In the Pink

I was recently reminded that I am a NEW stepparent, and as such I have MUCH to learn. It was a weird “off” moment that I’m still trying to make sense of, but here are the basics:

It was a Monday a few weeks ago and Ethan (seven) had the day off from school, but was a regular workday for us. My work has been slow so I took the day off. He has a friend in his second grade class who’s mother has kindly watched Ethan a few times this year when school got out early, so I volunteered to take her son, also. Let’s call him Chad.

Chad is a good kid. I sometimes get a little annoyed with him because he is obsessed with what is cool and what is not. The last time I had him in my car I was listening to the Beatles and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to think about them, so he asked me how many followers they had. I remember how important that stuff felt when I was in grade school, so I get it. I just wish I could protect Ethan from that crap

Ethan asked to go to a trampoline park and I got permission from Chad’s parents to take him. I don’t know if this is a thing everywhere but trampoline parks are big in Salt Lake City right now. It’s basically a warehouse with a raised floor made of a series of trampolines and play equipment that pairs well with trampolines, such as basketball hoops and zip lines. The kids love it. (I actually tried to bounce for a minute once, but quickly realized that my spine is too old for that kind of jarring action, and that my bra was not designed for anti gravitational maneuvers. I managed to get back on to solid ground without doing permanent damage to my body and then got myself tucked back in without breaking any decency laws, but lessons were learned.)

I got the boys buckled in the car and pulled up the address on my phone. As soon as Siri’s voice came up, however, the boys groaned and launched into throwing shade at my phone, which basically consisted of repeating the tirades they have heard from their fathers about Siri. I have personally witnessed several arguments between Ethan’s dad and GPS technology and mostly have found myself taking Siri’s side. Of course it won’t work if you follow every other thing she says, then decide she doesn’t know what she was talking about to begin with, make an abrupt turn in a nonsensical direction, and get yourself lost. Remember the good old days where men just wouldn’t ask for directions? Now we foist directions on them, leading them to mansplain to a robot who can’t pick up on the passive aggression or sarcasm, and the result is the same: arriving dismally late and frustrated to a place you only sorta wanted to go to anyway. Which isn’t to say the old way was better. I just remember it being quieter.

I was ignoring the boys posturing and focusing instead in Siri’s helpful and completely correct directions when I heard this from the back seat:

“Siri is a girl and Alexa is a boy,” Chad said. “Alexa can multiply in the thousands and Siri can’t even add one plus one.” This was followed by laughter.

Before I could stop myself I interjected, “Siri and Alexa are BOTH girls.”

As if that was remotely germane. I should have said that neither are girls! They are both robots! Their developers gave them female voices because it feels natural to give a woman the bitch work of timing your abdominal crunches, reminding you to pick up the dry-cleaning, and to “find out if Burt Reynolds is still alive and report back to me.” (Yes, these are examples of my recent Siri activity. Burt Reynolds died, by the way.)

The boys didn’t respond to my inane interjection. They seemed to be surprised to discover that I was still in the car and heard this conversation. Nothing like being made to feel like a chauffer driving two little lords around in my own goddamned car.

What the fuck? I thought. I know Chad’s mom and she is a badass. She’s an athlete and she teaches advanced education techniques at the university. Does he say crap like that around her? He certainly seems comfortable saying it in front of me.

We parked at the place and I signed them up for three hours of bouncing. Then the guy at the front desk told me that I’d have to buy them each a pair of anti-slip socks if I didn’t bring some from home, so he threw that on the total, which came to around $60. I tried to hide my reaction to the number, but I could hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Good gracious; for that price they should leave with a framed degree in bouncing!” I handed over my credit card and the man gave me two pairs of socks. They were black, with little pink ribbons printed all over them. The boys looked at them in horror. Before anyone could ask, the man at the desk said, “October is breast cancer awareness month.”

The boys took them with frowns but they put them on and skittered off to bounce. This time I didn’t bother to hide my reaction, which was a wide smile and a thought bubble that said, Thanks for the justice, Karma! Totally worth the $60.

 I happily settled in with my Real Simple magazine and a coconut La Croix and waited for the three hours to pass, which it did uneventfully. By then, the boys were bounced out and ready for lunch. It wasn’t until they went to the lockers to get their shoes that they remembered the pink ribbons on their socks.

“Gross! I HATE pink!” Chad yelled. “He peeled them off and kicked them away from him. “Pink is the WORST color! I’m throwing these in the trash.” He pinched them between his thumb and index finger like a bag full of dog shit and threw them into the trash with a dramatic gesture.

Ethan laughed. “Me too!” he said. “I HATE pink!” He had already given the socks to me to hold while he changed back into his (oh so masculine) Pikachu socks and I had dropped them into my purse. He dove into my bag (which is oversized and full of odds and ends; I call it my Mary Poppins bag) and started rooting around for them.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I want to throw mine away, too!”

“Well, too bad. I didn’t spend good money on those just so that you could wear them a few hours and then throw them away. If you don’t want them just because they are pink I’m sure some other kid at Goodwill would be happy to have them.” I knew even as I said this that you can’t donate used socks to Goodwill, and that my refusal to allow him to follow Chad’s lead had nothing to do with the wastefulness of the action, but yet again, it was the best response that came to my mind. “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” won out over calling two second graders “a couple of chauvinistic-shit-for-brains-assholes!” in public.

We got to the car and the boys buckled in. It was quiet for a minute and then Ethan said, “Rachel, I don’t have to like pink. It’s just a color.”

I took a deep breath. “That’s true,” I said, starting the car. “But is that all it is about? Just the way you feel about a particular color? Or does it have to do with the fact that you are both boys, and pink is a ‘girl’s’ color?”

I couldn’t take my eyes off to road to check the rearview mirror as I pulled out of the parking lot and merged onto the busy road, but I imagined them exchanging a glance that said, How did she know? I thought that was our thing! We didn’t even mention girls! In that way that every generation thinks it is completely original and paving its own path. But I don’t know what they did. Probably just stare at their shoes. It was only the long pause between the question and Ethan’s answer, “No…” with an implied ellipsis or even a faint question mark at the end that told me I hit home.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I guess I misunderstood. But I want to talk to you more about this later.” My mom never hesitated to blast me with a correction when my friends around, but I always told myself I wouldn’t do that if I became a parent.

We got home and I got them set up downstairs with food and a movie and then I went out to rake leaves. I had dozens of thoughts and emotions pushing down on me and I needed to get some space to try to manage my oversized reaction. Maybe, if I had given birth to the child and spent every day since with him, this little exchange wouldn’t have bothered me. Maybe I would have picked up on that point, years ago, when he started pre-school and began taking his cues and values from the other children. He would have started the process early – the process of learning that boys were the best and the things they like is cool and girls are bad and the things they like is shit. Maybe he would have bought into it so gradually I wouldn’t have noticed it. Or maybe I would heard some of these statements before and thought, Oh, this is normal. This is the way it goes. The girls say the same things about the boys and how they hate… blue? Maybe?

But I’ve known Ethan for three years now and I haven’t heard anything like that from him. And it wasn’t just showing a preference. The thing that shocked me was the hatred. The disgust in Chad’s voice and his forceful declaration of male supremacy with the Siri thing, and then the way he threw those socks in the trash. It was boastful, actually. “Look at how much I can hate this!” he seemed to say. And it was so infectious. Ethan wanted to be just like that; hateful and cool! Clearly they were trying to impress one another and that was leading to some gleeful one-upmanship. But still. The HATE!

I realize, of course, that I’m primed to be triggered by something like this. The last few years have been focused on stories of the systematic misogyny that women experience in this “developed” country and I’ve spent countless hours thinking about my own stories and what we have learned and how I want our culture to change as a result of all this difficult work that has been done bringing about a reckoning. One question in particular that I have been meditating on is, “Where does it start? Who plants the seed?”

I grew up in a decidedly patriarchal religion that made it clear to me from an early age that being female limited me in the role I could play in the world. I remember being told that women will always be paying for the sins of Eve. That is not official Mormon church doctrine, but it sure seems to be a precious grudge for a lot of Christian folks. Then, when I was a teenager, I had my first experience dealing with a boy who was too hopped up on hormones to take my sweet and ladylike “no, thank you” for an answer. Like me, he was raised on stories about how ‘boys will be boys’ and that it is the girl’s responsibility to save both parties with her own clear headed dedication to her own chastity, so I knew that was “my job.” But damn, no one had prepared me for how many times the hand will reach out to be smacked away, or how many times “no” won’t be taken for a final answer. Finally, before he could wear me down, I managed to escape. As I drove home in the dark I suddenly thought about Eve. Am I really supposed to believe that Eve pressured Adam into this? Because there is no way. I bet Adam bit into ALL the apples, wore Eve down until she ate one or two, and then asked her to take the blame. And when she hesitated he told her she was pretty and then she lost all ability to resist because she was a damn fool and no one prepared her for this bullshit.

But I digress.

Growing up, I was told I couldn’t do certain things and simply not encouraged to do others. At university, I experienced the way men pursued women and then viciously retaliated if their advances were denied. I sought help from university resources and got shrugs. What do you want us to do about it? They seemed to say. I heard stories about women at parties being taken advantage of while unable to consent to sex and the event being witnessed by other male party attendants who did nothing. Because, Bros before hos? I guess? Finally, my senior year, a friend of mine was murdered by a sexual predator who decided he needed what he needed more than he thought my friend deserved to have the rest of her life.

That was twenty years ago. Last year, a student at the same university was murdered on campus by a boy she dated briefly and then rejected. She reported his stalking behavior to campus police, but nothing was done. What do you want us to do about it? They seemed to say.

That’s when I realized that this world is no more safe for my nieces than is was twenty years ago when I was a young woman being told that I should always be nice and likable and respectful of the priesthood, but also to avoid short skirts and walk home in the dark with my keys in my hand in “ready position.”

Again, I ask: where does it start? When do men learn that their needs come first? Obviously the murderers in these examples are the extreme cases. But if you walk into a room at a frat party and you see an unconscious woman being raped and you back out slowly and go get more beer instead of intervening, what is going on in your mind? At the risk of making an oversimplification of the matter, it seems to me that you do not see the two people in that scenario as equals. That there is some port in your mind harboring the belief that a woman is less than a man. Maybe a 70% person.

It probably seems completely insane to suggest that the seed of that belief was planted by little boys on playgrounds, repeating what they have heard from older brothers and fathers, reassuring each other that they are, in fact, the best! Boys rule! Girls drool! But what if that is where it starts? What if that is the genesis of the darkness? What if those shitty little kid thoughts take root and you don’t even think about it, and then you grow up and one day you are that ex of mine (who totally thought he was a feminist) who told me that it didn’t think it made sense to force companies to fix the gender pay gap because it would be difficult and expensive. Then, when I asked him, “what if it were a racial pay gap?” he said, “Oh, that would be different!” Because somewhere deep in the brain he thought that a woman is only 70% of a person! (And no, that is not the day we broke up, because I was lonely and probably had just bought tickets to something and didn’t want to go alone.)

Maybe I’m totally off on this one, but I gotta tell you… the Mormons I knew as a kid who told me that men had special God given powers but a woman’s job was to make babies and do what they were told were not much more articulate than a couple of grade-school-aged boys.

All these thoughts were hitting me like hail stones as I raked leaves and cried freely behind my sunglasses. I thought with sudden sympathy about the deadbeat parents that claim to be going out for some cigarettes and then drive into the sunset, never to return. Which is when I remembered that all this anguish started over a pair of socks, and I had to stop and laugh.

I took a deep breath and told myself that the lifetime’s worth of shit that this incident brought up for me was not about Ethan and that I was not going to put that on him. But I was genuinely upset, and I needed him to understand at least a small part of why.

Later in the evening, after Chad went home, I was in the kitchen making dinner when Ethan came in and asked for a snack. I got him settled and then I asked if we could talk for a minute.

“I’m a little upset,” I said. “I’m wondering if you can guess why?”

He looked down at his snack and deflated by about 20% as he said, “the pink.”

“Yeah, that’s part of it,” I said. I don’t know how to have heavy conversations with children, but back when I was a boss with 10 or so people reporting to me, I read a book about keeping disciplinary messages short. Get to it, make the point, move on by turning the page onto another topic. So that was what I decided to do.

“I’m glad that you and Chad are friends,” I said, “but he has some stupid ideas.” I waited for him to remind me that we aren’t supposed to say ‘stupid,’ which is his rule not ours, but he didn’t. “That thing about Siri being a girl and not being able to do math? That’s not okay. And like I said today, you don’t have to like pink. But you didn’t say ‘I don’t like pink,’ you said, ‘I hate pink!’ And I’m not stupid. I know what that means. You know that?”

He didn’t try to argue; he just nodded this time.

“It’s not okay to believe that boys are better than girls, just like it is not okay to believe that white people are better than Asian people, or black people, or anyone.” Ethan is one quarter Korean so I knew that would get his attention.

“You know, there are things that I am better at than your dad, and there are things that your dad is better at than I am. I’m better at fixing things, which is something that typically people think of as a boy thing. And you know your dad is a brilliant teacher. Did you know that, not that long ago, public school teachers were all women? It’s true; that was something people thought of as a woman’s job.”

The boisterous kid who was showing off for his friend was completely gone. He was looking down at the counter taking his punishment until I said this bit about school teachers and then he looked up, surprised. I knew I’d managed to get something across to him and started to wrap up the lecture.

“Look, like I said. I like Chad and I’m glad you are friends. But I think I can speak for both myself and your mom when I say that there is no way we are raising a boy who doesn’t treat girls as equals. So whenever I hear your friends telling you to hate girls and things associated with girls and I don’t hear you respond and say, ‘no you are wrong,’ then you can expect to hear from me at some point after because my job is to make sure that you aren’t getting bad programing like that.”

Ethan nodded. After a pause, maybe once he realized I wasn’t going to say any more, he said, “I’m sorry, Rachel.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I accept your apology.” Then it was time to turn the page. I asked him I needed help deciding on a dessert. “I have ice cream or frozen chocolate chip cookies that I can throw in the oven. What do you think?”

I didn’t typically reward my employees with fresh baked cookies to bribe them into liking me again after I told them off, but I wanted Ethan to know we were fine after our first memorable disagreement. And anyway, I was the boss. It was their job to give me cookies. My motto as a boss was: Make me like you, if you can!

I know it wasn’t perfect, but I’m proud of that conversation. I think I handled it well. And I haven’t decided that misogyny begins on the playground. I’m sure it is more complicated than that, but honestly, it’s as convincing an origin story as any other I have heard. But working through my reaction to this incident, I did have a thought that, as I have been given the gift of becoming a stepparent after years of thinking I would never have a child in my life, I am not going to squander this opportunity. I am not going to tell my nieces to watch their hem length or carry their keys at the ready. I’m going to tell my little boy that pink is beautiful and that girls are badasses, who grow up to be badass women like his mom and me.

When he is older, I’ll tell him that “no” means “no” and “yes” means “yes” and that boys are feminists who look out for others. But not yet; that conversation is a few years off yet. I’ll have to make a note, once we get there, to stock up on cookie dough. We’ll need a lot of cookies for that.

Knitting Weather

I finished a baby blanket and put in in the mail for a friend who is expecting a baby girl in the next month. As soon as I walked out of the post office I realized I forgot to take a photo of the finished blanket. Doh!

Here is a photo of the first quarter:

I love this pattern. It’s called the Llyr Baby Blanket and you can find the pattern here:

https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/llyr-baby-blanket

I think of it as The Dragon Scales pattern. I’m using Malbrigo yarn. The color is Whales Road but I forget the weight.

Of course I started another blanket right away, because God Forbid I should watch TV without doing something with my hands at the same time. This one is called Tiny Ripples. The pattern is here:

http://www.leeleeknits.com/tiny-ripples-free-baby-blanket-knitting-pattern/

And here is how it is coming along:

This one is for a cousin who is expecting a baby after the holidays. I am not as pressed for time so hopefully this go around I’ll remember to take a photo of the finished product!

Witches Brew: Repost

I just learned a historical fact that blew my mind.

Matt is reading a book on the dark ages right now, and he told me that there is a paragraph describing that from ancient times, beer was made almost exclusively by women.  But in the 1500s, men decided that they wanted to take over beer making as careers and set about putting the brewers known as “alewives” out of business.  So they called them witches and drove them out beer making.  Here is a video that shows how the details we associate with witches, such as brooms and cats, directly came from the legacy of the alewives.

So interesting!  Makes me want to go buy another pumpkin, carve the word “Patriarchy” on it, and smash that motherfucker.

Happy Halloween, Bitches!  Get your brew on!

Mother_Louse

 

Chicken Tenders

The other night, we were having roast chicken for dinner. Matt went back to carve off some seconds.
Ethan (age 7): Dad, are you cutting the off the chicken’s “tenders”?

(“Tenders” is his word for the male genitalia, which he learned from the Kung Fu Panda Movies).

Matt: Chickens don’t have “tenders”.

Ethan: I eat chicken tenders all the time!

Me (putting my hands in the air to make the “time out” gesture): Wait… wait… wait… this whole time you have been eating chicken tenders, you thought they were a chicken’s “tenders”?

Ethan: Ye-ah! (Said in two syllables, like “Du-uh!”)

Oy Vey. I blame Jack Black.

Stepparent of the Year?

This is the kind of stepparent I am:

Last summer, we went to a wedding for one of Matt’s cousins. Ethan, then six, looked dashing in his suit. We accepted that he would play in it and get it dirty, so there was only one problem: the clip on tie.

Apparently the metal of the clip was touching his neck and irritating him. We made it as comfortable as possible but it’s not like we could loosen it.

After the pictures were taken, I got an idea. I told him, “you know, if you clipped it to your back buckle loop, it wouldn’t touch your skin. And it would look like a tail!”

Ethan was delighted and he wore it on his butt the rest of the wedding, which delighted others as well. But Matt was not pleased. I’m not sure his parents approved either, though usually Ethan can do no wrong.

“He’s wearing it!” I protested. “I’m a genius!”

No more was said about it, but next time I guess I need to go through Matt before I make any more of my costuming compromises.

Pottery Show Pics

If I could make a living making things with my hands, that would make me very happy. I would sell pots and plates and knitted blankets and baked goods. I would make things all day long.

Unfortunately, I don’t make enough money with these things to even cover the cost of materials and studio time, let alone to generate a surplus. But even if I did, I want to keep paying my mortgage on my house with a yard. And I want to go to restaurants that serve Brussels sprouts on small plates cooked in some new delicious way that no one has thought to cook a Brussels sprout before, probably involving bacon and for an average cost of $3 per sprout.

So… it’s the 9-5 life for me. Until I find a way to get people to spend $100 on a hand made mug, that is.

Meanwhile, I dabble. My pottery studio had an open house event last weekend and I showed off my latest creations. Here are some photos I took of my stuff. I sold a bunch, including all the owls (which I am calling “planter buddies,” the idea being that you put them in with your plants), several bowls, and all the blue succulent planters.

This was the first time in a while that I went in and made this much new stuff for a show. It was great because I reminded myself just how much I really love working with clay. Which is great because I sold enough stuff that now I need to get back in to the studio to start making Christmas presents.

Writer’s Envy

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

For most of my life, I used the words “envy” and “jealousy” interchangeably. Sometime in the last year, however, I learned that there is a distinct difference between the two emotions.

Envy is the feeling of inadequacy that one feels when faced with another person’s success or status that you wish you had.  Jealousy, on the other hand, is the inadequacy you feel when faced with the threat of losing something you already have (such as a partner or a position) to someone else.

In short, they are both crappy feelings that derive from a sense of insecurity. But they are not quite the same crappy feeling.

I learned yesterday that I friend of mine got her memoir published. I don’t mean that she got a book contract, mind you. I got an invitation to a reading and book signing event next week. So… that shit’s for real.

I want to be happy for her. On some level I think I am. She’s a wonderful person who has lived a hard life and has taken those breaks and bruises and courageously made them into art. I have loved what I have read of her manuscript in our workshops. It is funny and heartbreaking and written with stark beauty and raw power.

And yet… I am also a writer. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find I’m totally vulnerable to feeling this kind of covetous burning, but I’ve been feeling it. Envy. Ugly and viscous envy, stinking and as slow to push through as primordial pond sludge.

I’m in a lot of writing groups and I have, over the years, seen many people break through various layers of success. They land agents and book contracts. I even have another friend who is on book tour right now, as a matter of fact. I haven’t felt this way about them, though, and I’m trying to figure out why. My best guess is that those friends don’t write in my genre, so I never felt like I was competing with them in the first place.

A funny and heartbreaking memoir, on the other hand? That’s what I am going for. Maybe I feel like there are only so many of those that will get published (which is not untrue) and that gap just narrowed a bit for me.

The last time I felt this way was about four years ago, when someone I know had a play produced through a local theatre company. I knew him back in my twenties when we worked together at a large national chain bookstore. Based on that two-year experience, you should just assume that most of the people who work in bookstores are aspiring writers of one genre or another. Back then, this guy was a journalist and I was a playwright. That said, imagine my surprise when, fifteen years later, I saw in the paper that he had written a comedic play about disgruntled intellectuals working at a large bookstore during the Christmas season, which was totally a play I was totally going to get around to writing one of these decades!

It hit me like a punch, but I swallowed my pride and went to see it. (After all, didn’t Liz Gilbert warn us all about what happens when you don’t act on inspiration?) About half way through the play , there was a bit where the brainy booksellers are having a deep conversation in the break room and you hear a girl ask for back-up at the “cash/wrap.” As in, cash register and wrapping area at the front of the store. They ignore her and keep talking. The third time we hear her voice, she says, “Cashiers to the cash/wrap, for the love of God, cashiers to the cash/wrap.”

That was me! I totally did that! And it was perfect, because it made all the cranky holiday shoppers in that long-ass-line laugh, which is exactly what the moment called for. And then, once they got up to my cash register, they were so nice to me because they saw how hard I tried to get them out the door as quickly as possible.

I did get in a little trouble with my manager. I didn’t get “written up” or whatever. But he did give me one of those eye-brow defined expressions and a stern voice that said, “Not funny, Rachel,” the next time he walked by. But it was. It was really funny. In fact, it was funny enough to make it into a comedy written fifteen years later, and I don’t mind saying, it got a good laugh from the live audience.

I got home from the performance and I sent the playwright a message through Facebook, ostensibly to congratulate him on his accomplishment, but mostly to take credit for the line I contributed.

He wrote back an hour or so later to say thanks but that he didn’t remember me doing that. He kindly added that of course that didn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it was such a long time ago, and maybe it just lodged itself in his subconscious the way things do.

Which is, I am certain, the truth. It was not, however, what I wanted to hear. Then I switched over to his personal page to do some Facebook stalking while I was at it, because why not? I was already obsessing. Might as well do it properly.

I knew he was married to an adorable wife with an adorable toddler and had another little one on the way. The discovery I made that night was he had just surprised his little nuclear family with the world’s cutest puppy as an early Christmas gift, and the photos of his toddler and the puppy were beating me over the head like a yule log, which was quickly getting covered in blood and hair.

To add a little context, at the time my relationship status was in limbo. I was with a man who moved in with me and then had to go back to South Carolina to work things out with a property he had there, “for a little while.” That was the previous March. I held out through the summer without any clarification, and then the summer turned to fall, and the temperature steadily dropped. Suddenly, it was the holidays I was forced to accept that I had been abandoned. I wanted to break up with him and get back on the dating market, but my 1,500 square foot house was chockablock full of his shit. Not only that, he left two cars in my driveway. I tried to think of a story that would make sense to some dude that I brought back to my place to explain my excessive love of automobiles, but I hadn’t come up with a good one yet. And I needed to get laid.

In addition (and needless to say) I didn’t have a new play or a baby or a puppy or any such bundle of joy to keep my mind occupied that Christmas. I had a mortgage and abandonment issues. Also, I had the new revelation that even when I do manage to do something truly funny, I’m so forgettable that people assume that they, themselves, must have been the one to come up with it.

Oh, envy. You are so gross and mean. The worst part of that envious feeling, that ugly swamp hag trying to pull herself out of the bog feeling, is the fact that the person I was losing to wasn’t even aware that I thought I was competing with him! He was too busy reading his play reviews in the newspaper, most likely by the fireplace in a wing-backed chair with an ottoman and matching plaid robe and slippers, with the stockings hung on the mantle and robust puppy snores rumbling at his feet, like a goddamned Norman Rockwell illustration from 19 fucking 26.

Or maybe he did suspect. God, that’s actually worse. Writer’s envy is common. He must have been tuned in to it. What if there was an edge in my message that he picked up on? I wonder if my friend with the upcoming signing suspects me or any of her other writing friends of covetousness? That would make me sad.

It is a rainy afternoon and as I write this I am sitting on my couch ruminating on envy and the way it seems to come up in different situations, and I’m strangely remembering something long lost in memory.

Many years ago (though after the bookstore years), my ex-husband and I bought a house. I remember the first time my parents came to see it, I was excited to show my mother the kitchen because it had this beautiful view of the Wasatch Mountains. It also had a convection oven and a marble island and loads of counter-space, but I wasn’t thinking about those things. Not until Mom walked in, took it in, then had to walk back out to another room to hide the tears in her eyes.

My parents have lived in a Victorian house from the 1850s my entire life. My dad worked as an architect and was always “going to get around to fixing it up,” but somehow that never happened. My mom, therefore, has spent the last fifty years in a house without a functional oven, range, or dishwasher. The plumbing barely works for Chrissakes. The thing that makes me really sad, something I learned just a few years ago, was that she was still working in Oregon back in the 70s when my dad came out to Utah to look for a job and he bought the house without consulting her. By the time she saw it, they owned it. I think she hoped it would be temporary, but they still live there as I write this in late 2019.

I’m sure on some level my mother was happy for me when we moved into that beautiful house. But we can’t control the emotions that come up in those situations, any more than I can help feeling the way I do about my friend’s book. I don’t like it, though. Which is why I’m writing this: to work through the silliness of it and maybe to confess my sins. Regardless, I know I’m in the wrong. And for the record I plan to be over it soon so that I can be earnest in my elation for my friend at her reading. It is really important to me to go and help her celebrate this amazing accomplishment.

Unless she also gets a puppy. If that happens, that bitch is dead to me.

Suburban Jungle

Ok guys, gotta warn you before you read on: there is grossness ahead! (Gross as in dead rats… nothing pervy.)

We had a rough week for the wildlife in and around the house.  Don’t panic; Wensley is fine! But we’ve had some other issues.

It started with the rats, actually. I love backyard birding, but feeders attract rodents.  That’s been an issue ever since I first moved in to the house and invested in my feeders. I don’t mind the squirrels, which I realize is basically a form of rodent racism. But they are cute and rats are not. So the squirrels can stay. The rats have to fuck off.

I have tried all the different types of traps that they have at Home Depot and the only kind I have had any luck with are the old timey Tom and Jerry wood and guillotine wire ones.  I bought a big one because these rats are huge.  Actually, I bought several because I looked out the window one morning and saw that I had a whole family crowding around under the feeder, picking through the seeds that the birds dropped on the ground.

I quickly discovered that rats don’t eat the part skim mozzarella that I buy for snacks to try to keep the calories down. They insist on the good cheese because apparently, I have snobby rats, like Patton Ozwalt’s character in Ratatouille.  Only if they do decide they want the cheese (because it is quality locally sourced sharp cheddar), they will find a way to grab it off the trap without triggering it. These are seriously smart rats!

Maybe I should have invited them in and asked them if they could cook and then hire them and live happily ever after. Only, there’s no way because I couldn’t even get past that idea when it was just a cartoon. I sat through the entire movie feeling like I needed to wash my hands. By the end I needed to take a bath in hot Purell. Then, shortly after, I heard that Peter O’Toole died, and I am still convinced it is because those chefy rats gave him the bubonic plague.

After the good cheese, I decided that I needed something messier. I took a small cut of an apple and I smeared it in peanut butter.  That was tricky to set up and the trap snapped closed on me. I didn’t lose any fingers but I did invent a new type of cluster bomb that spreads peanut butter from hell to breakfast. If your enemies have peanut allergies, it would be quite lethal. I’m still finding spattered globs on the backyard furniture.

I did finally manage to get the trap set up. Unfortunately, the ants ate all the peanut butter off bait before the rats got to it.

That was about mid-week and Matt had the idea that we should go out that night. He got tickets to a Bees game, our local Minor League Baseball team.  Ethan is seven now and loves going out to games. He especially loves the Bees because they have a nice playground and he can’t sit through a whole game.  Of course, it turns out that none of us could. Sit through the whole game, that is. It was hot as hell and the innings were taking forever. We finally left just after the seventh inning stretch because it was after 10 pm and we needed to get the kiddo to bed.

Back at home, Matt made a terrible discovery while Ethan was changing into his pajamas.  “Oh no!” he yelled, making all of us stop in our tracks. “I think Kaa is dead!”

Back when the boys moved in with me two years ago, I had only one reservation, and that was the pet snake, Kaa (named for the python in Rudyard Kilpling’s, The Jungle Book). He was a twelve-year-old corn snake and he was humongous. Here is a photo I took when we first got his terrarium set up in Ethan’s new room.

IMG_2395

And here is a photo of Matt holding the last skin Kaa shed.

IMG_6494-119596006-1567033205733.jpg

I never measured Kaa, but Matt is over six feet tall.  You can see what I’m talking about.  Big. Ass. Snake.

Once he moved in, I completely forgot about him.  We actually had to write his feedings on the calendar to keep track of them, or we would have forgotten. Matt fed him a frozen rat (thawed, of course) once every two months or so.  Then shortly after that there would be a slimy reptilian turd to clean up.  Matt once told me that if I was bored I could take care of those for him.  I laughed. Like it is possible to get that bored. I told him, “I will clean up every accident Wensley ever has but I’m not touching that stuff.”

Other than that, Kaa was the easiest pet on earth.  I never bonded with him.  I couldn’t even make myself touch him.  I knew he wasn’t dangerous, but I couldn’t make my hand go near him.  It’s like there was an instinctual imperative – something hard coded in my DNA – that just wouldn’t allow it.  But God Damn I didn’t want him to die!

I went into Ethan’s room to give him a hug and that’s when the smell hit me.  Matt has a terrible olfactory sense.  We’ll be driving along and I’ll say that I smell a skunk and we will have to go another five miles before he will smell it.  I started clawing at the window to get it open. As I mentioned before, it was damn hot and we had turned the A/C down before we left to be green. Not realizing, obviously, that Kaa would decided to buy they farm and start the decomposing process.

I pinched my nose closed and walked over to the terrarium. I guess I wasn’t expecting to be able to tell that he was dead by looking at him, just by the smell. After all, snakes have no faces. It didn’t occur to me that they could have tortured facial expressions. I was wrong. I’ll never get that image out of my mind. His mouth was wide open and his little onyx-black eyes – once his only “cute” feature – were sunken and dried.

“What are we going to do with him?” Matt asked.  I knew exactly what he meant. It was nearly eleven at night and still ninety-five degrees outside.  The smell was overwhelming. We just couldn’t put Kaa outside or in the garage for the night and then bury him in the morning.  The smell would attract racoons, or worse.  I decided that we had to do what my biologist sister would do.  I went to the kitchen to clean out some space in the freezer. A lot of space.

I grabbed Ethan’s sleeping bag so that he could sleep down in the basement with us, away from the stench. At first, Matt protested, asking if that was really necessary.  Then, as he picked up the lifeless snake with a garbage bag like you might do with a giant dog shit, the smell finally hit him. “Oh my God!!!”

The next day we had a little funeral.  Ethan took a nice river stone he had collected on one of our hikes and made it into a headstone. It had a grass stain on it because I had thrown it at a rat a few days before, but we decided that Kaa would appreciate that.  Then we buried him in a nice spot under the bird feeder.  We talked about what a good snake he was, and mused out loud that he might enjoy being near the birds and the rats.

IMG_0725

It gave me an idea, in fact. That night, I went back out with a trap loaded with a peanut butter smeared cracker.  This time, instead of just setting it below the feeder in plain sight, I buried it so that the wooden slat was hidden and only the bait was visible.  The next morning, I went outside with Wensley on his early morning constitutional and saw that I had caught something.

I pulled the trash bin into the back yard and grabbed my shovel from the shed.  It wasn’t until I got close to the trap that I realized there were two dead rats in it.  It was the two juveniles of the family. They must have got to the bait and the same time and were both caught when the bar came down.  I started to feel heartless for having done this, and so I reminded myself that I didn’t kill them to be a dick. They aren’t safe! We have a dog and a second grader! Neither of whom need rabies or the plague! I had to do it!

“Ug,” I said out loud as I lifted the rats and trap with my shovel, refusing to get any closer than that. “Sorry guys.” And then I dropped them into the trash bin and closed the lid.  Then I went in search of some Purell.

That should have been the end of the story, but there’s more.  Just a few days later, my younger sister and her family came to town for a visit. We were all hanging out at my older sister’s house. One of my nephews came running in from the yard yelling, “There’s a dead thing! It’s a chipmunk or a rat or something! And it’s gross! I can’t play back there!”

I gave the universe this look:

IMG_2740

Then I said to the other adults, “It’s okay, I got it. I’ve been training for this.”

I grabbed a plastic shopping bag out of the closet and followed my nephew out to the yard.  It was not a chipmunk. It was a juvenile robin.  It didn’t have a head but I was able to identify it by the scattered belly feathers.  “It’s just a bird,” I told my nephew.  “Looks like a cat got it.”

He took a few steps back as I wrapped my hand in the bag and then took a hold of it. There was a stick that had fallen on top of the bird so it was awkward to grab. I ended up having to flip it over.  As soon as I did I yelped in horror. A golf ball sized mass of writhing maggots pulsed in the open chest cavity, like a new myriad chambered heart.  My nephew moved to look but I warned him off.  I flipped the bag inside out, capturing the entire “disgusterous” (to quote the BFG) mess and disposed of it the same way I had the rats.

We went back inside and I (you guessed it) washed my hands for fifteen minutes.  I even made my nephew wash his hands and he hadn’t touched it. My mom asked what was going on and I ended up telling her the whole story of my crazy week of death and decay.

That is when Mom told me that when she first got married she used to re-use mouse traps to save money. “I’d just open up the wire and toss the dead mouse out, and then I’d use it again.”

That blew my mind.  For just one second, cleaning up that gross dead bird for my nephew, I felt like an adult. That is a rare feeling for me.  Sometimes I still feel like I’m twenty, but only until I spend a little time with someone who actually is in their twenties, and then I’m like, “Nope. I’m forty.” But even after all these years of having a real job and making mortgage payments, I never feel like a bona fide adult.  Then my nephew asked for someone to protect him from a dead thing and even though I hadn’t particularly wanted to, I stepped up and I did it. Like a grown up. Then I tried to picture myself pulling back the wire on one of those traps and taking the limp mouse out because my family needed to save that dollar… and I realized that I will never be that adult. And you know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass.

Tube Scarf: Finished!

At long last! It took all summer, but the tube scarf is finally done. (I wrote about the failed attempt back in this post.) These little stitches are no joke, my friends!

img_1095.jpg

img_1094.jpg

img_1104-1.jpg

I really like this pattern.  And not just because it is free, but I am cheap AF so that certainly is nice. I love how there is only a public side (or “right” side, as most knitters say) and that makes it soft from every angle that touches your skin. When I first started working on it a few people asked me what the heck I was making, with a raised eyebrow and a doubtful frown, as it didn’t look like any kind of scarf they had ever seen. But now that it’s done I think it’s nifty. I’m even proud of how even my stitches are… though when I go back and look at the photo on the pattern I’m amazed at the work. How do they do that? These are not knitters, people.  They are wizards!

 

Dark Wings, Dark Words

Things that have been getting me down, in order of least importance to most importance:

1.) It has been raining a lot.  Like, A LOT.

2.) Game of Thrones is over.

3.) I haven’t seen Owlbertson in weeks and I’m starting to accept that something has happened to him.

Yes, I know. We need the rain. Shows come to an end. And it is never a good idea to name a wild animal. One must accept these physical laws or face certain heartbreak. But… still.

I have one of those constitutions that is susceptible to influence of dark weather. The winter ended some time ago and tomorrow is the first day of June, which I consider “real summer,” not just the technical summer that starts after the equinox. And yet, you wouldn’t know it.  Here is a photo I took of a parking lot a few days ago:

IMG_0069

I’m not kidding.  Those ducks are floating in parking spaces. It’s been intense. And I live in a desert, so… not what I signed up for. But I heard a report on NPR yesterday that our reservoirs are full for the first time in years and that’s good for both urban and wild ecosystems, and so I’m dealing.

As for the Game of Thrones thing,  I won’t give spoilers or bore you with my assessment. There is nothing original left to say. And it wouldn’t matter anyway.  Let’s say that I loved the last season and the finale, and it gave me everything I was hoping for. It’s still a bummer.  Remember the last time you turned a page on the last Harry Potter novel and you knew that was it? There was no more? It’s like that. There are no new twists or reveals coming from that world; it’s done. And I’m mourning it like the loss of a long followed but never known personally celebrity. You didn’t care about me, but I cared about you, and I’m sad that you are gone.

The owl is a completely different matter.  The owl is someone that I knew personally, if not intimately. In fact, I’m pretty sure he or she didn’t like me very much. But once I spotted that owl the first time about a year ago, I became obsessed.  It was the highlight of my walks and I looked for it every time I went passed that tree. It was so exotic and amazing to be able to see an owl in the light of day! And it was something that I looked forward to during the sometimes very lonely hours of working from home.

It is fortunate, therefore, that – after many years – I was sent in to my company’s headquarters in New Jersey for a few days this month. I had a chance to interact with my real co-workers face to face and I underestimated just how much I miss that, working from home. I was delighted to see that, coincidentally, my coworkers have their own wild companions attached to their wing of the corporate office.  They call it the raven’s nest.

IMG_0007IMG_0058.jpgIMG_0010

This is the story that I heard while I was visiting.

Our company’s CEO, who doesn’t have a name (weird, right?), but let’s call him Maximilian Von Richypants for the story, also has an office in this building. One day, he came to work after months of jet-setting and big-deal-making, and discovered that two besotted ravens had begun to build their honeymoon home outside the window of his office.  The nest is one thing… the poop which accompany’s it is quite another. There is also a considerable amount of noise. Maximilian snapped his fingers and a butler in a tuxedo appeared (I don’t actually know what happens at my company). The butler was instructed to “deal vis zees birts!” (My CEO is actually not a German commandant.) The butler clapped his hands twice, causing a flurry of activity, and then used the pristine white cloth draped over his arm to blot the sweat of Maximilian’s brow, telling him that everything would be alright, “sir.”

Some version of this happened. Then, the following Monday, my lowly co-workers came to work to discover that the birds, reacting to the destruction of their nest, had decided to rebuild on the other side of the building.  They rebuilt quickly and soon there were eggs.  I had heard about the ravens and the “baby watch” on a few of our conference calls. There was quite a celebratory mood on the line when the two hatch-lings made their first appearance. Any yet, seeing it for myself was special.

By the time I arrived the “babies” were four weeks old and indistinguishable from the parents, each of which was larger than my Yorkshire terrier. Ravens are quite intelligent and one of my coworkers demonstrated this by tapping on the glass, spurring the “baby” (seen above) to tap back in imitation.

In fairness to my CEO, the poop streaks are no small distraction. And there is more than just poop. You can make out parts of rats and mice, for instance. There is nothing sterile about it. And in pharmaceuticals, sterile is the name of the game. Imagine having the owner of a startup company over to your office to discuss a buyout and having that mess behind you while you try to convince her that her brain child and labor of decades of love will be in good hands here.  There’s comedy value there, but it’s not very practical in this world.

Except imagine the delightful Forbes article about the CEO who actually loves science and biology, to the extent of keeping a rookery outside his office! I would read the shit out of that.

I went for a walk in the park yesterday and enjoyed a few minutes with the new Canada goslings. They are ridiculously cute.

IMG_0127IMG_0120.jpg

I hope that Owlbertson migrated or found a better tree without a mega-fan watching his every move. But it is good to be reminded that life goes on. The rain gives life and there is also death, and it is all they way that it is supposed to be.  I’ll find new wonders in my environment and remember the importance of keeping those human connections alive, also.

Now, let us all join hands and sing “The Circle of Life” together.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 116 other subscribers