Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Touchy Situations (Babble)

I’ve been thinking about touching lately.  Physical contact between people is so radically different depending on context that it’s one of the most fascinating things I know.  I remember as a child figuring out for the first time that tickling only made you laugh if you liked the person who was doing the tickling.  That struck me as amazing that the physical sensation alone was not enough to determine my reaction to it.  My relationship to the other person had more influence over the situation than any actual sensation my body was experiencing.

This is why I find explaining ‘good touch/bad touch’ issues with children is so complicated.  My oldest daughter is eight and her body is changing fast enough that we’ve had to start having more detailed and explicit conversations about her getting her period one day.  We have a book we’ve been reading from each night about caring for her body, and she’s understandably nervous and excited and scared and disgusted all at the same time.  I’ve talked to all my kids since they were very small about their bodies and how they work, and I’ve done my best to define where their private areas are, but without context it doesn’t make any sense. 

There aren’t any private areas on a toddler or a baby, or even a preschooler who still needs help in the bathroom.  Aden once asked me why it was okay for us to see their brother’s penis, but not her daddy’s.  I told her that her brother was too young to keep himself clean properly, but as soon as he didn’t need my help with that anymore he would start keeping it private.  I also explained that a lot of it is cultural.  Where we live women’s breasts are considered private and are generally covered in public, but in other parts of the world they can be exposed and it’s considered fine.  There are places where showing her hair or bare arms would be considered inappropriate, but here it’s okay. 

In any case, my daughter’s reached an age where we need to start discussing other people’s sexual reactions to her body and it makes me sad.  She’s still so innocent and carefree in that regard, but if she can’t analyze the intent of other people when they touch her, she can’t make good decisions about situations she may find herself in.  She needs to know why a touch could be bad even if the physical sensation isn’t.  And how the same touch at the right time and place will someday be fine.  She needs context.

I think the blurring of all that context is more confusing for new parents than they sometimes acknowledge.  Parenting is extremely physical, and particularly for a woman who has given birth to a child all the boundaries on our bodies change and it can be disorienting. 

I remember very clearly when I was in labor the first time (before we had to change the plan to a C-section) how the last of my modesty went out the proverbial window.  I was in a shower at the hospital trying to deal with the back pain, sitting on a big ball because the bouncing helped a little, when the nurse asked if she could come in to check the baby’s heart rate.  I said sure, and while she was in the middle of probing around on my belly with her monitor it hit me that I’d crossed some line of feeling private about my body.  I was naked, wet, huge, bouncing on a ball, and if this woman I didn’t know had said she was coming in and she was bringing her boyfriend along I wouldn’t have cared.

Pregnancy will do that to you.  So will breast feeding.  I just kind of breast fed my kids wherever and never had a problem, so I’m always fascinated by stories of nursing mothers being confronted by strangers in public.  I would think someone would be embarrassed to admit seeing a baby being fed and conflating it with something sexual, but that’s a whole other can of worms I suppose.

Anyway, I’ve always been most comfortable with a fairly large personal space that I let just a handful of people inside.  I like hugs, but am really only comfortable with kissing among my most immediate family.  It’s fun to lean on my brothers and snuggle with my dad and I’ll rub my mom’s foot while she scratches my neck if we’re watching TV together, and that’s all nice, but I wouldn’t be comfortable doing those things with many other people, even ones I know well.  When my husband is here I like the freedom we have between us to touch each other pretty much anywhere depending on the appropriateness of time and place. 

But having kids is like being in an avalanche of touching that for me was unprecedented.  It’s everywhere all the time, and it’s wonderful and sometimes weird.  To go from having my breasts touched in only clinical or sexual ways, to being a source of food and playful poking was sort of liberating and odd.  Now I’m in the process of reverting back, and telling my kids they can’t just grab one of my boobs for fun. 

My son nursed until he was almost two, and he still sometimes asks at random moments if he can have some milk and I explain to him again that it’s all gone.  At three he’s too old to fondle me the way he wants to.  It’s not sexual, but it’s not appropriate.  It’s a contextual grey area because I’m not exactly sure how to tell him it’s not okay now even though he remembers it being okay so recently.  Of course in the grand scheme it gets really strange, because in a few years he will be mortified to think he ever touched his mother’s breasts, and what was once a sweet and lovely thing will be completely taboo.

The juxtaposition of sexual and non-sexual touching that comes with becoming a parent is awkward.  Some of the nicest and simultaneously most peculiar moments of my life have been when I’ve lain in bed with my husband pressed against me on one side and a baby pressed up on the other.  It’s a loving happy sandwich to be in, but touch-wise it sometimes made me almost short circuit.  There was an exhibit I experienced at the Toronto Science Center as a kid that had alternating hot and cold strips of metal laid out in a pad big enough to put your hand on.  Feeling equal amounts of hot and cold all over your hand at once is not technically uncomfortable, but the confusion of the signals is so bizarre that it’s unpleasant, and everyone I saw who touched it jerked his or her hand back almost instantly.  Having the physical contact on each side of my body mean such completely different things was like good touch/bad touch run amok.  It all felt nice, but I don’t want to think of myself in a sexual manner while holding my kids, and at the same time I’m glad to feel that way when I’m with my husband.  People talk about learning to shift gears from parenting mode to spouse mode in order to maintain your sex life after having kids, but what do you do when the transmission is so mangled you’re in two gears at once?

Not that this is an issue for me at the moment.  With Ian in Iraq I have to be content with being in mom mode all the time.  Involuntary celibacy is not easy, but at least I don’t lack for physical contact.  I think often how much harder it must be for Ian to be in a place where there are no loving touches of any kind for him.  I may not be getting all the types of physical contact I want right now, but my days are filled with hugs and kisses and nuzzles of the adorable kid variety.  Unless there is something special Ian’s not telling me about his interpreters, he’s not getting anything like that. 

Years ago the mother of one of my violin students told me about caring for an elderly parent and how she taught her little girl to not be afraid to hold her grandma’s hand or give her kisses.  Apparently old people in particular can suffer from lack of touch, and that idea really stayed with me.  I make a point of keeping in physical touch during my visits with my grandma when I see her in the nursing home, and I do see a difference in how well she responds to me when I stroke her arm while we talk as opposed to just trying to maintain eye contact.  It’s lonely not being touched.

To compare and contrast the behaviors of my children and how they interact with people physically is interesting to me.  Aden was a content little baby, but not overly cuddly.  The older she’s gotten the more physical with her affection she’s become.  Mona was cuddly as a baby, but when she is hurt (either emotionally or physically) she spurns any kind of contact.  But if she’s in a good mood she’ll even hug strangers.  Quinn will occasionally sit on someone else’s lap or hold someone else’s hand if I’m not around, but in general with people other than myself he’s somewhat reserved.  He’s always rested against me as if my body is just an extension of his own.  I’ll be interested to see how that will evolve as he spends more time away from me in the future.

For someone who always liked her wide personal space, I’m amazed at how quickly I embraced round the clock physical contact with my kids.  I’ll miss that element of parenting as it phases out.  I like being a pillow or a headrest or an armchair with actual arms for the small people in my house.  But right now I deeply miss the kinds of contact and caresses only my husband provides.  There are no plans to phase that out ever, and I wish he were home so I could put my arms around him again. 

I’m looking forward to hugs that aren’t just around my waist and knees.  In the meantime I have Aden’s hand to hold, Mona’s funny nuzzles, and Quinn’s sweet little head on my shoulder to remind me I’m loved.  Not a bad deal.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Support a Troop Day (Babble)

This is nothing but a blatant request for comments today.  My husband has had a rough go of it lately and could use a little boost.  He’s been feeling a bit forgotten and unappreciated.  He sounds worn out to me.  He checks in on my blog as often as he is able, and I think some random words of cheer his direction would be a welcome treat.  Think of it as ‘Holding Down the Fort De-Lurker Day.’  If you are reading this, even just a ‘Hi Ian!’ would be appreciated.  If you aren’t comfortable thanking someone for Army service, thank him for being a great dad.  All of us could use a day where we are singled out for doing the important things we do, and I’ve decided today is his.  Easiest way to support a troop you will come across.  Please help.  Thank you.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Little Things (Babble)

I’m in a good place.  The new house is so much easier to function in than the old house that I’m calmer in general.  No one is sick (except Aden has a cough and Quinn tells me his stomach hurts at odd times and Mona has some bug bite on her shoulder the size of coaster, but you know, the baseline for sick in a household of kids is different than for normal people, so none of this counts as anyone being sick in my book).  Work is good, kids are happy, and I’m hearing from Ian a little bit now and then and that’s always nice.  I even got a letter this week letting me know that an essay I submitted to the ‘This I Believe’ series on NPR is being published in a collection due out in the fall.  How cool is that?

It probably sounds like I’m setting myself up for karmic disaster by admitting to hogging too much of the good at one time, but I’m just going to enjoy it while it lasts.  Because the really nice thing about that ‘calm and everything is under control’ feeling is that the little things aren’t getting under my skin.  When I’m pulled too many directions and I’m anxious I tend to snap at my kids a little too quickly, which makes me feel guilty, and then I’m just not nice to be around. 

Right now?  I’m the fun mom on the block with extra kids from the neighborhood hanging out and staying for lunch and we plan paper mache projects and paint and bake cookies with mini M&M’s in them.  That’s so much more satisfying than being the mom who is always yelling because we’re late for somewhere and no one listens the first ten times I tell them to do something.  It’s summer.  I’m not even enforcing a bedtime.  I can’t get upset about them not following rules when there are almost no rules to break.  The big ones at the moment are:  Don’t come downstairs naked, don’t leave the yard without telling me first, keep the back door shut (that one they are bad at), and when the fireflies come out it’s time to come home.

There are still important codes of conduct that apply, but they don’t feel like rules.  Occasionally I have to remind someone that at our home no one may be excluded from playing any of the games going on, but that seldom comes up.  I would clamp down on any of the kids if they were being rude or mean or overly careless, but those times are rare.  As long as everyone is being nice things are easy.

There is one funny side effect, though.  Mona craves either a little more structure, a little more conflict, or both.  I’m not sure which, but it manifests itself in her choosing periodically to punish herself.  Aden and Quinn do that too from time to time, but with Mona it’s more dramatic.   Aden at around Quinn’s age once famously told me when she was angry (I think the offense was we weren’t going to go someplace because it was closed) that, “FIne!  I won’t eat sugar for a whole day!”  I just looked at her and said, “Okay” which made her more angry and she upped it to a week.  Last night Quinn was so tired by the time we got home from work that when he asked me to open a chocolate milk for him and I pointed out I’d already done it, he was furious.  He said, “How could you do that?  I didn’t ask you yet!” and he stomped off as loudly as possible and collapsed on my bed and passed out.

But Mona is in a class by herself.  She has what I think of as her Garbo moments when she wants to be alone, and I don’t have a problem with that, but she can’t expect to be alone in a public space.  She can’t, for instance, claim the play structure as a place to be alone, or the TV area, or the kitchen.  That’s just not fair.  I will clear people out of the music room for her, or give her my room, or even clear kids out of the toy room for awhile if she wants it, but today she tried to use the computer in the middle of the dining room and tell her brother he couldn’t look on.  I told her that wasn’t nice and she took great offense and banished herself to her bedroom screaming, “Fine then I won’t have breakfast and I don’t love you anymore.”  She stomped up the stairs (the new house offers much better opportunities for noisy stair stomping apparently) and when she turned around at the top of the banister to add something else I was fed up and raised my voice and told her to be quiet and go to her room already if she couldn’t be nice to her brother.  She wailed that she hated me and moped on her floor under a blanket.  After some cooling off I went in and told her I was sorry I yelled.  She told me I should yell.  I asked her if she wanted me to punish her more often and she said, “Yes.”

Poor girl is serious.  The thing is, she doesn’t really do anything bad.  She does what I ask of her and volunteers to do things like crack eggs or set the table.  She’s not perfect, but she’s six.  I correct her or explain things when necessary, but other than trying to shake her little brother off her tail once in awhile (which I get) she is a very good kid.  There isn’t much I have to tell her ‘no’ about, and maybe that’s a problem for her.  It reminds me of a quote I heard from Fred Rogers in an interview a long time ago where he said he thought it was a very cruel thing to do to children to never tell them no.  No was a way of outlining clear boundaries for children in a world where they needed to feel safe.  No was a way of showing them you care.  Maybe I need to take Mona to a place with broken glass and poisonous snakes so I can clutch her close and say, “NO!  Don’t touch!  Keep your shoes on!  No snake petting for you!”

Could this be a deployment thing?  That she has fears and frustrations and she needs an excuse to vent about them and she can’t find a good one lying around?  Maybe having daddy away feels like a punishment and she wants it to have a name.  Or maybe she’s crazy.  In any case it doesn’t happen frequently, but when it does happen it’s loud.  After about an hour of self-imposed exile in her room she drew me a love note on her magnadoodle and placed it outside her door for me to find.  She was all squeaks and cuddles again and she told me she loved me.  The dark cloud had passed.  Don’t know when I’ll see it again, but it’s scarier than the tornado warning we lived through the other night so I hope not soon.

But other than those odd moments when the kids are trying to get a rise out of me, everything else I’m able to take in stride right now.  It’s nice.  I first noticed how much better I was handling the little things lately when I had cluster of scheduling problems and it just kind of made me laugh.  The refrigerator was making a buzzy-screamy sound one morning, and since our house came with a home warranty I called them about it.  The soonest they could get someone in was three days later right smack during the time we had dentist appointments for all four of us scheduled.  It was painful to cancel those dentist appointments, but we couldn’t keep living with the horrible noise in the kitchen so it had to be done.  Do you know how hard it is to get four dentist appointments together on one day?!?!  Hard enough that the new ones are in October.  I had to think about the kids’ school hours for the reschedule for crying out loud.  In the meantime we’re on a waiting list so if people cancel and I want to sneak each of us into the dentist one at a time over the summer we can, but ugh.  Anyway, to accommodate the refrigerator guy I also had to move an appointment at the violin store and change my plans for grocery shopping.  Fun all around.

But that’s not the best part.  The best part is when the refrigerator guy got to our house, examined our appliance for twenty seconds, and then told me the fridge was fine, it was the doorbell box mounted above it that was screaming.  Apparently the heavy rain we’ve had here affected the wiring on the doorbell on our side door and triggered some kind of doorbell alarm mode.  A friend was kind enough to come out and disconnect it later in the day.  A couple of months ago I would not have found this funny.  Nowadays, well, it’s just not enough to bug me.  The dentist appointment thing is annoying, but no one’s teeth are falling out that shouldn’t be falling out, so it doesn’t really make any difference.  Life is fine.

Also, the freedom I have since Aden is around to help watch Quinn was unexpected.  I was thinking with the girls out of school for the summer that it would be more work, but it’s turned out to be less.  Aden is old enough (and a kind enough big sister) that instead of me having to help Quinn every time he has a computer problem or wants a piggy back ride or needs someone to push him on the swing, Aden can do some of that too.   When we’re all at the violin store and I need to work, Aden is wonderful about assisting both of her younger siblings with whatever they could use help with, and it’s really nice.  Quinn is crazy about his big sister and would prefer to do things with her most of the time anyway, and Aden thinks her little brother is adorable and doesn’t mind having him tag along.  This is also contributing to that sense of calm I’m currently enjoying.  (At least when Mona is not literally asking for a time out.)

This is not to say I still don’t have panicky moments when I worry about Ian in Iraq, or that there still aren’t a hundred projects I’d like to get to, but I can’t do anything about Ian and the war so I try not to dwell on it, and I remind myself how lucky I am that my biggest source of frustration is that I have too many choices of great things to do. 

I did get thrown for a loop the other night when I was watching an episode of Friday Night Lights on my computer before falling asleep, and the last scene was of soldiers showing up at a character’s door to inform the family that their soldier had been killed in Iraq.  I was not expecting that and wouldn’t have watched the show if there was any way to know that was coming.  I was pretty shaken up and didn’t sleep well that night. 

But those moments are few and far between right now.  Quinn’s smile always sets the morning right no matter how badly I’ve slept.  Mona makes me laugh.  Aden touches my heart.  How can I complain?  The little things that used to get me down are outnumbered.  I’ve got enough little things around that make me happy that right now every day is a good day.  I’m doing my best to appreciate that for all it’s worth.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lucky 13 (Babble)

Today is my 13th wedding anniversary.  It’s the third one I’ve had to spend apart from my husband.  I’m trying very hard today not to tally up all the days that the Army has kept my husband away from me.  It’s not fair to blame the Army since military service is my husband’s choice, but it’s easier to be angry with the Army than with Ian.  I can’t think of a moment of my life that I’ve been genuinely mad at Ian.  I may disagree with him at times, and there are certainly moments when I just don’t get what he’s thinking, but I trust him more than any person on earth.  I love him, and days like this one make me miss him more than usual.

So instead of focusing on what I don’t have today, my plan is to pull out my wedding album and gather the kids around for a story.  It’s a story they’ve heard before, but only in bits and pieces, and this is the first time Quinn is old enough to identify people in the pictures himself, even though I’m shocked at how much younger everyone looks in them.  Want to hear a wedding story?

Now, I’m not much of a wedding person, which is funny since I have been involved in more weddings than anyone else in my entire family.  I have been performing music for weddings since I was in high school.  I give advice to brides all the time on how to make their weddings run more smoothly and be more personal.  I’m pretty good at it, if I do say so myself.  But I am not otherwise particularly interested in weddings.  I was never one of those girls who used to imagine her ‘big day’ or even think I needed to be married.  It wasn’t important to me.

Ian and I lived together for several years before we decided to get married.  There were a couple of reasons we decided to take that step when we did.  The first was that we knew we wanted to start planning to have children.  I think the greatest gift my parents ever gave me was their love for one another.  It was unquestioned and the most stable thing I knew.  If I raised my children in an environment that caused them to ponder my relationship with their dad long enough to ask why we weren’t married, then I would not be giving them that same gift I was lucky enough to receive.  Even if the idea of being officially married didn’t stir anything in me at the time, it does matter to many kids.  It bothered some of my violin students that Ian and I weren’t married, so the potential impact on my actual children one day couldn’t be discounted.

The other reason sort of snuck up on me.  We were attending an event with some relatives, and my aunt introduced us to someone as, “My niece and her friend.”  My aunt is one of the sweetest people I know and she certainly wasn’t trying to be disrespectful in any way, but the word ‘friend’ in that context struck me as deeply inadequate.  The word ‘husband’ may not have the same connotations for everyone, but it was certainly closer to reflecting the true nature of our relationship than any other I can think of.  Suddenly a marriage certificate didn’t seem so trivial.  It created a shorthand by which we would be able to present ourselves more accurately to the society we lived in.

I learned a lot planning my wedding.  It’s an invaluable rite of passage that teaches you about yourself, your family, what’s important and what isn’t.  This was not something I believed before I went through it for myself.  Now I have a theory about how much a wedding reflects elements of the marriage as a whole.  You can tell a lot about a couple and their future by the choices they make surrounding a wedding.  It’s the only event I know of that forces you to examine the worth and meaning of every personal connection in your life, if only to decide whom to inform, whom to invite, and who sits with whom at the reception.  I can’t think of another time I made party arrangements that included cousins and old high school classmates, work colleagues and grandparents, college buddies and my parents’ friends.

I didn’t want my wedding to look like a lot of the cookie cutter weddings I’d played for.  I wanted it to be simple and elegant and I wanted to have fun.  It was important to us to keep our wedding small so we could really interact with everyone there.  We kept it down to 50 people, but the only reason that was possible was because my parents threw a slightly larger party at their home the following weekend for everyone else.

One of the biggest lessons I learned while planning my wedding was how being someone’s child connects you to others.  Its something I understand much better now having children of my own, and caring about the lives of my friends’ children.  It took me awhile to understand why my tiny guest list should include my mom’s friends, but as she passionately made her case it struck me how much my wedding was her event too because I was her baby.  I’d spent too much time observing pushy mothers imposing their will on their daughter’s events to appreciate my mom’s side of it at first.  I’m glad her friends were there.

My dad suggested I send a few invitations to famous people.  The White House sends you a nice little congratulatory card if you send them an invite, so I did that.  I also sent invitations to Oliver Sacks, Sting, Peter Schickele, Jimmy Carter, and Miss Manners.  I added a note explaining that sometimes people who have made important contributions to your life are people you have never even met, and in that spirit I would hope they would consider my invitation to an important day.  The Carters were very prompt returning their card with the ‘cannot attend’ box checked.  Miss Manners once wrote a column about how she didn’t approve of RSVP cards, since anyone kind enough to invite you to his or her wedding deserved to hear back from you on your own stationery.  But people aren’t even good about sending back those convenient cards, so I just didn’t include one for her.  She did indeed have someone on her staff decline the invitation in a handwritten note on official Miss Manners stationery.  I’m still waiting to hear back from Sting, Dr Sacks and Mr. Schickele.  (Technically I’m still waiting to hear back from my brother, Arno, but I’m more likely to get that little card returned from Sting so I should just let that go.)

I loved my wedding.  As it took shape, certain things about it surprised me.  For instance, I never pictured myself in a traditional wedding dress.  The idea of dressing up in something I couldn’t wear again goes against my sensibilities.  But when I tried on one or two for fun, it hit me that this was the only time in my life I could wear such an outfit and not look insane.  Having a special dress for one day suddenly looked kind of marvelous instead of wasteful.  I had also assumed I would be the kind of person to write her own vows, but when I really thought about it, I realized I wanted my chance to just say, “I do.”
But my favorite part of my wedding (besides the whole marrying Ian part) was how it was something so many people contributed their talents to.  For wedding gifts we asked people who were able to add something to the day. 

Not only did that make the wedding more meaningful, but much more affordable.  I think the only things we paid actual money for were the tuxes, the officiator, Ian’s ring, my shoes, and the food.  I bartered for the space in the Renaissance style garden by carving some of the column tops that were slated to be installed there in the future.  My mom made the invitations and traded one of her drawings for my dress.  The cake was a made by a friend, the flowers were a gift from a gardener in attendance, and the music was played by friends from college.  I wrote my own march.  My dad wrote the poem for the reading.

The place where we were married had a portico that framed a garden, and we ate facing the center which provided a perfect stage for performances during the reception.  The best man did a juggling act, a cousin danced, friends and family played music.  One brother acted as MC between acts by providing clever poetic introductions, and the other gave an entomological lecture followed by the release of butterflies.  We danced into the night to a truly wacky mix tape.  One of the best lines of all time was from my friend, Sarah.  She was asked by one of the waitresses who was confused by how eccentric this wedding appeared if it was some ethnic thing, and she told me later, “I hope you don’t mind–I told her you were Estonian royalty.”

The only part of this wedding tale that gets my children’s attention (aside from the juggling) is that our pet rabbit at the time, Cujo, was there.  She didn’t participate in any way (although I suppose she could have if we’d thought of some appropriate way to include the chewing of electrical cords into the ceremony), but we left for my grandmother’s cottage for our honeymoon straight from the reception, and the bunny had to come along.  She sat in her cage in the corner until it was time to go, but my kids ask to hear again and again about how there was a bunny at the wedding.

I still have my dress.  My grandmother had it specially boxed for me.  I wonder if one of my girls will have any interest in using it someday, or if it will be something that gets shuffled from one attic to another over time until people forget which distant relative it belonged to.  I have never revisited the site where our wedding took place, although I’ve often wondered if the grapes I carved from mahogany ever found their way onto the garden columns as planned.  I’d like to go back there with Ian one day and walk around.  Maybe if he’s not called up again around the time of our 15th wedding anniversary we could have another party there.  I still have the mix tape my brother made, and it would be fun to dance to the theme from Sanford and Son again.  (I seem to remember William Shatner doing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and something by Aretha Franklin….  I should pop that tape in tonight after dinner and see what the kids think.)

I love being married.  I didn’t think there would be a difference between living together and being married, but there is, at least for me.  I never expected to have the life I do.  I’m not sure what I pictured, but the husband and children I have are more lovable and interesting than any people I could have imagined. 

My wedding day was wonderful, but it was not the best day of my life only because I’ve had many, many wonderful days.  Each day of my life adds to the collection of experiences that are uniquely my own, and I have many to enjoy reflecting on, not just the one where I got to declare my love for my husband in front of the other people in my life.  I may miss him today, but I am lucky to know him at all, let alone get to be his wife.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Home Stretch (Babble)

If we are lucky, it looks as if Ian may come home before the summer is over.  We’re not allowed to know exactly when because that counts as troop movements and for their safety that’s classified, but for the first time I have a vague idea, so we’re in the home stretch.  I know summer is just starting, and for other people looking at a couple of months to care for kids and house and business without their spouse sounds like a long time, but at this point for me it looks like nothing.  So I’m already getting antsy and starting to let my guard down, which is dangerous.

When you know you have to get through a long ordeal, you can steel yourself to it.  You can take care of what you need to take care of, and worry about how it feels later, when there’s time, and it’s safe to do so.  I’ve had little breakdowns here or there during this particular deployment, but for the most part I think I’ve done a good job of keeping everything running and the kids happy.  I was all set to keep it up through Thanksgiving.

But then I learned I might have my old life back before Labor Day and some of my defenses, some of which I didn’t even realize I’d built up, began to crumble a bit.
Just imagining being able to share the workload of our daily family life with my husband again has made me realize how tired I am.  I realize I miss feeling desirable and pretty because I’ve had to shut those needs down for so long.  I miss not keeping track of all the bills and all the appointments and all the everything alone all the time.  I miss being able to say, “Go ask your dad.”  The thought of having my husband back and in our lives again is akin to winning the lottery.  There is no other thing I can think of that I want more right now.  But who can live with that kind of anticipation stretched out over an entire summer?  There’s delayed gratification (which, frankly, I’ve never been a fan of) and there’s torture.

I’m assessing the toll this journey has taken prematurely.  I can’t help myself.  I can see the finish line and I shouldn’t start poking at the blisters on my feet until I finish the race.  I often think about how hard it was to appreciate my grandma’s stories of living in Milwaukee while my grandpa was away in the Navy, because we already knew the end of the story.  We already knew grandpa came home, so the frightening suspense she lived with for years was lost on us.  There is an underlying terror to my daily life that goes with knowing my husband is in a war zone that most of the time I’m able to keep at arm’s length in order to function.  But I don’t know the end of this story yet, so it’s still a scary one for me.

It doesn’t help that the things my husband says to reassure me, aren’t reassuring.  The life he’s living is so far removed from anything I can relate to that he doesn’t realize how the snippets from his life sound out of context.  He’s done remarkable work, and I’m very proud of him.  The amount of corruption he’s uncovered and the areas he’s been able to cut costs has more than paid back the taxpayers for the service he’s been hired for.  (Then there’s odd stuff he gets into that’s kind of funny.  Well, Ian makes it funny, even while in a war zone.  I’ve watched that clip dozens of times just to hear his voice.)  That’s all good. 

But accomplishing those things and exposing problems makes him a target, and when I tell him that makes me nervous he says things like, “Don’t worry, I’m always the most heavily armed person in the room.”  I know from where he’s standing in his combat boots on Iraqi soil that seems like a sensible thing to say.  Listening to it here in Milwaukee where the biggest danger we face is Mona’s clothing choices, it doesn’t do anything to calm my nerves. 

It also highlights dramatically that in certain ways I don’t know my husband at all.  I can’t picture the life he’s led for the past year, I don’t know the people he works with, I don’t know the rhythm of his days or the food he’s eating or where he does mundane things like wash his laundry.  His life looks nothing like the life we’ve built together.  And yet somehow we’re still a family and this will all work out, even though I have trouble wrapping my brain around the fact that this pistol-toting uniform guy is somehow still Ian.  That that IS Ian.  It’s surreal and unnerving.

I also find myself worrying already about the possibility of yet another deployment.  I know that probably sounds absurd since he’s not even back from this one yet. but I can’t escape it.  When I tell people about when he’s coming back, they all ask, “Is that when he’s coming back for good?”  It’s an interesting expression “for good.”  My brain tends to run with it in odd directions and I think yes, it is good, and he will do good things here, so his being here is for good. 

This was kind of how we thought of our pet rabbits.  We always talked about how they weren’t good bunnies, they were good at being bunnies, which are two very different things.  I tell people that he’ll be done with this tour, but that “home for good” depends entirely on the state of the world and whether we are done fighting wars.  It’s not the giddy all positive response I think people want from me, but only the President can really answer the question of whether or not when my husband comes home how long he gets to stay here.  I don’t actually know.

In the meantime I’m trying to pace myself.  We have more than enough to keep us busy this summer, and as long as I concentrate on sweeping up the sand the kids track into the house and doing the laundry and keeping my business running, I shouldn’t have too much time to wish my husband would walk in the door.  Soon.  But not today.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Days With My Little Guy (Babble)

School has finally let out for the summer here.  In the last week Aden’s class did their annual Cosmic Creation Opera on stage (my daughter was a yellow blob this year–I’ve never been more proud).  She brought home lots of artwork and more paper in her tattered backpack than I know what to do with.  We gave Mona’s teacher a small gift and some flowers because in the fall Mona will be moving on to first grade.  In Montessori school you stay with one teacher for three years, so moving on to a new classroom is a big deal.  Mona’s nervous, but she’ll be fine.  She’ll have all summer to get used to the concept.

We’re ready for summer break.  I know people periodically review the merits of year round schooling and say that summer vacation is outdated and in some ways detrimental, and in part I agree with the logic, but in my heart I favor the break.  Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived in the midwest where the summer months feel so radically different from the rest, but the fall and winter schedules don’t work well when the daylight stretches on so long and everything about the world beckons you outside. 

I’m a productive person, but I’m also a creative person, and I know the value of being able to lounge around in an unstructured environment.  Long lazy days give you time to let ideas settle and shift around and become something new.  I love my memories from my childhood of actually being bored over summer vacation.  It was different from being bored now.  As an adult I’m only bored when I’m stuck someplace I don’t want to be without a book or a sudoku puzzle, and it’s irritating because I know there are other things I could be getting done elsewhere.  As a kid there was nothing else to get to or do.  (Except clean my room or do something useful, but that doesn’t occur to a fifth grade solipsist.)  Life, even at its best, is hard, so I want my kids to play while they can so they can look back on growing up in Milwaukee and say to themselves later, “Wasn’t that nice?”

I’m glad I don’t have to try and get everyone ready to leave the house so early in the morning for awhile.  It will be nice to go to the zoo or a museum if we feel up to it, or just play catch in the field behind the house until the sun sets if we want to.  There are concerts in the park to hear, ice cream trucks to chase, fireflies to capture, and puddles to stomp in.  When we’ve had our fill, fall will come around and structure will start to look appealing again.  But for now, despite the challenges ahead of working with all the kids home, I’m ready for summer.

The only real loss for me with this break is my time alone with Quinn.  He’s been my constant companion, and even though the occasional tantrum at the violin store when I’m trying to work has made me doubt if having him with me all the time has been the right decision, I’m lucky to have had him to myself for so long.
Lately at the violin store Quinn has spent his time on the computer.  He plays the Fetch games on the PBSkids website while I rehair bows and repair instruments.  He has his own routine there at the store, munching on goldfish crackers and playing with blocks.  I don’t get to interact with him much while I’m working, but it’s nice that he’s in the same room.
I try whenever possible to take him out somewhere if I can.  He knows the natural history museum here very well.  He likes to sit in the butterfly room and hold out a tentative finger in the hopes a tiny butterfly will land on it, but if one ever did I’m sure he’d freak out.  He tells me to hold out my finger too, and I’m supposed to catch a big one.  The one time I did he couldn’t wait for me to let it go.

But my favorite days are the ones where I don’t have any appointments at the store and we just come home after dropping off the girls at school.  It’s quiet with just my little boy here.  We go online and look at pictures of Jupiter and Neptune (the only planets with eyes, he tells me).  He lays out toys on the floor and asks me to click on one, whatever that means.  (About half the time I select something he tells me it’s “not availble.”)  We snuggle.  We read books.  I’m not allowed to sing or play music, but he likes to put CDs in while I work in the kitchen.  His favorite tune of the moment is ABC by the Jackson Five, and when his sisters aren’t home to complain we can just leave it on repeat for as long as he likes.  He’s a good eater.  He’ll help me make things for lunch like pasta salad that I know his siblings would never touch.  I love my lunches at home with Quinn.  He plays in the sandbox while I work on my own projects, and if he can sucker me into pushing him on the swing he will happily swing back and forth forever.

Most mornings at home we spend a lot of time going around the block.  I bring a plastic bag with me and pick up trash to keep myself occupied.  (Why don’t smokers think tossing cigarette butts on the ground is littering?)  Quinn just pedals away on his trike, the happiest little boy you ever saw.  He collects important leaves and sticks and puts them in the little compartment under the seat.

He’s a sweet little guy, but particularly when it’s just the two of us.  I feel so privileged to get to see a side of him that is just for me.  Quinn has spent all but a total of a couple of weeks of his life at my side.  He still sometimes crawls into my bed at night and snuggles up.  When he needs a nap he climbs into my arms.  I like being his home base.  When he wants to hold my hand he grabs onto just my pinky.  He’s gentle and dear and when he laughs I feel like in that moment I understand something important about life and that it’s wonderful.  His smile makes me melt every time.

I don’t mean to make it sound like there aren’t moments he makes me nuts.  There are too many mornings where we’d all be better off if I could let him sleep in so he wouldn’t be cranky, but I’ve had to drag him out of bed to get his sisters to school.  Most days he adapts fine, but on the days he doesn’t he’s made trying to get any work done at the violin store impossible.  I’ve had to turn away business just because a lunchtime appointment when I run out of food for Quinn at the store is too frustrating to deal with.  But on the whole Quinn is a remarkably easy kid.  Way better behaved than the average child, so when he does have an outburst I have to remember he’s just acting his true age.  And three is cute cute cute, but really difficult at times.  There is nothing quite like the petulance of a three year old who hits a combination of  hungry and tired that is beyond all reason.  But he won’t be three for much longer, and I try every day to appreciate the sweetness of this age.

He’s taller and leaner than he was when his dad left.  He still has baby fat in his cheeks, but nowhere else.  I can learn to share him when Ian gets back from Iraq, but I’ve enjoyed having my little guy to myself.  I try to picture him as a man one day, maybe able to lift me in his arms the way I currently lift him.  It’s hard to imagine him heading off into the world without me, but if I do my job right that’s where we’re headed.  This chapter of our lives where it’s just the two of us together most of the day is over beginning with this summer vacation.  He runs off to join his sisters’ games each morning, and in the fall he starts school.  I already miss him.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Garage vs Deck: Decision (Babble)

Thanks for all the input!  It really did help me figure out what to do.  Which is good, because when I tried to discuss it with my husband he finally just called me from Iraq and said essentially that he has no idea what his opinion is.  He loves me more than he cares about the garage, the deck, or the money, so anything I picked that made me happy he was good with.  (That sounded really sweet until I realized that he was being no help at all with this decision, but whatever.  It’s like I tell my customers when they can’t decide between two violins they like at my store: They can’t choose wrong so they shouldn’t worry about it too much.)

Anyway, based on city regulations, trees, yard space, and car needs, the final plan I’m going with is…sort of a compromise.  We’re knocking down the old garage and expanding it out toward the alley a little on one side, and right up to the deck on the other.  Currently there is hard to use space between the deck and the garage itself, so the deck will be spared but the patch of dirt I will never garden next to it is going.  With a one and a half car garage we’d have space to store our bikes (five people’s worth of bikes is a lot of bikes) and we can have a door that opens into the backyard.  The gate I don’t like will get taken out and new cement steps up to the deck from the driveway will be put in.  The new garage door will be 16 feet wide and 8 feet tall, so whichever car we park in there will fit easily, and I’ll have room to store the yard equipment and toys that are currently piled up in the basement or getting wet in the yard.  They are going to cantilever an 8 foot overhang in front of the door, so there will be some protection for the car parked outside.  (We can’t build a real carport because there is no place for a pole to hold it up and still get a car into the garage.)  The wall facing the deck will be stucco so the kids can paint a mural on it, and the rest will be vinyl siding to match the look of the house.

It’s not a perfect plan, and it’s more expensive that what I wanted, but since replacing the garage is more a matter of when than if, it makes sense to do it now while we have the money to do it and we can get some real use out of it.  I think it will be good.  Even my kids, who are never good with change, are excited about the idea.  Last night we talked about it over mud pie on the deck, and it turns out they miss being able to play in the garage on rainy days.  They used to bike in circles in the one at the old house.  I finally let them inside the current one for the first time since we moved and they were horrified.  It was so dark and cramped and spooky that every one of them said, “We need a new garage.”  So there we go.

The contractor is going to try and squeeze us in as soon as possible so that it can all be finished before August.  I told the guy I didn’t want there to be any kind of construction work still happening by the time my husband gets home.  When Ian gets back I want it all to be settled and done.  He shouldn’t have to come home to any sort of upheaval, he should just be able to enjoy being home.  (And by enjoy being home, I mean enjoy the big list of projects for him to do that I’ve been compiling since April.  —Kidding Sweetie!  Kind of…)

So that’s the plan.  I hope we like it.

UPDATE:  My husband informs me that he did express an opinion!  He said as long as the overhang wasn’t a problem it was worth the expense.  I was probably just too enthralled with actually hearing his voice that I missed that part.  I miss his voice.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What's a Mandola? (Babble)

If anyone has bothered to read the little bio under my picture that accompanies this blog, you may be one of the many people to ask yourself, “What’s a mandola?”  Luckily in the age of wikipedia you can get your answer online almost as quickly as you can ask the question, but in regular face to face conversation where no one is within reach of the internet, I still get asked.

My primary instrument is viola.  It’s what I majored in while I was in college.  I have spent much of my adult life answering the question, “What’s a viola?” and explaining that, no, it’s not the instrument you hold propped between your knees (that’s a cello).  Viola, for those not in the know or in the mood to get diverted to wikipedia again, is the alto voice of the violin family.  It’s slightly larger than a violin (which is an instrument everyone has heard of and violinists never get pestered with questions suggesting what they play is obscure) and it has a deeper sound.  Violas lack the highest string on a violin (the E), but instead have a string that goes a fifth lower than the violin’s lowest string.  (The strings on a violin in Western tonal music are tuned to G, D, A and E, and on a viola are tuned to C, G, D and A.) 

Viola is a beautiful instrument.  I started on violin in third grade and switched to viola in high school because we didn’t have any in our orchestra, and I liked it enough I never went back.  I still play violin occasionally, but that squeaky high E grates on my nerves.  I much prefer the depth and melancholy of the viola and its deeper tones.

For reasons I’m too tired to go into at the moment, my instrument has to fight for respect.  There are a million viola jokes.  (My viola instructor back at Ohio State used to collect conductor jokes.)  I participated in a concert where I teach at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music a few years back that featured all the violists on the faculty, and in between numbers I talked to the audience a bit about the history of the instrument and told several jokes.  The one that got the biggest laugh was, “What do you call a violist with 2 brain cells? — Pregnant.”  Anyhoo, violists tend to be laid back enough that we can take a joke, so it’s all fine.  But it would be nice if more often than not when I told people I play viola they knew what it was.

So leave it to me to pick a new instrument to try that gets exactly the same reaction.  Mandola is to mandolin what viola is to violin.  And I mean that literally, because the string tunings are equivalent and they play the same roles in an ensemble.  Mandola is fun and I’m glad I decided to give it a try, but I have yet to tell someone in the schoolyard that I play one and see recognition in anyone’s eyes.

When my husband got deployed again, at least I knew from past experience what kinds of things I would be able to handle with him gone, and what things I wouldn’t.  I looked over the upcoming orchestra schedule and picked out which concerts were going to be too hard and turned them down.  I knew, for instance, that the concert featuring pieces by German composers that I had played in the past would not take too much work, but the Tchaikovsky symphony later in the season would probably kill me.  It’s hard enough finding time to practice when Ian’s home, but alone with three kids I have to be realistic.

Obviously music is important to me, and the idea of giving up the chance to play in a group while Ian was in Iraq was depressing.  I decided something less intense might be nice during this stressful time.  My friend Linda is the music director of the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, which is an organization that has been making music here for over 100 years.  She plays violin in my string quartet, but several years back tried her hand at mandolin and took off with it.  Linda’s great.  Her mandolin orchestra performed in a concert with the orchestra I play with two seasons ago, and the music was so charming and everyone seemed to have so much fun that it got me thinking that that might be a good thing to try during the deployment.  I asked Linda how long she thought it would take me to learn mandola, and she said, “Oh, maybe 5…. 10 minutes.”  I suppose I should have asked how long it would take to learn mandola well, because I am by no means a good mandolist, but I can keep up okay.

If anything, all my musical training is a hinderence.  The notation in a lot of the music is…. let’s say ‘imprecise,’ so it takes awhile to figure out what is going on or what part of the page I should be reading from.  And one of the quirky things I’ve learned about the long and colorful history of mandolin orchestras in America, is that rather than learn the alto parts in alto clef (which is the clef violists play in), they write the music in this odd transposed manner. 

What it comes down to is the music is in treble clef and you play it as if you were holding a mandolin with it’s higher string tunings, but the sound that comes out is a fifth lower.  It makes me crazy.  I never have any idea what key we’re in, and I get confused if I can hear myself playing.  I look at the music and see an A, I play a note on my instrument as if it were an A on a different instrument, and the sound that comes out is a D.  Does that make sense?  No, not to me either, and I’m the one trying to do it every Monday from 7:00 to 9:00.  I’m the only person this seems to bother, and some of the other musicians in the group are fascinated that not hearing the note I’m seeing on the page as I play is a problem.  I’m adjusting, but every once in awhile my brain and hands have a minor freakout and I play something that doesn’t fit with anything.

But you know what?  That’s the beauty of the mandolin orchestra.  No one holds that against me.  Everyone is there because it’s fun.  They are amateurs in the truest sense of the word in that amateur comes from the French meaning ‘lover of.’  Professionals may love what they do, but I can say from experience that there is a different dynamic when money is involved.  Amateurs play purely for the love of it.  I seldom play viola without receiving a paycheck.  Playing Handel may be fun (that’s my string quartet in that clip), but playing it for a wedding is work, and it feels like it.  Playing ‘The Talisman‘ is just as fun as it sounds.  I got to play my first gig with the mandolin orchestra recently at the Italian Community Center where we got to perform fun things like Mambo Italiano with a talented local singer.  We seem to have been paid in pizza.

I’m really enjoying mandola.  I may stick with it even after Ian comes home if I can find the time for it.  My kids resent my going off to rehearsals, but I’m not going to let them make me feel guilty about playing music with friends for just a couple of hours a week.  (Yesterday I sat for over an hour in the car cleaning out my purse and then staring at clouds just so they could jump on a friend’s trampoline, so they owe me.)  My next door neighbor is kind enough to come over and put my kids to bed on those evenings so I can get away, and I’m so grateful.  Without her I don’t think I’d have signed on to this new musical adventure. 

But here I am, with the word ‘mandolist’ on my resume should I ever have to write one up again, and an outlet for my musical ambitions that doesn’t get me stressed.  It’s really nice.  So what’s a mandola?  It’s another word for happiness.

(P.S. Can you tell someone finally taught me how to use the embedded links feature?  I think I went a little overboard with it on this post, but it’s like having a geeky new toy.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Garage vs Deck (Babble)

Here is my big project question of the moment:  Should we build a new garage?

I love our new house, but the detached garage behind it is becoming an issue.  To solve it by building a new garage we’d have to cut severely into the deck. I’m having trouble deciding what to do.  (This doesn’t qualify as a problem.  I acknowledge our lives will continue to be fine either way, but I could use some input.)

Here’s the story on the existing garage:  It’s a single car garage, not in great shape.  The automatic door has no sensor to stop it from potentially squishing kids.  There is no second exit from the garage, so if a kid got stuck inside, well, he or she is pretty stuck.  The past owners it didn’t have kids so it didn’t matter, but as a parent it makes me nervous.  The garage is in an alley, but the entrance faces a small driveway.  Right now what happens is I park the small car in the garage and the minivan in the drive, which blocks the small car in.  With Ian away it’s not like we’re using both cars all the time, but I can see this getting annoying fast once he’s back.  It’s certainly not the end of the world, but I don’t like parking the minivan outside where I’m going to have to dig it out of the snow all winter and worry about it potentially getting broken into in the summer.  A simple, two car garage is within our budget, and it makes sense that if the current garage will need to be replaced at some point anyway, we should just get it done now so it better meets our needs rather than be frustrated.  I do not want to sink any money into the existing goofy garage.  It would be nice to have a good garage.

This is the garage (it’s in worse shape than it looks in photos for some reason):

But!  To build the garage means drastically changing our backyard.  To conform to regulations about setting it back from the alley, etc., it would cut into the deck about 8 feet or more, and a good chunk beyond that would have to be destroyed just to make space for building to happen.  Plus the finished result is a garage that would feel like it’s practically in our family room.  We’d lose a birch tree, and we’d go from a spacious feeling when we step out the back door to one that is very closed in and cramped.  I don’t see any point in bothering to build a new garage if it can’t hold both our cars, but the amount of space that would take up is more considerable than I first imagined.

This is the current view of the garage from the family room, looking across the deck:  (And yes, I know that looks like a door that could be used to exit the garage on the left, but it doesn’t lead to anything on the inside.)

See that flower pot on the deck on the far right in the above picture?  That’s about where the new garage would come to.

That’s just a lot of space to lose and I don’t know if it’s worth it.  I’d have to figure out something positively gorgeous to do to that garage wall, too, since we’d have it right in our faces.

It’s not like there is no more yard past the deck, but what little yard there is has been kind of taken over by the play set.  The only decent space in the backyard left for adults is really on the deck.

Side note:  In case anyone else is about to assemble such a play set, here’s something we did with ours that’s worked out well.  We put hooks on the top of the rock climbing wall instead of bolting it in place, and we didn’t bolt down the slide.  Everything is safe and holds together just fine, but we can rearrange the set when we want to.  We can pull both things off if the kids need better access to the little picnic table, and we can put the slide pointing in a new direction periodically (which gives some of the grass a break).  At the moment the kids like the slide coming right off the deck.  (We’re also able to switch out a swing for a trapeze bar easily.  It helps to keep them from getting bored with the set if we can keep changing it.  Not that they get bored easily–To my kids the playhouse area is either a ship or a clubhouse and there are elaborate games with rules I can’t follow and there is always something busy going on there.)

(Oh, and I have a friend who has older kids who don’t use their play set anymore, and she had the brilliant idea to string a hammock on it, and the clubhouse area is covered with plants, so now it’s her own little relaxing spot in her backyard.  Doesn’t that sound cool?)
Okay, so back to my quandary:  On the one hand, it seems stupid to give prime space to cars when we should just put up with the parking inconveniences and enjoy our deck.  On the other, we can only hang out on the deck certain months of the year and we would use the garage all the time.  A decent garage would be extremely practical for us and safer for the kids and the cars.  Parking on the street in Milwaukee costs money and you have to move cars to the opposite side each night, plus our smaller car has had the radio stolen twice while parked on the street, so it’s not a great option.  (I’m sure my husband who created a pro-public transit site called “Milwaukee Without a Car” is in his heart thinking “Let’s just get rid of a car,” but I remember the days before we had the third kid that necessitated our getting the minivan.  There were a lot of Army Reserve weekends where he drove off and I was stranded with small kids and few options.  For a family of five that second car comes in very very handy.)

So, garage or deck?  Any opinions or ideas?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Thinking of Katie (Babble)

I just learned about the death of Katie’s son this morning while reading Rebecca’s post.  I’m not sure what to say because it is awful beyond words.

I sent her an email with my condolences, picked up the freshly printed pancake recipe I’d actually come to Babble to try this morning, and went downstairs to my kids who were watching cartoons.  Mona got out eggs for me.  Quinn carried the oil to the counter.  Aden started to set the table before she got distracted and wandered away.

The peonies on the dining table were wilting, so I asked Mona if she wanted to go outside and cut some new ones.  She left with a pair of scissors in one hand and a toy snake stuffed down the back of her pants that she’s using as a tail lately.  While I mixed the batter for our breakfast, Quinn was holding a peony bud in his hands and asked, “Why do peonies have leaves?”  I told him leaves are what help make food for plants.  He smiled and looked down at the bud in his hand and said, “Well, that’s nice of the leaves!”  I laughed, and then I wondered how many marvelous things Katie’s son must have said over the years of his too short life that will leave her with bittersweet memories.  I hope at some point the pain fades enough that they are more sweet than bitter.  But I can’t even fathom that much pain.

The pancakes were delicious, every bit as fluffy as the recipe promised.  My kids and I ate together and they gave the new pancakes a thumbs up to make again sometime.  Later today they all have to come with me while I work at the violin store.  I wasn’t looking forward to having them all along, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m just glad they are mine and I am theirs and we are together.

Mona did a great job picking peonies.  These are for Henry.

You are in my thoughts, Katie.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lost Again (Babble)

I’ve had some time now to contemplate the ending to the show Lost, and since I don’t have anyone here to discuss it with, you lucky people get to read my musings on it.  (Or not.  I have complete sympathy for people who are not interested.  It’d be like trying to have a discussion with me about sports.  I don’t care.  You can’t make me care.)  This post is also a mess of spoilers, so for those who may still watch it all, don’t read this.  (I’m talking to you, Kraco5.  Go read this old post again if you need something to pass the time.)  If you never plan to see it, read and enjoy how nonsensical I can sound!  I know that at this point even people who care might not care because it comes on the heels of a lot of more timely analysis, but remember, I don’t have a husband around to talk to, and I just want to get some thoughts out of my head.  Indulge me and share some of your own theories.

Okay, my thoughts on Lost for anyone who cares to read them are these:  The finale, on an emotional level, was satisfying.  You couldn’t ask for a more perfect set of last few images than Jack stumbling past his father’s weathered tennis shoe and lying down in the bamboo to die.  To watch the plane fly away was hopeful, and I was a wreck when Vincent the dog showed up to lie down with him so he wouldn’t die alone.  The eye shutting to that last little note of music was perfect.  The symmetry of all of that was beautiful.  The episode, like the series in general, left us with a lot to think about.  That’s the fun of it.

I’ve been reading too many reactions online of people who seem to have confused the explanation of the sideways timeline with the island timeline.  The sideways timeline may have been a kind of purgatory, but I think they made it pretty clear the island was not.  I don’t think we need a perfect explanation for anything that happened in sideways land because it was a fiction they were creating for themselves.  Our core characters wanted to move on together to whatever comes next, and there is no way to know how long the sideways timeline played out until that happened.  For all we know Hurley and Ben ran the island for a thousand years before they died.  I like that idea, because that would mean after a millennium of penance Ben was still working things out before he could move on.  (Which seems appropriate for someone who killed so many.)  I think the moment Rose told Jack he could ‘let go now’ on the plane at the beginning of the season was the moment Jack died on the island.  That would mean even though as viewers it looked as if the sideways timeline was in the past, it was a form of the future we were catching up to, which has a very Lost type twist to it.  Despite arguable problems with the sideways stories, the awakenings and reunions in that timeline were also satisfying.  I loved Sawyer and Juliet by the vending machine and getting an explanation for what she was saying when she died in his arms at the beginning of the season.

Great stories don’t typically answer every question.  If they did there would be nothing left to discuss.  I know at the last book club meeting with Aden and her friends we talked about our theories of how the grandmother in the story The Witches lost her thumb.  Roald Dahl never tells you, and it’s far more interesting and mysterious that way.  If we had a simple explanation it would have killed the discussion because what would be the point of talking about it?  Mysteries where you get to fill in every blank become disposable, like a finished crossword puzzle.  Lost decided to leave us with many things to puzzle out, and in general I don’t have a problem with that.

BUT!  As much as I’m willing to let certain answers go, here are the ones I’m annoyed I didn’t get:  I seriously needed the backstories for Widmore, Hawking, and Libby.  I also wanted to know if Desmond’s interference in the regular timeline that was sparking course corrections was also responsible for retroactive changes as well (which would help explain away inconsistencies, like how Charlie couldn’t swim originally and was a champion swimmer later, or why that image he saw of Claire escaping with the baby on a helicopter never happened).

There is this hilarious bit about unanswered questions here, but some of these do have answers already (for instance, that image of Ben’s mom had to be the smoke monster, and ‘The Economist’ was Widmore).  The main one in this list that bugs me too is why The Others were in disguises ever.  What was that about?  And in my opinion the fertility issues on the island were the biggest thing that really should have been explained.  That was central to so many stories over and over I think that was unfair to offer us nothing on that topic.  And the reason Chrisitan Shephard could appear in so many places the smoke monster couldn’t?  I think it really was the ghost of Christian Shepard.  When Jack saw him standing in the water in White Rabbit?  And later in the flash forward?  I think he really saw his dad.  Not sure why he would appear to Michael on the freighter, but I suppose once one accepts dead people injected into a storyline, one should not get too picky about why they do what they do.  I think when the smoke monster in Locke form told Jack he was posing as his father, he was (gasp!) lying.

Here are my other guesses on a lot of things.  As much as I know many people disliked Across the Sea, I think it answered a lot of questions.  And I don’t mean the obvious ones, I mean that because we know the backstory for Jacob and his brother it explains a lot.  Jacob had important powers and responsibilities (although I couldn’t help thinking while he was at his loom about that quote from the Holy Grail where the knights are standing around watching the Mighty Tim make flames pop up from the ground and they say to him, “I can see you’re a busy man….”)–but the thing about Jacob is that he was really just a guy, and one with a messed up history at that.  How did he choose the people he picked to come to the island?  Well, how would you?  It could be for any random reason that seemed good the day he thought of it.  If a god is picking out people you expect certain standards, but a lonely guy with mommy issues?  I’m impressed he picked as well as he did.  Same goes for the smoke monster’s motivations.  Why did he kill the people he killed?  Again, a clever vengeful devil should do something evil with meaningful impact, but a lonely dead twin made of smoke with mommy issues?  Maybe he left people alone who were interesting to watch and killed others when he got bored.  I can see that.

In any case, I have a sense that the combination of Jacob’s powers and his general flaws helped create a lot of things that don’t make sense.  Maybe all those goofy costumes The Others were wearing were made for them by Jacob on his loom.  What else did he have to do most days?  (It doesn’t explain the bad fake beards, but there are weirder choices people make in reality, so whatever.)   Heck, the island looked uneventful enough most centuries he could have built that giant statue of Tawaret himself.  Also, our only clue on the fertility issues is the death of Jacob’s birth mom and his complicated feelings for his adoptive mother.  Maybe someone with Jacob’s powers doesn’t have complete conscious control of them.  Maybe any time he spent brooding over his mommy issues bled over onto all of the island in such a way that they became part of the fabric of existence there.  Maybe under Hurley’s reign the fertility issues ended and a new statue was built to honor ranch dressing.  Could happen.

Or maybe it had nothing to do with Jacob, and the glowy warm light with its warming glowy glow was causing interference for anyone else also trying to create life so close by.  I can see that, too.  But it would have been nice to have the writers of the show at least point us toward some kind of answer instead of leaving it so open.  I can let go of questions about the polar bears because that was probably some Dharma thing that a scientist with grant money thought was a good idea.  I can also explain away the mysterious Dharma food drops as related to the goofy time problems on the island.  For all we know the food drops happened in the 70’s and thanks to temporal anomalies didn’t hit the ground for 30 years.  Why not?

Widmore is still a puzzle.  I think he was working for Jacob, or trying to help Jacob in his own way, but wasn’t necessarily carrying out specific orders.  I don’t think Jacob, for instance, told Widmore to fake the plane crash at the bottom of the sea, but Widmore saw an opportunity to ‘help’ and went ahead with it.  In terms of his being inconsistent on things like letting Ben keep the baby, well, it just speaks to someone winging it.  If he was trying to help Jacob and not getting any decent direction, then he’d have to just go with his own judgment, and I’m sure ordering someone to kill a baby in a way that feels abstract is different from the baby showing up in front of you and then making a decision about whether it lives or dies.  That just seems human, and putting a fickle human spin on many of Lost’s mysteries may explain many of them.  The only big Widmore plan I do think Jacob was involved in was priming Desmond to be able to uncork the island.  I think the quarantine stuff was simply to keep him in the hatch where pushing that button for so many years immunized him against its electromagnetic effects.  Or maybe there really was some kind of ‘infection’ that was related to the smoke monster.  But that whole thing makes my head hurt, because I didn’t get the sense that the children stolen off the beach were getting injections, so why was Ethan intent on injecting Claire and her baby?  Ugh.

Here’s a LIbby theory I have that I haven’t read anywhere yet:  I think her dead husband was the same dead David that Hurley was talking to.  I think both Libby and Hurley could speak to the dead and that’s why they were both in the mental institution, and when David tries to trick Hurley into jumping off the cliff on the island it’s motivated by jealousy over Libby.  Somehow Libby must be tied to Widmore so that she could get the boat to Desmond, but I guess how or why we’ll never know.  That we wasted any time learning about Jack’s tattoos when we could have had a Libby backstory is a bit maddening.  (Or even an Ilana backstory.  Heck, I’d have even preferred a director’s cut of an episode of Expose.)

Zombie Sayid needed some kind of explanation.  That wasn’t fair to have him rise from the dead and not let us know what was up with that.  And why did Claire leave her baby?  I thought she was dead for a long time, killed in the explosion in Dharmaville that took out all those redshirts, but in the end she flies home, so I guess not.  Zombie Claire made more sense.  (You know something has not been sufficiently explained when a walking dead theory seems the most reasonable.)

Anyway, it was a good ride.  I loved being surprised and hated waiting so long between episodes and the whole thing was a good use of the medium of TV.  I can’t believe it stretched out for Mona’s entire lifetime, but it was worth watching.  (I nursed her all through season 1 and a bit into season 2!)  I’m tempted to buy the over-priced definitive box set when it comes out, but it’s still all free on Hulu, so I may start watching it all again from the beginning.  Knowing what I know now it will be extra enjoyable and frustrating this time.  I have a few more months before Ian gets home to get through it all.  It’s hard to sleep without him, so I tend to watch programs on my computer at night until I can’t stay awake anymore.  Lost reruns could serve that purpose well.

Anyone have any other theories about any of the big unanswered Lost questions?  I’d love to read them.