Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Gratitudes + Beatitudes: Odd Things I’m Grateful For

So, I guess Jupiter entered my astrological sign this fall. Astrologically, Jupiter is the planet of expansion, philosophy, higher learning and just that exciting energy of absorbing and growing and learning. And boy did I get all Jupiteresque in my life this fall: I decided to take a novel-writing course, ramp up my riding lessons, join a Monday-night bowling league…and now I decided at the last minute to do Nanowrimo! Where did I get my crazy pills and why did I take them all at once?

It’s all tremendously fun, but the Nanowrimo-ing is definitely eating into my blogging time. So, in honor of November, I decided I would “focus” and do a series on gratitude, in honor of my favorite holiday feast of the year. People on my Facebook are giving thanks every day leading up to Thanksgiving, and while that’s all cool and I like reading them, I can’t really deal with Facebook so I’m doing it here. Some will be expected in their earnestness, and hopefully other gratitudes will be eccentric and unexpected. Anyway, onward and upward…six things I’m grateful for, one for each day of the month so far.


A car is a strange thing for me to be grateful, because I’m really all for public transportation and have been for much of my life. I didn’t even have a car until this past year. But now I am thankful for my wonky little white Grand Am, not just what utility it provides in my life, but because it’s my favorite place to hear music, and it’s kind of become my other room where I can store my riding things, gym bag, old clothes and weird things that don’t fit in my apartment. But more importantly, my car was given to me by one of my sisters, so every time I drive it, I try to remember that it’s also a symbol of my family’s generosity with one another, which is always a good thing to remember and be thankful for.


The other day in the mail I got a check, a letter, a free book via Paperback Swap, a magazine and a postcard. I felt very much like “Score!”, which is always a good feeling to have in your everyday life, and one that I think we’ve lost over the years, now that everything is electronic. If you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that mail service even exists in the first place, bringing you objects from all over the world right to your doorstep. So, mail service, thank you for making it like not-Christmas-but-kind-of-Christmas every now and then, and for being the conduit for many odd, sometimes marvelous things, including weird coupons, trashy catalogs and misdirected mail that makes me indulge in odd speculation over the hobbies of my neighbors.


It’s fun being the crazy auntie because your nephews and nieces aren’t scared to ask you the questions they’re dying to ask but other adults around them avoid. Questions like: “When you die, are we still related?” or “Does God watch me when I’m pooping?” or “Why are people scared of boobies?” I’m thankful for the opportunity to drop some serous concepts on them, like reincarnation, the panopticon and patriarchy, well before they’re old enough to really get them. It also allows me to indulge in my odd fantasy of writing children’s books on feminism and post-structuralism, with titles like “Don’t Be Scared, They’re Just Boobs.” Mostly I just give them straightforward answers to their queries, and then I get into trouble later. But that’s kind of fun as well, because then I get to explain the ideas of panopticon and patriarchy to their parents!


Oh my god, can you imagine trying to blog BY HAND? Or freaking typing out a novel on a typewriter? Or doing Nanowrimo with just a pen and a spiral notebook? Imagine how long it would take to validate your word count! Seriously, though, every time I want to throw my computer out the window because it’s pissing me off, I try to remember just how much in my life computers have possible: art, friendship, communication, jobs, kitten videos. I’m still pissed off, but it keeps me from inflicting extraordinary levels of violence upon inanimate objects.


I remember my first memory of a hot tub. It was the 1980s, and I was over at my friend Becky’s house. Becky lived with her divorced father without any brothers and sisters, which I always found a rather mystical, interesting, almost glamorous situation. Becky’s dad had a Tom Selleck-like mustache, and he was fond of popping the collars on his polo shirts, which I also found really strange yet fascinating. (Wow, I was easily intrigued as a 7-year-old, wasn’t I? I must’ve been more sheltered than I thought.)

Becky’s dad installed a hot tub in their basement, and I remember we went down to look at it once. It was surrounded by empty bottles of wine coolers, and a bikini top was strewn off to the side. Becky held it up and we went “Ewwwwwwww!!!!” and ran upstairs and threw it in the garbage. I mean, we didn’t know what happened down there in the hot tub, but WE KNEW. I could never really look at Becky’s dad straight in the eye after that, and hot tubs became associated with divorced-dad-having-a-midlife-crisis sex in my mind for a long time. Which is kind of ewww-inducing, and ever since, it’s been like, “You’re a divorced dad? My ovaries just shriveled up!”

Luckily I got over that. Now I’m grateful for hot tubs, especially the ones at my gym, because they’re nice stopgaps in between massages, and I swear I’d have shoulder and neck problems if it wasn’t for hot water jets’ relaxation powers. But God help me if I ever go on a date with a divorced dad who tries to wrangle my bikini top off while plying me with Bartles & Jaymes.


Okay, parents are not such an odd thing to be grateful for. I mean, how can we not be thankful for the people who give you life? My parents raised me, made sure I didn’t die from stupidity and somehow love me in ways both perfect and imperfect everyday, even when I am a knucklehead. They also let me use their laundry machines, feed me copious amounts of food when I come over, take my car to get its oil changed because I’m scared of talking to mechanics, give me bowling tips from their heyday as champions of the sport in the 70s, hug me when I am sad, re-pot my plants and guilt me into various things that I know I should do but avoid. In all my teenage arrogance, they once seemed to me to be really boring, but now I realize they are the humblest, wisest, gentlest people I know, with extraordinary compassion and acceptance. What would I do without my mom and dad? A lot, probably, but only about 40 percent of it would be anything good.

What We Learn When We Learn About Love

Every Tuesday, I meet my sister and her kids for a quick supper right at 6:15pm. She’s usually between dance and tae kwon do classes for the kiddos; I’m on my way to the gym. It’s a nice way to see my family and catch up quickly, and chat with my sister. Last week I was telling her about celebrating my sweetheart’s birthday with dinner with his parents over the weekend. My five-year-old nephew was listening in on the conversation, and he cocked his head when he heard this and said, “Wow, you must really love him!” his eyes all huge and amazed.

I laughed, of course, because it was a funny thing to say, like Oh my god, such a hard thing to do for someone, having dinner with their parents! (It’s not, really: I like my sweetheart’s parents a lot.) But it was also startling, because I realized that my nieces and nephews are watching my grown-up life in their way, observing and learning and maybe even taking notes for when they’re older. I’m of course deeply interested in my own experience of my relationship, as well as my sweetheart’s experience of it — that we’re both happy and content and growing together. But I had never really considered before what my niece and nephews are picking up from me. It’s a strange shift in perspective to consider, to look at my love life through the eyes of my favorite little monsters. (more…)

On Adult Swim

When I was a kid, we used to go to the community pool a lot. The pool was like my source of summer teenageriness, before I was a teenager. I had a crush on a lifeguard who looked a bit like Lorenzo Lamas on “Falcon Crest,” and I swear to God, he was dating this beautiful blond lifeguard who was like the epitome of who I really wished I could turn into as a 10-year-old. She had pretty highlights and tan skin and a sexy-pouty face. I spent hours at this pool, trying to figure out the relationships between all the lifeguards, doing handstands in the water, diving off from the highboard in the deep end, waiting for Madonna songs to come on the radio.

One thing I never quite understood during my childhood pool days was adult swim, when they kick all the kids out of the pool and the adults get to go in without getting their heads bashed in by children or something. I used to sit on the edge of the pool and just wait for adult swim to be over. I was like, “These adults! They’re not doing anything! They’re just wading around, floating on their backs! They’re so boring!” Because, you know, that’s how grown-ups look to you when you’re 10, 11 years old. You just have no idea why adults are such freaking marshmallows, you know? Do something!

And then a few days ago, I was at the pool. It was a scorching hot day, so hot that the heat makes the scent of you waft up in the air, even if you’re not sweating. I was dying to get into the pool, but the place was filled up with under-parented kids and I didn’t want to deal with the semi-combat zone it turned into. There was a terrible cover band butchering Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” and my Coke was warm and not so fun to drink.

And then someone made the announcement over the PA: adult swim for 15 minutes. All the kids grumbled and clambered slowly out of the pool, one particularly passionate toddler throwing himself face down in the shallowest part, refusing to go. But I saw my chance! I became an adult. I went into the pool, and I paddled around for a few minutes, getting used to the temperature, enjoying the cool water. And then I lay on my back and floated for a moment, staring up at the few clouds in the sky, enjoyed how the sounds of the world became echo-filled and hollowed-out underneath the water. I’d been feeling tumultuous all weekend, but for a few beautiful minutes, I felt peaceful, and the peace gave me the space to think my thoughts and feel my feelings without that cramp of anxiety that sometimes accompanies them. I think in that moment I became that equivalent of a grown-up marshmallow that my 10-year-old self would’ve judged so blindly. And I didn’t mind at all. It felt good.

This Streetlight Was the Bane of My Childhood Existence


I think it was my dad, actually, who started the idea of making us come inside when the streetlights in the neighborhood came on at dusk. To my shame, he started it and it caught on with all the other parents in the neighborhood as a signal kids to stop playing and come home. There was one particular light — this one — situated where the two main streets in my childhood neighborhood crossed. It was dead center of our known universe, and you could see it almost anywhere you played outside, even when you went down “the hill,” as it was known in among us kids.

“The hill” was where the scrappier kids all lived. It was where this girl Amy’s older sister had shoplifted a box of condoms from the gas station from down the road and we dared each other to unwrap one. It was where this boy Robert threatened to beat up my youngest sister, and the “uphill” kids all marched down and threatened to beat him up if he did. (No “downhill” kid was ever going to mess with us “uphill” ones without paying the price.) At the bottom of the hill was a big field to the next neighborhood, and there were rumors of dead cats littering it. We didn’t go in there. We stayed in the neighborhood for the most part, content with internecine in-fighting, temporary but intense alliances based on video game enthusiasms and pool availability, and epic games of hide-and-seek. But everyone and everything had to stop when the hated streetlight went on.

One day this kid Zach decided to take out the streetlight once and for all. He was a tall, rangy, perpetually dirty kid who had the distinction of being one of the few in our neighborhood who actually went to camp. At camp, Zach had taken up archery and brought the enthusiasm back with him. After he got back for camp he very showily set up a target in his backyard and would work very hard on his archery skills. I remember spending an afternoon admiring the way he squinted as he aimed. Even to this day, I admire a good squint in a man.

Word spread quickly that Zach was going to get rid of the streetlight. All day, everyone chattered and whispered about it: “Zach’s gonna take out the light!” “Zach will shoot that light down forever!” “That light’s gonna die!” Clots of kids started gathering, running up and down the hill, collecting everyone. It took all day and into evening for word to spread and everyone to come together.

Finally we all gathered at the light, staring up at it. It looked down at us almost benevolently as we clustered at its base. Almost all of us were there, waiting. To kill time, I sat on my porch eating a popsicle, enjoying my privileged position unabashedly, since I lived right across the street from the wretched, hated light. But one person was missing: Zach. I ate all the green popsicles as we waited, because oddly, no one knew what time Zach was going to show. We were getting worried; it was going to get dark soon, and where was Zach?

Finally he showed, marching up the hill, a stern look on his young face, his bow and arrows in hand, wearing shorts and flip flops and a big giant HOBY t-shirt. I think we all cheered. It was tremendously exciting. Zach was going to take out our nemesis! With a bow and arrow! How cool was that? It was the first time I ever realized what it meant to be bad-ass. Bad-ass was a bow-and-arrow and a surf t-shirt. Bad-ass was Zach.

Zach got right down to it, in the matter-of-fact way that kids have. He had nine arrows. He stretched his bow, aimed up at the light, squinting in that way I thought was so cute, his mouth scrunched up like he had sucked on a lemon. “Go, Zach!” we all cheered. Then he shot the first arrow: it missed. Second arrow: missed again. Third arrow: missed again. Fourth arrow: missed again. We murmured among ourselves. It was getting dark; we were getting worried. And perhaps a little bored, to tell the truth. The fireflies were all coming out, their little green butt-lights dotting the air around us. My little sisters wanted to catch some for our jar before we had to go in.

Zach took a deep breath, shook out his hand and shrugged his shoulder. “It doesn’t work the same way when you aim up,” he said. But he drew another arrow from his quiver, drew his bow and released the arrow up. Missed again! Arrow six: missed again. We all groaned. We could tell Zach was frustrated, too. “You can do it, Zach!” we all said, trying to encourage him. We even patted him on the back, lending him moral support.

The light just loomed over us, taking it.

I could see that Zach was determined with he picked up his third-to-last arrow. He took a long time aiming, and then released the arrow into the air. It soared…and just nicked the light. We cheered: finally, some progress! Lucky number seven! “Again, again, again!” we chanted, jumping up and down. Little Nicky Hamm peed her pants; she did that when she got hyper about things.

Zach shot another arrow up: it hit the light again, a bit more forcefully this time, bouncing off the glass and knocking back to the ground. We cheered, completely positive that the next arrow — the last arrow — was going to destroy the neighborhood foe.

Zach drew back the bow with his last arrow, squinting even harder in the growing darkness. We had so little time left, and just one arrow. Would we be able to do it? Would we finally defeat the streetlight and its smug glow?

Zach let the arrow fly. It flew up in the air, soaring, hitting the light square in its middle. We could hear it hit the glass, and bounce right off. I remember we all looked up at it, as if we expected it to fall over or something.

It stood there, impassive, silent. And then…it flickered on.

“Noooooooooooo!” we all screamed. Collective agony! Amy from down the hill even screamed, “I hate you!” at it. And poor Zach, he looked so shocked. He threw down the bow and said a bad word.

Deflated and defeated, we all walked away, going back home, grumbling about the whole thing, feeling vaguely ripped off. Zach disappeared down the hill, hanging his head in shame. I crossed the street with my sisters and we filed inside our house, all of us oddly quiet.

My mom was watching TV. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I grumbled. “Nothing at all!”