Archive for June, 2012

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work travel and acting exercises

June 26, 2012

I traveled this past weekend, to the American Library Association’s annual conference. It was in Anaheim, CA, home to Disneyland, which made leaving N and Dot behind seem especially strange, somehow. But leaving them behind was the only way for me to focus on my professional-librarian-at-a-conference persona.

And I did focus on that persona. It felt slightly uncomfortable at first. The networking and glad-handing, the element of self-promotion that colored what meetings I attended, what questions I asked, what connections I made. Not that it was all self-promotion – a lot of it was just connecting with librarians who have worked with things I’m interested in, or that might benefit my workplace. But I’m not used to promoting myself, to asserting myself as an equal to people who’ve been doing really cool things in my field.

It got easier as the first day went on, and it gave me results – new members for the committee I co-chair, new contacts for some projects I’m working on, and more people know who I am. I came back to work more confident than I’ve been in a long time. I feel more collaborative, sharper, ready for the battle of putting my tenure dossier together. I am good at this job. And even though I haven’t always been as actively good as I wanted to be, I can make a good case – a very good and persuasive case – for myself.

But it only got easier after awkward periods where I questioned myself. I think one thing that happened is that I decided who I’d be for the weekend – successful librarian person – and the small decisions I made while I played that part were like exercises, strengthening my confidence and ability to be that person. (I was also very lucky that the people I was doing this with were largely kind and interested – a rejection could have sunk the whole endeavor, I think.)

I’ve been pondering this over the long plane ride home, and thinking of how, every day, my choices make me more who I am, whether I want them to or not. How it has always been this way. Not that I (or you, or anyone) gets to choose who they want to be and that luck plays no part in that. Just that small everyday decisions and actions can strengthen our perceptions of ourselves. One of the big changes I’m seeing this year, almost four years since Teddy’s death, is that I’m starting to see how some of my small, repetitive actions have made me feel like a creeping, timid sort of person. I’m not angry with myself over this. I don’t see how, really, I could have gone through that huge fight for Teddy’s life, followed by the need to stop fighting – for his benefit, not mine – and not be changed, not be fearful. But I don’t want to be a creeping, timid sort of person. I want to be the sort of person who talks people into wanting to join her committee by giving a 30-second spiel about it that makes committee work sound worthwhile and fascinating. I got to be that person for a day and a half, and it was exhausting (I’m not used to this kind of exercise, to taking the kinds of actions that successful professional me would take) but I enjoyed it.

And I think in order to keep that feeling, I have to play some roles for a while – “successful academic librarian,” “successful working mom,” for instance. After a while, maybe they’ll feel more natural and less like roles. Maybe my “successful” muscles will toughen up.

And then, come August, maybe I won’t collapse in a sad and mushy heap.

 

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Another way of missing

June 21, 2012

Last week I took Dot to the nearby playground before dinner. As I pushed the stroller through the schoolyard she saw a group of kids sitting together on the grass, and as we passed them she called out, “Where are they goin’?”

“Nowhere, Honey. We’re going to the slides.”

“Nooooo!”

“But look, there are kids over there, too. Do you want to go see?

“Yes!”

And we did go see. And she played with a little girl a year or two older than she was, and was in perfect bliss for all of ten minutes before the other little girl went home with her family.

“Where’s she goin’?”

“She’s going home with her brothers and sister.”

And after that the fun went out of the playground. We half-heartedly tried another couple of slides, glanced at the swings, and then I heard Dot say something she’s only said maybe once before in her life: “I want to go home.”

And I stood there with tears threatening to leak out of my eyes, blinking fiercely, wishing her brother was here to play with her. Wishing she had the sort of companion I grew up with, realizing that she misses Teddy even though she doesn’t yet really even know he was here. I’m angry all over again. He was my son and I miss him terribly, but he should have been her playmate, her mentor, her sometime-tormentor and biggest critic and biggest fan. How dare you, Universe. How dare you take that away.

Nevermind that if he were here she may not be.

Later that week, at the pool, a little boy played with her, watched her playing. N overheard him asking his mom, “Is she a princess?” We think Dot overheard him, too, and that this is part of what won him her approval and favor. They played together until he had to go home. And I smile at this story, and I wince.

Even later that week, we go to the library and I read her stories. A little boy walks up to us, beaming at her. He listens to me read and laughs with us. He follows Dot around when she goes to look for more books. His name is Max. He is one. His mother is sweet – obviously her son’s approval means that we are nice and to-be-befriended.

“Does she have any brothers or sisters?” she asks me.

Pause.

“No. Right now she’s an only,” I say. Forgive me Teddy, but it’s truer than I ever wanted it to be.

She’ll never get to be a little sister. I feel like Teddy’s death stole this from her, like part of her birthright was lost before she was even born. Sometimes it feels like I raise my children in reverse. Instead of knowing roughly what Dot will be doing at six months, at one year, at two years, I look at her and think, so this is what he might have been doing. I can’t stop thinking this way, and I’m not sure I want to. It’s a connection to him, through her, and I need these connections. But it’s also yet another proof that Dot’s big brother never got to be a big brother. I probably need to get over it. It is what it is, and it doesn’t bother her. She’s making her way in this world, becoming more and more herself every day, and I feel like – if I don’t mess her up – she’s going to be all right. Better than all right. She’ll be amazing.

But I think he would have been an amazing big brother. I think she would have been a great little sister. I keep seeing them together in my mind, running and laughing and arguing, always in orbit with each other. And it’s so hard to know that this is my own fond dream instead of my daughter’s reality.

For the first time, I find myself just a bit angry with Teddy. For dying. For not being here for his sister. I hate that. It doesn’t make sense and he was so little and pure and nothing that happened was his fault. I hope it’s temporary, this flash of anger, that it sizzles and dissipates and that I can somehow beg his forgiveness.

In a couple of months, he would have been four. I don’t know what to do with that except to keep turning it over in my mind, trying to get used to the feel of it. Almost four. Four. Four.

Ah, Love. I wish I knew you, and that your sister did, too. And that you knew her. Because you would have liked her. I know it.

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Letter to Teddy, Spring 2012

June 11, 2012

Dear Teddy,

I feel like I’m neglecting you lately. It’s not that I don’t think of you often, I do. I think of you every day. I see you in the new climbing vines of the clematis I planted in your memory last year. When I chase after Dot in the park I wonder if you would have been a spitfire like her, all passion and motion, or if you would have been (as I suspect) a calmer and more grounded child. I whisper your name under my breath when I walk across campus. I wish you could whisper back.

But there’s not much I can do for you, is there? Not much besides remember. It’s hard to accept that. I want to build you a house, a place to keep you. I want to cook your favorite foods and wash your clothes and tell you bedtime stories and take you swimming. I want to see you playing catch with your father in the front yard. I want to help you learn to ride a bike.

I want to sneak in while you are asleep and bury my nose in your hair and inhale the smell of you.

I want to tell you stories about when you were, as your sister says, “teeny, tiny.”

I want to be “that mom” who embarrasses you by kissing you when I drop you off at school.

Oh, this longing to put love into action. It’s bittersweet and, for some reason especially on fine days like today, when the air is filled with sunlight and little breezes, when everything is green, and bright, and alive, it’s overwhelming.

And you’re beyond it. Perhaps not beyond the green and light and little breezes, but beyond my mediocre cooking, certainly. Beyond hair-ruffling and hugs. Beyond all of those games we wanted to play with you and those conversations we wanted to have.

I think that this, even all these years later, is the hardest thing to accept. Even when I convince myself that where you are is beauty and freedom and love, I get bogged down by how much I want to hold you. I probably always will.

See, you are dead, and I’m still “that mom.” I almost hope it embarrasses you, just a little.

But here, I will send you these thoughts, full of longing and missing and wishing and loving. And I’ll send you that story of you and your sister that I piece together in the back of my head, and I’ll send you this feeling I have that you’re part of the sunlit spring beauty of this day.

I hope it finds you, even though I still long for dirty laundry.

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Beastie, the Saga

June 7, 2012

Two weeks ago, one of our cats brought me a mouse. A mouse who was still very much alive, and who scurried behind the bathroom door, and then under the refrigerator and refused (then) to come out. Not that I would have come out, either.

Our cats are both pampered, sheltered, indoor-only creatures, which meant (Oh, woe!) that the mouse came from indoors, too. I told N about the mouse, expecting that we’d set some traps and get rid of the creature.

And here’s where one of the real differences between N and me comes into play. I look like I’d be tender-hearted, and in many ways I am. I cry at Hallmark commercials, some children’s books, and have a soft spot for waifs and strays. I will carefully take daddy-long-legs (daddy-long-legses?) outdoors and do the same for ladybugs, and even spiders, though I now relocate spiders to the shed out back because I now know that house spiders usually need a house-like environment in which to survive. Having said all that, I will automatically squish any creepy crawly that I find in the bathroom or too close to the bed.

I hate trapping mice and think that mice are rather adorable creatures, really. But I’m a farm girl by upbringing, and a bit too familiar with mouse hygiene and habits (don’t ask) and also very skeptical that, once you see one, you are ever dealing with just one mouse. And house mice, like house spiders, won’t go off to live in a field somewhere. They infinitely prefer human-built structures, temperature control, and a steady food supply. Well, who wouldn’t?

And, while Robert Burns is dear to my heart and I’ve recited To a Mouse more than once to my daughter, I will point out in defense of my callousness that the mouse in Burns’s poem was a field mouse, not a house mouse, and that Burns probably didn’t worry much about hantavirus.

N, on the other hand, doesn’t look terribly tender-hearted on the outside. He’s a philosopher, and teaches the problem of evil at least a couple of times every year. He is fully capable of looking life in the face and saying, sometimes you just suck. He is also fully capable of facing down distraught students who want their grades changed, for instance, and some of them can be pretty pathetic and weepy. He doesn’t bother to relocate spiders. But he also really, really, really didn’t want to be responsible for the death of our small furry house-crasher.

So we didn’t get any traps. We tried a makeshift trap made out of a cardboard box, a cunning little ramp made from chopsticks, and peanut butter (You want to catch a mouse? Use peanut butter. Much more effective than cheese). It at least got the mouse to come out from behind the fridge once or twice, but our wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie refused to be captured.

… … …

Then my parents visited for the weekend and we tried to pretend the mouse didn’t exist.¬†(Note that I’m still pretending there is/was only one mouse, a fiction I will cling to until I’m proven wrong). Which worked pretty well. No sightings were had for almost a week. At least, I’m pretty sure Dad would have said something. I really hope there weren’t any sightings, anyway. Oh, glory. Please tell me my parents didn’t see a mouse while they were staying with us.

… … …

This week, N sighted the mouse (Beastie) a few times in the kitchen. While I’d been hoping the creature had gone away, at least it seemed to be sticking to the confines of a single room, and a room with easily washable floors, at that. We decided to try to catch it again, and brought a few cardboard boxes up from the basement to use in our endeavors.

All of this is leading up to the events of last night, but to give you the best possible picture of what happened, I really need to set the stage:

1. We had promised Dot to take her swimming at the local indoor pool, and the pool’s open hours are 7-9:00 pm so we knew we had to suit up right after dinner so we could get home in time to have a reasonable bedtime. Dot, by the way, takes her promises of swimming very seriously.

2. I am trying to cut out the after-school nursing session Dot is accustomed to. We’re making progress, but I admit to having used videos, chocolate milk, fruit snacks, computer games, and even ice cream as distractions. Fortunately, yesterday, we came home to find two beautiful boxes of gently used clothes from my Sister In Law of Awesomeness (SILA), and we tore into them, scattering beautiful dresses and pajamas all over the living room floor as Dot tried on skirts and shirts and dresses and a dragon costume (some of these all at once). It was glorious fun and made a glorious mess.

3. While I was folding and organizing our riches from SILA (and thank heavens, in retrospect, I was able to put them away before they could have created multiple mousie hiding places), making dinner, and trying to interest Dot in SpongeBob in lieu of “milky,” Dot had an enormous, gushy diaper. I changed it and she ran around without clothes until I got dinner on the table, at which point she agreed to put on a shirt.

4. I decided to have a sip of wine with dinner.

Finally dinner was on the table, the house was sort of picked up, and N came up to join us. We all sat down together and had a great five minutes, after which point, Dot (no doubt pretty full from her “how about this instead of milky?” snack of goldfish crackers, a cup of strawberry milk, and fruit snacks) decided she was done and ran around (still only wearing her diaper and a shirt). At which point, N noticed she had another poopy diaper. Dot insisted that “Daddy do it” when it came down to who would change her (Good girl! I didn’t even have to train her to say this!), and, as Daddy was carrying her to her room for the change…

Beastie left the safety of the kitchen and ran across the hallway and under the bookshelf in the living room.

“There it is, there it is!” shouted N.

“Wha…?” I replied, wondering if Dot’s diaper was leaking on him.

“The mouse! The mouse!” he responded. “Keep it there! Don’t lose it!”

And so I poked under the bookshelf¬† with a folded up paper bag until I saw little Beastie, dark as a shadow and small as a my thumb, running around by our power strip. N changed Dot’s diaper and they brought the broom from the basement while I got the upstairs broom out of the hall closet.

What ensued involved the moving of a very large bookshelf, the wielding of two brooms, the use of a bulletin board to cut off a potential mouse exit, Dot running around excitedly and then being (thank heavens) distracting herself by taking the clean laundry out of the basket and climbing into her “boat,” a large cardboard box, two paper bags, and two flat, circular pieces of cardboard. Finally, Beastie ended up in the cardboard box, and was “relocated” to our front yard. We all made it to the pool on time.

N and I feel very accomplished, and I can honestly recommend trapping a mouse in a box as a great couples’ bonding activity. But we’ve agreed that we can only do this one more time.

After that, we will reluctantly bring in the traps.

Stay away, Beastie. Stay away.