Sunday, December 19, 2010

In good hands

I've always half joked that I married this man for his hands.

But it's partially true. As a woman who has spent a lifetime feeling shy about the less-than-petite size of her hands, the first time I felt his large, warm hand confidently take mine, as we rushed down a side street in Lienz, Austria, after our very first official dinner date, I swear I heard the universe exhale.

What I didn't know, was what good fathering these hands were capable of. 

Now, all those years later, if I could wish for anything, in the whole of the entire crazy tilting world, I might be tempted to wish that my daughters will never, ever, for as long as they live, forget their father's patient, warm, strong, infinitely- generous helping hands.

Sort of new BabyCenter posts here and here and here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Time in a bottle

“I sharpened all these pencils,” was the first thing Isla said to me this morning when I came lurching, all out of focus, into the cold kitchen.  

She’d been up for a while, but had moved around the house so comfortable in her skin, quietly sharpening her colored pencils, that none of us noticed. She wasn't even bothered by the freezing floor tiles on her bare feet. The rest of the world didn't matter to her. Her world was complete.

For a fleeting, poignant moment in time, the earth’s usual rotation was suspended, like the arm of a record player, hanging, poised just over a spinning disc, knowing its power, for once it lowers and makes contact with the vinyl, the entire room will be at its mercy.

Even after she saw I was awake, usually her cue to tap into her inner needy person, she didn't seem all too interested in me. She went into her room, sat on her bed, and sang a quiet song to her stuffed animal, Pepsi.

My children have been bowling me over lately with their quietness. Their presence in this house, when they are in confident, self sufficient, moods, not needing a thing, is when I can most clearly see who and what they are, and when I most profoundly feel how much I love them. They are not demanding my love, they are simply drawing it out of me, pulling it like an endless, magical thread, calling upon it without saying a word.

And the more we have these moments in our house, the more I am sure that the earth is indeed spinning, and rotating, at warp speed and I have not the slightest modicum of control over where we are headed and how fast.

Because once you get so accustomed to the noise and the din and the chaos of being needed every second of the day, the sound of that din, when it stops, is as deafening as a door slammed in your face.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Haircut regret and recovery, and why I'm glad I'm not Meg Ryan

I just found out that a guy I once knew, not an old boyfriend, but the friend of a brother of an old boyfriend, won an Academy Award for a documentary film he was involved in making.

The film, called The Cove, exposes a massive dolphin-slaughtering operation in Japan. It's one of those powerful artistic projects that evolve organically from passion to product.

It’s a film meant to create awareness and accountability, and inspire activism,  in an otherwise inactive, unaware, lawless world.

When I think about projects like this film, and about people who use their life, time, and energy to create such meaningful art, I feel slightly ashamed about my burning desire to write an entire blog post about my new haircut.

I want to tell you how much I hated it at first, but how it’s growing on me now, and how, just this morning, I caught a dusky, early-morning light reflection of myself in the mirror upon first standing up, and fancied myself to look a bit like Angie Dickinson in her Police Woman days.

(Now that I have Googled her and seen all those images, I realize my mistake.)

When I’m not looking in the mirror I like to pretend I look a bit like Meg Ryan. It’s amazing what it does for my morale. But then I get a glimpse of myself and the fantasy pretty much stops there.

But what I have that Meg Ryan doesn't, is Ian. And I say this because Meg Ryan once asked Ian for a ride home at a bar. But he didn't give her one.

But not for lack of trying. Long before he knew me, in what must have resembled a waking nightmare, Ian met Meg Ryan in a bar in Vail, Colorado. He was there for a Ski World Championships as the manager of the British National Ski Team, and he and the team were out partying after the races.

He got talking to a pretty woman at the bar and quickly figured out he had seen her somewhere before. I don't know Meg Ryan but I admire her judgment. Because, of all the cool dudes in the bar, she asked my future husband, the world’s safest guy, out of the blue, if he could give her a ride home.

Normally the designated driver, Ian agreed to give her a lift, then felt around his pockets for the keys to the team van and remembered he had given them to one of the athletes. He searched, frantically around the crowded bar for the holder of the keys only to find the pretty girl had disappeared by the time he “got himself sorted.” 

I love this story. I almost missed Ian as well.  Of course I’m reading way too much into her request for a ride, but it’s kind of fun to do that.

So anyway, this was supposed to be a post about a bad haircut. What on earth compelled me to let a strange French woman cut my hair so short?

After catching sight of myself in a store window, looking like a much older version of myself in high school-- same messy, no-style, longish hair--I turned into the first sans- rendevous hair salon and said, "J'ai besoin une coupe."

She washed my hair, which was probably all it really needed, sat me down in front of the huge mirror of truth and said, how short. She gestured towards my collarbones, and I gestured towards my ears, then we settled, somewhat hastily, on my chin. Before I could even think of reconsidering, my hair was dropping to the floor.

It's okay, it's okay, I thought. I've had short hair before. I liked it. Didn't I? 

I was a bit in shock when I left, but tried not to show it. Then, I found myself in that tricky situation of trying to resist looking at myself in the rear view mirror while I drove. Then I found myself in that worst position of looking to everyone I saw, scrutinizing their faces for betrayal, to find out if my cut was a hit or a miss. This is the worst, most self-fulfilling prophesy, because if you suggest you aren't sure about it, you come off as overly needy and people start scrambling to reassure you. But the reassurance doesn't feel genuine. Because it probably isn't because your negative vibes and insecurity are flowing right into that person's head and out their mouths.

It's best, I find, not to mention it. That way, if someone has something to say, they can say it at their own will. And, I find, people generally won't say anything if they don't have anything positive to say. Ian said it was "nice." Then he went and ruined it by saying he liked it long, too.

But Esther loved it. Whether she was being dutiful or not, she made a point to tell me over and over just how much she loved it. Even when I lost face a bit in front of her and admitted to not just being unsure about it, but maybe actually hating it.

"Well I don't care what you say," she said. "I think it looks nice."

Isla, on the other hand, finds my haircut "stupid." 

Funny thing, I've felt surprisingly more light and upbeat since ridding my head of excess baggage. And the cut has indeed grown on me. Every once in a while, when no one's looking, I reach for my pistol on my hip and assume the Police Woman stance in the mirror. Just like Angie Dickinson.

Ready to save the world. Now I just have to figure out how.

New Momfo posts here and here. 

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Cute French waiters, new boots and snow

Walking the streets of Dijon in the snow last weekend, despite the mushy mushroom moistness of my not-waterproof boots and sopping-wet socks, was perfect.

Just like I remember feeling on our yearly November trips to New York City as a child, Essie and Isla were humming with enthusiasm, plugged into the people, the lights and the action.

We licked practically every store window we passed. Isla stopped to lick a few without telling us and gave me a fright when I realized she was no longer with us. That one window display with the moving, breathing polar bears kept her pliant little mind very busy as she contemplated how those bears got into the store,where they pooped, and whether or not they were dangerous.

We hadn't intended to stay the night, but just to have lunch and visit the Christmas Market and maybe buy Esther a pair of new boots as an early birthday present. The market was dull by Bavarian standards, but there was vin chaud. We stuck the kids on the Santa train for two trips while we cradled hot styrofoam cups and smiled as we felt the hot wine go straight to our toes.  

Boot shopping consumed us as the snow consumed the streets. We went into a half a dozen shoe stores, filled with 3,000 variations on the same damn theme, city boots. How does anyone decide?

Esther and, then Isla, both found what they liked, in the same shop. We bought them, and they wore them out of the store, stopping on the sidewalk to spray them with waterproofer.

Funny how a new pair of shoes can change your stride, your attitude, and your entire demeanor. Another disconcerting example of how money does indeed make you, at least temporarily, profoundly happy.

We tried, really we did, to go home, until, stuck in a slow- road- to- nowhere traffic jam on the way out of town, as it snowed harder and harder,  I willed Ian to turn around and head back to the little city of light.

Once we found a hotel, and faced another restaurant meal, oh bummer, I dove through a rapidly lowering window of commercial opportunity and explained to my family that I just had to go out and buy myself some dry shoes, and socks, as well.

I raced along the slippery lit-up streets and alleys, doing flybys in a half a dozen shops and ending up in a Gap, of all places, shopping for pants I really wanted, but didn't need. 

I tried on a ridiculously tight, yet vaguely- flattering, pair of stretch jeans and wondered, in that tiny dressing room, with my soaking -wet socks leaving a puddle on the floor, if I could really get away with them. It's times like these when I could use a girlfriend. Esther had wanted to come with me, but I knew I needed to hurry so I turned her down.

When I tried to find a larger size, the saleswoman said, "But if you get a bigger size, they will be....bigger."

"Exactly," I said.

"But, those you are wearing are perfect."

"They're not perfect," I said, "They're too tight."  Then I thought, "And I'm not a teenager, or French."

But she was right. The next size up was too big. In a bold, rebellious move of optimism, I bought the tight ones.

Dizzied by the choices of fashion boots, and feeling as if combining tight jeans and fashionable boots on the very same day was just too cliché, I found a pair of practical, waterproof, high-end shit kickers, and sprinted back to the hotel to show off my booty.

Everyone, even Ian, approved.

Three girls and three new pairs of boots, one pair of tight-stretch jeans and one man who will never understand us, poured smugly out into the magically- glowing streets in search of a restaurant for dinner.

We wandered, hand- in -hand through the labrynth of cobblestone, with me stopping to occasionally pull my shirt down, because I could feel the air blowing through the gap between it and the low-rise waistband, why do I do this to myself?, until we finally stepped into a warm, casual gallete/crepe restaurant. Once inside,  Isla and I became instantly smitten with the young waiter.

I was stealth, but Isla was shameless.

She did everything she could, short of punching him, to get him to look at her. I can't blame her, really. He was adorable, very sweet and boyish, very French. Am I setting my girls up for eternal discontent? Will they forever be searching for a boy who speaks French and knows how to wear a scarf when they get back to America?

We had a delicious, warming, cheap meal in the glow of red- beaded lamplight, then headed back out into the night.

Monday, November 29, 2010

There's a certain slant of light

We visited these woods on Halloween day, I think, or maybe the day after. Just about one month ago. (This is some indication of just how out of step with the moment I've been lately.)

Even so, I find the French woods to be magical and there is always a fairy rock or fairy cave or ancient bridge to spur the kids' imaginations with. I can't help but wonder, when I'm in the midst of them, breathing in the history that wafts right out of the spongy soil,  if Marie Antoinette or Napoleon or some obscure, yet very rich Duke and Dutchess once galloped along the very same ancient path that we walk.

I guess it's not only kids imaginations that are getting spurred on our outings.

Since that day in the woods, one month ago, November sidled in and is almost ready to leave again.  In its wake, comes winter, real winter. Burgundy style. Not exactly Vermont winter, but there has been snow flying and the puffy gray duvet in the sky has been turned down, enticing all of us to get in bed and stay there.

The darkness is pervasive. It lifts at 8 a.m., ever so slightly, only to be replaced by a thick, foggy gray, then starts to descend again at 4 p.m. making the day feel like one quick little catnap. Or a fleeting, yet passionate affair. Never enough time to say all you have to say and do all you want to do.

Ian has been bringing wood home with him every night and we've been fending off the November blues with warm, orange fires in the kitchen.

The fires have a Little House on the Prairie effect on all of us. Even I have been getting down on the floor to play pick up sticks with Isla. I draw the line with puzzles though. I suck at puzzles. I told Isla I would rather have all my teeth pulled without anesthesia than do a puzzle.

She didn't really understand, but she didn't ask me again. She knows puzzles are daddy's thing.

And Esther does her homework in front of the fire and even got out her violin tonight after months and months of ignoring it where it lay, forgotten, under the table in the corner.

So November can, it seems, bring good things.

This dark and cruel month has, after all, ushered Isla, my brother, my niece, and several of my favorite people into the world. I suppose I should apply the don't- kill- the -messenger rule to this unfortunate eleventh month. My least favorite month.

But I cannot say I am not looking forward, with antsy pantsy anxiousness, to December. Something about December, despite it's shortest days of the year, brings me hope. Perhaps it's the finality.

November can still be a bit wishy washy. Like those leaves that hang on to the trees, crispy lone rangers, long after all their friends have floated to the ground. And those late-migrating geese and swans that keep flying over our heads, so close we can hear the rhythmic squeak of their wings as they pass.

December means business. There is no chance of turning back now. No chance at all. Only forward.

Emily Dickinson's poem, from which I lifted my title, can be found here. 

Other repetitive and annoying musings on motherhood can be found here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Some poor old dobbins are made into glue

Rapidly approaching my 45th, yes, you heard that right, birthday, I am living proof that horseplay is a lot like riding a bike. It all comes back to you as soon as you take hold of the reins.

Granted I had to fall out of line after three of four laps, bend over and pant to catch my breath, and there was a moment when I was worried I had pulled a muscle slipping on the slicker-than-snot, French- clay mud, but I'm still walking and might just go out there again, if the kids will have me.

But I'll definitely wear a more supportive bra next time. Funny, you think there's nothing there to bounce until you break into a gallop.

For a fuller, more comprehensive picture, this is what I was up to on my 42nd birthday. 

Hmm. Not sure if I've matured or not.

New Momformation blog posts here and here. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The perfect twirl

No words necessary

No music either

Just a girl

and a dress

and a camera

and a little ham, is all you need.
Thanks for the dress, Zsa Zsa and Papa

Friday, November 12, 2010

The world according to Isla

Thanks to Meara for the most fantastically stunning, mind-blowing princess dress ever.

Thanks to daddy, a.k.a. Marty Stewart,  for not just one, but two birthday cakes.
Isla is five. Five. Cinq. Funf. Half of ten. One quarter of twenty. On tenth of fifty.

Okay I will stop now because I never got higher than a C in any math class I ever took. This might have something to do with the fact that I often used high-school algebra and geometry class as a time to hike on the mountain behind our high school. May Ruth Upson rest in peace.

I have taken the time to try, a girl can try, to give those who don't have the great privilege of living under the same roof as Isla, a glimpse into her strange and beautiful world:

The world according to Isla

Halloween is a noun: As in, "Look Esther, I’ve got a Halloween and you’ve got a Halloween." (These were pumpkins she was referring to.)

Chocolate, and any food that seems to come laden with rules of conduct, tastes better when eaten while hiding under the kitchen table.

ABCs and 123s are interchangeable: AB3s and 1BCs, it’s all good.

Shoes are also interchangeable: as long as they fit, and they look nice, why does it matter what feet they are on?

The future and the past are irrelevant: here and now is all that matters. If one wants a cookie, "after lunch" is not an acceptable, or sensible, answer.

Sweets are meant to be eaten at any time of day and any good mommy worth her weight, should have them at hand at all times and in all places.

Drinking too much makes you pee and eating too much makes you poop.

Daddy’s are not beautiful, or soft.

Simba, if he ever saw her in real life, would want to be her friend.

England is full of English people. France is full of French people. And she is American.

There are two different kinds of days: school days and ballet days. All other kinds of days are confusing and unnecessary.

It would be fun if you could hop in, and then back out, of pictures in a book.

When she gets bigger, she willl be like her big sister, Esther.

Mommies should have dressups like princesses and daddies should have dressups lke princes.

Sometimes princesses are even on underpants.

When she gets bigger, she will still be my child.

When it comes to clothes, there are those that are good and those that are stupid. She will carry the secret to how you tell the stupid from the good to her grave.

The same goes for shoes and coats. The secret to coats lies in how easy it is to get your arms in without your sleeves riding up. Bumpiness, in any clothing, is bad.

Socks suck. Socks are an unnecessary nuisance and should be banished from this world.

You cannot wear a hooded sweatshirt under a hooded coat. No double hoods. Double hoods can ruin an otherwise perfect day.

Playing with her new friend, Cassandra, is even more important than watching movies.

Music makes you dance. When you hear it, you let the spirit move you, no matter what you are doing or where you are. This includes bathing, or eating dinner, or sitting on the toilet at the supermarket. Dancing with your hands, when there is no room for dancing with your whole body, is a good alternative.

 Sleeping alone is stupid. 

No one-armed hugs: There is a proper way to cuddle and an improper way to cuddle. Parents should cuddle their children properly. 

If you wake up in the dark to find yourself alone, you should get up and immediatelly find a warm body to get in bed with. Otherwise you should stay where you are and yell, “I want you," at full volume, until someone comes.

Nothing is beyond negotiation: The word, "but" is a very useful word in this regard.

The day after tomorrow is called, the “other tomorrow.”

Kisses should be careful yet deliberate, and preferably in five parts: left cheek, right cheek, forehead, chin, then lips.

For an inside look at her party, look over here. 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Your shoes are on the wrong feet again, dear

We're on the eve of Isla's fifth birthday, and, well..... Isla still doesn’t seem to get it.

I don’t think she cares, really. Why should she?

But I can’t help but wonder, when will she care? When will she try? Does it matter?

Will this apathetic little habit lead to a lifetime of chronic, pathological odd -sock wearing? (I was an odd sock wearer. It was a possibly one of my first, in a long line of, mini rebellions.)

Is this some indication of future rebellious and anti-authoritarian behavior?

Will her feet start turning out like a duck?

That said, I don’t like some of the tactics adults use to get their kids to put their shoes on the right feet.

An acquaintance of ours sees no problem in saying, “That’s just stupid” when his two, yes two, year old puts her shoes on the wrong feet.

I think he’s stupid.  I think anyone who calls children stupid is stupid. 

This is why, at this point, I have taken to remaining silent. If she likes the way her shoes look and feel when they are on the wrong feet, then who am I to tell her it's wrong, or weird, or stupid.

And if she doesn't like it,  she'll figure out how to change it.