Monday, July 29, 2013

The real reason why I haven't seen enough of you.

We are coming to the end of our summer in New England, a place that is filled with family, friends, and memories. It's a good thing I have the memories, because I will be damned if I created many new ones this summer. Don't get me wrong, I have had n amazing visit, and spent time with my beloveds - but not enough. Not nearly enough.

I am left wanting more, and feeling like I did not squeeze every bit of magic out of this visit as I could have.

As I should have.

But this is not a new problem. I always find myself wondering why I barely have time to see my  friends, but plenty of time to drive back and forth to Dunkin Donuts twice a day.

Why is it so difficult to make time for our family and friends? I am consistently baffled by the hurdles and scheduling challenges that present themselves in my day to day life. I spend all day busily getting absolutely nothing accomplished, and I still can't manage to see my neighbor more than a few times a month, despite living in a house that directly faces hers.

I drive by friends' houses and I see them, at home, standing in their kitchen trying to get a handle on whatever hell has just unleashed itself, and I think "I had better not bother them right now." And then I go home, alone, and stand in my own kitchen to deal with my own hell. At the very least we should be combining forces.

My friend Mai who lives 10 minutes away? I never drive by her house - which is why we can go months without seeing one another - through the kitchen window or otherwise, so difficult is it to coordinate our schedules.

(Note to self: close the curtains in the kitchen. Weirdos might be driving by looking in your windows.)

I don't think I am the only one in the world who feels like trying to fit everything - and everyone - into my extremely underwhelming life is damn near impossible. The reason I am so damn frustrated about it right this very minute is that the people I came all this way to see here in New England are important to me, and I want to spend more time with them. I am motivated, and more importantly I am HERE - which is a far cry from being 7,000 miles away on Maui.

So what the hell is my problem. Why did I spend 3 hours watching Pirates of the Caribbean today, instead of meeting friends to go for a swim/kayak/tea party/ice cream cone/crabbing session/cup of coffee?

Part of it is definitely the parenting factor.

I have a serious question for you: does being a parent actually force time to move more quickly?

Or is it just a giant black hole scenario where you have a baby and immediately get sucked into this vortex of servitude and exhaustion that is only marked by the ever-changing pencil lines showing your kids' heights - each line a milestone carefully recorded on the pantry door frame with names and dates to remind you not only of their actual names, but of how many children you have, and whether they are taller than you yet because we all know it's coming sooner or later. And then later on we look back at those markings and think "where did the time go?" I'll tell you whee it went - it went straight to the kitchen to prepare another round of snacks.

Do you know how much time I spend preparing food for these kids? I would say 25% of their waking hours are devoted to eating: planning to eat, asking when we are going to eat, deciding what to eat, and then actually consuming so much fucking food that I have to spend another 25% of my time figuring out how I am going to pay for all of it. And then there is the cleaning up. Not just the dishes - though that accounts for a lot of it. There is also picking up countless used paper products, broken crayons, Lego and Playmobile pieces, dirty clothes, clean clothes, wet towels, wet bathing suits, and scraps of cardboard/paper/plastic that seem to be scattered all over every surface.

That leaves me 25% to try to fit in laundry, driving to camp, driving from camp, more laundry, and Target. Target takes up a fair amount of my vacation time (and budget, but this is not the time for a Target confessional. We'll just say that Target is a total time suck, and leave it at that.

But the bottom line - the true bottom of the line - is that my summer is almost over, and there are a handful of people I haven't seen at all, another handful that I have seen once or maybe - if I was really lucky, twice - and it leaves me feeling frustrated. Tonight I wanted to go visit a friend and Lucy had a fever so I stayed home.

Was that the right thing to do? Is spending time with a good friend, talking about things that are going on - good, bad and ugly - is that really less important than doling out popsicles and cold compresses and refilling water bottles? Because I tell you what - I could have skipped playing nurse, but of course I still had the dinner dishes to do. And I guess I should figure out what they are eating for lunch tomorrow.

Oh fuck it. I'm switching to paper plates and delivery. Tomorrow I am going to roll out of bed, put on a bathing suit, and head for the beach. I'm not preparing any food, and the biggest responsibility I plan to take on is applying sunblock.

I sure hope some of my girlfriends come out and join me. It's time to take back the clock.
Father Time, I'm giving you the day off. And a Xanax.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Adventures in Glamping

I am not much of a camper.

I have tried - lord, how I've tried - to be a girl who can rough it. I have suffered in silence (and out loud) during attempts to be outdoorsy. But when it comes to sleeping and getting clean, I have standards that do not come easily to the great outdoors.

To begin with, I need a mattress and the right pillow. The wrong pillow is every pillow on the face of the earth except the one that I have deemed "the right pillow". This pillow can be different every week, but if it is not the right one, it is definitely wrong. The mattress cannot be filled with air nor water nor cotton batting. I can handle foam mattresses in a pinch, but for the most part I need a pretty firm, but not too firm mind you, mattress. And if you slip a pea under it so help me I will come and find you and stick your hand in a glass of water while you sleep. (I think that's the sort of thing you do to seek retribution when you are camping.) And I need actual bedding because sleeping bags awaken all of my claustrophobic anxieties at once. Of course, tents don't really help in that department either, but the sleeping bag is a deal breaker. I also need a real shower. And shampoo. Hot water would be fabulous but I can proudly tell you that I have done without in the past, and lived to tell the tale.

Cold water showers. That, my friends, is as rough as it's gonna get.

In traveling with the roller derby team, I have adapted to some rather unconventional accommodations, and have no problem with what I like to call "the high capacity sleeping arrangement" which involves someone sleeping in every square foot of space, 4 people to a bed, minimal bathing, and sharing one toilet with anywhere from 12 to 22 people - if you even get to the toilet, which can - under the best of circumstances - be a bit of a crap shoot.

No pun intended. We're talking about actual crap.

All of this is to illustrate that I am aware of my limitations, and have been able to accept some pretty tight quarters. So for this summer, when my aunt invited us to stay in the Barn (the barn that previously housed my horses, and more recently the contents of several attics) I was all about it.

The Barn (capital B)

Freshly painted and cute as can be, I was very excited to have a quiet place for the kids and I to settle in for the duration. And featured prominently was a desk for my writing, and a chair I had never seen before.

"Ice Cream Parlor chair circa 1930 from 
Aunt Betty and Uncle Tom McAvoy's 
drug store/ice cream parlor Waterbury CT. 
Aunt Betty was Grandma Cronin's sister
Written by someone in black sharpie. Because dammit, that chair has a blog of it's own to write.

The Barn has a bed - with a mattress, mind you - windows with screens, and a full bathroom just a short walk across the lawn.

So cute and cozy!

A beautiful view, what's not to love?

When we arrived last month my aunt greeted us joyfully, showed us to our new digs, and handed me "Glamping With Mary Jane", encouraging me to familiarize myself with this hot new trend. Then she bid us goodnight and retired to the main house, leaving the door unlocked in case we needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Sam scoffed at the very notion, marched outside, turned his back to the yard and peed in the bushes. He realized as he was finishing up that he was in full view of the neighbors, who had recently cut down some trees on our side of the property line in order to share our view. So Sam smiled and waved and buttoned up. He is neighborly like that.

I didn't really think of our accommodations as "glamping" at first. This was just sleeping in a cottage, and visiting the main house to use the plumbing. The summer kitchen (as I like to call it, mostly because it sounds better than "what the fuck is this?") is located in - and just outside of - the basement, and is probably the least glam part of our glamping scenario. It is also probably a hazard of at least 3 different varieties, but that is neither here nor there. Let's call it a work in progress. We have a small convection toaster oven, a hot plate, a large table, and then outside, the latest addition to the kitchen.

Our piece de resistance:
 a sink - with faucet! - connected to the hose.
Same sweet ass view as the barn. 
Al fresco dish washing is where it's at.
I can feel your jealousy right now.

The best part about that sink, if you ask me, is that my cousin found it on the side of the road. That's right - a perfectly good cast iron sink - an antique! - just lying there on the roadside. So naturally (because that is what one does when one comes across a perfectly good sink on the side of the road) my cousin brought that sink home, and after using it as a step stool for a few years it has now been repainted and assumed it's place of honor outside on the back step. Previously we were washing dishes in the bathroom, so you can imagine how giddy I was to have a real kitchen sink just outside the door. This was glamping, baby!

I was still on a glamping high when my aunt's neighbor walked over and saw what we had going on. A look of pity flashed across her face as I stood there in the doorway, braless and unshowered, wearing nothing but a man's undershirt and a pair of cutoffs, with muddy feet, washing dishes in a sink attached to the garden hose. It was at that very moment, as I rushed to cross my arms, covering my untethered state, that the wastebasket I had carefully placed under the drain to catch the water (plumbing? What plumbing? We're GLAMPING, dammit) began to overflow.

Cue the banjo.

(Side note: washing congealed egg off of dishes with cold water is a total bitch).

I am having the time of my life over here. I love my little barn, and I am thrilled with my sink. I am obviously built for off-the-grid living. Clearly, I was born to glamp. I am now in the market for an Airstream - have hose, will travel.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Belongings. I don't wear the skort, the skort wears me

I bought a new skort at LL Bean today. Pretty heady stuff.

The skort has purple polka dots on it, and when I tried it on at the store and looked in the mirror I actually thought "this is cute!" Clearly I have lost my mind in the heat.

We are spending July in a seaside enclave of sailboats and tennis tournaments and ringing bicycle bells and houses with names (none of which belong to me, I might add) and moms in skorts (I think I will name my skort since I don't have a bike or a house - suggestions welcome, I am considering "Muffy").

I grew up across the water, a year-round townie to this neighboring summer community, and I remain strictly a day tripper. My relatives have been kind enough to extend an invitation to stay with them this summer so that Max and Lucy can attend day camp for the month - something I was never able to do myself as a child and had always wanted to. I cannot imagine life without this magical, wondrous place, so for as long as I can remember, I have done whatever I can to spend as much time here each summer as possible. This year is no exception. I drive a borrowed car and ride a borrowed bike. My children sail in a borrowed boat and I cook hotdogs for dinner on a borrowed BBQ. I am living someone else's life, and it's a pretty sweet one.

This place really is heaven on earth for children, who "rule the road" as the police chief informed us all at the start of summer. My kids have joined the roving packs of helmeted hooligans with zinc oxide smeared all over their faces and ears, tearing through the narrow streets with towels around their necks and life jackets flapping from their handlebars as they ride from sailing to golf to art classes, with plenty of beach time throughout the day. They have thrown themselves into life here, and collapse into bed each night with grins on their golden faces and sand between their toes, feet black from street tar and the oil off their bike chains. They are one of the gang, my childhood dreams realized at last in their hazy summer days.

Despite finally being an actual bona fide member of the literal and figurative "club", and despite being born and raised a mile away, I remain, somehow, the interloper. I don't think I am imagining it, although of course I could be. I think it all stems from my insecurity about the fact that I have never spent a night on this side of the aqueduct, never participated in the day camp and never belonged to the club - until now. In fact, this is my first year of legitimately participating in the summer activities and events, instead of being snuck in by a cousin or friend. As recently as last summer I attended a club cocktail party under an assumed name.

But even with membership, I'm still a commuter. Therefore, the first hint that I do not belong is our arrival each morning by car. The preferred method of transportation here is a bicycle, or perhaps a slow jog. We, on the other hand, drive to sailing because we are late, as always, and I do not have time to ride a bike - or jog, for fuck's sake. I have not showered and my hair is doing something interesting that I tried - and failed - to disguise under a pastel print bandanna that I found under my seat. As I crawl around in the boat shed looking for the sail bag, I worry that my underwear might be hanging out of my cut off shorts.

At least I am wearing underwear this time. Credit where credit is due, please.

The cut-off shorts themselves are cause for concern. I may be the only mother in town wearing frayed denim, with tattoos peeking out around the waistband. I have my enormous Old Navy sunglasses perched on top of my head because I lost my regulation Ray Bans. The yellow parking permit is glaring brightly on my (borrowed) bumper, amidst the sea of bicycles with wicker baskets on the front and tennis balls in the wheels.

Once the sail has been located and hoisted we drive the car carefully through the children frantically pedaling off in all directions, and their mothers pedaling off in different directions. I park at my aunt's house and we retrieve the (borrowed) bicycles from her garage. The kids put on borrowed life jackets and grab borrowed towels. We head to the beach where I sit on a borrowed chair wearing a one piece skirted bathing suit (not borrowed) that carefully covers the tattoos and also conveniently covers the skin that has begun to sag and ripple in new and unfortunate ways this year.

I sit with family and friends and friends who are family, in a place I have memorized and dream about all winter. It is where generations of my family have fallen in love and fallen to pieces. This place holds us together, somehow. And I have brought Max and Lucy here in pursuit of my life-long dream of fitting in. I thought I would get over that vague but irritating desire to belong after high school, but sadly that nagging itch has persisted all these many years. And while this place is just a mile from my hometown, in some respects it is worlds away. So I took the kids over the aqueduct to the village store, with it's honest to goodness soda fountain and beloved spinning stools at the counter. A place I have spent countless winter hours reading comic books and eating penny candy. A place I truly belong without question - no membership required. And as I sat there with my kids one Saturday morning eating breakfast and spinning happily in dizzying circles, a man two stools down from me - a man who for all I know could have been related to me, so tightly is my family woven into this community - began a loud conversation about the latest news from Egypt with the comment ".....all these 'towel head' countries".

I froze. I froze right there on my stool, mid-spin. And I looked at my beloved husband, who is Lebanese and Syrian and Irish but mostly Lebanese and definitely from "those countries" and I looked at our beautiful children, and I realized at that moment that I did not belong there - in that place where I thought I most definitely belonged - either.

My life on Maui seems so far away here. It is strange that my sense of self seems to fade in the one place where it should be the very strongest. And the place that I moved to as an adult, knowing only a handful of people, has become the place where I feel most comfortable. I miss my Maui family and my house and my car and my sweet dog. I belong there - I know I do - but I was not "born and raised" on Maui and so there, too, I am an outsider in a way.

But I don't let it bother me there, and I won't let it bother me here either.

I belong. We all belong. There is no time to feel excluded. There is no time for prejudice. There is room enough for all of us, wherever we choose to be.

Unless you choose to be in a polka dotted skort. We do not all belong in polka dotted skorts. There. I said it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Great Outdoors is Trying to Kill Me. Also, the entire State of New Jersey.

Greetings from the East Coast, where the word "moist" gets used far too often for my taste, and not in a good way.
For the past 3 weeks, I have been hither, while my husband and any semblance of sanity has been decidedly yon. During this trip everything has been harder: harder than it should be, harder than I anticipated, and at times, harder than I could handle.

It began with my discovery shortly after arriving from Maui that, along with many, many other places in New York City, my brother's subway stop is not ADA compliant. This was not a concern because of any disability I might have (although that list is admittedly very long) but a huge stumbling block to getting my enormous suitcase from street level to the train platform. My suitcase also does not fit in the sub-compact car I am using for the summer - something I only discovered when I tried to actually fit it in the car. A huge roller bag that I packed with absolutely zero intention of lifting suddenly became my own personal albatross. I managed, somehow, to drag it through not just the city, but several cars on the commuter train and then through approximately 7 states, sometimes in the rain, always in the heat, cursing and sweating and coughing all the way. And each time I arrived at the next (but regretfully, never final) resting place, I collapsed on top of it and waited there, spent and yes, moist. But not in a good way.
This trip has been a blur of packing and unpacking, R and R (rest and relaxation vs. ranting and raving - depending on the situation), nostalgia and nightmares. We traveled from New York to Rhode island, and then the very next week we turned around and drove back through New York to Virginia. Let me just say this right now: I love Virginia. I basked in central air conditioning, stopped into Target at least once a day, ate peaches straight from the tree and still warm from the sun, and visited a gym so posh that I felt compelled to leave a tip for the attendant in the women's locker room. I even made it to yoga a few times, which was a minor miracle. I was relaxed and content and surrounded by my family.
On the final day "down south" I took five children out to lunch and the grocery store. The kids are ages 4, 5, 6, 8 and 12. It was possible - but inconceivable in several different ways - that they would all be mine, and I found myself on the receiving end of looks that ranged from impressed to bemused to horrified to sympathetic. I felt the same way, after taking them to a restaurant and the grocery store.
Our last stop was Target, and everyone waited in the car. Because seriously.
As that last day in Virginia progressed, the cold and cough ("it's a fine line between sounding sexy and sounding contagious") that I have been nursing since the end of May seemed to worsen. Bizarrely, I was hardly able to catch my breath, much less speak full sentences. Gasping for air between extended and deeply disturbing coughing fits and feeling slightly panicked, I grabbed Lucy's inhaler, a bottle of water, a box of Kleenex, and a Zyrtec that I found next to the dog food. Thusly fortified, I sat down heavily on the couch to try to get myself together.
To no avail.
I was a sweaty, gagging mess. Snot was everywhere, and I could not communicate whatsoever. I refused to go to the ER, because who does that for a cold? Except, it wasn't a cold. I mean, I might have still had a cold, but the real issue was an asthma attack brought on by allergies.
It turns out, I am allergic to the outside.
At least, the outside here on the East Coast.
At least, the outside in Virginia.
Have you ever had an asthma attack? The feeling that someone is standing on your windpipe while you are drowning is terrifying. And for 22 long hours, as I tried to catch my breath, I thought "Well THIS is bullshit." And it was. It still is. I finally decided to go to the doctor's before beginning the 7 hour drive back to Rhode Island, because I thought I might actually die en route. I now have 2 inhalers, antibiotics for a sinus infection, my very own bottle of Zyrtec so I don't have to steal the dog's, and some pretty rad nasal spray. We pulled onto the highway at 10:30am.
Twelve hours later, we finally reached our destination. Traffic was horrific, and every rest stop was apocalyptic, but more than that, the State of New Jersey practically took away my will to live. I am sure they have heard this before, but just for good measure: New Jersey can fucking suck it. My god, that state takes forever to drive through - especially in bumper to bumper traffic. And a note to the New Jersey Highways Department: rest areas should never, ever, ever be closed on the Sunday afternoon before the 4th of July. We pulled up to a closed sign and a collection of port a potties that were all locked and marked as out of order, and I thought right than that I might die. I wasn't even terribly upset at the prospect.
We made it home, pulling over every hour or so for fluids, coughing fits, and more tissues. Even now, a week later, the cough lingers. But I have managed to avoid seeing the doctor again. Or I did until this weekend, when Max went running off down the beach and stepped squarely on a rock ("I heard something crack, mama!") so I have visited the emergency room this week which I think fulfills my quota for this vacation thankyouverymuch.