Meeting Virginia

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Last week was school winter break.  This week, to prevent a stay in the rubber room, I took a stay-cation.  I’ve been catching up on housework and writing and I’ve had a few rendezvous this week with an old friend.

Nothing says mental health day like a low-key lunch date with a book while someone else does the cooking and dish washing, so Monday morning I packed up my bag and grabbed a book from the piles that had grown during my attempt to carve a path from the door of the Mom Cave to my desk.

Sitting at a table of my own, I began re-absorbing Virginia Woolf’s treatise, A Room of One’s Own.  It was the first hour that had been completely mine in weeks, and, even thought I knew I should be writing, meeting Virginia for lunch was the best decision I would make this holiday.

Before my salad arrived, Virginia had told me once again about being chased off the lawn at Oxbridge, one of England’s finest universities, because people with ovaries were not allowed to walk on the grass, let alone enter the library without a male chaperone or letter of introduction (all those books were so dangerous apparently).  She had asked why so few women had excelled in the arts, specifically literature, and she had begun to remind me that, for a woman to write – for the nanny or the coal miner to create – one needed the princely sum of 500 £  a year (the amount of an annuity left to her by an aunt which, even adjusted for inflation would require herculean budgeting skills to survive on) and a room of one’s own.  The soup arrived as she was detailing how to lift up women (and men) to do their best work and not only the work that lured the stock broker and the barrister indoors on a glorious day to make more money just for the sake of more money.

Virginia and I had lunch again on Tuesday, and I began wondering how to create my own annuity – or at least the time that one could buy with it.  The work of parenting will not change for me for quite a few years (I’ve barely had a bathroom break of my own in the last decade and a half).  The work of earning a living, however, has been creeping into the rest of my life lately.  Virginia reminded me that earning a living, while important and even valuable, is not the same as making a life.  That task is just as valuable.

Wednesday I made a lunch date with my keyboard, but I was pretty sure Virginia was looking approvingly over my shoulder.

Faking It

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There are exactly 2 times every year I actually enjoy cleaning. Well, one, if someone else is hosting Thanksgiving or Christmas.

My well-publicized crappy house cleaning keeping skills aside, I am actually a halfway decent cook, and as anyone who has seen my girlish figure can attest I like to do it too. I especially like throwing the big dinner with all the trimmings and the china (most of it inherited or found at yard sales).

But what I’m always surprised about is how, once I get started, that I actually enjoy cleaning in anticipation of a big day – or when six weeks of my immobility have generated roaming dust bunnies with fangs.

Last Saturday I walked 10 or 15 miles around the house, picking up a bit of clutter or putting away that pile of laundry. I have no illusions that I’m anywhere near as fit as I was this time last year when I had just completed my first 12K race or that this week I’ll suddenly remember cleaning can be fun. But after almost two months of being mostly confined to the recliner I kind of enjoyed faking it.

Buckets

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The sweat from a few hours of cleaning was beginning to cool as they collapsed on the green recliner sofa.

“All I want to do,” said Dad, “is keep my feet up for the rest of the night.  What’s on?”  Mom handed him the remote and put her own foot rest up.

“Nothing sounds good.  How about a few episode of ‘That Trite Sitcom’ for background noise, ” she suggested.

Dad reclined all the way back, grunting his approval.  Mom clicked to the play-it-now channel and closed her eye as the opening credits played.  She pulled a nearby superhero-themed fleece blanket over her legs, vaguely registering that a heavier, living blanket was wrapping around her remote-control arm.

“Oh, I love this show,” chirped eight-year-old  Thing-Two.  He adjusted his red satin cape so that it covered Mom and himself.  He then spent most of the progrm squirming as he tried to find the ultimate snuggle position.  Mom decided it was nice that her youngest child was still young enough to have not put away childish things like cuddling. Thing-Two was still trying every hug technique known to science as Mom began to drift off.

“Awe,” Thing-Two sighed. “Mom, mom! Look at that baby.”  He patted Mom’s arm gently and then firmly until she  opened her eyes.  “Isn’t he cute?” Thing-Two gestured at the TV.

“Very cute,” Mom mumbled and closed her eyes again.

“I want to be a dad someday,” Thing-Two said, wrapping Mom’s arm around himself.

“Someday,” said Mom, “you’ll be a great dad, Buddy.”

“Yeah, I can’t wait,” said Thing-Two. “It’s number 4 on my bucket list.”  Mom’s eyes opened wide.  She twisted her head to look at Thing-Two’s face and saw Dad had focused his attention on their son.

“You have a bucket list?” Mom asked.

“Of course,” answered Thing-Two.  “I’ve been working on it for years.  I want to grow up and marry a sweet girl and be a dad and dance and have a…”

“How do you now what a bucket list is?” Mom interrupted.

“I’ve always known about them,” he answered. “Don’t you have a bucket list, Mom?”

Dad was listening quietly and smiled at Mom.

“Well, I’ve heard of them, and I could start one,” she stammered.  “But we’ve done a lot of bucket stuff.”  She looked at Dad and shrugged, hoping he would have something to add.

Thing-Two looked into Mom’s eyes.  He was silent for a few minutes, inspecting her  face.

“Mommy, you really ought to have a bucket list,” he said.  He squirmed to face the TV and see the baby again.
Otherwise you might spend the rest of your life doing nothing but cleaning and siting on the couch.”

Art is Life – No, Really

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Thing-Two is constantly jumping from one creative project to another.  He is more full of life than anyone I know. Art , visual or performing, feeds his liveliness, breathing creativity into math and beauty into science.  It turns the world as he sees it into something to be discovered, not feared.

He knows instinctively that life, like art, isn’t on any standardized test.  And art, like life, may teach some of the most important lessons.

How to Say it

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If there had been time before eight-year-old Things-Two flushed, I’m sure we would have been able to count at least 50 shades of green in the chocolate-aced mystery meal he coughed up just a few moments earlier.

Our Valentines plans on a snowy afternoon and evening included the kids, a steak dinner, and chocolate.  Thing-Two, however, had discovered the chocolate early and quietly volunteered to verify the quality of each in the Russell Stover’s box. In doing so, he proves once again that all not all valentine celebrations are created equal.

The absence of a reliable cadre of local babysitters has created a Valentine’s tradition that includes a day of sloth concluded with a family meal fit for a hungry king of the sloths.  it isn’t fancy, but the Big Guy and I agree that the quiet, gluttonous day together is just another way to say, “I love you”.
There have been other “I love you’s” over the years. The first one, for me, followed a fancy dinner that had featured grilled Portabella mushrooms, to which I was disgustingly allergic. Into a bucket. For three days.
Hollywood’s offering for Valentine’s 2015 would have you believe that nothing says “I love you” quite like a guy stalking, manipulating, and abusing you (erotically of course). After 20 valentines with the Big Guy, I can only say that, for me, the only way to say “I love you” better than holding your soon-to-be  fiancé’s hair back while she worships at the porcelain god, is the way he said it yesterday.
Thing-Two was down for the night. The Big Guy had just turned on the stove, but looked at me and said, “why don’t we just celebrate tomorrow.” Which we decided to do. The two of us settled in on the couch for an evening of sitcoms and snuggling, and I decided that nothing really says “I love you” like a partner who still takes life’s little emergencies in stride because he knows them up will be there long after the holiday is crossed off of the calendar.