Friday, April 23, 2010

The Little Apartment that Could (But Can't Anymore)

Believe it or not, I get really nervous about change.

Oh, sure, I can dye my hair bright red at the drop of a hat or add $500 worth of tattoo ink to my skin, but when it’s time to dive into something that shakes up everything about the way we live, I get sentimental.

We’re moving next week. And, lordy, I am so so happy. But before this house became a nightmare, before the crazy lady upstairs and before the landlords let it slip into slum-dom, this house was something special to me at a point when I really needed.

I feel like reminisching a bit as we begin pulling pictures off the walls and taping up boxes.

Adventures on Young Drive:

A little more than three years ago this month, I was lost. I was on my own for the first time in a long, long time and I was scared. I had a crummy job that paid peanuts, but I had my son and I had my freedom. And you had a vacancy. Amazing how things work out like that.

When I shuttled the first box of dishes through thefront door, and rounded the kitchen wall, I was in awe. My very first kitchen with my very own dishes that I didn’t have to defend or “put up with.” I could put saints all over your wall just because I wanted to. There was no dishwasher, but I was happy to do our dishes by hand because they were, in fact, just ours. Me and the Boy Wonder. For the first time in a long, long time (maybe ever?) I was driving the ship and responsible for every single moving part--every bill, every dollar...everything. My responsiblity. And man, did it feel good. (Ok, so since then, I've come to realize it's not ALWAYS so fantastic to be responsible for everything, but at that point, I thought it was pretty freaking cool.)

I bought new furniture because I had none. In the divorce, I gave up everything just to keep the one thing I wanted—me. I remember the day the movers showed up five hours late with my new couches and the new bunkbed with a slide for Boy Wonder. Those guys took another three hours, at least, trying to build that stupid bed and on the first trip down the slide, Boy Wonder (he was three years old at the time) crashed when his feet got stuck on the metal, sending him flying into the wall. He called it a “bad bed!” and avoided that slide for about a month. He stayed with his father every other week for a while there, and when it was just me alone in that house, I felt at peace. I had my space. I had my freedom. And while I didn’t have my son for 7 days at a time, I knew he’d be back soon enough.

For the first year and a half, I didn’t own much by way of a cable or entertainment. I had an old-fashioned TV that had a VCR deck in it, and when I moved in, the previous tenant had somehow left two VHS tapes behind—“Phenomena” and “The Sound of Music.” At that time, I’d just found out about my brain aneurysm a few weeks before, so I had absolutely NO desire to watch “Phenomena,” despite how great of a movie it was.

So each night I’d lie on the world’s most uncomfortable futon (Boy Wonder got the new bed, not me), with boxes upon boxes of unpacked knickknacks, and eat dinner with Julie Andrews. Every night. For weeks at a time. I’d never seen the movie before and now it’s one of my favorites. For a while there, I felt just how Frauline Maria felt—in between two worlds, trying to find her place.
My landlords were my close friends. I was extremely close with the other residents and getting out and exploring the wild Eagle River nightlife (I’m kidding here), helped move me forward at a time when I just wanted to hide away for a few months’ longer.

Times changed. They always do and they always should. Neighbors moved on. The landlords sold the place off.

At the same time, P (and eventually Boo) filled that void that missing in our lives. And this perfect-fitting, insulating home that I’d loved now was overcrowded and costing us both a lot of money with the long commute. We had more laundry than we could keep up with and always running out of quarters. We inherited a neighbor who makes us crazy. Dogs that charged us whenever we stepped outside.

Our lives are moving in a direction where we need to be closer to Anchorage. Our friends are there. Our jobs our there. Education is there. Life is there.

We’d lost hope for finding a decent, safe place that we could make a home in the city until some good friends of ours came to our rescue. Funny how that happens, isn’t it? In 2007, I was just about out of hope that I’d ever find a place for Boy Wonder and myself that I could afford that would make us happy when the housing fairy waved her magic wand at us. Happened again in 2010. A beautiful place with three bedrooms, a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher. A place to start up new and make a home.

I couldn’t be happier, and in a way, I owe a big part of it to that little apartment on Young Drive that gave me that second chance to start over.

Farewell, little abode… and hello, Anchorage!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Balance and organization: And other lies we once believed

You know what?

Parenthood is tough.

You know what else?

Anyone who attempts it in addition to any other sort of activity is crazy with a capital CR. Just sayin'.

I’ve been chasing this dream of the perfect, balanced life for years since Boy Wonder was born. It was tough enough when it was just him and I, but add in the missing, crucial elements of P and Boo to our life? A couple careers and a full-time education? Kindergarten? Enriching activities? The desire to do some enriching activities of our own?

Ohmigod, I think P and I are headed for a loony bin.

Lemme add some horror to this fantasy fiction: we don’t own a dishwasher. Or a washer/dryer. We fight the beast of chaos four quarters at a time and with stank-ass drying towels taking up our counters at all times.

But fear not. Our lives are not in peril and I’ve yet to have the school call to complain that Boy Wonder smelled funny.

Along the way, I think we’ve developed a method to make the best of what we’ve got—and I’m pretty sure we’ve given up perfection. I think I tossed that out with some dirty diapers about ten months ago.

1. We embrace the beast. Her name is Gigantor and she consists of mismatched socks, stained bibs, mama’s work pants, and P’s jiu-jitsu shirts. Some days we can beat Gigantor into submission, only to find her cousin, Huge-appatamus (consisting of stacks of folded clean clothes) waiting for us on our bed at 10 p.m., just as we’re trying to pass out. Huge-appatamus gets moved to the floor (temporarily, of course!) and within a day, dirty underwear gets mixed in and we can’t tell what’s clean and it all gets transferred to the dirty stack, where Gigantor is waiting with open dirty-towel arms. We know the cruel cycle and we embrace it now.

2. Our baby looks like a million bucks when he leaves the house. His older brother will look straight GQ. There’s a good chance, however, that their parents might look like vagrants. Boo will have matching socks, a coordinated hoodie to match his Polo jeans, and gel in his hair. His nose will be wiped and there will be no remnants of lunch left on his face. Dominic will have on a Hurley shirt and brand new Nikes. He’ll even get a spritz of Guess cologne and a stick of mint gum to make sure he’s “so fresh and so clean, clean.” P, however, will still be wearing yesterday’s sweat pants. His new, clean shirt will have a piece of peanut butter bagel stuck to it from Boo’s breakfast. I will have crusties in my eyes and last night’s make up on. I will wipe the bottom of the mascara from beneath my eye and hope it passes for smudged, smoky eyeliner. It usually won’t.

3. If we are busy, or if we just don’t feel like it, we will ignore the dishes until there are no spoons left. Then we will panic and steal one of the baby’s safety spoons to eat our ice cream with until one of us caves and tackles the dishes with a nasty scowl on our face.

4. We will have a long list of things we want done each day, only to pass out, face down, on this list and drool on it. Sorry, list. You were conceived with the best of intentions, but you’ll likely get tossed in the over-full trashcan. Right next to the electric bill we didn’t notice. It’ll be ok. The disconnect notice usually gives you a 24-hour grace period, right?

5. When we are going somewhere fun, the last five minutes before we leave will probably be panic-filled and one parent will likely not be speaking to the other one. The conversation will go down something like this: He: “Did you pack the diaper bag?” She: “Exactly when was I supposed to do that? I was getting them dressed. Did you pack the diaper bag?” He: “Yeah, right in between feeding the dog, putting the dishes away, and finding the lost blanket.” She: “Yeah, well I was busy finding the left shoe and pulling the baby’s hands out of the toilet again because SOMEBODY left the damn door open…” Silence ensues for the first six miles down the road. Luckily, all is soon forgotten once Boo overturns his bag of cheerios on the floor of Mommy’s beloved truck. Scraping up crushed cereal products together has a real bonding effect on a married couple. True story.

6. We forgo fighting for sleep. Truly. I’m sure there are times P would like to get to the bottom of why I can never screw caps back on the milk or OJ. I’d love to know why he can’t toss his clothes into the dirty clothes right before he gets into bed. But you know what? We haven’t had eight straight hours of sleep in 14 months and we’re not gonna jeopardize the precious few minutes we do get sorting out the gory details.

7. We acknowledge the fact that sometimes our kids don't get the memo. There are days when P needs to study. I work on deadlines. And sometimes, more often that we'd like, our kids just don't give a damn. There are owwies to kiss and Wii games to load and babies to squish. Our priorties don't always match up and P and I have learned to sometimes throw in the towel for a minute or two. We can blame them later in life for our unrealized dreams if we need to. :)

7. Bottom line: “good enough” really is good enough at this point. Despite the fact that I’d like to take a lit match to our unorganized house much of the time, we manage to keep our priorities straight enough on a daily basis not to waste our blessings. At the end of the day, we know our kids won’t be young for very long, so we tiptoe around the roadside Lego bombs, we use broken laundry baskets as impromptu baby gates, we leave peanut butter and jelly smears on the counter for a couple hours, and we get down on the floor and we play with our kids. We drive them 45 miles for a swim lesson. We pack too many toys in their diaper bags and bring the damn Nintendo DS with us wherever we go, despite how loud Boy Wonder likes to play it. We swallow our pride and ask the boss for the morning off to go see “Stone Soup” with the kindergarten class. We’re mildly surprised when we get it with a blessing to boot.

We think the universe conspires, once in a while, to remind us how great everything really is.

Life is good, my friends, life is good.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Searching for it

You know the feeling.

In tennis, it's the perfect spot on the racket where the return just about sings and the ball goes right where it's supposed to. In boxing, it's the "off" button you nick on your opponents jawline with just enough pressure to turn the lights out.

In jiu-jitsu, well, according to Patrick, it's the part of your game where you don't have to think...the groove you find where your body just "knows" what the opponent is planning...and you just do. (I, personally, have never experienced that in jiu-jitsu...I manage to know just about everything they don't do. But that's another story.)

It's the sweet spot. And in sports, it's easy to pinpoint.

In life, however, the sweet spot is tougher to define. It's a moving target where none of the pieces are ever aligned at the same time.

I've been absent from the blog (and much of life) for just about five or six weeks now, and while I couldn't really come up with a good excuse, just know that I was out there seeking something.

This time of year is tough on me. It's dirty outside constantly--the snow melt and the dirt mixed together makes for a dull, gray looking city that isn't pretty to travel through. We live in a hovel with a psycho upstairs. The bus was wearing thin. The people on the bus were wearing thin. There were collections and medical bills haunting me. It was a job that hated me as much as I hated it. It was the extra ten pounds I had left that weren't going anywhere. It was a laundry pile that never seemed to shrink and dishes that never seemed clean. There was a serious case of writer's block. Did I mention the two rejections I got in the mail from Harlequin on the same day? (Yeah, thanks for that one!) Lots of thought about giving up the whole "dreams" thing and just being a pencil pusher the rest of my life. Life was bland. It had no taste. It had no color. It was March and I had no idea what would drive me through to the happier season in Alaska. I felt empty, with no direction.

Then I thought about life's sweet spot and how it's never really that far away if you think about it.

Life's sweet spot is when there's more paycheck than bills at the end of the month, it's gas in your tank and enough money in the bank when that tank goes low, it's a week straight of babies sleeping through the night, it's getting to bed on time, taking your vitamins, and knocking out two chapters in two days on your story. It's no collection letters in your mailbox. No meetings ALL WEEK at work. It's clothes without wrinkles. Mornings you manage to do your hair AND your makeup BEFORE you leave the house. It's waking up on time. Eating breakfast. Taking time for that cup of Darjeeling at 3 p.m. each day.

The sweet spot is taking your sons to swim lessons and getting in the pool with them--the tiny little scratches you get all over your arms from their sheer panic and joy at being in the water. It's packing a kindergarten lunch each morning. It's your husband's coffee mug on the kitchen table next to yours. It's a baby who smiles despite the pain of molars breaking through the sensitive skin in his mouth. It's a boy who wants to tame dragons and who tapes paper monsters all over your doors just so he can fight them with his paper towel roll sword. It's the phone call from your mother at the exact moment you need to talk. Or the text message from your dad telling you he's proud of you--for no reason at all.

It's big things. It's little things. It's everything. It's amazing how off track I managed to get myself...and how lucky I am that I can pull myself back together again.

Just about a week ago, ourGracie Barra family suffered a pretty tough loss when one of our own took his own life. It'd been a few years since he and I'd last hung out, but for a time there, we had a lot in common and got to be good friends. Our sons are the same age, and if there is one thing I'll remember about him, it's how much he loved his child and how hard he worked to make a better life for them both.

Nobody knows what happened to cause him to feel that this was his only option, and I'm certain there's plenty of us who will wonder how much more we might have done. I've been thinking about this friend since I got the news and I wonder how badly he must have been hurting behind those bright smiles and hearty hugs he always offered us so readily.

If anything can come out of this loss, I hope maybe it's that we learn to look around at the people we love, the ones who matter to us, and to remind them that maybe their own "sweet spot" isn't as far off as they might think.

Maybe all we need to do is remind each other once in a while that life is beautiful, even when it isn't, and if the road is tough, we're here to help. Maybe we need to remind each other that life is what it is because of who's in it--not what's in it.

I've spent a long time searching for the sweet spot, and I know that I'll never be done--but for the time being, it feels good to be back.

Happy Easter, everyone...