Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Worst parenting moments #1: Rise and Shine!

Enough with all the seriousness and election fever! Here, for your amusement (at my expense, of course), is the first in what I know will be an ongoing (and on and on and on) series of my worst parenting moments.

First let me say that we don't drink much here at casa d'elizabeth. We both have serious alcoholics in our families, and by serious I mean falling-down, black-out, puke-on-yourself everyday alcoholics, not those fun lost-weekend party ones. The husband doesn't drink at all because of his blood condition. I have the occasional social or stress-induced drink. So last night I was exhausted and frazzled and, since we didn't have anything else to drink, I made myself a gin and tonic with some old, flat tonic I'd scrounged from way back in the fridge. Being utterly fizzless and limeless, it wasn't the best G & T I'd ever had, so I sipped at it without much enthusiasm. By the end of the evening, I'd only drunk half of it. Before I went to bed, I cleared my dishes, putting them by the sink as usual.

So this morning, I came downstairs to find my autistic daughter sitting at the breakfast table with my melted gin and tonic in her hand. To her it must have looked just like a glass of water set out just for her convenience. I snatched it away and dumped it in the sink. It looked as if she'd only had a sip or two, just enough to give her a really nice mellow feeling before going off to school.

What can I say? My great granddaddy was a moonshiner (and a revenuer, but that's another story). You might be a redneck if ... your kids start their day with a slug of gin. These are the moments - once they're skated past safely - that make me proud.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lucky me

The Hug ..., originally uploaded by l'enfer.

A friend I hadn't seen in a long time was telling me, today, about her family troubles. Her three sons are all in various stages of drug addiction or recovery from it. One of her sons is in jail. All three of them are bipolar. I felt so, so sorry for her and was trying my best just to listen and be supportive of her. And then she said, "But it's not as hard as what you've had to go through." It took me a minute to realize she was talking about my middle daughter, who is autistic. People have said things like this to me before. What they mean is, 'Whatever trouble I'm having with my kid, even if it's addiction, jail, mental illness, there's still the possibility of hope for my kid. But your daughter is really, really autistic and there's no hope for her.' And I even get it.

Now, of course, that's not how I think about my life. I think of myself as the mother of four kids: my twins, adopted from Vietnam when they were babies, who are straight-A students and incredibly talented artists; my nine-year old who came downstairs the other day and said, "Mommy, I've been reading Shakespeare!" And she had; and my middle girl who is autistic, yes, but who is also funny and loving and silly. And I think of myself as a person who somehow chose both wisely and well in love; I'm married to a man who has been, for twenty-four years, my best friend and intellectual partner.

Which is why there's always a moment of disconnect for me when people tell me that they know their problems don't amount to much compared to mine. But when I do figure out what they mean, I don't mind it. In fact, I'm happy to be a yardstick by which they measure their life and find it, surprisingly, better than they thought. There's a scene in one of my favorite movies of all time "Truly, Madly, Deeply," in which Alan Rickman talks about a little girl who has died. He says:
"There's a little girl .... She was knocked over and she died. Her parents, and family, and friends from kindergarten... She used to go to this playground. See, they made an area in the park. Gave 'em money for swings, and little wooden animals, and there are these plaques on the sides of the swing, bottom of the horse: 'From Alice's mom and dad. In Memory of Alice, who used to play here'... And when you see the parents take their child from the swing, and see the sign... They hold on to their son and daughter, so tightly, clinging on for dear life."

Everyone I know has some deep heartache, some hard rows to hoe. We all need those signs, to remind us to cling tightly to what is good in our lives. So if my friend was thinking, today, 'Maybe my kids are addicted, bipolar, in jail. But at least I can hope that they'll go to rehab and someday live clean, normal, independent lives,' then I've been able to give her some real comfort by reminding her what she does have. And she's done the same for me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shakespearean Tragedy unfolding. Story at eleven.

"I had rather be any kind o'thing than a fool,
yet I would not be thee, nuncle;
I am a fool, thou art nothing." (I. iv.)

When I was in middle school, my mother was a high school English teacher. Each year she took her classes to a play and took me - the only one of her children receptive to her culture-vulture tastes - along with them. The year I was eleven, the play was King Lear and I went to see it seven times. I remember watching it each time with queasy fascination as, over the course of the play, the old king dismantled and destroyed his life. It's the same way I feel now when I watch John McCain on TV.

When John McCain ran for president in 2000 I actually liked him. It's hard to believe now, but those were the days before the straight-talk express had veered off the road entirely. Even though I disagreed with a lot of his policies, he seemed candid and (for a politician) reasonable. So to see him now, using not only the same hateful techniques that were once used against him, but also hiring the very people who whispered and lied about him then, is both repellant and pitiful.

Lear is manipulated by his own vanity and desires into rejecting those around him who speak the truth (think Colin Powell), while those around him who want power betray each other and him and leave him to wander alone in the wastes (think of poor McCain wandering on that stage in the second debate). In the end, all Lear's children are dead and he has lost everything.

I won't belabor the similarities, but if all goes as I hope it will on election day, a once good (enough) man will have betrayed his own principles, his own experience, his own reputation, to no end but his own destruction. It's foolish of me to hope that he will realize his folly before it's completely over. But I do. And he won't.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Equal opportunity silliness. Yay!

This image of all four candidates as Warhol Marilyns just made me smile. And in this toxic political climate don't we all need that? I think Joe Biden might be my favorite.

(Go see more of The Wooster Collective's wonderful images of street art!)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Still Waiting

To cheer myself up, while I wait to hear from the publishing company (they've been sitting on my novel for seven @#$%ing months! A month ago they told me they'd let me know in a couple of weeks....), I've been reading rejection letters that were sent to famous writers. Here are a few of my favs.

Received by:
Emily Dickinson for a poetry collection - "Queer - the rhymes were all wrong."

Collette for "Claudine in School" - "I wouldn't be able to sell 10 copies."

Marcel Proust for "Swan's Way" - "My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep."

Tony Hillerman for "The Blessing Way" - "If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff."

Dr. Seuss for "To think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street" - "Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling."

"The Diary of Ann Frank" - "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift it above the "curiosity" level."

and finally the best/worst rejection ever (though not for a writer I care deeply about)
Harry Crews for a short story collection - "Burn it, son, burn it. Fire is a great refiner."

Anyway, it's good at least to know that, if it doesn't get accepted, I'll be in not only good company, but the best company. But it does wear a girl down.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The silent treatment

My youngest daughter - that source of endless chatter, amusement, and sometimes a very unmotherly and unspoken wish that she would just BE QUIET FOR ONE @#$%iING MINUTE! - has been home sick this week. And in a neat little twist of fate, the illness she has is a persistent cough which is made much much worse by talking. I have to say, this has been the most amusing child illness ever, and the inconvenience of being stuck at home with a sick child has been far outweighed by the evil fun I've been getting out of it. Watching her try to shut up has been like watching Lucy Ricardo try to keep up at the candy factory. The little one has been dutifully lying on the sofa, reading books, watching TV, and squirming with increasing frustration as every passing minute of enforced silence ticks by, till finally a torrent of words pours out, followed by a hacking cough. I remind her, with the utter disinterested sweetness of a saint, that she needs to be quiet. And the show begins all over again.

I'm know. I'm bad. But, really, it's these small joys that make motherhood so fulfilling.