Road Trip

I spent a lot of my childhood traveling. Driving to Texas to visit family. Flying solo between New York and Washington, DC (yes, flying alone at 6!), traveling between New York and Allentown, PA. I think I was an OK car traveler. I slept. I read. I’m sure I talked people’s ears off and I always needed frequent rest stops.

Miss Red is not the best car traveler. She never has been. It’s who she is, at least for now. But last weekend CH went to Iowa for the weekend and I decided to drive to Kalamazoo, MI to visit my dad, stepmom and Baby Uncle. I was worried from the outset, but spent two weeks stocking a food bin and an activity bin with new and exciting treats. We have a portable DVD player, but it’s that darn Chicago that makes everything unpredictable.

So what happened? A few miles into Illinois, we reach stand-still traffic. Like, turn off your car. Like, people get out and look around. And even though we had stopped two times before Illinois for potty breaks, Miss Red soiled herself. She and I both cried – she because she was so embarrassed and said, “only babies poop their pants,” and I because there was nothing I could do. When we finally got moving again, I couldn’t feel as bad, since our slow-down was due to rubbernecking an accident on the other side, where I kid you not, there was a line of stopped traffic for 10 miles. It wasn’t even Chicago that brought us down, but it still took us six hours to get from Point A to Point B.

I stopped as soon as I could, in some McDonald’s near the 41 mile-marker. We threw away her shorts and underpants. Cleaned her up, and spent a lot of the rest of the ride and weekend talking about the accident. On Saturday night, her arms wrapped around me, she asked what Pull-ups were made of. “Thick paper,” I said. “I think I should borrow one for the traffic.” And we did.

The ride home was free of traffic, thankfully, but full of a stubborn girl who cried wolf. Four times we stopped the car, went into restrooms, and she refused to use the bathroom. I yelled at her in a particularly gross Shell gas station bathroom in Elgin, IL. I’m a picky public restroom user, but this was too much. I was tired, cranky, and knew she had to go. “Mommy, you scared me when you yelled.” I apologized, but that feeling in the pit of my stomach still sticks with me. I do my best to not yell because I know it means I’ve reached my limit. But without backup and staring into a clogged toilet, with a girl doing a potty dance, I just yelled. “You need to go to the bathroom!”

Sure enough, 20 miles away from home, she goes in the Pull-up. Sad she had to use it and uncomfortable, she whines. I call CH as we drive down our street and he meets us outside, takes Miss Red in and cleans her up. I drink a glass of water and head upstairs, beat.

I have no romance for road trips. None. They are hot and boring and someone always needs more legroom. They do bring people or places together, but many of my memories involve me not wanting to leave or return from where I started. It’s a new era, where I can mostly control where I travel, and where Miss Red can be a pirate with her uncle. While I feel more safe while I travel, much of the adventure is gone.

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Things I Never Say

Last night my daughter said “I want more exercise.”

Let’s see – the red hair and dimples already make her suspiciously look like not-mine, but now her statements will have everyone wondering.

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I had many goals and distractions for the summer. Looking for a new house. Training for a sprint triathlon. Decluttering the basement. All to distract me from the reality that we weren’t having another baby.

I looked for a new house. Nothing happened. I decluttered the basement. But I have really not trained for the sprint triathlon. Times I meant to run, I walked. Times I meant to swim, I didn’t. And don’t get me started on biking.

Yet the summer has seemed so full. Being outside or not in the excruciating heat. Spending time with friends. Decluttering. Everything but.

What I have enjoyed is swimming outdoors at night. A local pool offers adult swim, and there’s something so magical about the darkness, the water and the camaraderie of other friends. I do a few laps, chat with friends, maybe do some more laps. Last night we tread water for 20 minutes, catching up on our lives, and I could have tread water for 20 more, talking and not talking. Watching grown-ups gleefully dive off the diving board and enjoy the feeling of the cool water on a hot night.

Asking if someone wanted to do a triathlon with us in September, a friend and I said, while treading water, “can’t you tell we’re training?”

Respite

Last Thursday I was off from work and Miss Red was in summer camp. I knew well in advance that I was going to take myself to a movie, a true luxury as a parent. And I was going to do it right. I planned on Sundance 608 where I would treat myself to popcorn for lunch.

After asking Twitter folk for their recommendations, I decided on Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s latest movie. Who doesn’t love Wes Anderson films? Well, maybe a lot of people, but for 90-ish minutes I feasted on eye candy, buttery popcorn and sweet iced tea. Outside it was at least 102 degrees. In the packed theater I felt the collective group soften from the opening credits on – taking in the soft palette of saturated 70s colors. Who else could make beige so inviting?

Packing Up

I was part of a successful garage sale last weekend. The rocking chair was gone within minutes.

On Sunday a friend and her pregnant sister came over to look at some baby items and left with: a crib, stroller, maternity clothes, activity mat, diaper bag, breast pump and assorted sleepers. Sensing the meaning of this exchange for both myself and her sister, my friend said with tears in her eyes, “I think this is good for both of you.” It’s true. Pregnant and infertile – we both needed one another and I felt helpful, in a very small way.

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I spent Saturday night and last night tagging items for Half-Pint Resale. It’s not until September, but the movement, the action, the process, helps me.

Miss Red, December 2010

When I earlier imagined those haunting boxes of baby items and going through them, I thought I would be overcome with sadness. But it hasn’t made me sad. Last night I stopped a few times to smell the tiny newborn onesies and miniature outfits, but the baby smell was long-gone.

The smell I thought I caught a whiff of was my memories.

One Is the Loneliest Number

On Friday night our family joined three of CH’s high school friends for dinner downtown. I was the only spouse amongst the Class of 1991 group, each of us with a child in tow.

At dinner I easily noticed that we all had one child. In fact, during the past two years I’ve found myself counting children. This is not a time-intensive tick. If there is one child in a family I wonder why. Choice? Infertility? Some combination of the two? I’m working on finding new ways to say “only child” and “it’s just the three of us” – wanting to eliminate the words only and just. Help me find those words.

We all did our best to have a conversation across a long table and four children with needs. It’s basically impossible. Speed-eating contests should be held by parents of small children at restaurants. I cannot enjoy a meal with a low whine of kid-speak in my ear, asking why, when, how and why again endlessly, all while drawing castles and picking up crayons.

One CH’s friends he hadn’t seen since college. She shared her current work, but due to the state budget, knew that she would lose her job in August. We all murmured our condolences, and then she calmly shared that her husband died almost a year ago.

Silence.

We all then voiced deeper condolences. The loss of a job? Terrible. The loss of a partner? Unspeakable.

Here is a woman, 38 or 39, with a child one month younger than Miss Red, and a widow. A widow about to lose her job. A widow.

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On Saturday night I had a good cry. I am still so, so sad. Still thinking about Friday night, I invoked CH’s friend and her situation and cried harder. How can we sit in a restaurant, chatting over the din of life, when her life and her son’s life is forever changed? The weight of sadness is sometimes so much.

If only life wasn’t just so sad at times.

Memories of Heat

We are in record-breaking temperatures, as is most of the country. The grass is non-existent and it’s as if we are in a reverse winter – trapped indoors, wondering when we can go outside.

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The summer after high school I got a job working food service at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Tons of high schoolers held these positions, making cheeseburgers, serving up sodas, and if you were to be punished, working the blazing hot popcorn cart, pumping coconut oil into a screaming hot popcorn maker. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t like it. Our bosses were a few years older than us – the worst kind when you’re 18 – since they swaggered with managerial power and extra dollars per hour in their paycheck. They forced you to clean the dumpster or empty the soft serve machine at a whim if they didn’t like your face or the expression your face was making.

I biked to work that summer, or at least one way, if I could con my stepdad or someone with a car to allow my bike to be put in their trunk. It was uphill on the way there, a smooth coasting ride on the way home. If I timed it right I could hit the pedal once, sailing down Bluemound Road for more than a mile.

My skin, normally one shade above the palest they offer in cosmetics, turned a deep red that summer – I guess its version of tan. My dark hair, blazing hot in the sun, was thankfully covered by a greasy and sweaty Zoo cap.

It was hot. Hot to watch flame-broiled hamburgers slide onto warming pans. Hot to bag popcorn and do other general maintenance. And hot in our ranch home without air conditioning. I swear my body temperature rose. After work I’d shower and most nights I collapsed into bed, exhausted. I never even used a fan.

It was not the romantic summer I had envisioned for my time before college. It felt lonely and anticipatory. My mom and I would slowly collect items for my college dorm room. I nervously spoke to my college roommate from Onalaska on the phone for the first time. We exchanged senior pictures.

Half a lifetime ago, at 17.

That summer was the last summer I lived at home, minus a few weeks after graduate school. There would be more hot summer nights, but none where I could stand the heat in the same way.

 

Rockabye Baby

I love getting rid of stuff. Excess items, clothing that no longer works, dishes that are chipped, you name it. I wasn’t always like that. I grew up a semi-hoarder, loving each piece of paper and sock that came into my room. I would save movie stubs in high school, tape them to index cards, and write the names of who I went with. I would curate large photo albums, writing details on the back of each print.

In an effort to get downsize, four families, ours included, will hold a rummage sale. I’ve been happily piling items into boxes and pricing things with bright green stickers, my initials under the small amounts.

I have a few large items, one of which is the rocking chair we rocked Miss Red in for the first two years of her life. She decided around two that she didn’t want to be rocked at night anymore, and we switched to a bedtime routine of reading books and talking. Some might think that we should save the rocking chair, and we did. It sat in the basement for nearly two years, untouched.

I remember just a few snippets of the rocking days. She would take a bottle and we would sing songs. I only know two songs, both learned from CH, who learned them from his mother – “Oh, Mother,” and “Skidamarink.” I remember Miss Red’s tiny little mouth making the sounds of each song, chiming in when she remembered lyrics. I remember burping her and just staring at her, this little creature that grew in my body.

I love the story of how we got the rocking chair. It must have been 2002 or 2003 when we saw a sign for an estate sale near CH’s mother’s house. We knocked on the door and a handsome woman answered. We entered, and she took us into her living room, where items were placed with some sale stickers, others not. She offered us refreshments. A dapper man came down the stairs, and I’ll never forget his voice. He said, “Hello, I am Benito.” We ended up chatting with this couple who were moving out of their house, downsizing, and marveled at their amazing furniture. We’re talking gorgeous pieces. But at that point I was working two jobs and CH had a small gig at the University, so we were in no condition to buy large items. Except for the rocking chair. Benito proceeded to tell us in his Italian-accented English that they purchased it at Art Fair on the Square. I sat in it. I rocked. I loved how it fit my body, how my hands rested on the arms. We bought it.

It was in our living room at one apartment and then our house, working its way into Miss Red’s nursery, where it was used nightly.

I loved that rocking chair.

But there will be no more babies to rock. And we haven’t used it in years. Miss Red never asks about it. I never think about it or miss it until maybe it catches my eye in the dark basement. So it needed to go.

I hope that the person who picks it up at the garage sale loves it as much as we did – as Benito and his family did. Sweet dreams.

– MD

What Do You Want?

I started my Fourth of July celebration by meeting up with friends for drinks and dumplings at Umami last night. The four of us talked endlessly, often over each other, laughing and not laughing for hours. We got more than one hint that they were shutting down, and had we not been told, I know we would have stayed outside, happily sweating for hours more.

OM, random letters written by Miss Red. Or are they random?

Our talk turned serious, often, and I shared two things I’ve really learned to be true, at least for myself, over these past two years:

We all need to really ask for what we want.

I don’t mean this in a ohmygoodnessIneedthatpurse way, but in a “do you need more quiet time?” Do you need more space to create? Do you need more help? As women, and especially as Midwesterners, we often spend so much time apologizing, when we might just mean excuse me, or are becoming aware of the space we want to claim. What if we just asked for what we want? Which leads me to numero dos:

We all just want to be hugged and told that a. things suck or b. everything will be OK.

In my two-year struggle with infertility, I spent a year telling almost no one what was going on. I only told my dad and step-mom after a year and a half because they asked if we were planning on more children. I suffered silently and didn’t need to. Once I started to open up, it didn’t make it easier, but it made it seem not-so-hard. I could do this. I could make it through the day without tears forcing their way down my cheeks. But during my slow immersion in sharing my thoughts and feelings, I didn’t ask for what I wanted: I just wanted my mom and dad to hug me and tell me that they were sorry I was hurting. I didn’t ask for what I wanted. I’m a grown up. I have a voice. I was just afraid to use it.

So I ask you, what do you want? Ask for it. It will be OK.

– MD

That Time I Got An A-

Let me begin by thanking each and every one of you for reading, commenting, and reaching out in meaningful ways in response to yesterday’s post. I am one lucky duck. I don’t feel brave. I feel exposed. But I think that’s OK.

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And now on to our regularly scheduled post.

I went to graduate school as part of a dream. For most of college I wanted to become a professor. When weighing the options of programs and degrees from the three programs I was accepted to (I was rejected from seven), I settled on a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies. I liked that it was a terminal degree and that the school would pay for my classes and provide a small teaching stipend. Then, in my plans, I would continue on to a PhD program. Those dreams turned into a nightmare, but that’s another post. Or three.

For a feminist art history class I ended up doing my final project on author and illustrator Alison Bechdel, she of the famed Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip. I enjoyed reading her comics in college and wanted to focus on a non-traditional artist, amidst the papers on Artemisia Gentileschi and Judy Chicago. Judy Chicago is not a traditional artist, but there was nothing new I could say about her work.

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party, 1974–79.

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Ceramic, porcelain, textile, 576 x 576 in. (1463 x 1463 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. Photo: © Aislinn Weidele for Polshek Partnership Architects

So I set out to research my paper and prepare a presentation about Bechdel. It included making slides. People, this was 2001, but slides were still the mainstay in art classes and it was revolutionary that I was using a Zip drive to store my classes.

The best part of my paper? I emailed Bechdel, telling her that I was writing a paper about her and she agreed to an interview. I still remember calling her from my apartment, notes in front of me, so nervous. It was fantastic. We talked for 45 minutes. Others had to look to history books for their research, but here was my primary source, alive and well in Vermont.

Have you read her work? It’s amazing. Amazing in that here’s a working artist who is continuously fine-tuning her craft. Fun Home deserved all of the accolades it received, and in reading Are You My Mother? I am so impressed with her dedication.

I wrote what I thought was my best paper ever. I read it out loud to CH over the phone. I rehearsed my presentation with slides and even had a few chuckles when I gave it in class.

After all that, when I got my paper back, there was an A- on it.

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I am not an over-achiever. I believe in throwing yourself into projects, working on a team and doing your best, but it’s the process of projects that I love – figuring out to get things done. It’s the goal-oriented part of me that makes me strive, but really, I’m not as Type A as some would think. If anyone thinks that about me.

But the A- slayed me. Why? Because it was another example of how graduate school was the wrong choice for me. This was not sour grapes, but this was seeing that on the day I was to give my presentation, a fellow graduate student was called to give her presentation – the day the papers were due, too – and she gave a yelp. People, she had forgotten. Forgotten to make her presentation. Forgotten to write her paper. She had done nothing. And when she finally submitted her paper, late, what did she get? An A.

Have I mentioned that I spoke to Alison Bechdel for 45 minutes? On the phone? In real life?

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Fast forward a few years. I’m back in Madison, and Bechdel comes to A Room of One’s Own for a book tour. I bring her my book to sign and heart pounding, tell her that I had interviewed her in previous years for a graduate school paper. She smiles, says, “oh yeah,” shakes my hand and signs my book.

I say, “We got an A-.”

http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/

For Sale. The Whole Lot.

This has been another summer of grinding through thoughts and feelings. I do my best to share with friends and my spouse, but I honestly forget. Reaching out to stop reaching in. I hear daily from CH, “what are you thinking? Where are you?”

We are done. We are done trying to have another baby. It didn’t work out. Yes, we tried all of the options available to us that would potentially work. They didn’t. And we are done. Just, done.

My perfect family. The three of us. Maybe one day, via adoption or foster care, there will be more, but that is on hold as CH and I take a breath to just breathe. Enjoy the summer. Enjoy our daughter. Enjoy each other.

Camping

Those 18 boxes of baby clothes and toys in the basement? They’ve been haunting me for more than two years. And now, after The Decision, they will be sold and given away. That constant reminder of what wasn’t happening will slowly be dismantled over the next few months, leaving… what? That hole that won’t seem to go away. That emptiness.

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My best friend was in town last month and we spent a perfect day together. As she accompanied me to pick up even more fertility drugs that didn’t work, she told me something I replay in my head endlessly:

what you have is what so many people wish and dream for.

She’s right. With a husband and a healthy (knock on wood) daughter, I have what people pine for. And I am happy. I just need to learn to mend that part of my heart that longed for so long. I can be happy and sad at the same time –  we just don’t have words for it in English.

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My dear friend NVC also said something to me I bat in my brain in equal rotations from the comment above:

You need to live your life.

So simple, but in the mix of timings and complications and distractions, in many ways I was missing the living life while trying to make another one.

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I can’t predict the future, but I think I will always be sad about this. Please, let me be sad about this.

– MD

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