Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Yes, you

If we’re lucky, very lucky, lucky-grande, there comes a time when our inner lives quiet enough for a talent, or skill, or interest to rise above the din and capture our imagination. It can be cooking or dancing or painting, but when this happens, we must fall in love – unconditionally – because like love does, expressions of ourselves come to life in the soul and ask for nothing but to be heard. If we don’t respect them, or at least try and understand them, they wither. If we make the sad mistake of believing a passion is valid only as long as it can be marketed, it will go back to its place in the soul and it will die there.

Writing was something I enjoyed more than I wanted to sell. Then it became something I wanted to sell more than I enjoyed. When the first two books failed, I considered giving it up. And then, I realized writing wasn’t a product to develop, or a way to make money. Writing was a way to feel my own life. Do I want to sell my writing? Absolutely. Is it hard work and disappointing and maddening and thrilling? Absolutely ++. But only one is a function of the other.

For those who need the advice ( yes, you) look at it like this:

If you had a beautiful child, who sang like a bell, who was praised by everyone you knew, whose future was brilliant…a child in whom you saw yourself and for whom you’d do anything, and finally, in caring for whom you felt a little more alive each day, would it all go away when that child came to you to explain that it was only for you that she wanted to sing at all?

Never stop hearing the voice of your own soul.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Last Driver

With every “first” in a child’s career as an independent person-in-training comes a “last” for a parent; the first time a child takes his or her own shower without needing help with the water temp, the first time a child gets him or herself up in the morning, does his or her own laundry, prepares h/h own meal…etc. I know this can make us sad in those “where did the time go” moods, but when that happens, we need to think of the gains: child feels independent, parent gets to leave fewer tasks unfinished to tend to another one. It also helps to think of what is harder time-passing-wise, like accidentally wearing your readers into the bathroom when you’re not looking your best, face-wise.

When I was a tightly scheduled parent with to-do lists that had to be stapled together, who didn’t serve a meal during baseball/basketball/soccer season before 7:45 p.m., and who didn’t attempt to socialize before the weekend, I was not only unsentimental about anything I could off-load as the children grew up, I looked forward to it.

Until age-wise, they were ready to drive.

It’s like looking at a pre-verbal child and trying to imagine them speaking a whole sentence to visualize a fourteen or fifteen-year-old sitting earnestly behind the wheel with their ten-and-two hands. It’s astonishing. It’s not astonishing when you’re staring at the headlights of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler saying, “hug the right, HUG THE RIGHT!!” It’s astonishing later when you’re thanking God for making other drivers stay home so that when your child veered left explaining (incorrectly) “I have the right of way here,” you were not both in the paper the next day under a bad headline.

Forget rules of the road and passenger seat coaching. We are how we drive. If we’re careful, considerate people, we’re right-laners. If we overbook, and need more hours in the day, we speed. If we write fiction, we daydream and wonder how we got there as we shut off the engine. Sam is adorable and funny and smart and makes my day better just by getting up in the morning. He’s also a person who doesn’t pick up his room, leaves his dishes in the sink, takes care of too many last minute tasks in the morning and keeps his clothes on the floor next to an empty hamper. I imagined he’d be a careless, fast driver, too hurried to tend to the details.

It’s good to be wrong sometimes. Halfway through our second trip with Sam at the wheel, I realized we were talking like we do when I myself am at the wheel only with fewer near-catastrophes. He maneuvered past cyclists, he did not clip the side view mirror of a car parked three feet from the curb on a narrow road, he came to a complete stop to look in all directions when there was nobody in sight, he slowed past walkers. In the tight spots, he hummed to himself while he navigated his way through, a coping skill he developed long ago, at around the same time he wanted me to stop solving all his problems.

We are how we drive. So apparently, while I was picking up Sam’s room and loading the dishwasher and complaining about how I used to run a business before I became a maid that nobody appreciates, he was honing other skills – balance, pace, observation, perspective, control – all the Everything we need to stay alive on the road – and off.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mommy at large

I went mommy-ing over the weekend, and it paid off. I’ll share.

Very soon, after I make my detective expert’s edits and read my book again and have a long talk with it on the porch about its journey and how to behave when I’m not there, I will be sending the first five pages to agents far and wide. God willing, several will put down their coffee and contact me immediately to request additional material. And with this possibility looming, what is the one thing I have run out of? Yes, paper. So I went to Staples, a place I heart as much as I heart Ann Taylor and possibly more, because things at Staples don’t go out of style or have to be tried on.

Under the influence of my high hopes I bought not a ream or two, but a box-grande of laser paper with six reams inside. With a decent amount of muscle, I carried it to the front, where, three days before every school in the land was to open, only two registers were open.

The line at Staples before school starts looks like this:

Behind each register stood a cashier with a name tag that said, “In Training.” My cashier in-training was Caitlin. When I took my place in line she had one customer in progress who was either a teacher or the mother of eight judging from the size of her order. Next, and in front of me, stood another woman buying toner cartridges. Periodically, Caitlin glanced over at the very long line that was forming with that unmistakable shell-shocked look of seasonal help – wide, unblinking eyes, hands hovering over the items stacked in front of her like she was putting out little fires. With each item she scanned and bagged, she reassured herself , “Okay, that’s all set,” before reaching for another. It took forever and I could no longer feel my arms.

But here is where I did not get frustrated. Here is where I thought about each of my daughters applying for their first jobs and about a mother like myself, who probably watched Caitlin hang up the phone after being hired, and said, like I would have, “Congratulations! They’ll love you!” At that point, Caitlin was not thinking about the hell that waited on this kind of a day. The hell that waited was the woman in front of me.

I watched as she grew agitated, the loud sighing, the watch-checking, and the shifting from one foot to the other while she muttered under her breath, “Unfreakingbelievable.” Then she turned to me: “Can’t believe this,” she said.

After another five or six minutes, Caitlin came to the end of the order and loudly enough for everyone to hear, the woman in front of me said, “Jesus, finally.” Caitlin asked her customer if she had a Rewards card to which the customer offered the dreaded response, “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. Can I get one?” And Caitlin, looking like she’d now cry, scanned the floor for anyone wearing a red Staples tunic who might bail her out, but saw no one. “Sure, you can,” she soldiered on, pulling a binder from a shelf behind her.

The woman in front of me came undone. “What? WHAT? You’re going to do that NOW? With this FREAKING line? Are you KIDDING ME?”

While Caitlin kept her attention on the customer, the woman dropped her items on the floor in front of her and crossed her arms. “I can’t believe you’re doing this now,” she said three or four more times. She turned to me again.
“Can you believe this? Can you believe she’s doing this now?”
“It’s part of her job,” I said. “Give her a break. She’s new, she’s in training. Didn’t you read her tag?”
The woman stared at me so I asked, “What, you’ve never been new in a job? You think this is easy for her?”
“I should have gone to another line,” the woman said.
“You’re absolutely right,” I said, “Why don’t you just do that now?”
She gathered her things, swore a couple of times and stomped off.

I moved up and put my paper on the counter. “This will be a piece of cake,” I said to Caitlin, “And no, I don’t want a Rewards card.” With a smile of relief-grande Caitlin said, “Thank you.” But I was mommy-ing so I said, “You know, this is not easy what you’re doing, you’re very brave.” And she got a little teary then and said, “thank you for saying that.” I added, “And I think you’re doing a great job.” She smiled again and said thank you again and God said, “Okay, enough,” and so I signed my receipt and left.

Everyone needs a little mommy-ing now and then, and I’m just the mommy to do it.