Archive for July, 2009

We’d been happily talking for a few minutes before I spotted the huge chip in my mum’s tooth but, once I did, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.   It was a rectangular hole at the bottom of her front tooth, looking  jagged and black and so strangely incongruous that it seemed to change her whole face in an instant.

“Mum!” I interrupted her story, “What is that?  What did you do to your tooth?!?”  She instinctively stuck her tongue in the spot, which momentarily turned pink and then back to black again.

“Oh,” she laughed casually, “I chipped it years ago and Dr. Sams put a little cap in it.  He told me it might not last so I should be careful about biting into apples or carrots, but it’s stayed in all this time.”  I did a quick calculation: Dr. Sams had been our dentist when I was in grade school, so she must have had that cap for nearly thirty years.  I was impressed it lasted so long.

“So what happened?”  Not that there was any need to ask — it probably just fell out after all these years.  It was to be expected, really.

“Well, I’ve had these stains on my teeth lately,” she said, opening her mouth so I could have a look.  The ends of her front teeth, top and bottom, were a bit tea-stained.  Not badly though,  nothing that a trip to the dentist wouldn’t clean up.  “And I was cleaning the teacups,” she continued, “when I noticed how well the spray cleaned the stains away…”

For years, I’ve felt a certain wariness about my mother.  It’s not a wariness of her as a person — she’s a wonderful person — but of her judgment.  She has an  unfazable optimism that leads her to consider the craziest of things to be reasonable risks.  I was never quite able to put my finger on it before — living in the UK, I saw her for only a couple of weeks a year, not a long enough observation time to confirm what my gut was telling me.  But since moving back to the US, I’ve begun to realise something that I should have always known — a girl should always trust her gut.

I took a quick breath and tried to smile back just as casually before asking,  “What spray is that, Mum?”

“That mold and mildew spray…  You know, the kind you buy for the bath?  I use it to clean the stains out of my teacups.  It really works well!”

That spray is mostly just bleach, with a few other bits and bobs added in to justify the price.  I’m not surprised it gets the stains out —  I’ve used bleach to clean teacups before, when they’re really badly stained.  No harm in that as long as they’re well rinsed.

She continued.  “So I thought, if it gets the stains out of the cup so well…”

I knew what she was about to say and it wasn’t going to be a surprise,  but I was I so horrified that I couldn’t stop myself.  I jumped in, “You sprayed it in your mouth?!?

She was immediately defensive, and annoyed, and I regretted my indiscretion.  “No! No, of course not!  I sprayed it on my toothbrush a few times.”  I’m sure my face was still aghast, so she ramped it up.  “I ran water over it!  It was well diluted!”  I was unconvinced.

“Mum!  That stuff is toxic!  You’re lucky you didn’t do yourself real damage!”  I was horrified at her obvious lack of judgment, and it showed.  “You could have ended up in hospital — you’re not supposed to put that stuff in your mouth!”  There, now I sounded like I was talking to a two-year-old.

“Well… well, I’m fine!” she replied, indignant now, annoyed with me for being so annoyed with her.  “Nothing happened to me!”

“But your cap fell out,” I prodded with the obvious.  I was glad she was ok, very glad, but I couldn’t let her try to paint all this as a perfectly normal thing to do.

Two days later it did,” she said dismissively, as if the delay meant it might possibly not be related at all.  “And besides, it’s hardly noticeable!”  The irritation was thick now, tension heavy in the air, and someone needed to smooth things over.  I tried.

“Well, I’m sure a dentist can fix it…” I mumbled pathetically, and quickly changed the subject.

But it was noticeable, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it.  Like a bloke whose stare keeps falling unconsciously to a woman’s breasts, no matter how much I fought it, my gaze kept returning to the black hole in her teeth.  Even as I forced myself to look away, it called my eyes back.  It grew ever larger, ever blacker.  Her whole face became nothing more than a frame to the fascinating, hypnotic hole in her tooth.

She noticed my staring and grew quietly more annoyed.  It’s against our rules of engagement for me to criticise my mother, even if it is just by looking at the result of her folly.  A daughter is not meant to think her own mother a fool.  It goes against the hierarchy, against the natural order of things.  I was overstepping the bounds, and we both knew it.

Coming home today, I heard a small click from the back seat as I pulled the car into the driveway, and looked back to see E1 pulling her seatbelt off.  She’d never done that before — in fact, I’ve been very careful to avoid her noticing how the seatbelt works at all, slipping my hand around her discretely and deftly pressing the button before she’s even realised what’s happening.  A four-year-old who knows how to undo her seatbelt can get out of the car in a carpark while I’m struggling with her sister, she can undo her seatbelt while I’m driving, she’s not safe to leave in the car if I have to dash back into the house to grab something I’ve forgot.  She can (and will) teach her sister how to undo her straps as well.  And of course, she can undo her seatbelt before I’ve finished pulling into the driveway, as she’d just done.  This new development was bad news.  I’d been dreading the day she figured it out, and I was irritated that it had finally happened.

I put the car in park and turned round in my seat.  “How do you know how to do that?” I roared. “WHO taught you that?!?”

She was shocked at my reaction, but proud enough of her new achievement to be still beaming regardless.  “Grandma did!”

And…  I knew that already.  Even before she’d said it, I knew the answer.  Of course it had been my mother who had taught her how to undo her seatbelt.  Never for a moment would she have thought the better of doing it.

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I’m certainly no farmer, though I have a little fantasy of one day having a couple of acres in a hollow somewhere and keeping a small flock of sheep.  And I’ll never be much of a gardener, I know, because I do so hate being out in the sun.  I toy with the idea of digging my hands into the earth, getting dirt under my fingernails, of eating food that I have raised from seed myself… but deep down, I know it’s never going to happen.

But as a small, gentle first step, I started a little container garden at the beginning of the summer.  Five pots of herbs and a hanging basket containing tomatoes and strawberries have been lovingly watered and gently pruned ever since.  And growing… growing…

And come to fruition.  Behold, the harvest!

2009.07 205

2009.07 213

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Sidelined by The Pain, I’ve been taken aback.  After a year or more of a severely restricted diet that has kept me virtually pain-free, I’d nearly forgotten how disruptive — how debilitating — it is when it comes.  But these past two weeks, it’s returned and been inexplicably growing and, today, has risen to a crescendo.  M had to take the girls — his busy day suddenly canceled — and I retreated to bed, to curl into a ball and wait.

I have no idea what is causing this, which terrifies me because it means I am helpless to control it.  When I got the first twinges a fortnight ago, I wondered if it might be a new cereal I had begun eating.  It listed “natural flavors” on the ingredient list — which when found on the label of a barbecue sauce, will almost always include soy …but when on a breakfast cereal?  I reckoned that soy was an unlikely candidate and tentatively tried a bowl: no reaction.  I tried again a few days later, and then again, still with no ill effects.  Confident now, I began eating it daily — a welcome addition to a diet that contains almost no quick-to-fix foods — but when the first quiet twinges began, I looked dubiously at the cereal box. After a week of those pangs, I went with my suspicions and cut the cereal (and the accompanying rice milk) back out of my diet.  And waited for the pain to gradually die away.

It didn’t.  In fact, it has been increasing little by little, until this morning when it flared up with a ferocity I haven’t felt in a long time.  M sat on the edge of the bed and, together, we wracked our brains for another culprit.  We couldn’t think of anything new or different in my diet…  not at all.

Except it occurred to me is that I’ve recently run out of my usual moisteriser and started using some other that was in the cupboard.  They both contain soybean oil (of course! doesn’t everything?) but perhaps now it was in a different strength.  Is it even possible that I could be reacting to a moisteriser?!?  I don’t have a soy allergy, just a strange hormonal reaction when I eat it.  Or… perhaps wear it…

I don’t know what to think.  All I know is that I don’t want it.  And all I can do is pray desperately that this pain just goes away, as mysteriously as it appeared.

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“I want another mummy,” E1 said, while shoveling another spoonful of oatmeal in her mouth.  I looked over at her, and waited — she would surely expand on this.  Mouth still full, she continued regardless, “I want another mummy so she can do all the stuff, and I want yoooou…” — she stretched the word out for emphasis — “to just be with me.”  I stopped doing the dishes and turned to her, smiling a little despite myself.  “I want another mummy and another daddy, and I want you two to just be with me all the time!”

I was grinning now.  This was lovely.  This was one of the moments that a mother waits for, that she treasures.  And yet,  it was a message too — do I spend too much time doing “all the stuff”?  Perhaps I do.  Perhaps I  need to spend more time just…

But at that moment,  she reached for her orange juice and caught her elbow on her bowl, which flew off the edge of the table and smashed to the ground, throwing jagged pieces of white china and the remaining half of her oatmeal all across the dining room floor.  Hmmmm…  More stuff for Mummy.

I started with paper towels (four), then moved onto a wet washcloth, and finally just broke out the mop and did the whole floor.  Then I turned to the table which, despite having suffered no similar disaster, was just as messy as the floor had been — my children don’t eat out of their bowls so much as around them.

The living room floor was crying out to be done as well, now that the dining room was suddenly showing it up.  And then I was on a roll.  Living room led to stairs, which led to landing, which led to E1’s room and our room, and onto the stairs leading up to E2’s penthouse bedroom.  It was hot up at the top of the house and I was getting tired, but I’d got a bee in my bonnet now and so soldiered on and finished E2’s room as well.  That was it, all the hardwood done.  I congratulated myself and headed back downstairs for a much needed rest and a well-deserved cup of tea.

But I stopped at the bathroom…  Really, it ought to be done too, oughtn’t it?  Yes… and I grabbed the bleach and did the job properly too.  And the things I brought out from lurking in the corners…!  Yesssss, the bathroom floor had needed to be done.  And… well… now that I’d got bleach on the mop, I might as well do the powder room too.   And the kitchen.  There, that was all the hard floors mopped and clean.  I rinsed the mop in the kitchen sink and then, remembering what had been on it moments ago, bleached the sink out too.  Then the countertops…  then the cooker-top.

Exhausted now, I went back into the dining room — the room that had so innocently started the whole frenzy off — and sank into a chair.  Sometimes motherhood feels like one huge clean-up operation from morning to night.  It’s never enough… there’s always more to be done and I never seem to get on top of it.  Sometimes I catch the wind in my sails and get a whole bunch done quickly, like those floors.  But sometimes I don’t, or it just keeps coming, and then I am defeated.  And sometimes all I want to do is hand the whole thing — kids, house, mess, husband — over to someone else and bury myself under the duvet.  The kettle began to whistle and I dragged myself out of the chair to pour the tea, and then put two of my mother’s egg-free corn muffins on plates.  I’d worked hard, I ‘d earned the chance to sit with my daughters and drink a nice cup of tea while they had their snack.  We could talk and eat — civilised, social… the extra time that E1 had been asking me for.

“Girls! Come and have your cornmuffins!” I yelled, and E1’s thunderous footsteps were the immediate reply.  She scooted into her chair and, even before her bum hit the seat, bit greedily into the corn muffin, which sent a million yellow crumbs skidding across the spotless floor.  Inevitable.

E2 hadn’t appeared, so I went into the family room to fetch her.  She was grinning at me from her place inside the empty toybox.  “Have you come to ride the roller coaster with me?” she asked excitedly, hugging a teddy bear to her belly.

“No, it’s time for your snack,” I replied.  “Come on.”   We would have our time together, but I knew it would shorter than I had hoped.  I lifted her up into my arms and walked back into the dining room.   And I turned my back on the family room, where the contents of that toybox — the entire contents of the toybox — had been dumped out and strewn in a sea of mess across the floor while I had been busy upstairs.

It was more stuff… more stuff…  There is always more.  And never enough time for me.  And never ever enough time for them.

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I’ve come to an uncomfortable conclusion.  It turns out that… well… I’m quite boring.  I always had some suspicions  of this but I’d had enough social success to be able to brush those concerns under a convenient nearby carpet.  But just lately, that’s not worked and I’ve got to admit what I’m quickly realising to be true: I’m just not that interesting to talk to.

The problem starts with the fact that I am naturally very introverted.  And while I’m perfectly fine with old friends and people I’ve gotten comfortable with, I become only more introverted when I am in social situations which are new or unfamiliar — and that’s pretty much what they all are after you’ve just up and moved to another country.  So, being outgoing and interesting under those circumstances was always going to be a challenge for me, but… well, I thought I could get past that.  After all, I’ve moved before.  Hell, I’ve moved countries before!

Y’know, I used to have interesting things to talk about.  I used to know what’s going on in the world, have opinions, have angles on stuff.  Now… I’m a stay-at-home mum to two kids, one with allergies that have severely shrunk our social options, and I spend most of my week cleaning messes, keeping the household running, and interacting with only two other adults — one of whom is so exhausted at the end of the day that he’s often asleep within 30 minutes of finishing dinner.

And so, when I finally break free and get the opportunity to out for a while in the company of Other People, I  suddenly find that I just don’t have that much of interest to talk about.  My daughters dominate my conversation in much the same way they dominate my life, and I find myself going on and on about them regardless of whether my listeners are likely to be interested.  And then, without realising it, I find I’ve turned the conversation to the allergies because… well, they overshadow my day-t0-day  life so much that it’s as if my mind can’t shake free from them even for a few minutes.  Is the other person interested in the difficulties of avoiding our laundry list of allergens?  Probably not at all, but still I can’t seem to stop myself, even as it begins to dawn on me that I’m boring my listeners.

And so I abruptly try to change subjects but, to my dismay, I realise the cupboard is bare.  As I stand there trying to think of something — anything — to talk about, I draw a complete blank.  I’ve nothing to offer.  Even turning the conversation toward the other person and asking questions instead — that time-honoured short cut to being a good conversationalist — can only go so far before it starts to feel a bit stalker-ish.

And then I’m done for.  I’m outta tricks.  And one of two things happens: either the conversation grinds to an uncomfortable halt and we both start looking around for someone else to slink away to or… or…  I suddenly try to save the situation by overcompensating and going back to my standard subjects (the girls, allergies) and just running wild with it, talking a mile a minute, trying to fill up the air with words and words and words.  It’s not good.

One more thing: I’ve realised I’m just out of step with the whole rhythm of social conversation over here.  The rules I follow are British (specifically rural working-class British) and they just don’t work here.  What is PC there is most certainly not PC here.  What comes quite naturally out my mouth doesn’t work at all — it’s all too risqué or too straight or too lewd or too dour.  So I fall back on humour — a last ditch, gut reaction attempt to save a dying situation — and being humour with that extra u, I find to my horror that what seems hilarious to me suddenly falls completely flat.  I go home berating myself.  Why did I say that?  Why did I open my mouth? And what happened to all the stuff I used to talk about?

And when did I become so boring?!?

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