In Which Christina Tries to Find the Poetry in “Breaking One’s Ass at the Bowling Alley”

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Spoilers: There is no poetry in breaking one’s ass at the bowling alley.

And even sadder, this was not even my most epic fail.

So, picture it– the Ft. Leavenworth Strike Zone, moments after leaving a child home with her father, in a fit of rage and tears and possibly blood because the toy she’d ordered with her piggy bank money and which was scheduled to arrive that day did not in fact materialize with her sibling’s order. (This is an entirely different story of pain, anger, and ultimate redemption.) “I’ll just take Auggie and Mal,” I said. “It will be fun,” I said.

My lovely friends had set up the bumper lanes and there was an adorable little alligator slide for Auggie to push his ball down. We donned our stylish shoes and set up our screens. Then I proceeded to burn 4,000 calories whilst deflecting my youngest son’s attempts to bowl everyone’s turn, lift 10 pound toe-crushing balls, eat various snacks that did not belong to him, and essentially run betwixt and between every other human’s legs while they tried to send heavy orbs spinning down the intensely waxed lanes. All while trying to remember to cheer for my oldest son’s valiant efforts to hurl a ball only slightly heavier than his own person down a narrow lane using arms the length of a bald eagle’s wingspan and the width of a walky talky antenna.
Remember that “intensely waxed lane” part. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

So, all went All-American-Family well for about 8 minutes. And then Auggie decided he must and WILL follow the pink ball to its destination. The child may be shaped like an overstuffed Peep but he’s surprisingly fast. I honestly don’t remember anything but trying to grab his shoulder and taking 2 or 3 rapid steps when suddenly all was silent, I was closing my eyes, and the briefest of thoughts scrolled across my brain like a banner flying behind a retro bi-plane that I remember soaring across the cloudless sky when we would go to the beach as children: “ooooh maaaaaan, this is going to huuuuurrrrttt…”
I was not wrong.

I’ve fallen on my tailbone three times. Each marked by significant humiliation. The first time I had to pay my brother a dollar to go across the street and tell my mother that I was hurt and couldn’t stand up. (It may or may not have been payback for that time I broke his collarbone.) ((Bygones.))
The second time was in an English farmhouse at the lovely party of a dear friend. I had just reached my post-baby body goal and was wearing a darling vintage-inspired tea dress with my favorite seamed stockings and platform shoes. I remember every detail. I was carrying a beautifully delicate heirloom china plate to the kitchen, relishing the sound of my awesome shoes clopping across the old wooden floorboards, thinking how amazing I must look when–Lo there did I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they did call me, they bid me take my place among them, in the halls of Valhalla, where the brave may live forever.
For I knew: I was going to die.
My friend’s two bulldogs. At a dead run. Where are they going? And why with such swiftness? I thought briefly as I continued walking toward them, as one continues toward impending doom. ‘Tis inevitable. ‘Tis fated.
Later, I would replay it countless times. I do to this day, 7 years later. There was nothing I could have done, save dive out of their path and into a curio cabinet or innocent bystander. My main concern at that moment was to preserve the plate. I don’t know why. In the same way I don’t know why singing Ole’ McDonald Had a Farm during labor helps me focus.
With each step, my shin met a solid, speeding animal. Two legs, two animals weaving betwixt and between them. Allow me to break it down for you: in the course of 2 strides, my legs made contact with a dog at least 4 times so that my body had no choice but to both pitch forward and then rear backward. And the whole time, my eyes were focused on that china plate. I watched it reach forward, rise up, and then float above me, ever connected to my hand, ever safe, ever preserved.
Not so my dignity.
Moments later, seated and swatting mortified tears from my eyes as stealthily as I could while assuring people–all the people–that I was fine, Sam showed up. Conspiringly, he leaned in, “Did you hear about the poor girl who fell? Legs up in the air and everything, poor thing.”
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The coccyx. Apparently a vital part of our anatomy. Having an injured one inhibits many activities, such as rising from a seated position at any speed other than glacial, bending down, picking up, laying down, lifting, etc. Standing is fine. Walking is fine. So essentially, I’m like the bus in Speed. I just can’t ever, ya know, stop. No problem.

I’ve tried blaming Amazon for this. Why couldn’t you put BOTH Dinotrux in the same effing box? And the United States Postal Service. Why couldn’t you put BOTH boxes on the same truck? Then we could have all gone bowling together and maybe Auggie’s impulse to run down a waxed-to-hell bowling lane would have been thwarted. But then…what if Sam had been the one to try and catch him? What if he’d been the one to fall and had reinjured his spine?
So let’s say this: I’m glad it was me.
Let’s also say this: We’re not taking Auggie bowling again for quite some time.

We Put The “ER” In Character

This past week I had occasion to call an ambulance. Twice. The first time was especially great because I was also obliged to leave my screaming husband and screaming baby in the exam room so as to run across the hospital to the parking lot where I had to move my car in order for the emergency helicopter to land. Now, the last time my body hit a dead run was about the year of our Lord 2006. My body doesn’t like running. Nor does it do it well. But I was motivated. Highly motivated. And I was fast. It felt amazing! As I flew down the halls and burst out of the sliding doors, I rocketed toward my about-to-be towed vehicle and thought: I am a beast!
Who knew? And had the hospital been bigger than the frozen food section in Target, that Olympic record would have been in big trouble. I’ll tell ya what.
no-runI hate running. But apparently I can do it when I have to. For short distances.

***

I am trying to cook something for dinner while ping-ponging between the kids for homework assistance. Bella is trying to remember “the flag song” for her program at school, so she has me singing every flag song I can think of while she unceremoniously cuts me off after each beginning line.
“Oooooh say can you see…”
“Not the national anthem, Mama.” (Said in the tone reserved for simpletons, fools, and the miserable slobs who don’t know what color ranger is always the leader of the Power Rangers.)
I have just unloaded the dishwasher and turn around to see Auggie has emptied the cabinets. Sigh.
“This is MYYYYYY country…”
“NO.”
This is the day after the first ambulance ride and Sam has been able to come home, so I have a flurry of texts from concerned family members coming in. I answer a few at a time as I sing,
“My country ’tis of thee…”
“NOPE.”
Getting a little punchy, I throw in some swinging elbows:”You’re a grand ole’ flag, You’re a high-flying flag…”
“TOO FAST! TOO FAST! I can’t remember the hand motions!”
I pause over the laundry basket on the couch. Half of it is distributed around the room now. Thanks, Auggie. Why are there only 2 pairs of underpants? One, two, three…eight shirts and pants…
“KEEP GOING.”
“And forever in peace may you wave.” I start to get into it. I sing louder. I fold clothes in a rhythm. I’m on key. I sound great. “You’re the emblem of the land I love, the home of the free and the brave!”

I don’t know it yet, but my brand new friends, who’ve never even met Sam, are plotting. I don’t know it yet, but I’m about to get dinners and spontaneous visits to make me laugh and my lawn mowed and random snacks. I don’t know yet that the next day I will go to the store and totally lose my crap and cry and snot all over the woman who bags my groceries as she prays the most beautiful and powerful prayer over my family. I don’t know that a couple of hours after that bolstering I will be calling another ambulance and texting “I need help” to my friend who will show up and take care of my kids all day while I deal with the hospital situation. Or that my mother-in-law will put her life on pause earlier than planned to get on a plane. Or that moments after that I will be crying in front of Sam’s boss, who has returned to tell me to let him know if I need anything.

“Every heart beats true, under Red, White, and Blue, where there’s never a boast or brag.”
Asking for help is really hard. Accepting help is actually really hard too. I don’t know if it’s a woman thing, a mom thing, a military thing, or what–but I tend to think, I can do this. I just need a few more minutes OR I just need to put that in the backpack so I can use my hands OR I just need everyone to be quiet so I can think… Spoiler: none of these things actually enable me to do what I need to do. I can actually do a majority of what needs to be done on my own. I have the twitching eye and stripe of gray hair to prove it. But I can only do it on my own for a short distance. I need my brave friends and my family and to be reminded that God is here and in control. And I don’t have to be.

“But should auld acquaintance be forgot, keep your eye on the grand old flag.” The chorus of George M. Cohan’s song is in all of our heads now as we stomp, run, wander, and shuffle around the house. James Cagney played him in the movie, so I see him singing it too. There’s a line that the Cohans would say at the end of their shows, and I’d like to say it to all my new friends here and to those praying and supporting us all over the place,
My mother thanks you, my father thanks you…my husband thanks you, my daughter thanks you, my sons thank you, and I thank you.

In Which Christina Realizes She Is In Fact A Colossal Bitch

When we had a non-carpeted eating area (ah, the sweet sweet regret of yesteryear), one of the kids’ chores was to sweep the floor after dinner. On this particular day, Bella was wearing her paper crown from school–Happy Birthday Bella! scrolling in gorgeously sparkly glitter around it.

Bella, from the floor with her dust pan: “Since this is Dad’s house he should be sweeping.” (angry vicious sweeping…) “It’s like we’re servants.” (sweep, sweep)

Sam, from the sink where he is rinsing dishes: “That’s right. And I’m the king.”

Bella, placing the dust pan down with great dignity: “I think you’re forgetting about…” (pointing to emphasize) “THIS” (indicating the crown).

Oh, how I laughed! We are all a bit self-important at times, yes? Except me. I have a completely balanced perspective on where I stand in life. I would never presume any sort of, like, entitlement or anything. That would be childish.

***

Let me sum up

May 16–they pack up our household belongings in Hawaii and we commence the living with nothingness.

June 6–we move to the hotel, discover Bella has lice, and commence the FREAKING of the out.

June 13–we get on a plane back to the mainland.

June 17–I decide to stop caring if we all get lice. I. Can. Not. Deal. with the fighting and screaming and “hold effing still”ing.

June 17, one hour later–I feel itchy and treat everyone’s head for the 3rd time.

June 24–we move into our empty house with great hope.

June 24, 10 seconds later–I am disgusted with the kitchen and the carpet.

June 25–Sam gets a kidney stone. We get to visit the local ER.

June 26–we buy a 36 ft carpet for the basement and, in typical galactically stupid Fishburne fashion, don’t ask for help bringing it in.

June 29–our household goods arrive!

June 29, one hour later–we are told one of our crates was left in LA. No one is exactly sure what is in it.

July 1–Sam is pretty sure he has another herniated disc. He is not wrong. He (rightly) stops all all unnecessary movement. It’s so great that there isn’t anything that needs to get done…VZM.IMG_20160629_191143

July 2–the extent to which I am screwed sinks in: the Hawaii movers disassembled EVERYTHING. The bunk bed, the crib, the shelves, the coffee table (where is the other leg?!), the bicycles, the play table, etc. And the Kansas movers assembled: The bunk bed. For which I am eternally grateful.

July 6 –our missing crate is here!

July 6, three minutes later–oh wait. It’s someone ELSE’S crate. Ours is still in LA.

July 21–Our REAL crate is here! We have a couch! etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

***

So. Here’s the situation:

I have no life.

No, actually, I have 4 lives–but none of them are mine.

No, actually, I have 4 lives and only the parts of my own life that are exceptionally necessary–Eating. Dressing. Going to the bathroom.

Unless someone is about to fall down the stairs. Or needs more milk. Or medicine.

not-now-skeletor

“Can I get some coffee when you’re done with that?”

Things I Find Demoralizing

*A long white whisker growing from under my eye. What the effing hell. Even the bags under my eyes are stressed? Pull that mother out but quick.

*Spilling some sort of extremely unnatural Red Number 5 juice on the carpet and totally not caring.

Things That Make Me Feel Like An Absolute Rock Star

*Remembering to take off my teeth whitening strips at EXACTLY 30 minutes without setting a timer.

*Figuring this out20160809_080601

 

I’ve always thought of myself- on the whole-as a compassionate and understanding woman. Willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Polite. Kind. Two years ago when Sam hurt his back the first time, I attributed my hideous behavior to being pregnant. I even congratulated myself on how well I managed, all things considered.

I think you’re forgetting my crown, Family…

***

My day for the past 5 or 6 weeks

Wake Up

morning

Just. Like. This.

Make coffee, make lunch for Sam, make breakfast for Sam.

Bring breakfast to Sam.

If baby is not awake yet, gleefully check Facebook and do Jamberry stuff.

Make breakfast for kids, who are now awake. (the gall)

Help Sam with the trickier parts of getting dressed in uniform.

Bring dishes down. Break up a fight or two. Stop Auggie from throwing himself down the stairs.

Load everyone into the car and take Sam to work.

Run errands, or clean, or do laundry, or hang a few pictures, or unpack a box– It never seems to be more than one of these things.

Distribute snacks, put baby to bed, make lunch.

Wake up baby, load everyone into the car, pick up Sam.

3 times a week: Help Sam change clothes if needed. Load everyone back into the car, take Sam to physical therapy. Wait an hour. Come home.

2 times a week right after the above: kick Sam out of the car then turn around and take kids to Karate. Cuz good parents make their kids do stuff, right?

Come home. Make dinner. (Why didn’t I buy stock in Cheerios?! STUPID STUPID STUPID)

Give a few baths.

Listen to them read. (KILL ME.)

Put them to bed.

1-2 hours of Blessed TV Viewing.

Bed.

And interspersed in there, I try to play with them, or listen to the recent development on the War of the Roses research for his thesis, or do math flash cards, or shave my legs, or answer emails. The evil comes out, sadly, every once in a while. And by “once in a while” I mean “around 3:00.” It manifests most frequently in the unhinged shrieking of “STOP YELLING!”

I yell at the kids. I sigh heavily at Sam.

Seriously? You want me to go make you some coffee? That’s great. Cuz I love going up and down the stairs millions of times a day. And now you want a KISS? So I have to put all these dishes down and walk all the way around to the other side of the bed now? Fine. Whatever.

Why am I thinking such things? I’ll tell you why? Because I am an absolute ASS.

I’m pretty sure Sam would rather his spine NOT be jacked up. And last time, he actually DID try to do more and it ended up further injuring him. So essentially I’m all Saint Christina, Martyr Wife and Mother because the poor guy is trying to get better faster, to get back to his own life where I allow him to work like a dog to support me in the style to which I’ve become accustomed and to help me.

Geez, Sam.

So naturally the Facebook 7 days of Happy Couples Challenge exploded my computer and phone during this time. I wanted to want to participate…but all the loveliness only exacerbated my Phelps

***

I’m in the Bizzaro 2013. I tell people where we’ve just come from and they get all wistful and then express their condolences for our surely despairing family. I am so happy to be back on the mainland. SO happy!

The sky isn’t as blue here. I noticed that right away. But it’s HUGE and open and the trees are so familiar and both muted and sparkly.

I see pictures of where I used to be and I want to miss it.

I hear Auggie’s little wave sounds from his Lamby nature sounds toy and I get hit with an image of myself walking toward the sea. For a split second I feel a delicious melancholy and romantic yearning. But almost immediately I remember what the reality was: strapped with 4 tons of baby, carrying a bunch of crap I won’t use, hot, and about to spend the next 3 hours roasting myself on a mat watching everyone else have a great time, making sure no one eats handfuls of sand, and dreading the 2 hours of laundry and 4-5 days of cleaning sand out of my kitchen.

If I squandered my time on the island, it was my own fault. But it also sort of wasn’t. There’s always stuff that needs to get done. But it IS possible to appreciate the important stuff in the midst. Beauty. Humor. Kindness. Honor. Generosity. All of which I just so happen to see in Sam. Maybe not all at the same time. Maybe not every day. We are quite evenly matched in the unevenness of our goodness.

***

In sickness and in health. That’s one of the challenges I accepted. It is one to which I never gave a second thought. Of course! Because I love him!

I have a life. I have a RIDICULOUSLY good life. I’m in no danger. My family is in no danger. I get WAY more sleep than I’ve had in the past 2 years. I can in fact manage day to day activities for all of us by myself. And it is my great privilege to do so. Plus, my legs are getting SO strong from going up and down the stairs.

I’ve spent the past 3 years putting myself back in order. I thought. None of it is any good if I can’t take care of the one I love. I even want to, dare I say it, serve him.  At least…I want to want to.

Aloha

Hawaii is widely acknowledged as paradise. And of course it’s beautiful. It’s fantastically beautiful and fantastically strange. I arrived here with the generic Hawaii expectations: Hula girls, ukuleles, beaches, drinks with little umbrellas in them. But I also arrived with my bad attitude and reluctance to give even a rat’s ass about any of it, and my resolve to instead focus on how my plans had been so royally screwed up. Which facilitated the expansion of my bad attitude into a really bad attitude. The heat. The distance. The expense. The inconvenience. The delicious Brontean misery of grief.

"It doesn't get that hot here, ma'am." Tell it to the hula girl, fool.

“It doesn’t get that hot here, ma’am.” Tell it to the hula girl, fool.

I read Unbroken and fell in love with Louis Zamperini. I also fell in love with his family. Any mother who has to sit in front of the door with a rolling pin to keep her TODDLER from escaping (again) gets all kinds of love from me. Louis was stationed here on Oahu for a time right before he left on that doomed flight. Driving around this island, especially on overcast days when the little bits of sunlight hit the darkening palm trees bending in the wind as they wait for rain, I think about him a lot. He drifted on the Pacific Ocean for 47 days. Forty-seven days of sun scorching, shark fighting, bullet dodging, storm weathering, starvation and fear with very little hope to cling to. Yet at a certain point, the starvation gave him clarity. Immediately after being “rescued” he was imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp. Beaten, further starved, humiliated, and demoralized, Laura Hillenbrand says, “he missed the raft.” Reading those four words took my breath away.

The raft was too small for 3 grown men. It was not where he intended to be. It was not comfortable. It was not even safe. But it is what saved him and his friend. I am definitely not starving, (I’m totally eating the last gingerbread man cookie that I’d frozen from Christmas. No shame. I’ve also eaten 5 of his brethren before him. That’s 6 gingerbread men. After my salad lunch…) but I have had some clarity during this last year.

Saying that I can accept unflattering revelations on my person gracefully and with the appropriate measure of reflection and repentance is like saying I will not be consumed by full body-wracking sobs while watching any given episode of Call the Midwife. ‘Tis a lie, Precious.

I listen to the radio on the traffic trek to school each day. I’ve heard it said that you know you’re in love when all the songs make sense. Since moving here, all the songs have made sense. But not because I love the island. I listen to Jesus music. At first it was because I wanted those songs stuck in my kids’ head. I hear them singing to themselves, “There’s a war between guilt and grace/ And they’re fighting for a sacred space/ But I’m living proof: grace wins every time,” instead of, “Baby, baby, baby, oooh/ Like baby, baby, baby, baby, noo/ Like baby, baby, baby, baby oooh/ I thought you’d always be mine” and I feel like a good parent. But the songs also get stuck in MY head. Which is useful for the other 12 hours of the day when I am not such a great parent…

Me and the kids doing homework

Me and the kids doing homework

We have our new assignment and it is to a location that was neither on our list of acceptable choices nor anywhere remotely close to our family. This, after we had convinced ourselves, due to the logical evidence and information we were given, that we would actually get what we wanted this time. And by “we” I of course mean ME. I would get what I wanted.

I blame the raft.

For the first year we were here, all the songs seemed to be about oceans and waves and having faith in the midst of doubt. The second year all I heard was God is FOR us, not against us, being brave, and fighting the good fight. Now all the songs are saying: Trust.

Death and grief have touched me and those around me more since moving here than during 3 deployments. Friends’ husbands, friends’ babies, friends’ parents, friends themselves. Easter was very poignant for me this year. I will see those friends again. My friends will see their babies again. I will meet my other babies. We have this hope. This trust.

I can trust all over the place about the afterlife. It’s the life part that I seem to have trouble with.

In the beginning, I may or may not have indicated that I did not wish to live in Hawaii. It was subtle, you may have missed it, but I didn’t really want to move here 3 years ago. Now that it’s time for me to leave, I find myself randomly tearing up as I run errands or sit in traffic. I will miss the people I’ve come to love so much here. My friends. My kids’ friends. The ladies in the post office who are always so nice to me. Our little 15 mile radius life that has been so sweet and difficult and funny and stressful and exciting and sad and rich and worrisome and good. There are many many parts that I wish never happened. But truthfully, I think I needed to be here and those things needed to happen to me for one reason or another.

It’s been almost a full year since my online business venture and I’ve been ridiculously blessed by it. I started out just wanting to earn enough to buy this Hawaiian bracelet.

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I had enough by the fourth month, so I just kept going to see what would happen. And what happened was a completely unexpected joy and deep satisfaction. Ho’omana’o means “Remember.” And while there is so much that I would rather forget, I don’t want to ever forget that God’s plan is good–even when the way it plays out is not.

Aloha means hello, goodbye, and love. Aloha means everything. So.  Aloha, Hawaii.

I’m thinking I might even miss the raft.

 

 

 

Perfectly Imperfect

When we first heard that Harper Lee was publishing another novel, my brother and I  immediately started text-exchanging potential titles: To Revive A Mockingbird; Scout’s Honor; The Lawyer, The Bitch, and the Chifforobe; Yule Tide: Vengeance Is His… I was so excited. Nothing quite glorified sibling alliance like To Kill A Mockingbird and I was pumped to hear the rest of the story. That it was written first intrigued me to no end.

I refused to read any reviews before I read the book, so afterwards, finding out that pretty much everyone vehemently hated Go Set A Watchman made me feel like a tool for liking it. I feel pedestrian for loving the “string of anecdotes,” as one review called it, so much that it made me actually MISS the romanticized oppressive heat of the Alabama summertime. I feel like a chump for latching onto Jean Louise so intensely from the first page and letting her drag me around, clinging to her ferociously, through the book. She is MY Scout. How dare anyone speak a word against her?

~

Bella reminds me of Scout. I have always loved the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird— Those kids are perfect. I identified with them as a child. I identify my own kids with them now. Malcolm is a gentle soul with the huge imagination but talks big and has an underlying protective streak. Bella…one night she announced, while standing on a chair with her hands on her hips, that she wanted to live by herself because I always tell her what to do, and then proceeded to eat her Cheerios topless. Malcolm has his moments, but he’s happiest humming to himself while building Lego creations. Bella… Let’s just look at this photo, shall we?

Auggies dedication

The only photographic documentation of my baby’s church dedication

She exasperates me to no end. But she’s exactly the kind of character I adore in books. Which delights me.

~

I savored the first page of Go Set A Watchman, positively GLEEFUL at being reunited with Scout and Jem. I loved them in the book. Pretended to BE them in the movie. I couldn’t wait to see them grown up. I had it all planned out: Jem would have been to the war and back. He’d have a couple of kids who’d be adorably similar to him and Scout, but with even better one-liners. Scout would have this awesome relationship with them and would banter with and rank on Jem as they did when they were children. Stuff would happen in the story, but for me, it was all about Jem and Scout.

Silver-Linings-Playbook

Me, finding out Jem is dead

Unceremoniously Dead. It took me quite sometime to get over that. I couldn’t even concentrate on what was going on because I was so shattered. Cuz, Jem wasn’t Jem. He was my brother. He was my son. Scout wasn’t Scout–she was me. She was Bella.
The fact that Atticus is not Gregory-Peck-Awesome-Atticus bothered me. Of course. But honestly, Dead Jem is more disturbing. I had wanted to name my baby Jem or Atticus. Seriously. I’m glad now that Sam shot me down on those. The names have been a bit ruined for me with now with disappointment and grief.

~

A childhood friend passed away unexpectedly. I hadn’t seen him in many years, so he remains 12 years old in my memory. It still sneaks up on me and I tear up and can’t breathe right. He’s not my brother or my son, but I can imagine how I would feel if he was. Photographs are both treasures and weapons. Memories are comforting but unspeakably painful. On intense days I’ll look at a shoe or a toy and have to suck oxygen into my lungs as if I’d been underwater for too long. And my kids are only at school. I can pick them up soon.
And then when I do pick them up, more often than not, all I do is yell at them or make them do homework or tell them no, they can’t have another snack cuz it’s almost dinner time.

~

I love the beginning of stories. The possibility, the “anything can happen-ness,” but I also love the excellent twists.

Not seeing something coming, bsg_s3e20_crossroads_2

the pleasant surprises, the redemption of chaos, the puzzle coming together. Love it.

Not so much the unpleasant surprises…

Siggy-Dying

NOT. COOL.

But that’s life, right? You can’t have an excellent twist if there is no set up to begin with. So we have to risk the unexcellent twists. The disappointments. The griefs. People aren’t who we thought they were. Good guys die.

Should Go Set A Watchman ever have been published? Did she really want it to be? Is To Kill A Mockingbird ruined now? It happened first, but with this taste left in my mouth, does it change who they were that summer? I loved that Harper Lee wrote the perfect story and then stopped. It was If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler perfection. Cuz it ended.

~

A few weeks ago I noticed a suspicious looking freckle on Bella’s jaw. I thought it should be checked out. Then preemptively stifled any panic that might even be THINKING about rising. To prove a point (to myself), I did not take any action. After a week, at which point the freckle was the only thing I could see when I looked at my daughter, I released the hounds. There was all kinds of panic. So much so that from the time I decided to terrify myself as I gave her the plate of frozen waffles at around 6:30 to the time I left her at school and was driving home at 7:40, I was crying, bargaining with God, FREAKING out because as I was wheeling and dealing with the Almighty an ad for Queen’s Medical Center’s new CANCER WARD came on the radio, and had already resolved to shave my own head so that we would look the same after her chemo. I anticipated that Sam and Malcolm would be on board as well. That’d either be a damn inspiring sight or

Alien_Nation

This

 

I had taken a picture of the freckle and emailed it to our doctor as soon as I got home. Then proceeded to wait for the response. It’s a good thing Bella’s powers of perception have not quite reached telepathy (though they are close). She could have had ANYTHING. I was all over her. Hugs, crafts, snacks, tv shows. The next day I heard from our doctor. It was a very common discoloration. Watch it, but no cause for alarm.
She was in time-out for insubordination a few hours later. All was right with the world.
On very introspective days I wonder why I did this to myself. Why did I want children if all I’m going to do is worry about them and perhaps grieve the loss of them one day? What if I’d never had them? Would I necessarily miss them if I’d never known them? Is it easier to go through life wondering what it’d be like to have something, able to invent emotions and investments, or is it less painful to actually have the thing, experience the love, humor, fulfillment, all the good things, but risk losing it at some point?

~

I’m pretty ticked that “everyone” seems to have hated the book. Questioning “Nell’s” wish to publish it at all. Judgement on her skill as a young writer. Yeah, there are long diatribe-y parts, and the characters make choices that we don’t like. But good grief, did anyone read The Finkler Question? I want to scream just thinking about it. SO BORING. And “everyone” sang its praises. Anyway. All the anticipation and expectation put on Go Set A Watchman was possibly unfair. I’d still read it again. It’s not perfect. Nothing is. No one is. And that doesn’t change the fact that she’s MY Scout.

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“The Fishburnes Take a Vacation” Or “Never Again, 2015”

When Malcolm was about a year and a half and I was pregnant with Bella, we thought we’d take a little mini-break to Portsmouth. I think it’s the closest to divorce we’ve ever come. It. Was. Awful. Sleepless nights, unauthorized long-distance phone calls from the hotel room, lost articles of clothing, handfuls of utensils thrown up in the air at Pizza Hut, screaming–and that was just me… We didn’t go on a “vacation” again for 4 years.
That next time was better.

Three years have passed since that trip and we thought, man, it would be so nice to get away again! Plus, our family was visiting and treated us to a wonderful destination all together.
Some highlights:
A righteously hideous stomach bug took the first 4 days and made its way through all 5 of us.
Hawaii sat under a gray cloud.
Our party of 9 filled up a Cessna then dipped and dropped our way through the sky (which felt great after being sick for 4 days) over uninhabited, treacherously gorgeous mountains and crystal blue open seas to another island,
where the baby decided there would be no sleeping. For 2 days and nights. For anyone.
Our unfortunate neighbor confronted me outside our room the second morning and treated me to every mothers’ nightmare: the confirmation that they are indeed a terrible parent, a lousy human being, and their children are the Devil’s spawn. For the next few hours all I could think about were the stinging comments and hateful sarcastic facial expressions of the woman next door. Do you know your baby has been crying all night for the past two nights? …Ya know what, I’m glad you got a call, because we’re on our vacation too. …Do you feed him? Hold him? …Really, you’re really doing the best you can? I find that hard to believe. …And how many kids you got running around in there? Eleven? Twelve? …Yeah, well, you have a nice day too.”
While the men folk escaped for the morning, I took all 3 kids to the beach. Where Malcolm kicked a metric ton of wet sand into Bella’s eyeball.
This was not the only occasion in which the peaceful beachside resort folk witnessed my sweaty, frustrated, embarrassed form, strapped with 21 pounds of baby, a backpack of somehow ALWAYS unnecessary items, dragging at least one screaming child and trailed by another, staggering across the green to the bathroom. I spent the last night in the rental car with the baby.

It was fantastic.

It was fantastic.

I think the most relaxing part of the entire ordeal was falling into the front seat of my own filthy minivan after herding kids out of the road and off of suitcases, repacking backpacks that had been unpacked on the sidewalk, while Sam reinstalled (for the 3rd time) 3 carseats, and knowing that we would be home soon.

BUT while the “vacation” was an absolute failure, I’m glad we did it. My 12 children had a blast. And I got to see how God works.
During the walk of shame to the beach after speaking with my neighbor, I (naturally) replayed the entire thing over and over trying to see if there was any other way I could have responded. Even as it was happening, I had some pretty amazing comebacks prepared in my head, but for some reason polite and respectful words came out of my mouth. Every way I looked at it, I had to admit: I had been pretty calm and composed.

What the hell?
So I decided to experiment. If I were Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette, what would I do next?

I am a leaf on the wind

I am a leaf on the wind

I would pray for the harpy. Ok. So I prayed that she and her family would end up having a nice day (…and that she would feel a little bit guilty for attacking me so mercilessly–cuz I’m not saint Bernadette…)

It's OK. I don't hold grudges or anything.

It’s OK. I don’t hold grudges or anything.

And that I would be gracious and would NOT tell Sam about what happened cuz then we’d all end up evicted from the hotel or in jail.
We came back around lunch time and I really hoped the neighbors were not around. They weren’t. But Sam found a little note under our door.
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It wasn’t ideal. It never is, I suppose. But it was real. There was shame. There was frustration. There was a little bit of drinking. I spend a lot of time with my family. As I am trying to type this I have been interrupted twice by the sound of Malcolm and Bella beating the living daylights out of each other. I may or may not have exhibited my own lack of composure on them several times today. But they are mine. Only I’m allowed to complain about them. Seeing them out of their own environment is always eye-opening. Seeing them through the eyes of other people is not always encouraging. But we can’t take a break from being a family. Nor do I wish to. I’m just going to do my best.

Sleep is for mortals.

Sleep is for mortals.

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Surf’s Up. Time’s Up.

So I had a dream the other night.
I was out in the ocean, catchin’ some waves…on a boogie board. Sam was with me. The waves were really REALLY huge. Like, Hollywood-cataclysmic-natural-disaster-movie huge. Sam was trying to teach me how to “do it right”—where to catch the wave to ride the greatest distance. I wasn’t doing well. Then this huge scary tidal wave rose up underneath me and I knew it was going to be bad. I was going up too high. I could see the cities in the distance. The beach was way way below me. But I was not afraid. Just mildly apprehensive.

This summer has been great. Nobody broke their back. Nobody was dry heaving into the toilet every morning. There were planned activities and whatnot. There was moderately good parenting. It’s been an absolute delight not rocketing out the front door at 7am in a flurry of backpacks, lunch boxes, mewling infants, and armfuls of stuffed animals that MUST NOT BE LEFT BEHIND. I’ve had no extra curricular responsibilities. I’ve had assistance. But all that is about to change. School is starting.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think we’ve all had our fill of quality time together. But it means Real Life is happening again.
Yes, Yes, I’ve had real life for the past 3 1/2 months. But in my mind, (which is apparently still 12 years old) Summer kind of doesn’t count. If I feel stress, it somehow doesn’t register at full strength. It doesn’t make sense. Much like my believing every time that growing my eyebrows out WILL INDEED make me look younger–just like the magazines say. In my mind I see this:
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In the mirror I see this:
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But somehow the months June, July, and August still trigger a big fat forcefield around my brain, rejecting all logical argument that I am accountable to long term consequences.

As I felt the wave cresting and I started to come down I thought, “huh, this one will surely take me all the way in! Good job, me!” but then immediately in front of me another tidal wave began to rise up—over me—and started cresting toward me. I had a Han Solo very bad feeling about this. Yet wasn’t terrified. Just disappointed that my epic ride to the shore was about to be ruined. The second wave was tipping on top of me. I knew I was going to be pounded. Was going to have to go underwater. Which I can’t do comfortably without holding my nose. There would be no time to hold my nose. And I’d need both arms to get back to the surface. There was nervousness, but no real fear.

School– with all the taxiing, homework, and afterschool schedules. School, where my son will be expected to have made significant progress in reading and math because I was supposed to have him tutored and work extra hard at home to get him ready for the next level.
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Bible Study will be starting again as well, with all the phone calling angst and pleasant yet time-consuming preparation and emotional energy expenditure.
So, clearly, now is the time to start an online business venture! Yes! One that requires much monitoring and tallying and keeping track of different groups and people and orders. And math. Definitely. Let’s do THAT.
And let’s join a book club! Cuz, ya know, IDLE TIME.
What’s that noise? Oh it’s the BABY crying. Good thing he doesn’t require much attention…
I am not even remotely as busy as my friends. But this small list is debilitating to me when I stop and think about it. And because I feel incapacitated at the thought of any additional responsibility, I assume that it’s probably necessary to do it–all of it– in order to be a Grown Up.
I want to be a grown up. But I also really REALLY want to sit on the couch for hours and hours at a time looking out the window, listening to the chimes, daydreaming, and eating cake. With no expectations of me to do anything else. Do grown ups do that?

other than her…?

other than her…?

My parents visited for a gloriously long yet not long enough time this summer. I got a taste of the good life again. That life where my mama does my laundry, gives kids a bath, puts them to bed, brings me snacks, etc. And tv. Oh, the TV! I got to watch my Korean Dramas again. And they are just as brilliant as I remember. I blame Misaeng (Incomplete Life) for my sudden interest in being employed. It’s a show about an office full of business people. That’s really all it’s about. Except it’s also about LIFE and the SOUL. Anyway– my parents are not here now. I have to be the parent again.

My dreams

My dreams

Just as I felt myself simultaneously rising up and being covered under the shadow of this enormous second wave, I closed my eyes. Then for some reason I was moved smoothly from the first rising wave right onto the top of the second one. I had a Leonardo DiCaprio Top of the World moment. I could see everything. I was rapidly approaching the shore. And then I was on the beach. With my boogie board.

The reality of the situation is: I love my life. I love it so much and am so grateful for every syrup covered, crumb coated, vaguely diaper smelling aspect of it. Forcing myself to do grown up things is hard. And by “grown up things” I mean, interacting with adults who have mature expectations of me and upon whom I cannot unload a laundry basket filled with excuses as to why I’m late, in a bad mood, and un-showered. But it’s like exercise. It gets easier the more you do it and the more you do it, the stronger you are.
I have not exercised since May 21st.

I looked back at the surging water and could see Sam still out there. I knew he was fine but was worried about me. With telescopic vision I could see him or feel him asking with his shoulders or arms if I was ok. I tucked my boogieboard under my arm and gave him a thumbs up.