Pieces

One of the side benefits of the adults not doing much paid work around Casa Wabi is that we have all sorts of time to volunteer in the neighborhood. When we heard about a project to create a mosaic mural outside Big A's elementary school, we figured what the heck, we'd give it a try. Free, unskilled labor available! We came home that first day sunburned and smeared in thin set. We were both hooked.

Mosaic is like knitting, only sharper and dirtier. But both are addictive -- containing little, repetitive movements that get your brain humming in a pleasing rhythm where you lose track of time. And when you break that rhythm and step away, you get a pleasing second kick -- a look at that pattern writ large, whether it be in the form of a sock, or with mosaics, the bigger images popping out of the chaos of different shapes and colors.

Back home after volunteering, D. mentioned we had several large boxes of tile sitting in the garage. That's what he said, but what I immediately thought was: Tile I bought on sale during our kitchen renovation that ended up not being quite right. Tile I felt guilty about every time I came across the boxes, since it represented mistakes and waste. Tile I meant to donate to a local house-building charity, but never did.

Then D. pointed at the large concrete wall in the backyard -- something we've also meant to spruce up for years. And it all came together suddenly -- for the cost of a bag of thin set and a handful of other materials, we could mosaic the wall. It's a big wall and will take time. But we can do it together. We can take out the regret and turn it into something else. No perfection required, since mosaic is all about using the broken pieces.

Let's just say that process is pleasure and hope to a person like me, who can only sidle up to things like hope, making squinty glances at it from the corner of my eye.

This is what we've done so far:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Times that Walk from You

There is something particularly MIDLIFE about realizing the newest music on your Ipod was discovered by you more than five years ago. Sure, things caught your ear since that last download -- a song on a television show, in the bumper of a radio program. But you were squashed flat then, not energetic or curious enough to accept the invitation. You didn't go searching. The chances passed away along with the days and no new music there to mark them.

Live long enough and we all have times like this. Yet now I find myself awake again, in an unusually wet Northern California spring when I just turned thirty nine. I download new music and listen while I run along the bike path next to Big A, who just got the training wheels taken off her bike. My knees ache as she pedals. I'm not fast or particularly in shape. But it still feels really good to get out there and be aware of every step. I feel awake.

The world remains full of car accidents and hurtling asteroids. My house still sits on the left side of the Hayward Fault. Inside the house newer cracks menace: My father in law has been seriously ill and my husband and his family haven't dealt well. D., my husband, lost his job, found another, and then lost that one -- all within a span of six months. My freelance work dried up at the same time. Not that my freelance work, even when gangbusters, would ever approach covering our mortgage payment.

I chose not to be scared during the first bout of D.'s joblessness, but now that's hard to swing. The severance package is eaten fast by regular expenses. Worse, my husband fell apart -- depressed, anxious, not sleeping. Lashing out at me during his father's illness. Vacillating between panic about our inevitable financial doom and announcements that now would be a great time to blow thousands of dollars on impromptu, extravagant vacations. Turns out D. secretly went off his meds at the worst possible time. Now he's medicated again, but damage has been done.

Honestly, I don't know what comes next. Do we lose the house? Leave California? Is our marriage destined for the ditch? I can't tell. I do not know. I cannot scrounge a magic coin to throw into the wishing well.

But there's the music, all that new music. From the Ipod and also preschool. Songs of longing, loss and loving. Stories of lady bugs and Easter Sunday. We sang these songs and dug a new garden for vegetables and flowers. The girls are screaming, whirling, laughing. And I'm relearning how to join in.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One of Those Conversations She'll Deny Later On

Scene: Casa Wabi, 6:50 a.m., the master bathroom. Wabi is brushing her teeth when Big A knocks and then immediately lets herself in without waiting for a response.

Wabi: "Morning. What's up?"

Big A: "I gotta pee!"

Wabi: Is the other bathroom occupied?

Big A (baffled): "No. Why?"

Wabi turns up the radio to avoid hearing ... sounds not emanating from the radio. She returns to brushing.

Big A: "Mommy, look at my poop!"

Wabi: "Uh. I'd really rather not."

Big A: "But you can see CARROTS in it! Carrots we ate last night!" She does a little happy dance while still sitting on the toilet.

Wabi: "Honey, not everyone wants to see that. In fact, I went through a lot of effort to toilet train you three years ago just so that I would no longer have to see it. I think it's kinda gross."

Big A (hurt): But I like looking at my poop! It's so cool.

Wabi: "That's fine if you want to check yours out. But usually people don't want to see someone else's poop, ok? It's not just me. It's like a general rule of life."

Big A (eyes narrowing): "Well, I don't like to see your lava, either! But sometimes I do."

Wabi: "Lava?"

Big A: "You know, your blood ..."

Wabi: "Oh, you mean my period. Yeah. You know the best way to avoid seeing that, Big A? STOP BARGING INTO THE MASTER BATHROOM WHEN IT'S OCCUPIED."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Late and Lucky

After a tragedy it is easy to focus laser beams of envy upon that parallel universe where the chromosomes divided neatly, the other car stopped for the red light, that blood vessel didn't burst. Everything over there is so normal and perfect and utterly different. For me the craziest thing about parallel universes is that the people in them there have NO IDEA what fresh hell they've missed. They live this miracle every moment after our catastrophes but for them, it's just hohum blah blah blah.

Today I can't help but thinking that in another universe, Parallel Big A didn't dawdle getting dressed, and we made it to the playground exactly when I'd intended -- which is really only 15 minutes earlier than we actually did. That would put Parallel Wabi & family directly under the 100-year-old pine tree when it did this:

To put it more precisely, that would put Parallel Big A & Little A on the swing set. The girls absolutely love those swings.

Or at least they did.

And so the weekend goes on as scheduled for lucky, late us. Only I'm more than happy to rate it as a miracle, if others are so inclined.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

For Better and for Worse

When DH came home early from work Friday the kids were excited. But I knew what it probably meant and was leery. Sure enough, the company's latest project got canceled. In the tech industry, progression from canceled funding to job losses can happen within hours or days. That was the case this time -- sixty people given pink slips when the week before everything seemed like business as usual. The entire studio shuttered.

The friends, family and neighbors who know DH lost his job have all responded with sympathy and kindness. It's really lovely on one level. And on another ... misplaced.

"How are you doing?" they ask.

"Oh, we're pretty ok," I answer.

"No really, must be so worried! Such a terrible time to look for work," they persist.

I'm not deluded. This is not a good time to look for work. We are not doing cartwheels over the prospect of holidays on unemployment, three out of four family birthdays in the next two months on unemployment, or even just life in general on unemployment. We have two children, two goldfish, preexisting health conditions, and a house that is worth less today than what we paid for it six years ago. Oh, and we'd promised the kids we would all go to West Virginia to see the recently relocated cousins this Christmas ... I'm really not sure if that can happen now. Yep. Life without money SUCKS.

But still, I also feel a decided lack of worry.

Part of it is that I have faith in DH. He's good at what he does, and if there are jobs to be found, he'll discover them.

More of it has to do with this little moment between DH and I a year or two ago. It was at the end of a conversation about DH's angst over us not being able to save any money since we had kids and bought our house. DH really likes to sock it away for a rainy day. It makes him feel warm, fuzzy, and cocooned. My dwindling income, the collapse of our house equity, the deflation of our 401ks -- they all bug me. But they have haunted, taunted, demoralized DH in many ways I see, but cannot fully understand.

So that evening DH griped about his disappointments. Then he shrugged and said, "Of course I would have given everything we have -- all of it -- if it could have saved the baby." After that he turned off the TV, brought his empty glass to the kitchen, and went to bed.

That little shrug of his shoulders, my half nod back -- it was truer than our wedding vows 13 years ago. We have learned so many things that we didn't ever want to know since we got married. But what we learned also allows me to pick how I'm going to deal with issues that are not life and death.

Right now I choose to be fearless.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Playdate Reject! (That would be me, not the kids ...)

Hello, my name is Wabi, and I am a playdate reject.

I HATE playdates. I've always been shy and reserved -- not completely antisocial, but sort of sub social. Wall flowerish. Mind you, I volunteer for projects at my kids' schools and in the community. I am quick with a wave and a smile if I see someone everyday. And if you lean up against the wall with me, you might just enjoy some of my jokes and snark. Our kids might also like meeting up on the playground to knock heads on the jungle gym while we chat it up on the bench nearby. Maybe.

But for a sub social like me, setting up those playdates and breaking the ice with parents I don't know is awful. Watching me is pornography for anyone who gets off on social awkwardness. I wonder what the other mom thinks about my kid/mothering style/appearance/house/professional status/etc. There is a voice in my head that narrates in much the same tone of voice my father used when teaching me to drive:

That's a cool bracelet she has ... Say something nice about her bracelet. Say it now... SAY IT SAY IT SAY IT! Ok, so why did you tell her the bracelet reminded you of something you made back eighth grade art class? Now she probably thinks you're comparing her jewelry to pipe cleaners and bottle caps -- not exactly a compliment. Go on, what are you waiting for? Say something else to change the subject. Say anything, it doesn't matter wha -- OH JESUS, DID YOU REALLY JUST TELL THAT JOKE?
Yeah, add kids and juice boxes, and that sums up my entire experience with most first playdates.

In the preschool years, it seemed a little bit easier. I would get to know other moms slowly in the parking lots next to nursery school or daycare. After awhile going to the playground together would just naturally occur. The kids and I didn't click with everyone we met up with, yet somehow we ended up with a handful of friendly families we socialized with regularly.

But now that Big A is in kindergarten, it's back to square one on the social front. It's like I'm having junior high lunchroom flashbacks. (When all my friends got assigned to a different lunch period than me and I didn't know who to sit with ...) Ack. I still cringe at the thought.

Who knew that starting kindergarten could be so challenging ... not for the kid, but for the 38-year-old woman hanging onto her student's hand?

Monday, August 31, 2009


Last night we picked out Big A's first-day-of-school outfit, packed the lunch, and shined her shoes. After the girls were in bed DH and I popped open a bottle of bubbly and clinked glasses.

"We made it to kindergarten," I said, "We did it!"

"And now she's the state's problem," DH concluded with much contentment.

Can we take a moment to give it up for public school? After struggling for five years with daycare and preschool payments on top of house payments and medical bills and the usual daily-life costs, the start of kindergarten is SUCH a financial reprieve. We are giddy at the thought of actually putting money in a college account, or upgrading our seven-year-old computer. Yippee!

As for Big A, she did really well this morning. She looked forward to seeing the class pet lizard that she met at the school open house last week. Also, she wanted to see that blond girl she made insta-friends with at the open house ... Corinne or Carly or Charlie -- we need to get her name straightened out.

Big A did want to hold my hand while waiting for the bell to ring. But that was it, in terms of angst. The bell rang, the teacher led the line of new students into the school, and Big A marched along. She gave one wave, and didn't look back after that. I was so proud of her bravery. Honestly, I don't know where she gets that. When I have to so much as change dry cleaners, I'm a mess.

Unfortunately, poor Little A was horrified to learn that she was not allowed to go to school with her sister. (Even though we'd told her this 400 times.) She cried and waved frantically as Big A walked into the school. I kept telling her we'd see Big A again at 3 o'clock, but toddlers, they can't tell time. I might as well have said we'd see her next year.

Speaking of which, it's time to walk to school to pick my kid up. I can't wait!