Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jupiter or Venus

Strange set of circumstances... In mid October, Michael asked me if we were going to the Bay Area for Foster Thanksgiving. He was hounding me for a while before I finally relented and called Mother. She seemed flabbergasted that we would even consider spending time with the family. Odd, since I've become the why not? family guy. Here's the skinny... When I was a kid, Aunt Pat cooked the family Thanksgiving dinner, and this year she announced that she is retiring, hanging up her apron. She extended invites to just family: children, nieces, nephews (of which I am one), second husbands, first wives (Mother), steps, halves and offspring, which totals somewhere in the seventies, maybe eighties. This would be my last chance to revisit the Thanksgiving of my youth.

Forty-eight accepted the invite, however Mother turned mine down...without consulting me. Why? There is no satisfactory answer. As she admitted her huge gaffe over the phone, I could practically hear egg ooze down her face. She then took it upon herself to make things right. After four grueling days of waiting, my little family got the nod, bringing the total to fifty-two. I smiled with triumph, told Husband and that's when his face dropped. He remembered a conflict. And not a minor kerfuffle of a conflict. A huge, how-could-you-possibly-forget-that conflict. The show he was directing was opening on Friday, THE DAY AFTER THANKSGIVING. You might think, the man needs a calendar. But as I see it, he has too many. Home calendar, office calendar, and the portable, which are never in sinc. He gets flummoxed, relies on memory instead, causing periodic scheduling snafus. My mouth hung open like an aging cod fish with a mental defect. Before I could grouse, he suggested I go without him. Hmmm. Odd fit. Then he said we'd split the kids. Huh. Less of an odd fit. I'd take easy-going five-year-old son. He'd take clingy-needy two-year-old daughter. Actually, not odd at all. I closed my mouth. This was a damn fine idea.

Sebastian and I stayed with my sister's family. She has three kids. While he was occupied, I got to carry on whole conversations and eat warm meals. Thanksgiving itself was an elegant affair. A tented outdoor patio twelve stories up. Two birds, one twenty-eight pounds, the other twenty-nine. Cousins from the Bay Area, cousins from Atlanta. My family is a mix of conservative and liberal, so I consciously chose not to bring up politics and yet, no less than four people had to share with me their disappointment at the passing of Prop 8. I am sure in the mix there were those who voted yes. But here's the thing about my family... Some of my most conservative relatives, who were probably yes voters, have a picture of Michael, the kids and me on their fridge. I disagree this is an issue of H8. Fear of change makes more sense.

There we all were, yes voters and no, white wine drinkers and red, liberals, conservatives, and the rest, enjoying Aunt Pat's swan song, from Brandy Alexanders to peachy mincemeat pie. Whatever our differences, coming together and stuffing our faces just like the story says.

Two evenings later, sliver of a moon flirting with nearby Jupiter and Venus. Never in my life have I seen two planets so brightly take their place in the sky, in alignment, one on top of the other. It was magnificent.

Under this celestial display, dinner at my brother Todd's house. I was the last to arrive. I felt ill at ease. Everyone had found their place and I wasn't sure where to fit in. Todd wanted to know what I was drinking, always the perfect host. "We have everything...except vodka." The perfect host didn't have the perfect drink. Again, I felt off guard. A quick look around the family room for libation suggestions. Men watching TV. Football blaring. I should have guessed...OU, my dad's alma mater. Guys quaffing beer from the bottle. I opted for wine instead. Even that seemed pretentious and off putting.

Oddly, these feelings of inadequacy were more reminiscent of Thanksgivings past than the Thanksgiving two days before. Sure, Thursday had turkey, Mom's cranberries and Aunt Caroline's sweet potatoes. But Saturday tapped into old feelings of adolescent discomfort. Where do I take my buttery and/or oaky chardonnay? I'm not very good with wine. Do I watch the game with the men, or head to the kitchen where the women are making dinner? It's a familiar question of belonging. To hang out with the male of the species or the female. I usually chose female. I felt more comfortable with women. As a teen I'm sure this had to do with my budding sexuality. But now, my sexuality is firmly established, I likes the mens... However, as mommywife, most of my dealings are with the fairer sex... The men or the women? Football or food prep? Jupiter or Venus?

My instincts steered me to the kitchen, where my sister-in-law was vigorously chopping heads of romaine. She animatedly hopped from topic to topic as she wielded a butcher knife. Have to let go of one of my housekeepers. Avocados sliced and spooned. Adorable shoes, Sara...the heel...the arch support. Bag of shredded white cheese guillotined and unceremoniously upended. The cutest dress at Nieman's, but I had to put it on hold to get the Black Friday discount. Two cans of Ortega chilies, opened and dumped. I barely opened my mouth during the compiling of this adventurous salad. The stool under me felt uncomfortable. It was an immediate decision. I was out the door before the tossing began.

This left football. I plopped myself next to Dad and said, "Remind me again, OU wears the orange uniforms, right?" His eyes about bugged out of his head.

My father has lived most of his life in California, but in his heart he is a tried and true Okie. One of those down home straight-talking folk that George Bush would love to invite to a barbecue. He holds an immense amount of pride for his hometown of Norman. The white and the red of OU has emblazoned everything from Christmas ornaments to hats to shirts to ashtrays. Trust me, I know what Oklahoma's colors are.

We ate dinner in front of the telly, the salad better than I thought it would be. Cheering and yelling at the screen. Dad swigging from a beer bottle, me sipping from stemware. He'd nudge me from time to time, our own private jokes. I had found my spot.

I heard the ladies begin to clean up in the kitchen. But I didn't budge from my seat until OU creamed Oklahoma State.

Turns out Jupiter was on top of Venus that night.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mommy with a Penis

This spring, out of the blue, my stepmother sent me a tropical plant. She's never sent me a plant before. I was suspicious. What if this plant lures me with it's intoxicating scent, and just as I bend close to take a whiff it shoots venomous spoors into my face, causing paralysis, halitosis and death. And then I wondered where did that Batman rerun come from? This happens from time to time. Television plot lines from my childhood zap into my head and for that fraction of a second, reality is completely skewed, my stepmother tries to off me with a deadly plant. But fear not, within milliseconds logical brain kicks back into high gear. Once again a thoughtful gift sent from Maui, and not an evil hybrid developed by Catwoman in her hidden lair.

Attached to a chunk of hardened lava was a small anthurium. You know, those plants with glossy green leaves and a glossy red flower that has...oh, hell, I'll just say it...a long penis sticking out of it. There was one flower on the plant. The packaging said there'd be another every half year. But less than a month later, I noticed a second bloom curled in on itself like a sleeping fruit bat. I said to my two year old daughter, "Look, a baby." And that one statement has changed the course of Maxie's thinking in a profound way. Immediately, she not only wanted to see the baby, she wanted touch the baby. I was wary. Her two year old grasp can crack walnuts. I insisted on the aquarium two-finger touch. At the touching pool at the Long Beach Aquarium, you can "pet" zebra sharks and rays if you use the flight-attendant-nearest-exit technique. Second and middle fingers only. Maxie agreed. It became part of our routine. After lunch, she'd caress Baby with parental adoration. Soon, other objects became Baby as well. A doll's shoe, Baby. Small rubber ball, also Baby. Then there was Baby rock, Baby toe nail, Baby tomato, Baby poo poo, Baby snot. Anything, really. As long as larger something was accompanied by smaller something, well then, invariably smaller something would be called Baby.

One day, Maxie was lovingly two-fingering Baby anthurium, and for whatever reason her focus changed to the larger of the two flowers. She began to pat it instead. As she did so, I could see original thought form on her face. She looked at me with the most triumphant of smiles and labeled larger something, "Mommy." Her tapping grew more urgent. "Mommy," she said again, checking my response. "Mommy." Excitement taking over. Mommy flower bobbing and weaving. "Mommy, mommy, mommy."

"Yes, mommy," I appeased quickly taking away the agitated anthurium. As I put the plant in its place by the kitchen sink, I whispered to the tall flower, "Mommy with a penis."

According to Wikipedia, "Anthurium flowers are small and develop in a crowded spike on the fleshy axis." So, the red thing is not the anthurium's flower. In fact, there are many, many flowers, which completely cover the spike/penis...the penis/spike. Potayto/potahto.

Our oldest, Sebastian, uttered his first word at twelve months. It was Cosmo. Cosmo is our overly needy half wolf/half husky. He was named after the libation, and takes medication for separation anxiety. Sebastian's second word was dada. Boy, was Michael proud. And I hate to admit, but I was hurt. I was the one who got up in the night, who pureed vegetables he refused to eat. I did that. When was I going to hear the strong plosive poppings of Papa? Turns out, I had a long wait ahead of me.

Before Papa, I was Mama. At first, I couldn't believe what I heard. But sure enough, my son would reach his skinny arms through the crib slats and call out, "Mama." While Michael thought this was funny, I was obsessed about where he heard the M word. This was before other kids' influences, before preschool, before I used TV as a babysitter. How did my child settle on, of all things Mama? Up to that point he only called me "Ahhhhhh!" What started out as cute quickly got on my nerves. After a while, he'd say Mama and I'd knee jerk... I might be as nelly as you please, but when you rip away my rip-away shorts, well...the proof is in the pudding. I'm Papa. Dammit!

I don't mean to sound sexist...or whateverist. But being Mama was never part of my programming. I was supposed to walk into a room stink up the place, make a mess, and hog the remote. I would then tolerate my kids until they were of tennis playing age, at which point I would humiliate them on the court, and afterwards have them make me a scotch and soda. So, this bathing and changing and feeding and cooing over numerous times a day...it's not a natural fit. I'm supposed to be cooed over. Fusses made about me. But I've had to reprogram. And now, there are moments when I actually like mommying. I said moments. I am food. I am shelter. I am transport. I am education. I am warm soapy water. I am comfort.

At one point, Maxie also called me Mama. Two different children, two different gene pools. How does this happen? I have heard people say some things are a part of our collected consciousness. I don't believe that bunk. But I have my own theory about this. Maybe in their developing minds the "mmmmm" of mama comes from the comfort of suckling. Not that my kids suckled me. God knows they tried. But whether by bottle or teat, our little ones receive succor, nourishment, protection from the parent at the other end. They mew and mouth. Mmm, mmmm, mmmmm...mama...mom...mommy.

Today, I am called Papa. Mommy is reserved for dress wearing characters in picture books...and anthurium.

Wikipedia again: "The flowers are often divided sexually with a sterile band separating male from female." The anthurium is of both sexes. Which rightly or wrongly makes me think of the man in Oregon who gave birth. Makes me think of the public outcry since. Makes me wonder why we refuse to acknowledge magic. When we were kids we believed in green giraffes and spoor shooting plants.

Daddy with a womb. Mommy with a penis. That's all it is.

From the other room I hear plosive P's popping, "Papa, papa..." And sometimes I long for the days of Mama. I long for mmmm...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Orts

Okay. This is how it’s supposed to go. I get up at six forty. I clean the kitchen, start breakfast. Sebastian, my five year old, hears me clanking about, gets up around seven. At seven ten I call out to Michael, who’s impervious to alarm clocks and clanking about, "Breakfast is ready." Barely functioning, he gets our two year old and the four of us sit down to a healthy breakfast. Afterwards, Michael takes over. He gets Sebastian dressed and spruced, while I myself spruce and dress. Then I walk my kindergartner to school, just in time for the eight oh six bell. Which is really more of a blare. That, give or take, is our morning routine.

But this morning was different. Oh, it started the same. Hit the snooze button twice. Up by six forty. Cleaned a couple of martini glasses and a shaker, started beating eggs. Seven o’clock rolls around. No Sebastian. Seven oh five. Seven ten. I open his bedroom door. "Time to get up, sleepyhead." And go back to George Foremaning sausage. And still I wait. Maxie starts to cry. Sebastian out cold. Michael out cold. I’m tending to eggs, sausage. I call out. "It’s time to get up." And then, more emphatically, "Michael?" Two year old still crying. I go to our bedroom. Michael sound asleep. "Michael, Maxie is up. Breakfast is ready." He grumbles something resembling understanding. I go back to place mats, forks.

Sebastian stumbles into the kitchen. The kids plates are done. Scrambled eggs, sausage patties. Firm food. My kids don’t like runny. They don't like buttery, syrupy, hot with melted brown sugar, over easy, poached, soft boiled, coddled. My choice is limited. Cold cereal. Left over Chinese. Anything spread with Nutella. Or scrambled eggs, sausage patties. I usually have toast, but the bread was blue. "Sit down, sweetheart." Sebastian yells, "I don’t want any breakfast," and runs to my bedroom seeking refuge in the form of my husband. My voice follows him down the hall. "It’s getting cold." No response. No movement. Nothing. I hate cold food. I have a few bites. Eggs need salt. And still nothing. I go back to my bedroom. The three of them, Michael, Sebastian, Maxie, in my bed. Terse voice. "Breakfast is ready." I turn before there is a grumbled response. Back to the kitchen where I seek my refuge in the form of clean counter tops, a dirty skillet. Finish my breakfast. Finish my coffee. Finish sudoku. Still no family. I shrug, make a shopping list. It’s twenty to and the school bell blares at eight oh six. Chicken legs, broccoli, bananas. I add them to the list. Non threatening firm food. And then I stop for a moment. Eight oh six? It seems arbitrary and yet, probably isn’t. An LA hold-the-curtain mentality for the educational system.

My eye falls to the set table. I will not get cross. Three breakfast plates Joy of Cooking beautiful minus toast. One plate, only orts. Ort. A crossword puzzle word. It means crumbs. Bits and pieces. I will not get cross. I go back to my bedroom. The three of them lie there. They look at me. Perturbed that I deign to interfere with their cozy moment. I will not get cross. "I’m going to the store. You’re taking Sebastian to school. You have twenty minutes. But that’s your problem. Your breakfast is cold." Damn it. I got cross.

For some reason I start doing chores. Chores I’ve neglected. I grab the pack of Al Gore lightbulbs I bought two months ago. Those funny lightbulbs that look like a double helix. I swap the outdoor bulbs, those in the basement. I’m proactive. I’m feeling good. I will not let my son’s tardiness bother me. Michael should have supported the hot breakfast in the kitchen. But he stopped the routine. It’s only right that he be on the receiving end of Mrs. DaMate's cool kinder-teacher glare. Besides I’m changing lightbulbs that will help Mother Earth. I am doing my part to maintain a green household. Just then, I remember something else for the list. We’re out of Clorox.

My children finally come to the table. One is two-year-old silly. The other acts like sitting down and breaking bread, even though there is no bread, will snap him in half. They look at their plates. They pick up their sausage patties. Maxie nibbles. Sebastian licks. And that’s it. Neither touch saltless eggs. Nor ask why the butter was out when there was no toast. That was breakfast for my kids. Two nibbles and a lick. Tomorrow, I might just pour them coffee.

It’s ten to. Michael hasn’t surfaced. I keep doing chores. I pack the lunch bag. Put away the butter that was never used. Put away the fat free half and half. Then I stop for a moment. Doesn’t half and half, by its very half and half nature have to be half fat? The day doesn’t bode well. Saltless eggs. Fatless half and half. Plate with orts. Scraps. Granules. Coffee grounds. Detritus. Remains. Body parts of warriors overseas, like those of Osiris, scattered hither and yon. Minuscule particles of glass, wood chips and ash, the remnants of devastation, rasping our throats, darkening our lungs. Spiritual doubt. Apathy. Weight gain. Increasing debt. Decreasing hairline. Sedentary, living-on-the-couch lifestyle. The Thanksgiving invite my family did not extend to me. The deep, deep hurt over a constitutional law denying me human rights. That maybe most of all. The missing tooth I keep tonguing. Just to see if I can hit the exposed nerve, relive the pain all over again. It consumes me. Eats at me. Morsel by morsel. I am chum. Being devoured. Soon to be no more. I might as well, with three plates of saltless eggs and nibbled and licked sausage patties as my witness, just sit. Right here. Right now. On the imported slate floor. Just sit down and shut out. Become catatonic with a Teflon coating.

I hear Michael. He’s finally up. He’s picking out Sebastian’s clothes, washing his face. He’s back in the routine. But it’s too late. The bell has blared. Life as it once was is over. It’s no more. It’s toast.
I pick up a pen, scrawl on my shopping list. Because it was then I remembered. We're out of bread.