Perspective

It goes like this: make a career choice on the cusp of choosing something else, embrace and love career whilst parenting . . . get a little grief . . . get a little tired . . . then quit your fucking job on a wing and a prayer.

There’s a little more to unpack there, but later. Here’s my new About page. 

While planning my transition out of secondary education and into healthcare I realized that I needed some skills, vocabulary, and experience. I’m used to being good at my job and, on the days where I’m not, at least having the knowledge TO do it well. I couldn’t enter school without a base, so I decided to take a Nursing Assistant course at our local technical school. I’m not going to lie – taking this as a compressed course is both easier and more difficult than I thought it would be. I’m learning how to study again, how to maneuver a foreign language, and how to be human.

These last couple of years have left me a little pruny, and wondering if my warm, nice self was ever going to return and send this really cynical and kind of bitter lady packing. But leaving my clinical this week, I felt a little tweak in my chest as I realized: I don’t hate this, I smiled at work, I am literally IN the shit but am leaving tired, satisfied, and maybe even a little happy?

Classes were running three days a week for about 7 hours a day. We split between lecture and reading and lab. I’ve been terrified all along that I am only good at thinking about things and not at the actual doing of things – so I’m happy to report that I can take your blood pressure and get a reasonably accurate reading. Let’s be clear that I’m still better with my brain than my hands but goddamnit I’m learning. Now that we’re in clinicals were in class some days, clinicals others. Our clinical experiences are all in a local nursing home and after we’ve met requirements for certain skills we just get in there.

I cried on the way home from my first clinical day because I couldn’t find my way around the building (it’s not that big or that complicated) and I couldn’t figure out how the nurses and aids kept so much information in their heads at one time. I diagnosed my self with a processing disorder and decided that I was one of those people who just couldn’t do anything and was going to die squatting in houses like an old crazy cat food eating poet.

I was fine by the end of the second day. Not proficient in any way. Like, I am sometimes working under a teenaged CNA with way more experience and working knowledge than I have.

There’s really something to going back to the beginning. There is no option but for me to be humble because while I may have a whole set of professional experiences and knowledge, it is of little consequence here. I’m learning to be grateful for my healthy working body, for the ability to shower and toilet and eat and dress with freedom, and for my readily available friends and family. I’m also learning to shut up, listen, and ask for help.

I leave at the end of the shift tired (but let’s be REALLY honest – I’m doing about 1/8 of the work of the CNAs on shift) but I leave having had ZERO time to navel gaze and contemplate the state of my existence or any of the other stupid shit I’m consumed with on any given day. I love this so much. And this is on top of the fact that I’m helping people with immediate issues, making them more comfortable, and being in the company of elders whose life experience makes me feel like an infant.

On that – I feel 20 years younger as a student, but as my classmates reminded me when I cut up vegetables and cheese for them at lunch – “you’re such a mom!”. Feel younger, am not actually younger. Oh well.

While this is all good, I’m feeling the looming economic crisis within my household. I know the CNAs all scramble for overtime and extra shifts and I cannot imagine how their bodies can take it. I realize that I have done very little actual HARD WORK in my life. And I certainly question my ability to teach part time, pick up CNA shifts, and attend school full time. I felt a little Barbara Ehrenrich-y  when clinicals began, but then I realized that this isn’t an experiment and I don’t have any back up money or a book deal. Mine is the best case scenario of on-your-actual-own because I at least already have housing and transportation and have had recent health care.

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Cooking for Other People’s Kids

Kids (most) are funny and obtusely illogical about their food. I’m sure there are real reasons, and I know that in utterly powerless childhood what you actually eat is often the only power you have over yourself, but cooking for other people’s children is impossible. I have actually served ice cream for dinner because I am not a fucking magician and I am often very tired. Out of the four kiddos I’m usually surrounded by, two are infuriatingly picky. My greatest accomplishment this year has been finding meals (or anything close to resembling) that the three pickies (1 adult, 1 teenager, one tween) and the adventurers (1 adult, one teen, one tween) can all enjoy on some level. As entertaining as it has been to watch one of them fake wretch every time I serve something not quite fitting, nothing can destroy already fragile self esteem like a 10-year-old. So I aim to please.


I recently spent an extended period of time with the BKs and cycled between anxiety, frustration, anger, and excitement while preparing for this visit. Don’t judge; it’s complicated. My solution to head off as much anxiety and hunger as possible was to make a meal plan and list of activities. My main line of defense started with a big batch Jenny Rosenstrach’s Macaroni and Cheese (we have modified this and renamed it Cheez It Mac and Cheese). This is magic medicine, and by far the easiest to make with the least amount of mess. If you have kids who are culinary minded or like to help, the white sauce is a good opportunity to use them either pouring or stirring. I’ve added more milk or cream that Rosenstrach calls for, and reduced the mustard powder. She suggests bread crumbs and while I’ve had good luck with panko for the topping, we prefer Cheez It’s.

Cheez It Macaroni and Cheese

Cook 1 lb of pasta (elbows, shells, anything that will hold sauce) in a Dutch oven or big, ovenproof pot. While cooking pour 2-2 1/2 cups milk and set aside. Likewise, measure 3 tbsp flour, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, and salt and pepper as desired together. Stir and set aside. Slightly under cook the pasta, toss it into a colander and leave it there. Preheat the oven to 350*. Throw 3 tbsp real butter into the already dirty pot/Dutch oven and put on medium heat. Once the butter melts whisk in dry ingredients. Let sizzle for a few seconds, and when it has some color SLOWLY drizzle in the milk. Whisk as you pour, and once it has the consistency of thick hot chocolate you can dump the rest of the milk in. Raise the heat, simmer and stir. Once the sauce has thickened, dump the cheese in. Rosenstrach calls for 2 cups of grated hard cheese but I’ve always used whatever I had available. This is usually the last of a bunch of bags of shredded cheese. Sometimes it’s less than two cups, often it is more. No one notices either way. Stir until melted, then add the pasta. Sometimes the pasta needs a quick spray of very hot water to separate it before your pour the pasta in. If you do this be sure to give the pasta a few extra shakes in the colander to get excess water out. Stir all, lick the spoon, and top with about 1/2 cup of crushed Cheez It’s mixed w a tablespoon of butter or olive oil. 

Now, this is not just for the kiddos. I’ve dressed this recipe up for date night (pumpkin and Gorgonzola)and down for PMS and pajamas (Kraft slices and cheddar ends). It pairs well with a dry red and Scandal or juice boxes and Unfortunate Events.

I’m signing off with apologies for the disorganized post. My laptop is dead and I ran over my Lofree Bluetooth keyboard and I’m trying to type on my iPad and my house is destroyed because I was not prepared for multiple days on my own with medium sized children. But also! Check out Dinner: A Love Story blog and books. I loved Jenny Rosenstrach BEFORE I entertained picky eaters, and her writing and her recipes are right on. Some of the recipes are still a little much for me and my tiny kitchen, but the writing is gorgeous and the tenets of feeding pickies lay the groundwork for everything else.

Enjoy!



Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Hockey season is over, and this means two things: I am no longer doing my kegels during the National Anthem and I have time to read books in long stretches – instead of when the Zamboni is making rounds. I grabbed this book off the Target shelf after a now immemorable bad day and carried it around toward the end of the season, and just got to it this week. I was doubtful I could handle the emotional load of reading about a bunch of teenaged hockey players and a tragedy, but the cover was nice and I didn’t want another romance or American marriage introspective.

The novel begins:

“Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.”

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Fredrik Backman’s Beartown is situated in, well, Beartown. Like many elements of the book, the town itself is archetype: small town that used to be great, once great men down on their luck, a bar, a factory. What makes the town, like all of them, is the characters who reside within.

A club president who, upon our first introduction, is “sitting at his desk eating a sandwich the way a German shepherd would try to eat a balloon filled with mayonnaise” (60).

Peter, the team general manager who is almost anachronistically conflict-averse, husband to fierce Kira and father to key character Maya and Leo.

Sune, an established coach in risk of being pushed out in the name of progress tells a player: “Community is the fact that we work toward the same goal, that we accept our respective roles in order to reach it. Values is the fact that we trust each other. That we love each other . . . culture is as much about what we encourage as what we actually permit” and explains that this means “that most people don’t do what we tell them to. They do what we let them get away with” (210).

Ana, Maya’s best friend who loves hunting with her father and reminds us that the gender disparity in hockey goes beyond US lines, in that “Girls aren’t allowed to like hockey even just a little bit in Beartown” (330).

Benji, arguably the greatest character in the novel.

And many others.

Backman commands the universal here: “A simple truth, repeated as often as it is ignored, is that if you tell a child it can do absolutely anything, or that it can’t do anything at all, you will in all likelihood be proven right” (79) without schmaltz, and this generality contributes to an almost fairy tale sense, “There’s a town in a forest that loves a game. There’s a girl sitting on a bed playing the guitar for her best friend. There’s a young man sitting in a police station trying not to look scared” (250).

“There are two things that are particularly good at reminding us how old we are: children and sports” (37).

While I’m not sure how much this story will translate to readers who don’t know hockey, anyone who has experienced a love of something, whether it is sports or hobbies or whatever, so deep that it is a core part of their life can understand the implications that come when what you love seems to have hurt someone you love.

Backman’s writing is as clear and lovely as an Ikea catalog, and I wonder if this comes from its original language of publication (Swedish) or the accuracy of the translation (Neil Smith) or both. The pace is fast, and I found myself speeding through passages to get to the next discovery only to force myself back, to slow down, and not miss important details. I thought I had the book figured out from reading the back in the Target aisle, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my predictions incorrect on nearly every level.

Beartown goes far beyond hockey and examines problems within youth sports, the very real existence of rape culture and how it often masquerades as low grade sexism and “tradition”, marriage, the raising of children, and the simultaneous beauty and brutality that comes with raising a family and a community.

I cannot recommend it enough.

Solstice Square Mom

December 21, 2017

***

Crumpling newspaper to start tonight’s fire wasn’t intentionally symbolic. The house was quiet, dogs outside, and I had already swept the floor so that I wasn’t sitting in a pile of wood chips and sand and dog hair. But as I separated the glossy ads (they don’t burn, friends) from the newsprint, my eyes scanned the pages as they always do. Some afternoons I spread the paper back out. I read a piece I missed, or re-read one that was especially interesting and it takes a ridiculous amount of time to start the fire. Tonight I scanned, and I thought about this year, and I closed my eyes. I used it all, the last of the assorted New York Times and Bangor Daily News that we had stacked up in preparation for the winter. I crossed my legs and rolled my shoulders and touched the lighter to the paper. 
If winter solstice is a time of preparation, change and growth, I am ready. The internet says that today, December 21st, is the worst day of the year. At the risk of tragedy in the next 3.5 hours, I know that there were worse days in 2017. This is bad, but not the worst. 

We decided this week that my boy, who looks 32 but whose frontal lobes are woefully undeveloped, will split his time between my house and his father’s. I have an essay from a day in 2012 where I made the call and his father didn’t answer; this year he answered. The calls were similar. “Help,” I would say. “What I am doing isn’t working”. It’s true – nothing is working. My interventions and appointments and lectures have left me feeling like a caricature of the squarest mom in Squaresville. I keep checking myself. “Do I really believe this?” I want to know on a full scale, like when he is actually 32, that this might have helped. That I’m not making a cosmic mistake.   I do believe in the expectations for our household, for the way we treat ourselves and others. I think he does, too. Otherwise I would not be fighting. 

Wise advisors of mine once told me to work when Colby was small. “Wait until middle and high school,” they told me, “you’ll need the time then”. I find myself passing a different flavor of this advice onto my friends. “Save your energy,” I tell them, “I wasted a decade refusing to let my kid eat sugar cereal on school mornings. You know what doesn’t fucking matter? That. Save your energy”. 

So we are here, in different houses but tucking ourselves in for longest night of the year. We need this long night to think and rest and shift. 

***

“I’m all done growing,” I sobbed to my mother earlier this year. I can remember crying in front of her (outside of teenaged rage and no the irony is not lost here but I don’t want to talk about it) exactly zero times before this year. I’ve lost count in 2017. “I don’t want any more lessons,” I told her. “I’m done learning. I’m done”. 

I did not get to be done. 

***

On this longest of nights, I have the smallest window of clarity. I am not out of energy because the universe is not out of energy. Without the worst days I would not have been forced to look at all the pieces of my life and adjust accordingly. And there are people all around this kid of mine, holding him up and cheering him on. Different is not wonderful, but maybe it isn’t worst. 

A winter solstice has never been more welcome, not for the dark, but for the light that I have to trust is coming. 

Gratuitous Pictures of Dogs and Miscellaneous Early Mid-Life Musings

I can’t stop watching my dogs play. You heard me correctly – dogs – plural. A soccer mom friend asked me “What were you thinking?!” as I was tangled up in two on the sidelines. “I wasn’t,” I replied, “Everything’s easier that way.” All joking aside, the universe lined up. Our new boy is an untrained, skidding everywhere, pees-when-he’s-excited heart salve and every single person in this household loves him. He makes the little dog better, and I think he makes all of us better. There is no magic medicine for melancholy, but puppy love is pretty damn close.

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I am still gutted. I am loading the dishwasher or teaching a lesson or on the phone and a wave a grief pulls me under and I just. can’t. breathe. I am underwater. I make actual lists of the great good fortune in my life, but then I button pants and I did not expect to be wearing real pants right now. I am walking and talking and meditating and medicating and doing everything in my power to just feel better. And I am, sometimes, better. But I do wonder if I’m holding on to this what if, this almost, because I’m afraid this is as close as I’m going to get. I am sad and I just can’t imagine what my life is going to look like when I am no longer actively parenting. I’ll complain all damn day about how hard my kid is but that does not negate my desire to parent until the day I die.

Cooper and Sweet Pea are smoothing out the edges.

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These boys are doing their adolescent jobs and preparing me to be ready to let them leave. This is code for they-are-driving-me-fucking-crazy and I-thought-I’d-be-better-at-this. The highs are high and I wonder what I will ever do without them; the lows have me searching for boarding schools with financial aid that start tomorrow. Like I will pack this car and drive you there right now heart of my heart and fruit of my loins. While I’m busy worrying about their social skills and general academic competency they are out there doing exactly what they need to do (and probably some shit that they shouldn’t but anyway).

We spent an evening at the sweatiest college fair of all time. I felt a flutter of hope as I heard the boys asking questions that I NEVER expected to hear from them, “What is the expected SAT score?” and “Tell me about life at _______.” My heart is expanding and contracting at such a furious rate I have zero faith I will survive until graduation. All those 20-something college reps? The best entertainment of the night was watching them pack up to get them SUM DRINKS. You should have seen the eyes being made across that field house. I almost pissed myself. Oh, to be 20-something. I just wanted a shower and yoga pants.

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Hockey season! The crown jewel of my year. I love peace and friendship and all that shit but GIVE ME SOME HOCKEY so I can regress like a proper human.

We had nearly full-family participation in spirit week. If you are not a high school student or a teacher you have blocked this memory out. It is when zero learning takes place over the course of one week because football.

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Mama/Ms. W as Madonna for Decade’s Day – The English Department is full of characters and friends and we NAILED it with 80’s icons ALLLLLL day. Also my getup scared the dogs so much I couldn’t get them inside. No sparkls mma plz wi scurd.

Kid did not go with either of these outfits but solidly represented Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Class color day and Bangor day were fully observed throughout.

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This picture does not do justice to the perfection that is Mark Bittman’s popover recipe with Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning. I would eat these every day.

What else? OH! I fixed MY OWN DAMN CAR!

This is a much longer story, but here’s the Spark Notes version: BF borrowed my car, car came home broken, I lost my shit, but then I googled shit, and texted my ex-husband, then I got my code scanned, bought parts and fixed this damn thing. Thank you, YouTube.

It turns out this old dog still has some capacity for new tricks.

I hope the rest of this month finds you well.

Heather

September, again.

Here we are, again. September seems to be exactly the same as all teaching Septembers are: Crazy busy, dazzling weather, lively students, the edge of a nervous breakdown.

 

So, remember when my dear pup, Sam, was ill? And I wasted her last few months mourning her in advance? Because I am the way I am, the thought of her just DYING on me was unbearable. I needed to know that she was okay or not okay, in pain or in rest. If I was going to spend $200 on a necklace made of ashes (I didn’t – yet). Did I forget that things happen and I have no control over this all? Yes, absolutely. Am I doing this again, always? Yes, absolutely.

Who was it that said that they feel like they are in control, they have the steering wheel in their hands, but it turns out they are in the back seat and just pretending? Was it Anne Lamott? Glennon Melton? That’s the situation we have here. Except I am alternately grabbing onto that wheel for dear life, and throwing it right out the fucking window.

I’m looking in the backseat of my empty minivan. Colby is a Junior, so is *BK. I am crying when I miss a minute of Colby’s soccer game and also swearing to send him to prep school because he won’t GET THE FUCK OUT OF BED.

I’m sitting with loss and straddling a river the size of the Mississippi – Will there be more? Or will I be content with what I have? I want to close my eyes and pick one – and that’s that. But I can’t. Each choice could be right and wrong in direct proportion. The problem isn’t the choice, really, it’s me.

I’m dancing with my boyfriend in the endless ‘do we’ or ‘don’t we’ and ‘how’ and ‘when’ on the floor of misnomered blended families.

I want to sell my house and buy a condo. But I also want to stay there and make room – make a home. I want for the pieces of my family to come together, to revel in the chaos of a new adventure. I want to sleep with my own person in my own bed every single night.

If I keep going like this, though, I risk wasting everything that is right HERE and right NOW. I have Colby home now. BK is home now. We may not be in the same home but we are certainly not far apart. I have had moments in my life where I made a decision just to have the process over. Very few moments of my now are going to be easy, but I’ve looked elsewhere enough to know that what comes after is more than worthwhile. There is no way out but through, and I am wasting my through.

My challenge, this year, is no longer that of making lunches and checking homework. It is to be right here, right now, even when I would rather be anywhere else. And that is far more challenging.

 

*Bonus Kid

Found and Lost

There is a $5 Maclaren stroller sitting in my barn.

Early in yard sale season my partner and I were out. We drove through a subdivision not far from home and saw signs of life. “There,” I pointed toward a split level ranch with a minivan parked diagonally across the entrance. He turned, we parked the car, grabbed our still-hot coffee and ventured over.

I saw the stroller before I saw anything else. I walked over while glancing around – my condition was certainly not public knowledge and followed directly after an early loss. I was holding my joy gingerly and privately.

I didn’t see anyone I knew, and so made my move. “Max,” I said, “I want that.” He looked at the $5 sticker, ducked his bald head toward his shoulder in approval, and took out his wallet. We looked the stroller over before sealing the deal. He fiddled with the back latch and deemed it an easy fix. I unfolded a rain fly that looked as if it had never been used. A pack of tow-headed boys swirled around us, not minding the detritus of their childhoods on sale. A woman matching the boys came over taking her hands out of her money apron. “Ah,” she smiled. “We loved this.” I loved it, too. The boys looked – happy. As they talked and walked through the common stroller set up conundrum, I looked from the stroller to the contents of the driveway. I could see the trajectory of these boys’ lives unfolding. I imagined the red top was faded from games and vacations. The back latch bent from a quick stop maybe, the handles worn from trips to and from the neighbors – chasing siblings and company.

We paid and I grinned as I drove the stroller toward the car. Our first purchase – and a steal!

I parked the stroller in the barn, a patch of red reminding me that we would soon be 7. An auspicious number. I slept grew and kvetched about my restless legs and vomited. Until I didn’t.

Now, whenever I go into my barn I see two worn handles peeking out behind the couch and I’m not sure what to do. I planned to send that grand old Maclaren into retirement, but now? I washed and folded my much loved maternity shorts and packed them away in my hope chest with a book and the ultrasound pictures. I can justify not passing these on – no one needs bad luck maternity shorts –  was an easy call. I can’t even fold up the stroller, much less pack it away. And I don’t really want anyone else to have it.

I know we are done now. We are surrounded with more love and fortune than most, and the only thing I am trying for is contentment. But for now, I think, the Maclaren stays.