some representations of things that are more or less real

This is Ralph and I (and way in the background, the kidlets) one year ago.

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Mama
This is me looking happy. I’m happy because I was contacted to sew a few things for someone. I hope it works out. I seriously am already thinking over the projects in my mind. I also ordered fabric and I got wonderful stuff for good prices and at this moment I am happily ruminating on this soft goodness. I’m also about to go on a sunny walk with my son. This latter makes me incredibly happy.

On the walk I enjoyed hearing the very loud AC/DC blaring down the street. I was the beneficiary for several blocks. I was indeed “shook all night long”. And yet I am not sure how this rocker’s next-door neighbors felt about the music selection coupled with the volume.

We stopped at my mom’s and interrupted her work (canning peaches) for a lunch date. It was lovely talking with her and Nels was a little angel in Los Arcos, his favorite repast being the bean dip and their fresh chips. He gave her a sweet hug and a kiss when we parted ways. They love one another quite deeply.

Bike Ride
This is Phoenix looking upset because Ralph got the wrong date for her soccer practice (so we’re biking back home); this is Ralph feeling a bit bad about this but mostly wanting to help his daughter feel better. Look at their twin-frowns.

Fried Rice But Artsy
This is fried rice, tonight’s dinner. I couldn’t get a good picture. It is delicious. It is also fun because you can make up all the fresh and fabulous ingredients ahead of time and then whip the whole thing together in only twenty minutes and everyone is soooooo hungry and loves it. I’ve been listening to the family compliment the meal all night, especially Nels. I heard him speaking in wonderment at how Mama can make such good food. He and Phoenix and the neighbor boy are out in a tent in the front yard (supposedly staying all night) and he keeps running inside (impersonating a “zombie walk” of course) to grab more bites.

getting over that hump

It’s 5:12 PM and I’m irritated. I’m irritated because it’s taken us a bit longer than I’d thought to walk across the bridge. I’m irritated that despite the sign on the Public Market proclaiming hours until 6, they close down an hour earlier, and I can see the two cars pulling out and away and: I’m irritated because I was counting on some meager produce earnings from the Market to get me a bus pass because (Irritation #3) the kids and I ended up on an overly-ambitious walk (made so because of duration coupled with the amount of exercise we’d had previously this day and our lack of food and water and means to get them). Accepting our loss at least today of lettuce-money now I know that if I want to catch a bus home I have to grab the kids up and cross the street in front of blasting log trucks and wait in a chilly wind God knows how long before a bus comes along and at at that point I’ll have to beg off on 15 cents I don’t have to complete our bus fare (and the drivers around here might even say No – I’m serious). In this moment I notice the kids have found and are enjoying the very, very poor excuse for a playground that is alongside the Market and I know they won’t like abandoning the “park” for this half-assed bus plan but neither should they have to walk all the way home and you know what? It’s my decision, my responsibility, to figure out what to do.

I give into the moment and sit in the grass and let the children play. They don’t know it, but it’s a dismal day, the kind of grey soul-swallowing bleakness that gave Aberdeen such notoriety the Kurt Cobain set (many of them not raised here) often cite. Alongside the river and I’m walking and I know how to dig in my feet and survive, burrowing down into my jacket and being as patient with the kids as I can and hoping for a more promising tomorrow. After all, I have things to look forward to: friends coming over for dinner. The cough syrup nap at night (sadly, still necessary). A day closer to the weekend, where Ralph and I try to enjoy our time together.

This morning the first thing I did to try to make myself feel better than I had yesterday was bake a rhubarb cake and do the dishes. Housework is soothing; I’d enjoy it in perfect bliss if it weren’t on a Rinse-Repeat cycle many times daily (ironically: it was having children that made me overcome my dislike of housework). We did have some excitement yesterday: the first hatchlings in our incubating chicken eggs. One died (in my hands – second bird in a month?), two have survived – we now have ten living entities in this house. I know cats and rats and chickens don’t count for much by some yardsticks but feeding and cleaning up for them kind of does, especially along with my much more messy and complex (but it must be said, far more rewarding) human younglings. Our cat Harris is pleased with the chicks; he offers his nannying skills regularly although we repeatedly defer.

Tomorrow: city park free lunch program (at my son’s request), a date with Jasmine, and Try #2 for gardening proceeds.

"just like me… empty inside"

Tonight I walked the kids to my mom’s to have dinner. She was in a muddle of what her current state often is: stress / drinking to relax or relieve stress / over-giving / enjoying herself. The part that was enjoying herself was the part that invited us for dinner, made a lovely stew, and had rented some family movies. The part that was over-giving was the part that tried to make the stew “perfect” for us then (and this was the part that was stressed and used drink to manage it so inhibitions were dropped but not the underlying stress) used an angry tone on my children for preferring their cornbread and eating it first. My dad took some special medicine and seemed to be feeling better than he had over the last few days (something tipped this week and he has now become someone “dying”, no longer someone coping with illness. I’d like to feel differently on that one if I could) but this meant he retreated for our viewing of Harry Potter and I didn’t get to see him much. It was a nice dinner and I really did enormously appreciate the night out and the homecooked meal. But I can’t get away from the the strain and bad feelings that my life’s dinnerplate seems to hold when I look down at what I’m eating.

I’m getting that really paranoid, really perfectionist sense of angst. If anything goes wrong I am a wreck (internal, so as not to inconvenience anyone). Sometimes I get a vision of who I might be when age and senility set in. And it feels small, like tiny wheels turning in my head, mucked up and in semi-darkness and doubt, unsure of myself unless someone tells me they love me or not just that they love me, but they promise not to be mean to me. Today I missed two appointments I had. One I was able to recover OK; the other I just completely missed. This is rare for me. And when I screw up like that on a commitment I make to others, or something I told myself I’d do, or whatever, I really just hate myself and it eats away at me for an indeterminate amount of time.

I don’t think but two or three people close to me realize what a perfectionist I am. I laugh at the term “perfectionist” a bit because no one who knows me would think my life looked perfect. Yet that drive, that insatiable unsettledness, has a strong a grip on every aspect of my waking hours. I hold myself to ridiculous standards and then feel bad, like pit-of-the-stomach bad, when I inevitably screw up. I have to have a clean house or if I don’t, a plan to get it clean. I can’t relax until housework is taken care of; then I’d better relax correctly. I hate myself if I have something to drink, or if my husband and I aren’t getting along for the evening, or if somehow during the day I was amiss in my parenting. I have to take care of my kids properly which means clothing and grooming and brushing and flossing and if they miss a night of this I have to demand my husband help but if he doesn’t do it I feel like a failure that we don’t provide this to them. I have to meet my commitments on the three volunteer leadership positions I’m in. If I don’t meet them I feel I can’t get over it or make amends to those I might have (usually only minorly) inconvenienced. No, for me if I mess up, it means people hate me and they have a right to hate me. It takes me a lot of internal thought and sometimes discussion with a friend (Ralph, my mom, or Cyn mostly) to “talk me down” from the ledge of I-Suck.

For a half year I wouldn’t allow myself to buy the family clothes but had to scrump, sew or thrift them. This was a fun and interesting project, sure – but it also became a burden at some point. I hold myself to the standard of preparing nutritious meals without taking culinary shortcuts. I feel bad if I buy anything “extravagant” or even buy anything without having it on a list first – or else I eschew cooking altogether and go out to eat (which, for some reason, feels like a tremendous ease on my daily cooking burdens). I choose to, for God’s sake, plan, write, edit, layout, and design for a zine which I then have to publish on our shoestring budget. I have to balance my marriage such that I support my husband and manage my own needs without asking for his emotional help when I’m fragile – which I am all the time these days, whether it’s apparent to others or not.

Some reading here may think these confessions mean I’m a miserable person all the time. That is precisely the problem; I’m not miserable, I love doing so many of these things. Every effort of mine is born of love and energy. I thrive on creativity, on learning now to do things well, on pushing myself just a little bit because it seems like I can. I do sometimes congratulate myself on the fact that I can “coast” as a housemom on some days and do well at providing for my loved ones. I love every single thing I write, or sew, or every meal I cook or the way my counter looks when I wipe it down. It is precisely the dual love-hate of the work vs. the drive to do the work right, every time, that makes for tricky terrain.

Perfectionism, as far as I can tell, has no easy cure. It isn’t a matter of, “Why don’t you do less?”* That question is like asking, “Why don’t you stop having the Kelly-brain?” or, “Have you thought about leaving your tits at home before you go out in the day?” It’s a non-sequitur. It doesn’t follow. My struggle with perfectionism could probably only be helped by – no offense to any reader who thought I was more hip in some way – prayer and discourse with God. My struggle with perfectionism was manageable in PT. It has become at least trebly difficult since moving here. I have my ideas of why this would be; for now it’s enough to recognize it’s happening.

One thing, the walk with the kids over to my parents’ was nice. I’d prepared us for the cold – coats, hats, gloves and good shoes – but the rain started falling intensely and there was nothing to save us from the wet of eight blocks. How to explain a Pacific Northwest winter rain? It is not violent at all but rather like a cold spell that covers us, the air filling with rain that is safe, nourishing, life-giving. You expect rain so you don’t begrudge it except a few weak moments, here and there, in the five solidly soaking months we get per year. You get home and strip off your clothes and put some in the dryer and towel your hair (we don’t generally use umbrellas here) and fix coffee and look outside at our beautiful weather. Tonight I watch my children on the walk. Sophie walks self-protectively. She puts her hat on firmly and zips her coat and steps carefully but purposefully. Nels just barges out into the elements, sure that he will be fine. I start to know he’s cold and wet when his hand creeps into mine and he falls silent. The children act as if they were born for this weather.

* If any well-meaning friend writes or says, “You should relax your housekeeping standards,” or “Why don’t you give up such-and-such?” I will deliver a cock-punch via Airmail.

it was a brilliant, clear, and lovely day today

Today I was blessed with many things. Not just time with my most loved ones, ever – and also fresh air and exercise and good coffee. Most of all: walking home after picking up Sophie it was streaming sun and the sky was laden with puffy, white clouds accompanied by a few glowering dark ones. And predictably out of this rose a rainbow; a brilliant, vibrant presence that inspired its own shallow doppelganger just above it. I listened to my children’s delighted descriptions and a block later we were met by Harris the Fierce Not-So-Kitten; he follows us most of the way to school these days then disappears a block a or so from the final destination. Then on our return he prounces up to us out of whatever yard he took to exploring that day, running ahead and behind and inspiring liquid giggles from the kids.

It must have been a special day because only a few blocks later cross-traffic commenced with the Coleman Mortuary’s hearse (a new one, it looks like) passing by up the hill to the cemetery. A caravan of twenty more cars followed, fresh from rain and transitioning from the service to the burial. The faces in the cars, some are sad, some are happy, some preoccupied, some are tear-stained and devastated. I watched them all as we waited the cars out and I answered the questions the children asked. Harris hid in the tree behind us and then, when we crossed, darted after us on hunter’s paws to skid ahead of us into our front yard.