full house

As I write this, my three offspring and I are all under one roof. My roof. Theirs. Ours. The steep peaked number we’ve occupied (or two of us, at any rate) since the fall of 1993, the exact weekend when I was due to give birth to my oldest child. I was huge. Emphatically huge. HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE. So huge that total strangers often commented on My Emphatic Hugeness, then followed it up with some comment about the twins or triplets or dodecatulpets I was storing inside, then followed THAT up with some OTHER comment, usually a choked expression of disbelief that I was only actually storing just the one. (NO WAY!! Are you SURE? Have you had an ultrasound? You have?!? I don’t believe it! Snort. Really? Ha! Gasp. Spit. Wow! HAHAHAHA.) This Emphatic Hugeness did not prevent me from playing basketball at the hoop that came with the house that my late husband, my large belly and I had just moved into. It was a habit I assumed in the hopes that all the repeat hoppity motion would perhaps joggle the baby out of its inertia and down the birth canal with a nice, wet, swift, gurgling whoosh.

Of course no audible whooshing occurred in the birthing of that baby or the two who followed. For a time, as the kids were growing, the three-story house shrank in size, filling up with the kids and their friends and their noises. Then they began to grow up and past the phase when all their friends, as well as their noises, spent so much time at home. They started to live some of their lives under roofs less steep. Then their father died, and the older two whooshed themselves right out of the house for most of the school year, and the resultant sucking sound almost deafened me. My youngest and I have managed pretty well; in the last several months I’ve become accustomed to schlepping and shopping and cooking for two, and we have our little nightly routines. He’s good company. I’m not complaining.

But it’s all so strange and novel, just as everything at every point in parenting is all so strange and novel. We use the word “newborn” to describe that squirming thing of beauty we rock and feed in our arms, but since when do our children stop being new, stop being born? When is loving them and watching them grow NOT a revelation? When is saying goodbye to them NOT a stab in the heart? People talk about the “empty nest” stage as though every stop short of it isn’t a major life adjustment. The first time you set them down for naps and leave the room: that’s killer. Then you hand them off to a baby sitter. Drop the dribble-nosed urchins at preschool. Kiss their heads, inhaling that sweet powdery perfume of childhood, on their first day of kindergarten. Say goodbye to them at summer camp. Trust their chaperones on an overnight field trip. Trust your teens behind the wheel when they first get their license. Watch them graduate high school. Watch them move into college. Watch them leave. Wait for their return.

One day they flock home, and the house fills up again with the kids and their friends and their noises — until, late at night, they curl up on their beds and breathe under a single roof.

It’s happening right now. And it’s huge.


photo (45)
We dogged Judeo-Christians like to think of ourselves as linear. IN THE BEGINNING! AND THEN THERE WAS LIGHT! AND ON THE THIRD DAY! Even if we don’t take all that calendar-progression stuff literally (seriously, how long IS one of God’s days, anyway?), the Bible still piles on the highlights from one sequential event to another. So when we read about alternate, cyclical conceptions of time in other cultures and religions, we tend to think: Oooh-ee, wooh-eee, now THAT’S exotic! Just imagine! Time looping around for a re-do!

And then, lo and behold, Christians celebrate Christmas same time each year. Over and over, an unmarried teenager gets pregnant in the Middle East. Over and over, her boyfriend marries her anyway (a true miracle), and over and over, the impoverished, homeless, faithful couple wind up giving birth in a barn. And that’s not all that happens. When I attend midnight Mass, I can bank not only on Jesus’ birth but his entire Passion, too: the prayers that lead to the Eucharist mark his suffering, death and resurrection. Every Eucharist is a little Easter unto itself. And so, in the course of a single Christmas Mass, Jesus is born, eats his last meal with his friends, dies on the cross and rises again. That’s quite the life cycle.

Sometimes, sitting in Mass, I fall into a moment that feels like a snatch of timelessness, not a turn of a wheel, not a ticking second, but something illumined and profound. Believing, as I do, that God joined us and healed us in our brokenness the only way God could — by walking among us, drinking wine at our weddings and scraping his sandals in the dirt next to us until he bled and died — then why wouldn’t I also believe that he’s still here? In this very moment, and the next one, and the next? We’re still broken, right? We’re still walking. It’s not like we’ve perfected this mortal-living shtick of ours. We plod ahead with our blinders on, trying to see too far ahead and not pausing to feel the present. Why wouldn’t the God who’s always back for more just plod away beside us?

So Mary’s about to give birth. Jesus is about to arrive, howling for milk and warmth and love, finding it in the arms of his parents. He lives. He dies. He lives again. Amen, and Merry Christmas.

the mystery of the knees

Whenever I meet my maker, I’ll have two pressing questions at the ready.

1) Why are tooth size and palate size determined by two separate genes? Who approached you with THAT brilliant idea? Orthodontists?

2) Knees. Seriously?

I don’t actually expect answers. I’m not that much of an irreverent twit, or that bad of a Catholic, to think the Great Master Programmer in the Sky owes me an explanation. Also, evolution being what it is, the knees seem kind of necessary, at least at 6:55 in the morning, when I can’t very well locomote by dragging my hairy knuckles around the floor, because then I wouldn’t have one hand free for coffee.

But dag nab it, my left knee has been acting up lately. What a pain in the ass! Though technically it’s a pain in the genu, and no, I did not know that word until the Oracle of Google revealed it to me just now. Thanks to soccer and my damned bloody stupid (DBS) propensity for ignoring injuries, I have no one to blame for that knee but my own self. There are potholes in my cartilage that could snap the back axle on a Buick.

In any case, both the left knee and its less-crabby but still aggravating counterpart on the right like to remind me that I’m older than I was 30 years ago. No shit! I really am! The knees make me feel older than everything else about my body that telegraphs age, even the sagging bits and silver hair, because neither the the sags nor the melanin-deprived filaments sprouting from my head cause any actual physical pain. They don’t hurt when I stand after sitting, or when I sit after standing, or when I kneel, squat, plop down on the floor cross-legged, attempt a cossack dance or walk on pavement for eight hours a day six days straight, as I did a couple weeks ago in Edinburgh. Running is altogether out of the question, although I have been known to try it in short bursts of extreme DBS-ity and never fail to regret it. The most I do on a semi-regular basis is kick and juggle the soccer ball around with my kids, and even that puts that pissy little joint of mine in a problematic mood. It swells with anger afterward.

To combat it — when I remember — I swallow glucosamine tablets the size of my head, which might or might not work, but I’m leaning toward “might,” because even if they don’t work I want to believe they do work and thus coax from them a nice, agreeable placebo effect of almost-working. They certainly don’t hurt. As for the saggy and silvery bits, I ignore them.

Otherwise, I do love getting older. I love the way it gives me license to act like an eccentric old battle-ax and mouth off with random profanity at random moments while honking my nose into a crumpled tissue and reminiscing about the good old days of dial telephones (I HAD A PARTY LINE AS A KID, I SWEAR IT’S TRUE) and black-and-white TVs that got just one lone channel with crappy reception. I would much rather be this age than, say, 13, when the apex of my life was “Star Trek,” which aired every afternoon in reruns on the one lone channel with the crappy reception.

The sole thing I’d like to change, and probably will some day, is my left knee. I wouldn’t mind changing the right one, either. If I could go back in time, sneak up behind my younger self while she’s sitting cross-legged and drooling before a crappy monochromatic uni-channeled Captain Kirk, knock her unconscious, harvest a few cells from her knees, clone them, grow them in a petri dish, fortify them with multivitamins and motor oil, improve them with kick-ass bionic upgrades and then insert them into my legs, giving me not just painless knees but Super Mutant Turbo-Charged Nitro-Joints that bend painlessly and hit 90 on the NYS Thruway in 2.8 seconds, I would. But I can’t. Surgery isn’t quite there yet, though I’ve heard some Scandinavian doctors are getting pretty close. Maybe they can explain the mystery of the knees to me, if I ask nicely. But they still won’t know a thing about the teeth.

at a loss

glasses - sideways
Someday, loooong after I die and the house is emptied of its occupants and most its crap, archaeologists and/or real estate agents and/or intergalactic alien explorers with seven eyes and 18 tentacles will find piles and piles of reading glasses.

I lose these 1.50-power babies allllllll the time. Losing them has become such a familiar part of owning them that I regularly purchase them in bundles; I buy cheapo glasses at pharmacies, department stores, dollar stores (where one finds the cheapo-est), every freaking place they’re sold. Why, if vending machines spat out cut-rate spectacles, I’d buy them there, too. I buy them even when I already have a stack of ready-to-go reading glasses in the kitchen, because I know, sooner rather than later, I WILL LOSE THEM ALL.

Occasionally I relocate prodigal glasses; when that happens, I celebrate their return by dressing them in fine robes and slaughtering the fatted calf. Why, just tonight, I found a missing pair on my head. Last week I found two missing pairs on my head simultaneously — wow, what a find! A couple months ago, while cleaning the car, itself an occurrence as rare and miraculous as ball lightning or a lint formation in the shape of the El Greco Pietà, I stumbled across three whole pairs! Holy shit! And they weren’t even broken!”Someday,” said my perspicacious and observant son over dinner, “We’re going to find 50 pairs of glasses in this house.”

I lose other things, too. Pencils. Pens. Socks, of course — just one at a time. Gloves, also one at a time. Earrings. Tylenol. When I have glasses, my ability to read more than three sentences at night before falling asleep. Hair ties. Printer cartridges. Boxes of raisins. Bags of clementines (twice). Once, in the fridge, I lost a half gallon of 2-percent milk. Christmas wrapping paper. Knit hats, but never the ugly ones that no one wears. Spoons: one spring we lost so many we almost ran out, prompting my late husband to develop a Theory of Random Spoon Migration that involved house guests accidentally ferrying steel cutlery home in their pockets or nostrils or something.

When my kids were little they lost pacifiers, although I actually think they took a much more active role in binky-dispersal than they ever copped to. One of them, I won’t say which, had a habit of tossing the damn things out of the crib during nap time, then howling in outrage until mommy or daddy fetched it. Mommy and daddy always did. Mommy and daddy didn’t object until the day that daddy, leaning into a corner to retrieve the abandoned infant-suck implement, asked: “How’d that get there?” And the kid said, firmly: “The hand did it.”

I loved that response: what a great way to shirk responsibility for any action! I’m surprised Dick Cheney didn’t use that one when he shot the guy bird-hunting! The possibilities are endless, aren’t they? Napoleon on invading Russia: “The feet did it.” Miley Cyrus on twerking: “The butt did it.” Any public figure anywhere who says anything moronic about global climate change or sexual assault or Ebola or the president’s daughters: “The mouth did it.”

So when I lose my reading glasses, I know exactly what to say. The head did it.

my permanent gift

photo (43)
Today marks a year since I lost my best friend, Pam. I can’t believe it’s been so long. I can’t believe it’s gone so fast. I can’t believe I’ve made it 12 months without blabbing on the phone with her and laughing until my diaphragm rips in two. She held and helped me after my husband’s suicide. She talked me through moments of profound loneliness and aching doubt and crashing, crushing guilt. She told me that good things would happen, they would. That I’d find love again, I would.

After she died, I did. And I couldn’t call her up and tell her. I still can’t. Her absence felt like a rupture in the cosmic order of things. It still does. Several times a week, my brain howls at me to JUST PHONE PAM, and I explain to my brain that sorry, she’s unreachable, but the damn thing doesn’t ever listen. Instead it howls again, DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME? I SAID JUST PHONE PAM! And I can’t it shut it up. So I talk to her anyway, telling her about all the crazy joys and heady milestones that have come my way since her death.

I wonder what’s been happening at her end, these days. I wonder if she’s looking down at us, tracking everyone’s movements, whispering little directives to help us all along. Could be. Could also be she’s reading a book or singing a hymn or kicking a soccer ball around Somewhere Up There. Or doling out a few words of counsel to someone in her gentle, calm, comprehending way, which always felt less like advice than some humbly revealed wisdom of the ages. Or unleashing that high-pitched madhouse giggle of hers. Or smiling that beautiful, face-consuming smile, which spread the width of her cheeks and squinched up her eyes to slivered crescent moons. I used to wonder how she saw out of them. I used to wonder how she managed to see so deeply into me. How she saw so deeply into everyone.

I know she’s not far away; I believe that. I know she’s still Pam, only more so, and that we’re still friends; I believe that, too. To borrow a phrase from another dear friend, Toni, who lost too many sons: Pam is my permanent gift, just as everyone I love, in this life and in that one, is a permanent gift. And so she’ll remain, no matter the years that slip past in her absence, no matter the phone calls that fail between here and there. I’ll never stop talking to her. That’s part of the gift. For that, and for her, I’ll always be grateful.