Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Indian In Our Cupboard

More wisdom from fifteen-year-old me:

April 4, 1991

If you ever feel like you have a tiny house, get out an ice cream pail, a scrub brush, and a cloth, and start scrubbin’. It makes the floor stretch on endlessly. I think I put my kneecaps out of place today. No. I probably didn’t. But my hands smell bad.

We lived in these government-subsidized duplex buildings that year–well, quite a few years, actually. Eight I think, in the same one. Which is about eight times longer than I’d lived anywhere else. They had some kind of vinyl flooring throughout every room and up and down the stairs, and while my mother wasn’t too picky about clutter, she was a stickler about clean. She used to say that you could tell if someone was a good housekeeper by looking in the corners, not the middle of the room.

We did a lot of  deep cleaning.

The neighbors, I think when we first moved there, were an interesting family. In addition to a bunch of other  kids, they had three little triplets cuter than anything–one of whom we drove to the hospital while desperately performing the Heimlich manuever on. Why do I remember it being me holding that kid upside down on my lap wacking her between the shoulder blades? Surely it would have been the mother holding the kid? Maybe I was babysitting.

Anyway, their father was something like seven feet tall.  Or seemed like it to me. He was one big Indian. Which, to me,  was much scarier than one, big white guy. (Can I say that in a public forum? Will the NAACP come after me now? Can we relate how we really felt anymore, or do we have to pretend like we didn’t have some seriously ingrained prejudices when we were kids?)

The duplexes were made of stucco, and had big horizontal timbers between the upper and lower windows for decoration. One night my sister and I woke up in the middle of the night to see this dark face, with two enormous white eyes staring in our window. The father had had a little too much to drink (sniff? inhale?And yes, it was from this association that I came to know what pot smells like ) and had decided to climb around the outside of the building looking in windows. Eeeek.

The only other time I remember seeing someone’s face at that window was the night I was putting my brothers to bed and fell asleep reading them a story; I didn’t hear my parents pounding on the front door, and so they had to break into their own home. I think my brother woke up before I did, and unlocked the window for them.

Speaking of that family and banging on doors: I think this is the woman we hid in a secret closet we’d cut into the area under our staircase. There was all this empty space there, with just a coat closet under the tallest part of it, and my mother didn’t have a pantry, so she cut a hole in the sheet rock, behind the coats, put in a folding door, and even though we had the exact same floor plan as every other unit in the complex, you’d never know we’d gained a good twenty or so square feet of usable storage space. Anyway. I think her husband must have had too much to drink on at least one other occasion, because I remember her hiding in there and this guy pounding on the door. Shiver. I just remembered her name, too, because I could hear him shouting it.

Do you remember this Nena? Tell me I”m not making this stuff up…

Promised Pictures

Here are the pictures you asked for, from the Sweethearts dance. I know, I know, Thursdays are supposed to be all about gratitude–so, what? You’re not profoundly grateful for me sharing? And in such a timely manner? I know I am–grateful, that is, that my daughter has such good friends, and that at least one of their parents thought to take pictures, and was willing to share:

(And can I just point out, that clearly we have taught her well, when it comes to a girl keeping her date in line?)

And I don’t know if you can see it, but,  yes, her nails match match the infamous shoes:

They had a complete rainbow of dresses in this group–you’d think they’d planned it that way:

Her date is the one who seems to have tangled with a slinky at dinner:

He’s Italian, and asked her to Sweethearts with a long Italian missive which she had to translate online in order to understand. At which point she realized it was mostly blustering bravado about how much superior he was/is at almost everything they might have ever attempted to do. Sweet, teenage boy stuff like that.  If I remember right, she was going to answer with a letter written in a dozen or so other languages. Not sure that ever materialized, but if you know Michael, you’ll agree that it was a excellent idea.

I suppose I should include a picture of them on even footing, just in case she never goes out with someone taller than her again. (Kidding. I’m sure there are lots of men taller than six feet in her future. But just in case.):

You Know It’s True

If you give a kid 528+ square feet  to play in:

Chances are, they’ll set up shop as close to the busiest part of that room as is humanly possible:

On Vacations, Teen Drivers, and Other Extraneous Things

Talk about taking it easy: Yesterday I had two kids here, and right now I have three. Not counting my own, of course, five of whom are on Spring Break. Complete with capitals, yes.  You know that sacred institution of American education which serves only to tantalize school children with the promise of a real vacation yet two months off.

I don’t include them in my head count because, well, they wipe themselves if you know what I mean. They are pretty much self-sufficient. Somebody even took it upon himself to clean the kitchen this morning. Now that’s boredom for you–or a sort of pre-paid gesture of gratitude for the fact that I’m going to have to take him driving sometime this week.

Yes, that’s correct: I have another child to teach how to drive. Already.

Not to mention insure. Spent most of yesterday trying to find the least expensive way to do that, but it looks like pretty much no matter who you go with, and no matter how decent a student the kid is, you’re going to pay right around $100/month to put a minor behind the wheel of a car.

C’est la vie.

Can I also admit to you that even though I only have a smattering of children this week, and very iffy numbers in the future and even though tuition is due and my property tax bill arrived Saturday, I still went out and bought a computer? Yes I did. It was the cheapest one–not only on the shelf, but on Wal-mart’s shelf. However, it:

1)Not only has a screen that does not flicker and die even if it is not angled at precisely the hair’s breadth of that one position in which contact is occasionally still viable but a powercord that operates in all positions and temperatures,

2) Is not in thirty-seven pieces on my son’s floor, awaiting shipment of crucial parts from a dubious source in Hong Kong,

3) Is not larger, older, nor more erratic than myself and therefore can be used at any time of day, in any part of my home, or even while hiding out in the back seat of my van and

4) It has nothing but wordproccessing and research capabilities–which is all I need, but which makes it a fairly boring target for teens and small children. Okay, they could probably install those other things on it, and I’m certain they would, but that’s why Microsoft invented password protected user accounts.

It is also a hideous color of red, which  the floor model was not, but which might explain why it was so cheap.

Which reminds me that it still needs to be paid for and by extension, that there are interviewees to harass and articles to write.

Until next time…

My Own Personal Canyon

Eight years ago, Aron Ralston was hiking Blue John Canyon, when somehow a boulder became dislodged and trapped his right arm. After five days and the realization that he was going to die, he thought he saw a small boy running toward him, and that he caught the child up in his left arm. Feeling like this was a vision of his future son, he decided to live: He broke the bones in his arm, and then amputated it with a dull utility knife.


Heard a speaker relate this story this weekend. I’d heard the story before but never paid it a lot of attention–until Dallin H. Oaks paired it with this statement(or something like it, I’m going from my notes here): “If our righteous desires are sufficiently intense, they will motivate us to cut and carve ourselves free from other priorities that prevent our progress”.

And it was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over me. What, exactly, are the priorities that are preventing my progress? What good (but maybe not essential) activities am I letting steal away the moments of my life?

There are things I think that I want to accomplish–things that nag at me constantly, but I feel I do not have time for just now: Writing that book, establishing a rock-solid family meal routine, etc.

But I allow other things to get in the way. (Sleep, usually. You know how it is: Next week, for sure, I’ll start.)

Do I really desire those things as much as Aron Ralston wanted to see his son? I tell myself that I do. But do I? Oaks said, “We should remember that those desires cannot be superficial, impulsive or temporary. They must be heartfelt, unwavering, and permanent.”

Would I cut off my own arm? Or even just give up an hour of sleep every morning? What “limb” needs to go, and do I have the stomach for it?

It’s something to think about. ‘Cause a lot of days I feel like I’m stuck, all alone in a desert canyon, and that boulder and I both aren’t budging.

And darn it all, I’ve got places to be.

On The Marriage Prospects of Whales and Lions

In light of my recent post on teens and truth telling, I think this journal entry from twenty years ago is quite fitting:

Why is it that adults think you are lying–or at least hiding something–if you do not tell them what they have already determined to be the truth? They are like artists who sit down to paint your portrait, only they never look up until they are finished, and then they are so shocked that their subject has not changed to mirror the picture they have drawn. Something must be wrong with the model, no?

They say, “You have to trust me!” but if what we say is not what they have already figured out, they think we are lying. If they think it’s pink and we say green, they can’t understand why we don’t trust them. When I say the world is round and all along they have figured out that it was flat, it upsets their entire world view.

It’s like trying to marry a whale or a lion. It doesn’t work. Not because one of us hates the other, our paths just never, never cross, never can.

For so long I thought  that adults were some semi-Godlike wonder who know and can do all. Suddenly I realize that this is me, the same person who will be here in 60, 70, 80 years. No miracle is going to pop up and I’ll be changed into an all-wise being.   I suppose I was kind of waiting for that moment, for my life to start, but then I realized that it’s me who has to start.

I think there are some adults out there still waiting for that moment.

My life, my future is sitting here, set squarely on my shoulders and it’s mine. I’ve had the materials since the day I was born and it’s all been up to me. I’ve got the tools, the supplies, and yet somehow I’ve spent my life watching for the delivery truck and a set of blueprints when really, I have my own set. So why was I waiting for someone to come out of some nebulous place and arrange it all for me?

The past is like a pile of stones. Each one a moment full of joy or sorrow. It occurs to me that I can pick and choose which ones I build the foundation of my future with.  I don’t have to pick up every shattered stone and try to piece them back together, understand and fix them all, or add them to my present or future load.

My mistakes, and those of my family don’t have to be part of the future.

Ahhh, to be fifteen and omniscient again…