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Archive for October, 2008

There are certain things about my mother that are real hot buttons for me — things about her or that she does that just really get under my skin.  I have spent years trying to come to grips with them, or to learn to let them go, or to even try to see the endearing side of them, but I know I fail far more than succeed.  Yesterday she hit three of my hot buttons all at once.

She was feeding E1 and E2 whilst I packed a snack bag so we could all go out.  Both girls were in a mood to be a handful, and neither of them were eating their lunch.  “Here comes the train…” my mother said in a sing-songy voice as she tried desperately to turn the tide.  “Here it comes!  It’s heading for the tunnel!”  I hate it when my daughters don’t eat — we’ve had so many food issues with both of them (and I think there is something primeval for a mother about knowing her child is fed) that I come over quite ridiculously desperate when that food is not going in their mouths.

“Come on!” she said, growing frustrated.  “Here comes the train!  It wants to go in the tunnel!”  I kept my back turned and focused on the bag, not wanting to add my frustration in with hers.  We needed raisins…  applesauce…   “Good girl!”  Ah, good, she’d done it.  I felt that slight tension that had been building wash right away, as E2 imitated her big sister and allowed my mother to pop a laden spoon in her mouth as well.

“Oh no!  I don’t want to see that!” Mum said, turning back to E1.  “Close your mouth as you chew!”  But she stopped herself and took the irritation out her voice, saying, “Close the tunnel!  The tunnel is closed!  The tunnel is closed for chewing!”  Then added in a bouncy tone, “Closed for mastication!”

Here is one of my hot buttons:  my mother always wanted me to be exceptional — wanted it so much that it affected everything about the way she and I related to each other as I grew up, wanted it so much that I struggled under the weight of her hopes and expectations as I defined the person I was becoming, wanted it so much that I still reel from it even now.  If there is one thing I want for my girls, it is for them to have the freedom to become whomever they will become, in their own space and at their own pace.  I want to give them that room that they need to be as normal — or extraordinary — as they want.  And when I see my mother doing to them what she did to me — laying an oh-so-hopeful path of wildly unrealistic expectations — it sets my teeth on edge.  ‘Mastication’ is not normal vocabulary for a three-year-old.  It’s ridiculously contrived and I don’t want my daughter to have to be that child.  Mother… don’t.

And here is my second hot button: my mother has a ditziness to her that is charming, for sure, but is also so profound that it often reaches the point of being quite dangerous — so much so that M and I have actually decided that we do not feel comfortable allowing her to take the girls out on her own.  We have been shocked to see so many frightening situations and near-misses in the past nine months that we have finally come to the realisation that we not imagining this nor exaggerating it, and so have had to come that difficult decision.  And I find — somewhat to my bafflement — that I am angry with her for it.  I am angry that someone so intelligent and competent can allow herself to indulge in so much ditziness, so much simply-not-thinking, that it has come to this.  I don’t want to feel this way about my mother — I don’t want to feel that I can’t let her take her grandchildren out on her own — but I have to, and every time she does something glaringly unthinking, it reminds me and I hate it instantly.  It was perfectly obvious to me that ‘mastication’ wasn’t a clever word to be teaching to a three-year-old who has a gift for mangling pronunciations, but she was so swept up on the highway to toddler precociousness that she never saw it.  Mother, please don’t teach her that word.

“The tunnel is closed for mastication!” she continued cheerfully.  I focused on pouring the raisins into a Ziploc bag and tried not to grind my teeth.

“Closed for mastication.  Can you say that?  Can you say mastication?”

“No.”  E1 is like me in a lot of ways, and I’ve already noticed she likes being able to come to things in her own good time.  Left to her own devices, ‘mastication’ (or something close) would have popped out of her mouth at some point over the next few days, but being chivvied into performing gets her back up — just like me.  Mother… stop.

“Sure you can!  Mastication.  Go on!  Say it… ”

“No.”

“Mas-ti-ca…”

“No.”

And here we have my third hot button:  my mother, in her own particular way, is one of the pushiest people I know.  Once she has hold of something that she thinks should happen — and she has a lot of ideas about what should happen where her children and grandchildren are concerned — she does not give up, she does not let go.  Until she is made to stop through some considerable force, she just pushes and pushes and pushes.  As a child, I found that pushiness overwhelming, and exerting that necessary force nigh on impossible.  As an adult, I am better at it, but it is still excruciatingly difficult and the repercussions are usually long and hard to live with.  Mother, please stop.

“Come on.  The tunnel is closed for mastication.  Mas-ti-ca-…”

“No.”

“Mas…  Mas-ti…”

Mother.  Please stop teaching her that word.”  I had my back to her, I never looked up from the snack bag, and I nearly growled the words.

There was a long pause.  I pushed the applesauce containers down into the bag a bit too roughly and one of the tin-foil lids split slightly.

“Mmmm…  yes.”  She’d twigged.  At last.

I replaced the applesauce and then sliced some bread and wrapped it up.  The girls, remarkably, allowed my mother to finish giving them their lunches with no further resistance.  And then we all went out for the day, and waited for the coolness in the air to subside, whilst I chided myself, once again, for not being able to just let it all roll off my back.

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M popped out to the pub for a pint on Sunday night.  “Sarah…” is what he said when he got home, “Sarah…  I don’t know what she did tonight, but she looked really good, really amazing!”  This is one of the barmaids, and I know he secretly quite fancies her.  “She must have done her make-up differently tonight or something…”

“Did you tell her?” I asked.  I couldn’t help smiling, just a wee bit.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if he had.

“Nah,” he said, looking at the ground, and then glanced up and grinned.  “I’d rather tell you.”

Atta boy!

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WordPress have introduced their new polling utility at just the right time, because I need your opinions!

The carpeting the in the bedrooms of our new house is perfectly livable, but not all that great.  It doesn’t look like it was professionally laid, with rough edges and really obvious seams.  But it’s laid over some really fabulous hardwood floors that are just begging for us to pull up that carpet and have them sanded and sealed.


Part of me is saying do it now, because we have two weeks before we have to be out of this rental, which means we could have the whole messy, smelly job done before we even move in.  If we wait until later to do it, we’ll have to move all the furniture and the clothes out of the bedrooms, there will be sawdust flying all through the house and settling all over the furniture and into every nook and cranny, and we will probably have to find a hotel to live in for the week while it’s being done.  But here we have the opportunity to get the whole job done and cleaned up while the house is still empty!

I also think that having the hardwood finished will add instant value to the house and, when it comes time to sell, will translate into a few more thousand than we paid to have it done.  And besides… it’s my new house and I would really love to have hardwood floors in the bedrooms!

However, money is really tight at the moment, and we’d be scraping the lower end of the barrel to fund the work, and there’s a big part of me that says now is not the prudent time to do that.  When we moved over, we had a workable amount of money set aside to furnish our new house, but the medical bills and tax bill have eaten most of that up — and if we had the floors finished, there’d be nothing left for furniture.  And the carpets are…  well, they are perfectly livable.

But there’s that little voice saying to me that if we don’t do it now…  it will be one of those things that we simply never get round to doing…

So, my esteemed readers, I need your help and your opinions.  Do we have the floors done now, or do we wait? Please make your voice heard!

(Don’t forget you can click on the pictures to get a closer look.  And I’d love to hear your comments as well as see your votes!)

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I am supposed to be spending this week finalising any work we want done on the house before we move in (carpets cleaned, floors finished) and getting all the move-organisation done (movers, address-changing, utility installation), but I have been so sick that everything has ground to a halt.  My throat is killing me, I can’t talk, I can’t managed to stay asleep for more than 30 minutes, and my nerves are frayed.  My mother, who was so bad with this herself last week that she nearly ended up admitted to hospital, came over and took care of the girls yesterday so I could finally have a much-needed day in bed.  In a miserably-sick sort of way, it was heavenly.

But she’d left by the time M got home, and he walked in to find the kitchen a tip, his dinner unmade, and me struggling to get the girls fed.  He stepped right in and took over, and I went and collapsed on a chair.  The girls were an inexplicably boisterous mood and the cacophony rising from the kitchen when straight through me like a knife.  I barged back in and barked at my children for being so unruly and then barked at my husband for letting them be so — it was sudden and uncalled-for and he, quite naturally, barked right back at me.  I saw red and stormed dramatically back to my chair.

After five minutes of sulking, I began to regret my short temper and shuffled sheepishly back into the kitchen.  I put my arms around M’s neck and apologised.  He pulled me back and looked into my eyes for a moment, then smiled indulgently and gave me a sudden bear-hug so tight it took my breath away.  “It’s alright!  It happens.  You know, considering that we’ve moved halfway around the world, lost a job, lost insurance, bought a house, run up medical bills, are moving again, and hardly ever get to…” — well, let’s just say that, between his crazy schedule and me being up with E2 so much,  I’ve nearly forgotten what the full job-description of Wife entails…  “Considering all that, I’m surprised we aren’t killing one another!  So you barked — I barked too.  It’s done now and it’s no big deal.  We’re alright, you and me.”

He hugged me again, and my whole world was brought back into perspective.  He’s right — we should be killing each other, but we aren’t — and I thank God for that.

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Do you know, I had completely forgotten just how stunningly beautiful the autumn is over here!  No matter what is going on (or going wrong) in my day, our lives, the world…  nothing stops the seasons from changing, nothing stops the leaves from turning.  The glory is there to see if we only open our eyes.  What a joy it is just to look at the world around us…

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And just when I was losing my faith, I received a gift from a virtual stranger.

Which makes me wonder, in a virtual world, how do we draw the line between stranger, acquaintance, and friend?  When we spend years interacting with people we’ve never met and probably never will meet — as we all do in this cyber day and age — should those people ever rightly come to mean more to us than just a convenient distraction, more than just pixels glowing on a screen?  How much affection is it prudent to feel for someone you don’t really know?  And why does walking away feel so much more difficult than just turning off the computer?  I mean, when it comes down to it, who knows if these people really even exist — they might all be just figments of our imaginations.

Until, one day, one of them suddenly jumps right out of the great cyber-void and leaps into real life, by sending you a lovely package of the tea you’ve been missing so much.

Thank you, Nichole!  I am chuffed to bits!

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Just before M got into bed last night, he descended into that horrid pit of second-guessing in which we’ve found ourselves mired for so much this year.  “So, yes,” he began, as if our previous conversation had paused for only a moment, “we’ve bought this house and it’s…  it is a great house for us.  But…  but we gave up everything for this.  I mean, we’ve left our friends, my family, everyone…” His voice rose a bit as he carefully didn’t mention the two most important people we’ve left.

“I know,” I jumped in, hoping to stop him, but then couldn’t think what more to say.

“My drums haven’t been touched in months…”

“I know.”

“I don’t think they’ll ever get played much again.”

“Oh no!” I protested,  “No!  Of course they will!  You’ll find a group again, you’ll find other players…!”

“But we had all that.  We had friends, good friends, a whole group of friends.  The pub at the weekend.  Band and playing and laughing your bollocks off on a Wednesday night.  Gigs.  You had your friends and all the stuff you did.  I mean, isn’t that what life is supposed to be about?  We’ve bought a house, but… it’s only bricks and mortar.  Life is supposed to be more than that, isn’t it?  Life is about friends and…  living, isn’t it?  We gave all that up for…  a house.”

I said nothing and he got into bed.  He was forgetting that a year ago, we were both looking around us at our crammed, cramped rental and cursing that we had to step over things just to walk around, move one thing every time we wanted to get something else.  He was forgetting that we panicked daily about the fact that we were quickly depleting our savings in order to get by — to the tune of the high three-figures every month — in order to make ends meet, in order to afford that too-small, cold rental.  A year ago, we were asking each other if life was supposed to be about breaking your back to not quite make ends meet, if this was what life was about.  He was forgetting that we couldn’t actually afford the pub much, and that it was only him who ever went there because we never had a babysitter.  But, I understand — it’s so easy to forget, easy to get swept up in the now and to forget the past and doubt the future.

M avoids conflict at all costs and, as such, recoils from making decisions about his own life.  He keeps the peace by going along with others’ wishes most of the time, and then tearing himself apart later when those choices don’t actually meet his needs.  Most of his major life decisions have been made this way: who he has married, when he had children, where he has lived.  I am not sure what it was exactly that has caused him to be this way but, from what little I know of his childhood, I think he has probably been dealing with life this way for a very long time.  Most of the time, I’m fine with this, but I hate knowing that I actually make all the big decisions, that his heart may not be in all the really quite important things he agrees to.  So, when it comes to the truly life-altering decisions, I try to insist that he participates.  When it came to this decision to the move to the US, I demanded — demanded — he think about this and tell me what he really wanted.  For a long time, he kept pretending to think about it and then would announce that he was happy with whatever I wanted, but I wouldn’t have that.  I asked him again and again to really spend time thinking about it, to discuss it with me…  Finally, I told him we were going to think on it separately, not talk about it, for six months and, on New Year’s Day, write our answers down on piece of paper and exchange them.  It wasn’t perfect but I couldn’t think of any better due process than that.  I can second-guess myself and know when I am not being honest, but I can only second-guess his decisions so far.  At some point, I do have to believe he means what he is saying.  At some point, he does have to participate in his own life decisions.  On New Year’s Day, his paper said USA.

M laid down in the bed and stared up at the ceiling for a while.  “Could you ever leave the girls?” he asked and turned pleading eyes to me.  I felt the answer instantly: I never could — not ever.

“No.”

“Could you even contemplate it?”  There was no way I could answer that would soften it.

“No.”

“Buying this house…  It is a good house…  buying it is a good thing.  But…”  His face was stony, his gaze back on the ceiling. “But it’s not right.”  He closed his eyes, and turned away.

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