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Archive for the ‘I’m not supposed to blog about my family’ Category

SIXTEEN persons, SIX (J, J, L, C, E, S) of them under seven, five of those six mobile, under one roof.  I somehow find myself simultaneously glad for just my one and longing for many more.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(apologies to the fam for getting the count wrong)

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that I’m here:

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Sam with Weeble Tree in the old house

Old normal.

In our little family today, all five of us are doing what we were made to do: I am dissertating, Attic Man is lawyering, the Snapper is at day care playing with other kids (which he loves; we have a tantrum for every leave-taking), and the dogs are sacked out in the living room after having had two good walks this morning. We are all doing so well. I am amazed that we are this OK mere weeks after being suddenly uprooted and losing almost everything we owned.

Then from extended-family land, we have a new niece this morning! She is the first granddaughter on Attic Man’s side, following five grandsons. I’d better set immediately about sending girl clothes. She has three older brothers.

And now, as a testament to the goodness of people, is the incredible (and still-growing) list of things people have done for us in response to the flood. I KNOW that we would not being doing this well were it not for the kindness of lots of people, from long-standing friends and family and strangers alike.

-Everyone who bought something from the registry. Having baking supplies in the cabinet makes it feel like home here, as is being able to take a shower behind a curtain and eat off of real dishes. Our house is coming together so quickly because of the kindness of these friends. We are giving the UPS man a real workout.

-Meg, who bought two of the most important books on the Amazon registry, the Yeats Reader and Modern Irish Drama. Meg is a dramaturgist I met while studying for a semester in Ireland as an undergrad. I carried Modern Irish Drama home with me from that semester, and while I can’t replace that exact copy, it made me cry to receive it.

-The vets at Park Towne Animal Hospital in Cedar Rapids, who conferred at their board meeting and gave us free boarding not only for the extra week the dogs stayed after the flood but the week before when we were just traveling. It was a gift worth several hundred dollars and enabled us to pay for gas to and from Madison, where they stayed for another week and a half, as well as new leashes, collars, crates, and a dog food container, all things lost in the flood. I know that vets do not make a lot of money so this was an especially generous gift.

-Speaking of money, all the family members who sent checks. We keep needing these dumb little things that one seems always just to already have around until one’s entire home gets buried in toxic sludge, like bath mats, baskets, shower curtain rings, etc. It has also helped with our more major refurnishing efforts.

-Our new landlords, who showed me the place on a Thursday, and when I returned with Attic Man on Friday, had the lease and keys on the counter. We moved in the following night. What we now understand about the housing shortage around here and rapidly rising rents (as well as the arrival of FEMA temp housing) makes us wipe our brows in relief. They really helped us dodge a bullet.

-Local friends who gave us their spare mattress and box spring and a dresser. I am not that keen on used mattresses from strangers, as crunchy as I am, and a new one would have broken the bank. It is nice to have something to sleep on. The man of the couple also helped us clean out our stuff and breathed in toxic fumes to do it.

-Our old landlord’s maintenance man, who was sent to the old house when the flood started to put in a back-up sump pump, but who stayed to help Attic Man move stuff to higher ground. When it became clear that the flood waters were going to crest at record levels, this man took the cedar chest that Attic Man’s grandfather made that was full of wedding stuff and other memorabilia, loaded it into his truck, and kept it at his own dry house.

-The Snapper’s teacher, who watched him all day the day we emptied out the upstairs and would not take a check from me for it.

-The cop who pulled me over for not having a license plate on the front (you have to do that in IA, and I was one day past due for putting mine on) and let me go to fix it. I am not proud of using the flood card but in this case it was the actual reason I hadn’t done it. I got it put on that same day.

-My brother and his wife, who let me stay an extra day at their house when the flooding started and offered to house us longer should we have needed it, and who fed, walked, and put up with our dogs for over a week.

-My sister-in-law and husband, who offered the use of their house in Michigan while they traveled elsewhere. We did not end up staying but it bolstered us to get the offer.

-My sister, who asked me what my favorite spices were and sent every single one by mail as well as brown basmati rice, baking powder, and baking soda.

-The amazing Catholic volunteers who, when Attic Man was in Davenport interning away and I just couldn’t step into that house again, cleared out all of our damaged things. It took them five hours. I baked strawberry-banana bread, which seemed like a weak gesture indeed in light of the work they did. I was glad not to have had to pick up muddy items like the Snapper’s crib mobile or that dress I loved or the books I’ve spent a lifetime collecting.

Everyone who sent words of encouragement and support. It helps more than anyone realizes.

Flooded Weeble Tree

The Snapper’s favorite toy. Within two weeks Attic Man had a replacement found on a used toy website sent to the apartment.

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I only blog when I’m busy because that’s when everything is popping and flowing all at once.  Right now I’m writing an abstract, shopping for Christmas presents online (thank you Cloudscome for the great links on responsible shopping!), reading email, and listening for danger noises from the next room.  ADHD is funny because sometimes lots of things at once are overwhelming and sometimes I need to have five things going at once to get that energy.  Everybody’s tipping point is different and mine is different every day.  I prefer this craziness to the scatteredness that I’m often plagued with.

Being alone last week was really good for me.  I was dreading it for the weeks leading up to the boys’ departure, so much so that I almost felt sick.  I have a hard time being alone.  Besides feeling that motherly pull toward my child and the gut-level feeling of responsibility for his every need (despite the fact that he was in very capable hands), I just get energy from being with people, my family especially.  I was not looking forward to spending Thanksgiving without them.  I was not looking forward to the quiet.  On top of it all I had to board the dogs because of my work schedule, and by the time I dropped them off at the vet’s on Wednesday afternoon I was a bit of a wreck.  I could have accomplished a lot in the two whole free days I had before Thanksgiving in Madison and then work, and it’s true that I did knock out a bunch of nonsense errands (hurrah for not having to haul a small one around for that!), but some of it I just kind of spaced out.  I suppose I deserved the break.  I dunno.  But I was not having a good go of it.

Then on the way to Madison when I had three whole hours to myself with nothing but the radio, and even more time on the way back (see “Thankful”) something nice happened.  I started to keep myself company.  I haven’t done that in a really long time.  I noticed that I had been censoring my radio choices (oh, THAT’S lame!  not Classical–husband doesn’t care for it–this is 80’s and I love it but I should be looking for the Grateful Dead Hour–) and as soon as I did I looked for the lamest music I could find and started having a blast.  I think there was something about pina coladas and something else about the rains down in Africa.

I started surfing (seeking, I suppose…how our language has changed) more and to my delight I found some Beethoven. Initially I was just trying to remember which symphony it was and before I knew it I was totally gone. I was lost inside the sixth symphony and I didn’t want to find my way out of it, ever.  It’s been awhile since I’ve allowed Beethoven to do that to me.  I heard it twice, and on the way back I was so into it I completely missed my exit and didn’t notice it for miles and miles.

I also missed my exit because I was thinking about how I’ve slowly been losing parts of myself over the last decade.  I’ve been reading The Feminine Mystique and while I’m not a housewife and we’re forty years later, I have been learning about what’s been handed down to me.  Now my mother wasn’t a housewife per se–she stayed home with us until I, the youngest, was in third grade–she had a career of her own.  Her mother wasn’t solely a housewife either, though I believe she gave up a prestigious secretarial position at the Pentagon when she married.  But the cultural attitudes and pieces of pathology that come with being a woman in my family, in this social class, in this country are part of what make me who I am.  In this particular case I’ve come to realize that I have always, from my very first real boyfriend as a pre-teen, tended to latch onto the boy or man in my life and take on his interests.  R played the saxophone so for five years I loved the saxophone and listened to all the saxophone music I could get my hands on.  G’s interests were more closely aligned with mine and I found myself less prone to getting into the ones that weren’t (I just couldn’t get into fly-fishing, though I did come to love A River Runs Through It, and still do), but I did start to really rely on him for direction for how to think and feel about things.  It was a matter of admiration and I think it’s one of the things that ultimately cost me the relationship.

It’s been better with Attic Man.  Unlike the women in the F.M. I did not give up my career interests and goals.  But on the music front I have been giving too much ground.  AM just doesn’t appreciate what is commercially known as Classical, so I never listen to it.  Nevermind that I played the violin in orchestras through college or that Brahms makes my heart break in the best way possible.  Now I’m grateful to him, more than he knows, for introducing me to the blues, the Allman Brothers Band (which I had to listen to first before I understood the blues), and Phish, and for reminding me that I had always love Bluegrass, too.  I need to listen to my stuff, too: the Indigo Girls, Ella Fitzgerald, Steve Reich, Dar Williams.

I think that the music thing is just an overt thing, though.  I think I have subconsciously been sublimating my own thoughts and opinions, too.  Attic Man was a debater in college and while not my intellectual superior knows his way over, under, around and through an argument so sometimes I have to fight to keep my head above water when we’re talking politics or social issues.  He’s a hell of a maverick, too, and reads like ten online magazines and newspapers a day, at least.  Instead of learning from him I’ve been busy letting his talents make me feel inadequate, not recognizing that I know different things and think differently.  I need to put energy back into holding my own in those conversations.  Anyway it’s been playing into my career angst of late.  I think I’ve been holding back in part because I haven’t let my life be my own.

I don’t know how much this has to do with the way I grew up, but I do know that in a Baptist minister’s family the whole family is centered around the church and the pastor’s work.  I have to give my mother a lot of credit because she very firmly believed that her job was not “pastor’s wife” (she wouldn’t entertain anytime day or night and she didn’t go to every church ladies’ meeting like most of her pastor’s wife friends).  Nevertheless there’s a certain inescapable hegemony to church life when your father’s the minister, at least in a Baptist church, so I was used to the whole of family life, even my mother’s life, being directed toward making the church work.  There was also the “calling” aspect of it, so we moved to follow his career around and she found work wherever we went.

When I figured that all out I was happy to have a few days to myself. I’m working on reclaiming some of the things I’ve lost over the course of my marriage.  For the record Attic Man is just about the perfect husband for this kind of re-awakening because he really does see me as an equal partner and not a wife that he expects to cater to his every wish.  He’s been trying for years to get me to contribute to the music for trips.

Speaking of having my own life–my kid needs me.

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I was holding my razor in the shower this morning and thinking about why women remove hair from their bodies.  I’m sure there’s a history that I’m not aware of (anybody?) but it seems to me that the immediate physical effect is that shaved we look more like children; body hair comes with puberty (as does belly pooch, which we are also supposed to get rid of).  I’m wondering if shaving is just another way to keep us infantilized and powerless.

All my life I’ve struggled with being taken seriously.  I’m the youngest and my early life came with an assigned role I’ve never been able to shake: the irresponsible, flighty little girl.  One family member even referred to me (in my adulthood) as “the helpless one.”  I had “little friends,” according to my parents, until I was well into high school.  My father and brother had all sorts of intellectual conversations at dinner and when I tried to join in I was given the metaphorical pat on the head.  My mental picture of this happening is in PA, where we lived from the time I was nine.  Nine is old enough for a family to politely consider even if her ideas are grand and ill-informed.  I don’t remember my mother and sister taking part in these conversations.

It doesn’t matter so much whether or not my familial infantilization had anything to do with gender in reality, but it does matter that women are routinely treated like children (in need of protection, guidance, instruction, etc. without necessarily having asked for it).  I get the double-whammy on this one.  I am 30 and I feel like I’m 8.  I am a Ph.D. candidate in English literature–by the time I finish my education I will have the highest degree of my siblings–and I still feel like the silly little sister.  I do not resent their successes in the least–my siblings are great people and so deserving of their achievements–but I am left with the aftereffects of always being the little girl.  I hate it.  It holds me back.

Lest you think I’m getting into hard-core blaming understand that at this point I am focusing on how I perpetuate this perception of myself as perpetual child.  I live in my own family now and I should be able to figure out how to operate psychologically as an adult.  In most ways I suppose I have.  But in weak moments I still feel little girl-ish.

This post is just an acknowledgment.  I don’t have any clue what to do about it.

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