Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Depths

The waters have gotten rough again. Through some obscure universal law, be it karmic or cyclic, a couple boats have sprung leaks at once.

Mihiretu, who has been such a pleasure the past couple months, caught a cold a few weeks ago. Suddenly we are back in the land of the negative; mysterious crying jags ("Lala hit me!", shuddering with grief, a full five minutes after Lana bopped him on the head - understandable reaction but why the delay?), rascality turned up to eleven ("I gonna wake up Mae." "Please don't wake up Mae." "I gonna wake up Mae." "Please don't wake up Mae." "I gonna wake up Mae." "Look, Mihiretu, a matchbox car!" Car thrown at forehead), and general irrationality (3 a.m. "I wanna dog!" "Let's talk about this in the morning." "I wanna dog!" "Mihiretu, you're going to wake up your sisters." "I wanna dog NOW!!" "Huh? Mama? He wants a what? Why is it still dark out?").

His cold is gone but the behavior remains. It takes everything I have to keep my own temper in the face of the Mihiretu tornado. If I don't - and sometimes I don't - the spiral deepens. He trusts me less, he tests me more. Soon I'm looking for any avenue of escape when really what we need is positive time together. Positivity, after weeks on end of bullshit, is almost impossible to muster.

When the girls were two and three and four, they, too, cycled through periods when they were difficult and periods when they were (relatively) easy. It makes sense that Mihiretu would do this, too, and given his rough road, with more spectacular highs and lows. I know, in my head, that this will get better. My heart doesn't believe it. Though each dip he takes is more shallow, every time I'm confronted once more with his enormous hurt and need, it overwhelms me all over again.

My mother has also taken a nosedive over the last few weeks. She doesn't feel physically well, is spending too much time in bed, is swinging her cane at the caregivers in the dementia ward, is victim to all sorts of scatological issues, internal and external, seems anxious and depressed. When I visited last week, she spent the entire time scratching with her thumbnail at invisible dirt on the table, mumbling that she "needs to clean up this crap". For the first time, she didn't seem to remember me. Or maybe she was just too consumed with the crappy table to care.

Beyond the added work of trying to figure out what to do for her, seeing her this way eats at me. I, myself, have been anxious and depressed along with her. At first I didn't realize that it was rooted with my mom. I just found myself unduly worried about wrapping Christmas gifts, about making fudge and cookies with the girls, about what kind of vegetable I would serve on Christmas Eve. All this free-floating angst made me feel crazy. Made me wonder if the Wellbutrin was working after all. It wasn't until Ben and I could get a pocket of time to talk that I traced it firmly to my suffering, vacant mother. Pinpointing it, hearing from Ben that it was normal to be worried, normal to be heartsick, helped enormously. But I'm still anxious. This time about where to put the kids' newly acquired toys.

When it's December, when I'm bundled in three sweaters staring out at the rain, it's difficult to remember the pool in July, the sun on my bare legs, the kids hosting tea parties in the deep, the cascade of mommy chatter flowing over me like a river. When I had pneumonia last summer, I was, of course, dying. Likewise, when I'm depressed, there is no future, only years of darkness to endure.

There are a few tricks to stay on the raft through the rapids. Ben's presence, even if we're knee-deep in children, is comforting. To know that I have a partner in my battles, that I'm not in it alone. Exercise, be it inhaling huge gulps of cold, wet air on a run or prying my ears gently from my shoulders in yoga, or swimming lengths of the community pool, chased by phantom mothers and Mihiretus, wielding canes and matchbox cars. Writing here, taking one big step back and seeing more of the picture. Dark chocolate, preferably raw, works chemical magic. Even the sight of a stack of meaty novels on the bedside table cheers me up. And, lately, we've been downloading movies almost nightly. Last night we all watched "Big". Two nights before it was "Groundhog Day". Watching these silly old favorites, delightfully new to the kids, is soothing. I spend a couple hours in the eighties, a time when my father was alive and my mother, though often foggy with depression, at least knew I was her daughter. I sit with Lana snuggled up against me on one side and Ben on the other, Mihiretu sprawled asleep in Mae's lap. Tom Hanks dances on the giant piano keyboard at F.A.O. Schwartz, stomping out "Chopsticks" and I feel certain that we will all get downstream to where the river widens. Not today, perhaps, but soon. In the meantime, there's "Caddyshack".

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Ten years ago today, on a cold, clear morning, Ben and I were married.

We hadn't planned on having a December wedding, our original date had been for the following June, but a semi-unplanned pregnancy had, traditionalists - at least in that respect - that we were, sent us to the altar ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, I had miscarried that baby two weeks before the wedding day. Strangely, instead of being devastated, the miscarriage was freeing. I had felt co-opted, taken over as host to this foreign body, made sick and grumpy. For whatever reason, six months later, when we conceived Mae, I was fully on board and embraced every bit of the pregnancy. And of course, if we had had that baby, we wouldn't have had Mae. And what would we do without Mae?

And so, this wedding, originally planned very quickly to make room for baby, was a mash-up of fast decisions, which, in the end, was perfect. I love fast decisions. There's a lot of art, a lot of fate, in fast decisions (also, of course, a lot of grief - "I know, let's move to San Jose!").

We planned the wedding for outdoors, without any real contingencies for rain. Of course, it poured for a full week leading up to the big day. But somehow, maybe it was just the weight of my confidence, when I pulled open the blind that morning, pale winter sunlight filtered into the room.

We were married in Mill Valley, the town where we both grew up. The actual venue, the Mill Valley Outdoor Art Club, is smack in the center of town. As a teenager, I had sat in my brown and orange polyester uniform in the cashier booth of the movie theater across the street and watched brides coming and going, wondering where and when and who I would marry. Little did I know it'd be a boy I already knew, in that very garden, when I was thirty (which would have seemed outrageously old to me then).

It was a very D.I.Y. affair. Insisting on reinventing the wheel, as we've done with many wheels since, we eschewed the wedding industry and made our own invitations (our high school senior portraits side by side) and our own party favors (tiny refrigerator magnets featuring goofy photo booth specials). My dress was Ben's mothers', a polyester J.C. Penny original from 1960. Our flowers were picked up by my mother-in-law at the flower mart in San Francisco early on the wedding day and then arranged by sisters-in-law. Instead of bridesmaids and groomsmen we had a few friends and family stand during the ceremony and read poetry of their choosing. Ben's mother and my brother officiated. The ceremony itself was a piece of creative writing, a he-said she-said account of why we wanted to marry each other ("Because she's 'sacho', that rare combination of sexy and macho in the best girl way possible", "Because I remember him when he was eleven, a puppy of a boy with a bowl cut and madras shorts"). The wine was poured by more family and friends. Another friend played DJ. The wedding feast was served in the street, from the In-n-Out roach-coach. My mother, who had graciously offered to pay for the shin-dig, asked me, when she heard the lunch plans, if I wouldn't want something "nicer". I wanted exactly what we had. And we took a certain pride in bringing it all in under five thousand dollars.

The day had its hiccups. Somehow, with extra family visiting and our desire to spend the night before the wedding apart, Ben had ended up sleeping in his mother's closet. My sister insisted on sharing my dressing room, spreading her make-up across the vanity, blowing dry her hair, monologuing, compromising my vision of my last moments of maidenhood (at least maritally speaking) spent alone with Megan and Evany, women who were more my sisters than the one I whom I happened to share blood. Ben's step-mom, Eulah, God love her, managed to not only lovingly usher her dog past the "No Dogs Allowed" sign into the architectural landmark (which I'm certain she didn't see, or if she did, assumed it didn't apply to her adored Soo-Ling, who was, in her eyes, more human than dog), but to actually snuggle up with the pooch in the official wedding portrait, unbeknownst to me. That picture now hangs on our wall and, now that I love and deeply know Eulah, it makes me grin every time I gaze on her wide open smile, Soo-Ling cradled in her arms.

It also had it's magic, of course. Ben's mother's dress fit me perfectly (which seemed Freudian, but no matter). And as we were saying our vows, the sun hit the golden star atop the Catholic Church across the street, illuminating it like the North Star, which somehow felt like a visitation from my father.

We had been told that this was to be the best day of our lives. Ben and I both disagreed. We viewed the wedding, the big party where we officially became a family, as merely the beginning of the best days of our lives. And we were right. It was a lovely day, exactly the day it should have been, but every day since, even the dull ones, even the out-right bad ones - maybe especially those - have constructed this thing we call our marriage. It has ten years of texture now, this tapestry we're weaving together. I'm so interested to see the shades of color, the warp and weft, the picture emerging as the years go by.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Capron Phrase Dictionary

In our family, as in most families with young kids, not every word is English. Or any other language known outside these walls. We speak Capron.

When Mihiretu says, "Memba? Yestiday?" he means "Remember when we did this before?" Yesterday could mean two months ago or fifteen minutes.

As in "Mihiretu, when's the last time you went pee?"

"At school. Yestiday."

When Lana says "egg nah" she's talking about egg nog. As in "I love Christmas so much because we get to have egg nah!"

"Attendant" is Lana for "tenant". As in, after meeting a woman who had come to see the apartment in the lower half of our house, "I like her. Is she going to be our new attendant?" Which immediately conjures images of this rather retiring fifty-something cat-lady bringing us breakfast in bed on a tray and fanning us while we eat it.

Lana and even sometimes Mae say "aten" for "eaten". As in "I aten that broccoli before and I DIDN'T LIKE IT!" To which Mihiretu might respond, "Yestiday?" Ben then reliably trots out a modified version of my old joke - "I can't eat another bite. I'm all aten out."

"Kiffer" as reported here in past posts is Mihiretu for "Clifford". As in "Kiffer da Big Wed Dog".

"Mama, I wan dog. Like Kiffer. BIG like Kiffer. I wan dog NOW! I wan ten."

"Sorry" is "solly" in Mihiretu. Whenever he says it - and it's fairly rare, though always welcome - I imagine an elderly Russian rabbi, good old Solly, his warm, twinkly eyes peeking from under his black fur hat, ready to provide the wisdom of the ages.

When Mihiretu says "Mama ass me", he means "Mama told me". It insinuates that the other parent once said it was okay to do what he is now being forbidden to do. As in "No, Mihiretu, you can't sit on the counter." "But Daddy ass me." Or "No, Mihiretu, we are not having chocolate for breakfast." "But Mama ass me." Sometimes Mama wants to ass him, but she refrains.

Ben has his own lingo, derived from years of cycling, language that I, after ten years of marriage, I use myself. "Off the back" means not leading, falling behind - the rider that can't keep the pace and falls off the back of the peloton. It also means, more metaphorically, someone who's not leading, who's not forward thinking. I'm currently off the back on the laundry.

To "hammer", in bike terms, comes from hammering on the pedals, applying all your force and effort to go as fast as possible. You can also BE a hammer, one who is extremely competent and at the top of their field. Ben and I are hammers at remodeling stinky houses and making them cute. Sometimes I find myself using this particular term in strange contexts. Like lifting a completed halloween costume from the sewing machine at a stitch-and-bitch session with my girlfriends and saying, "I totally hammered on that zebra outfit!" Blank stares.

If you are "shelled", you've ridden so hard that you have no energy left. We're not sure of the derivation. It could be from the military - you've been shelled by bombs. Or, and this is the way I picture it, you've given all you've got to give, all that's inside, and what's left is an empty shell. At any rate, at the end of virtually every day, Ben and I are shelled.

We have our own language, our own culture, our own little microclimate. And in this terrarium, we are blooming some unusual orchids. Orchids that march out into the world requesting egg nah, saying solly when they trespass upon others, trying really hard to not fall off the back. They're hammers, all of them.