Catching Up, Part 7

November 3, 2017

Another event while I was away was Burrito’s emergency hospitalization for several days. It was a bizarre thing, out of nowhere, and it’s totally fine now, but it was really scary at the time (even for me, and you know me, notoriously hard to fluster). As in, when I took him to the pediatrician she said go to the emergency room immediately, you can stop at the house to get a couple of things but only for 5 minutes. As in, life potentially in danger (it wasn’t actually, but they didn’t figure that out for a few hours).

One thing Burrito’s sudden illness brought up is the difficulty of living in a city with no family within a thousand miles. We very purposefully chose, long ago, not to live near anyone from our families. It was on purpose. Even so, when one child is in the midst of a literal emergency and would never let you out of his sight, and the other child is about to be let out from school but the other parent is away on business, it brings home the difficulty of being isolated.

Which, in part, was why we got the au pair.

Which, as I mentioned, really didn’t work out.

So once again we remain isolated. Certain relatives or friends can be called upon to swoop in for a true emergency, but I’ve also been working on building our local network, slowly, slowly. A babysitter picked up Tamale from school when I was stuck at the hospital and kept her until my husband could fly back. There are a couple of friends that I can ask in a pinch; they may or may not be able to say yes, but I’m able to ask. But honestly, for someone like me who is wired to be profoundly self-sufficient (sometimes a strength, sometimes to my detriment), it’s a real effort to even think of asking. Even when I know people want to help, I don’t like to ask. I don’t like to burn social capital (though if I can’t use some capital when a child is in genuine danger, I don’t know when I’m supposed to use all of the capital I build). I also don’t like to depend on anyone else.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get any help. But, if you don’t ask, you can’t get turned down.

I still haven’t figured that one out, but I’m getting there.

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Catching Up, Part 6

November 1, 2017

Another thing you missed while I was away: the death of a close friend from graduate school. By his own hand.

I actually hadn’t spoken to him in several years, because he withdrew from everyone when he dropped out of grad school due to his mental health issues. Despite the ongoing issues, he ended up having a really nice life (career, same steadfast wife, beautiful children)… until he left it.

But during grad school, he was a profoundly delightful friend to have. One of my top 5 most enjoyable people to be around, ever in my life. It’s hard to wrap my mind around someone being depressed enough to upend his life by dropping out of grad school, let alone to end his life, yet almost all day every day having the most dazzling smile, the sweetest twinkle in his eye.

Out of everyone in my life with whom I’ve lost touch over the years, which is a long list, even before his death he was the person about whom I’d most often thought, “I really miss him.”

I commiserated with our mutual friends via phone, email, text, even snail mail, but I didn’t make it to the funeral (in the city where we went to grad school, a thousand miles away). I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life, but I do regret not going. The logistics didn’t make sense, friends coming in from out of town that day, school field trip I was scheduled to chaperone the next day, blah blah, but I should have dropped everything and gone. I will go next time. I wish there wouldn’t be a next time, but I know there will, because welcome to getting older. I will go next time.

Instead of going to the funeral, I listened over and over and over and over to an album that he and I both loved when it came out, Hot Fuss by the Killers. It was still on my regular rotation (including heavy rotation during all of my hours alone in the pottery studio all those years) for the next five years, until my twins were born and I stopped listening to music. But out the album came again when he died, and I’d cry and cry, even to the fun dance songs.

What breaks my heart the most is that as a young child, he was bereaved in exactly the same way that he bereaved his children. That, and the subsequent shitty treatment by the replacement stepparent, were sources of pain always hiding right behind his smile. He talked to me many times about the evil stepparent (who was still making his life difficult, even though my friend was in his mid/late 20s when we were in grad school), but we never once talked about his late parent. That pain was too great, even more than 20 years later.

I know that his mental illness was a disease. And I know that the disease makes people not think straight, including about taking their own lives. I know these things, but I do not understand them. I have a fundamental belief about the world that if you love your children enough, you would absolutely never leave them. Obviously we don’t have control over every kind of disease, accident, natural disaster, etc., but in my heart I believe that to love your children fully means that you will not allow anything to make you take yourself away from them. That if you love them enough you would never abandon them to go live without them, and you would never abandon them to stop living. I get that my fundamental belief is not true for everyone, and I get that my dear friend’s pain was so great that he did what he did even knowing who he was leaving behind. I get it, but I don’t get it.

And to think that his young children, one at an age where he will remember both the joy and the grief but the other so young that he may never have any memories of my friend, may go through all of this pain, and then in 20 or 30 or 40 years could possibly choose leave their family behind just like their father and grandparent, it tears me up inside. Even now, with some time having passed, it just breaks my heart. It also breaks my heart to think of my friend’s surviving parent, losing a spouse this way and then decades later losing a child the exact same way.

And it breaks my heart to think of my dear friend as a little kid, bereaved in this exact way, and then for the rest of his life harboring a pain so great that he’d end up doing the exact same thing, despite being the most fun person in any room, despite being universally adored, despite having the best smile of anyone I’ve ever known.

I really miss him.

Thoughtful ThursdayWe have a houseguest right now. He and my husband have been friends and colleagues for many years and speak on an almost daily basis, but he has only met Burrito and Tamale once before, last year. Even so, when he arrived today, both Burrito and Tamale were clamoring to show him around the house. Burrito, who normally takes hours to get comfortable with a new person, within a few minutes was literally leading our guest around the house by the hand.

After the children went to bed, I commented to our guest, “Wow, Burrito likes you so much. He is never so comfortable with someone so quickly.”

Our guest responded, “Children and dogs are crazy about me. Adults, not so much.”

I replied, “I’m exactly the same way! Except for the dogs.”

In fact, neither of our statements is quite true. Everybody likes our houseguest; I’ve never met a person who had a bad word to say about him. Children and dogs just like him even more. A mutual friend had a dog who barked viciously at everyone except her immediate family; the teenaged daughter of the family had a boyfriend who was only accepted by the dog after 2 years. The first and every subsequent time that the dog met my houseguest, she was snuggling him and licking his face.

As for me, I’m also a pied piper with children. Not all children, but most. Recently at a birthday party, a 2 year old who is hesitant around almost all adults was literally pushing my children out of the way so that she could sit next to me.

I’m also pretty popular with older people. I’m calm, listen attentively, show excellent manners. People my age? Hit or miss.

The same principle applies professionally. I’m a great mentor/supervisor. Bosses love me. Peers? Iffy.

Which types of people (or animals) are particularly drawn to you? What types of people are tougher for you to charm?

Thoughtful ThursdayBurrito and Tamale’s 4th (!!) birthday is coming up. We’d planned a party with their two closest friends at one of their favorite places, where we go all the time but neither of these kids has ever been. Eve from the previous post, and a little boy, let’s call him Adam. Both of those kids have been in school with B&T since they were barely 2. We have gone on multiple outings with each of them and their parents. Burrito can get overwhelmed when there are too many people, or when there are people he doesn’t know well, so two kids (with a total of 6 guests counting their parents) seemed very reasonable.

Except that Burrito keeps inviting other kids from school. Every day, I’m greeted with a new request, or, worse, notification that he has extended an invitation. “I want to invite Cain to my party.” “Abel has never been there before!” “Seth is excited to have a cupcake at my party.”

I know exactly where he gets it — definitely not from me. His father’s birthday is coming up too, and I can’t even fathom the guest list. He has plans with some buddies for the night before, and the #1 buddy asked him who else he should invite. DH answered, “I dunno, go ahead and invite everybody.” Everybody. There might very well be 20, 30, 40 people, and he’s perfectly happy with that. Conversely, I have not wanted more than 3 people for my birthday since I was in high school.

It’s not just an introvert-extravert thing, though that’s part of it. This “the more the merrier” philosophy seems to go beyond mere extraversion. We have been to the weddings of many extraverts, but there was only one where the groom kept adding people on at the last minute. Three different people were suddenly coming to town — none of them close friends of the happy couple (a friend’s brother, a high school classmate, and a sorta-friend who went to a rival high school), and the groom invited each of them to not only drop by but to attend the entire wedding. Seating charts and head counts be damned, he’d make room for them.

Ironically, that groom was an add-on to my own wedding guest list. One of DH’s friends (previously mentioned on the blog as That Guy) didn’t want to make the 10-hour drive to our wedding alone, so he asked if we could invite this future inclusive groom — who had gone to elementary and high school with DH and they had many close mutual friends, but they hadn’t been close friends since 5th grade. We’re not talking hundreds of people like the inclusive groom’s wedding; this addition raised our head count from 45 to 46. Then, the driving plans changed and the additional guy was going to drive with a different guest. That Guy was once again driving alone. So, he asked us to invite three, yes three, more people: a guy we’d never met who happened to have a car, and two girls with whom they hoped to hook up, who would provide sufficient motivation for the car guy to make a weekend trip to the wedding of people he’d never met. DH and I put our collective foot down. I told him that it was a wedding, not a BBQ. (Note: The previous year, we’d had a BBQ, and That Guy had brought along 5 people we didn’t know, bringing the total head count to 12.) I told him that he was trying to add 4 extra people, the same number of family members I had coming to my wedding. I told him that I was not going to hand-calligraph placecards for people whose names I didn’t know.

Which brings us back to the 4th birthday party. I originally set the guest list at two because it seemed like the best thing for Burrito’s enjoyment (Tamale would be happy with 2 or 20). But, I am resisting expanding beyond two despite Burrito’s repeated requests for selfish reasons: instead of dollar store crap, the party favors I’ve chosen have to be custom ordered weeks in advance (trains where each car is a letter of the kid’s name). I can’t keep adding to the order every day, and I don’t want to switch to different party favors. If Burrito keeps taking after his father, though, in future years I may have to forgo the elegant hand-crafted party favors and settle for the bulk bin. And I might even have to spend the party talking to parents that I don’t already know well and, who knows, make a new friend or two. Who I might then have to invite to my own birthday party.

How inclusive are you when constructing a guest list?

Thoughtful Thursday

Welcome to the July/August Intelligentsia.

#44: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#38: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#36: Strongblonde from Strong Blonde
#26: St. Elsewhere
#24: Lori from Write Mind Open Heart
#19: Sara from Aryanhwy

Thoughtful Thursday

I don’t pry into people’s business, almost to a fault. Perhaps because my mother was so bothered by answering even simple questions about herself, even when asked by her daughter, I don’t tend to ask people about themselves. Unfortunately, it makes many conversations rather one-sided. At the end of meeting a new person, they probably know all about me — because they’ve asked — but I know almost nothing about them — because I haven’t asked. My non-nosiness doesn’t usually do me any favors socially, as most people actually like to talk about themselves.

And so of course I never ask other people about their family building paths, even when I can speculate that their road hasn’t been easy. Tamale’s best pal is a girl named Eve. They’ve been classmates for a year and a half, so almost half their lives (and the only half that they remember). Eve has two mommies, and so it’s reasonable to assume that at least some level of special effort went into bringing her into the world. But, I’ve never asked. We’ve spent a lot of time together at playdates and school functions and school pickup/dropoff, but we’ve never gone there.

Then one day a couple of weeks ago while I was dropping Burrito and Tamale off at school, out of nowhere Eve said to me, “My mommy is trying to give me a baby.” Hmm.

And so, I went out on a limb. I was emailing her moms about something else, and knowing that they have no relatives in the city who could babysit Eve at the last minute, I added an offer. I told them what Eve had said, and just in case giving her a baby involved an RE, they’d be free to call me and drop Eve off if they ever had a last-minute appointment. That I’d spent many years “trying to give myself a baby” and that I knew how the process can involve unpredictability.

The next morning at school I saw one of the moms, the one who had given birth to Eve. She thanked me for my offer and then, on the sidewalk, we got into a long talk about IVF and inconvenient scheduling and working really hard to have a baby.

I haven’t seen them since then, and I don’t know if they’ll ever call, but I still feel good about having made the offer, about having put myself out on a limb. Infertility treatments are such a lonely process; I hope that I made them feel a little less alone.

When was the last time you put yourself out on a limb?

Thoughtful ThursdayClosing out the series of questions that I ask Burrito and Tamale about their preschool classmates…

So far, we’ve asked:
“Is she energetic or calm?”
“Is he loud or quiet?”
“Is she friendly or unfriendly?”

Finally, I like to ask, “Is he happy or sad?”

This question is even more relevant for preschoolers than it is for the rest of us.

There’s a girl in their class who, I’m not exaggerating, almost every time I’ve seen her — that is, daily for almost a year — has been crying. It’s not just that I see her at dropoff times, either: she’s cried whenever I’ve seen her randomly at other times of day, and she’s crying in almost all of the photos of the class activities. Best case scenario, she occasionally looks sad without crying. I have no idea what’s up with her.

There’s also a kid that we knew when Burrito and Tamale were babies to toddlers. She is the daughter of DH’s friend and is a few months older than B&T. I never saw her cry, but I also never saw her smile until she was 1 1/2. As an infant, she was what you’d charitably call “serious.” Her parents and brother are all extremely expressive people, so it was striking that this little girl expressed no positive emotion. She wasn’t actively sad, more just sort of perpetually disgruntled. About a month after Tamale started smiling, we spent time with the girl’s family. I genuinely felt bad when the mother remarked on Tamale’s constant, dazzling smile. It was as if things were okay as long as all babies were perpetually disgruntled, but when Tamale burst that illusion, the mother looked heartbroken.

Most kids, of course, are not as miserable as those two girls. Tamale is shockingly, startlingly happy. Huge, huge smile. Pure sunshine. Until she was 2 1/2, non-stop joy. Then, joy interspersed with age-appropriate dissatisfaction with her wishes being thwarted and, occasionally, tantrums. Even so, every kid in her preschool class would easily identify her as a very happy kid.

Happiness and sadness aren’t the only emotions, of course, as illustrated by Burrito. When he is happy, he is very very happy. When he is not happy, you might see anxiety or sadness or rage. He feels big feelings, in all directions.

I have a clear preference for happy children, but back in my days as a mopey teen, I expressed a preference for brooding, pseudo-depressive, black-wearing, poetry-writing, deep-thinker types. I got over that by 17, because seriously, it gets tiresome. Pollyannas get tiresome too. My real preference is for people who know the score but, despite the crappiness of the world, make a choice to be happy anyway.

Do you prefer to be around people who are happy or sad (or something else)?

Thoughtful ThursdayMel wrote a delightful post a few days ago about visiting her old elementary school.

Rather than address the memories I’d have of my school in her comment section, I thought I’d talk about some of them here.

I have a very good memory of my childhood. Very, very good. So I could go on for pages and pages with memories of elementary school. Instead, I’ll take you through a virtual tour, starting at the front door (which no one ever, ever used — everyone always went through the parking lot).

There’s the supply closet. Once I was wowed by the sheer number and variety of stickers.

There is the office. I rarely went there except a couple of times when I was punished for talking, and a few times when I was sick and had to lie down, and that one time in 6th grade when I was hit in the head with a dodgeball.

That section of concrete is the “stage” where the school plays were held. There’s the spot where I sat when I was Assistant Director of the play in 8th grade, a job which mostly consisted of holding up signs for the actors to “smile” or “slow down.”

There is the spot where we got our milk every day. Everyone got milk except for one boy who was allergic. I can still see him standing next to the line, waiting while everyone else got milk. He died of a heroin overdose a few years ago.

There’s my second grade classroom. That was the first place I ever felt really smart.

There’s the second and third grade bathroom. No one ever used the first stall. Even if there was a long line, everyone would leave it empty, unless a teacher came in and forced us to use it. There was nothing wrong with it except that it was the first stall.

There’s my third grade classroom. There is the spot outside the classroom where the whole class stood for almost an hour one Monday morning, until the principal came and told us that our teacher had moved away forever and we’d be getting a new teacher in half an hour or so. He told us she moved away, but no one was ever satisfied with the explanation, because it didn’t make sense that she’d leave without saying goodbye or without giving enough time for a replacement to be arranged. The new teacher had been called back from maternity leave. One time her baby spilled milk all over our spelling tests, and she had to iron them. I saw that teacher a couple of years ago; that baby is now a doctor.

There’s the playground, and the huge open field where on a clear day you could see the ocean. There is the volleyball net next to which one of the P.E. teachers gathered the girls in 5th grade and told us that there were tampons and pads in the teachers’ bathroom and we could go any time if we needed to. I had no idea what she was talking about.

There is the bench where we used to spend the entire recess trading jelly bracelets, until they were banned from school. The next year we traded Garbage Pail Kids, until they were banned.

There are the tetherball posts. For a while in second grade I actually got to school early enough to play before school instead of being barely on time or, more commonly, late. Every morning for a few weeks I played tetherball with a kindergarten girl. That was the first, and perhaps last, time that a friendship felt effortless.

There is the spot where I saw my first pair of Air Jordans. I had no idea who that jumping man was.

This is where we lined up after recess. That’s the spot where my 4th grade class lined up. We had assigned spots in line, so we were always next to the same person. The boy in line behind me whispered in my ear that I was a piece of shit, every day for months.

There’s one of the other third grade classrooms. That’s the room where the spelling bee was held. I did not win. The same word knocked out me and 13 of the 19 other contestants.

There’s my fourth grade classroom. One of my classmates once saw the teacher’s drivers license on her desk. We learned that she was 40 years old. She was unmarried, so the fact that she was as old as 40 made us sad.

There’s the art room. I was not good at art.

There’s the music room. I was great at music. If you look through the window you can see the piano that my best friend played in the seventh grade talent show while I sang. Somewhere Out There. We both wore mouse ears.

There’s my fifth grade classroom. One of the best years of my life, no question. She was a great teacher.

Up the stairs. These are the stairs that once smelled horribly like rotten eggs. There was a lot of debate about whether it was a lot of eggs that had gone bad, or a stink bomb, or the world’s worst farts.

There are the classrooms among which we rotated for sixth grade. One of them is the room where we all had our own dictionaries, and we liked to look up naughty words like bitch and damn. That is the same classroom where the chess tournament was held at recess. I lost to a kid who was specifically known as being dumb. I am not good at chess.

There’s the trash can where I accidentally threw away my lunch, thinking that it was the lunch from several days earlier that was rotting and collecting flies in my bookbag. In fact, I threw away the brand new lunch. I had to go to the office for crackers and peanut butter, the only time in my 7 years at the school that I ever needed the makeshift lunch.

In the hall, a few steps from the trash can, is the place where I first heard someone say the word anus. I didn’t know what she was talking about.

There are the seventh grade classrooms. The one at the end is the one where I had pre-algebra. That was the only class at the school that used purple mimeographs. One time the teacher asked me to get some worksheets from the supply closet. There were thousands, maybe millions, of mimeographed worksheets. I bet the kids today are still working through those giant stacks. And I bet it still smells exactly the same.

There is the bathroom where I got my first period in sixth grade. I thought I’d pooped my pants.

Down the stairs. No one ever used these stairs except for the aforementioned rotten egg day.

There are the eighth grade classrooms. That’s the English classroom where we recited lines from Julius Caesar from memory, all together. “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things, o you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome. Knew you not Pompey?”

There’s the part of the parking lot where we had ballroom dancing lessons. Four years of weekly ballroom dancing lessons. I was one of the only kids at school who didn’t take additional ballroom lessons after school at cotillion class. My afternoons were otherwise spoken for, with some combination of three other types of dancing and/or two other sports and/or two types of music lessons, depending on the year.

There is the lawn where junior high kids ate lunch, unlike the elementary kids who ate in their classrooms. That is the table where my best friend told everyone that I liked Kevin while I watched, helpless, open-mouthed. As if there was anyone who didn’t already know that I liked Kevin. I was still mortified.

There is the site of all of our assemblies and pageants and shows. For a school so academically focused, we sure did a lot of singing and dancing in addition to all of our poetry recitation and speeches.

There’s the spot where the school hosted a class reunion, one year after graduation. I was shocked to see that they had added a recycling bin — after only a year, things had already started to change. That was the last time I visited the school, 22 years ago.

What highlights would we see if you took us on a tour of your elementary school?