18 November 2013

Begin Again

On a deck studio, view of Oakland, I reclaim the artist.
Preschool becomes elementary. Construction becomes living. Years fall away. We read, play soccer, memorize multiplication tables.
And every so often, I go outside, warm up the hot plate, layer and scrape wax.

06 August 2009

New Norms

Four is old enough to grasp "President" and to recognize Obama's face in a storefront or on TV. She knows that he and his family live in the White House. She knows his job is very important.

I'm buried in the scraps of paper that collect in her cubby, and Stella's voice with excited recognition is behind me.

"Mama! These must be pictures of all the presidents!"

I turn to look high where she is pointing. "African-American Achievers" She is showing me pictures of Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks. Twenty influential black men and women.

Obama. Sotomayor. Preschool children. Maybe the world is changing.

11 May 2009

Keeping House

I have learned that housekeeping means making your home look great for guests. Stack magazines, stuff clothes in drawers, wipe down the bathroom sink and toilet rim. Don't so many of us joke the only reason we invite people over is to clean up? I also straighten for the women who clean our home twice a month. Our house is truly clean for five hours, then everyone gets home and it's down hill from there. Today I cleaned for the babysitter- which was happily a pre-clean for the cleaner, who comes tomorrow.

I remember the first time I realized that not everyone cleans for guests or lives in a perpetually clean house (which is what I truly imagined). I was fully 25 years old, in midwifery school, going to the house of a classmate for a study group. She had three kids and a working husband. There was toothpaste on the bathroom sink. Kids' underwear on the floor. Dishes on the counter. Mail was strewn on the table. Her home was not in total disarray, but it was so clear that she had done nothing to prepare for our visit. I was shocked- and then moved by her vulnerability. She wasn't worried about us. She believed we would love her just as she was. Or maybe she hadn't the time to worry about us- but I was childless and had no concept of the magnitude of chores in her life. In any case, it was a revelation.

I am not neat. Why was I making a fake clean world for everyone in my life? I don't know why I wrote "was," because I still am cleaning for the architect, neighbor, friend, but now I am aware of the behavior. Cleanliness is one of my fantasies, like being tall or graceful or witty. I do not leave food crusted on the counter or let the trash overflow, but the papers stack up and the clothes don't return to the closet on their own.

As much as I think that I am in recovery since that fateful study group, the fantasy of a neat, clutter free life is full force in our house remodel. We will have a bay view, a beautiful kitchen, an elegant front entry. I am probably the most excited about the mudroom. This "drop zone" should replace the entry or kitchen or dining room table. All family members who enter from the driveway will pass through this vestibule first and have a place for backpacks, shoes, mail, lunch boxes, etc. I am convinced that my home will finally look neat all the time- because of the mudroom. I know this is not true, but I am like the girl who eats a half gallon of fudge ripple while paging through Vogue and complaining about her body. I stay up nights hunched over the laptop searching flickr or houzz for images of open floor plans, kitchen islands, and fireplaces while boxes remain unpacked and stacked in the corner of the living room. All of these homes are beautiful because they have nothing personal in them.

What is my real life like? Is it neat? Orderly? Um... I came home from my first hospital shift to shrieks in the bathroom. Apparently, Otto had just removed his shit filled diaper, got it on his hands, and rubbed it on his head. He was screaming because he was standing in the shower spray while his father stared at him. Tonight I came home from an evening clinic to low lights, the babysitter in the living room. She stopped me in my tracks and turned on the light. The dog had puked foamy, slimy yellow puke in ten spots on the rug.

But have no doubt, the mudroom will put an end to my pre-cleaning fits and my surprise bodily fluid nights.

Mark my words.

06 May 2009

A Boy

Walking past closed doors, I knew each room held its own pivotal event, and I felt like a voyeur. I had heard report at 7am: sorrow and joy about to happen behind every room, most likely on our shift. And then sitting at the foot of of the bed in 19, I was in the core, the axis around which every other event would unfold. The third child, the first son, was born with his hair pressed slick with vernix into a beam of light and the smiling sobs of his father. Everything outside our circle vanished. There were no walls, no rooms with sick babies, new babies, and mothers in pain. There was no hospital, no city, no time. We could have been anywhere, anyone.

This birth was the first I have attended in five years. I was anxious for months leading up to Tuesday. Amidst moving, selling our home, planning for the new house, my return to deliveries was never far from my thoughts. They say it's like riding a bike, and it is, in a way. Obstetric fads come and go, one research trumps another, and we go from VBAC to cesarean, obsessive fetal monitoring to broad strokes, cervidil to cytotec. But the central pieces of watching a woman's perineum bulge, checking for a cord, celebrating the child, waiting for the placenta- these hold true.

06 February 2009

We Make it Home


As much as I complain in signs on the body- backache, leg bruises, a sore thumb- I like settling in. I shift pieces like a puzzle of sliding squares. Couch to the right, kid table around the side, filing cabinet left? No, right. This nesting is satisfying. We will be here ten months, more or less. It needs to be home.


26 January 2009

What We Leave Behind

Each crystal slipped between my fingers, wet with the cleaning spray. One wipe and they were dry, sparkling again. Only two, maybe three times have I cleaned the chandelier. The first time it was a two hour job. Preparing for our wedding, my husband's mother and sister and I worked together. We took off every piece and scrubbed them in warm, sudsy water. We removed years of grime and specks of ceiling paint. We readied the new house.

Our new apartment is comfortable. We have two small dark bedrooms, an efficient kitchen with a farm table in the center, a small family room off the kitchen that extends the kids' room. There is a peaceful living room with windows on three sides, the world's smallest bathroom and a laundry. We have a view of palm and plum trees and the shop signs on Grand Avenue. Today the kids' room is an oasis in the stacks of boxes.

The laundry door frame has half a dozen pencil lines marking growth of a teenager in 2005. I noticed the marks while putting in a load of curtains from the old house. Dread knocked me down. I forgot to photograph or trace our marks. Now they're painted over! There are few irreplaceables. During this move, I have understood how a person who has lost her belongings to flood or fire can exclaim, "I feel free!" We are burdened by so much Stuff. But a growth chart with dates and names? There is really no way to let it go, really no way to carry it with us.

19 January 2009

Last night it happened on the living room carpet.

The kids were dancing to the Counting Crows, and I was taking in the scene. Stacked boxes, furniture moved, art off the walls. For months now we have been running toward a single goal: Move to a neighborhood with a better elementary school. Before we went to Brazil, we closed on the new house, turned in Stella's paperwork, and sighed relief. We returned 10 days ago and started putting the details of seven years in boxes- or in the free box out front. Augusto said goodbye to some "really nice pants" from 1986. I admitted that I'm never going to sew those scraps of fabric into something beautiful. The kids chose toys to donate.

The movers come tomorrow.

In Decmeber, when our real estate agent came by with the stager, I couldn't listen when they debated new colors for the dining room. The dining room is exactly the color of my grandmother's living room. I brought a chip of paint from her wall. I felt mixed pride and regret when we cleaned up the neglected garden. But I stayed on task.

It was on the floor that I unraveled. It went like this.

Right there by the mantle we toasted our wedding. I remember the picture of us raising our glasses. We were smart when we picked this flowered rug and brown couch. It does hide the dirt from the kids and animals we anticipated. It's dark now, but this room is so great in the sun. We can never spend enough time here, just laughing.

Augusto is sorting his papers in front of the furniture that would change our lives. He is sandwiched between the two places our children were born. The bathroom is a little too big, but it was perfect for a mom pushing out a baby, surrounded by her husband (with video camera in one hand, son's head in the other), two midwives, and assorted equipment. The office never did get organized, despite a few genuine tries. It wasn't until after Stella came out that I realized I had stopped there to have her. It didn't matter.

Upstairs we have two bedrooms. When we moved in it was one large master suite with a knotty pine ceiling. There are animals and hand prints and shooting stars there. All three babies were conceived under that constellation. I need to remember to take a picture of the ceiling.

Our kitchen! Why do all parties end up there? Everyone crowded behind the counter with Augusto serving drinks and some gracious friend loading the dishwasher. How many bowls of soup did we serve? How many glasses of wine? How many debates started and (mostly) resolved? I love opening the dutch door in the mornings, folding laundry onto the counter.

We really are moving out of this house.

Before we started packing, I wanted to make a video tour- something to show the kids. Look, you were born right on that rug! Here's the window seat we made, letting you live mama's fantasy. This is the circle you rode around on your little bike. I never made the video. A house is just walls, right? I see that clearly in our new place, torn down to the studs. Even so, how do you leave a place of firsts? A wedding, a loss, two births. What were we thinking, doing all of these important things in the non-forever home?!

Sometimes I long for the houses we left when I was a kid. The one with the willow tree. The one with the small creek. The one with the endless cross country skiing. The one where I had high school parties. I stalk these homes from time to time. I wonder who lives there now.

Even as I dream our new home the Forever Home, I know it isn't. History has proved I don't stay in one place. But I want to, I really do.