Thursday, March 28, 2013

Oh, Persephone. You are soooo grounded when you get home.

And now for something completely different. Spring is nowhere in sight here in the Ohio River Valley, and I was thinking about my favorite Greek myth and how the goddess Demeter is probably really, really pissed for winter to hang on this long. So I put myself in her shoes.

My teenage daughter is going to be the death of me.

Not literally. We gods and goddesses aren't so easy to kill. Just ask Percy Jackson. But that girl of mine is going to put some serious gray in my immortal hair.

And when I suffer, others suffer. You don't like me when I'm angry. And I am well and thoroughly incensed at the moment. Enjoy your March thundersnow, American Midwest.

Persephone is taking her sweet time heading north from the underworld this year. Every young woman likes a bad boy, and likes to torture her mother, and this winter my little darling seems to really enjoy the god of death's company and the absolute Hades that fact is putting me through.

Why she can't just fall for a guy like Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead I don't know. Now there's a bad boy you can bring home to mama. (What? You didn't think Mount Olympus could get satellite? Please.)

Her father's been no help. Huge shocker, that. He's having a little mid-epoch crisis and spending all his time hanging out in Irish pubs with Dionysus and his little nymph on the side, who bears a striking resemblance to that girl in the Transformers movie. Not that Zeus has ever had much to do with the care and feeding of his daughters. And he certainly doesn't ever side with me against his brother. Brothers before...well, you know.

It also doesn't help that the lord of the underworld is in the habit of giving himself an extreme makeover each winter and fashioning his appearance after whoever the male flavor-of-the-week is. This year I heard he bears a striking resemblance to Channing Tatum.

Channing Tatum. I can't compete with that.

I put a text in to Persephone to remind her it was time to get her boots on and hike up this way nearly a month ago. It took her forever to get back to me (and I know she got the message, because they get excellent AT&T coverage there) and when she did, she was very vague and put out.

Whatevs. I'm fine! Chillax. Be home in a bit. Bye love ya see ya

If that kid comes back with any piercings or tattoos, I swear...let's just say it has snowed in May before. It's been a while, but I wouldn't put it past me.

She only ate three seeds. Three! Her contract with Hades for this year is up. She's fulfilled the deal. At this point, she's hanging out down there because she wants to. Because it suits her and this dark, rebellious, gothy thing she's going through. Angst is cool. And no where is it more angsty than hell.

I know she will come home eventually. And I will be so happy to see her I will welcome her with open arms, even if she is wearing too much black eyeliner. Sure, she'll be grounded for a while. And she will hate me for it. But the lure of blooming flowers and ripening fruit and warm breezes will be too much, and for a few precious months, she will be mine again. Our annual cycle of loss, of reunion, of forgiveness, a ritual as old as time itself, will come. My heart swells with joy at the hope of it.

For I, above all others, know that summer's delights are short and bittersweet.

She will leave me again. She always does. She always has to.

But she also always comes home. And this makes me most blessed among mothers.

So if you see my daughter, please tell her kindly to get her ass on the road. Thank you.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Year of Sundays

Yesterday afternoon, I carried the final load of my parents' belongings from the house they lived in for the vast majority of their married lives. The house I grew up in, the home that saw every triumph and failure of my childhood and young adult life, is now an empty shell.

And I feel pretty empty myself.

It could have been a scene from a movie. A rain so cold it was almost snow began to fall as I pulled out of the drive, and the opening notes of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" sounded on the radio. It was perfectly orchestrated to underline the poignancy of this task being finished at long last.

I carried much of this burden on my own. My sister could not help much. I dutifully bear the title of "The Strong One" and spent a couple of hours on every Sunday not occupied by being a Swim Mom sorting, throwing away, and carting to Goodwill three decades worth of accumulated possessions of two people who rarely if ever threw anything out.

Some Sundays were easier than others. I'm a librarian who loves to weed, and I had begged my mother for years to let me help her clean out her closets and the junk drawers. It was liberating at times to finally declutter a house that seemed to grow more spacious and less suffocating by the week.

But I never knew, from one Sunday to the next, what heartbreaking marker of my parents' lives I might find. One Sunday it was my father's love letters to my mother, written when he was stationed aboard a Sunoco oil tanker as a Merchant Marine. Another Sunday it was a spiral notebook of doodles and graffiti and tic-tac-toe games between my mother and Ainsley during one of Ainsley's many sleepovers. I uncovered every bill they'd ever paid, every cancelled check, every receipt for every appliance or home improvement project. Like a geologist studying rock layers, the further I dug, the further back in time I went. By the time I took out the last bags and boxes, I didn't know whether my Sundays in the house were making me feel incredibly old or like I was three years old again and seeing the house for the very first time.

Probably both.

More often than not I left with both my back and my heart sore from carrying so much weight. There were times I thought I couldn't hold any more.

But it is finished now. We have repairs to make, and a fresh coat of paint to apply, and then my childhood home will hopefully become someone else's.

Some other child will be lulled to sleep by the hum of cars passing on interstate, just down the hill. If I close my eyes, I can picture her. She will discover that the steep driveway is the perfect downhill start to a hot summer day's bike ride. She will spend balmy spring days under the shade of the wild black cherry tree, looking for caterpillars. She will lie awake on Christmas Eve night looking out of the little bedroom window at the red light on the top of the city building's radio tower and imagine that it's Rudolph leading the sleigh. She will watch the sun set through the kitchen window on clear fall evenings and marvel at how that moment makes the entire house glow.

It's a small little house, but it's capable of holding a lot of memories.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To remember. To forget.

March 19, 2003.

A young couple spends their lucky-number-13th dating anniversary in the chemo suite of an oncology office. He makes jokes with the nurse about the fact that his wife is quite high after the morning's dose of Ativan, given in preparation for the bone marrow biopsy which preceded this first chemotherapy treatment. She asks over and over again if the nurse has given her her Tylenol yet; she doesn't remember much about her visit with the doctor that morning, but she remembers that she could spike a fever and has to have Tylenol in her chemical cocktail. Even high, she is taking this all very seriously and wants to do it right.

Until it comes time to pee, and then she will miss the toilet completely and create a bio hazard since her urine is partly toxic Adriamycin. It will make a good story to tell their worried friends later.

Later that night over pizza and Gatorade, while watching news coverage of that day's invasion of Iraq, still groggy from the day's adventures, she will wonder what future March 19ths will look like. How many does she have left? Will she ever be healthy again? How does life possibly get back to normal after four more months of what she went through today? If there were any mystery left between her and her husband, the man she has loved since she was sixteen years old, it was surely destroyed today as he watched her very marrow being sucked out through a small incision in her hip. Once you've seen someone's bone marrow, a substance from just about as deep inside a person's body as you can get, what's left to see?

And also she peed toxic waste all over a bathroom floor. That's a romance-killer, for sure.

Where, she wonders, do we go from here?

March 19, 2013.

Same couple. A littler older. A little wiser. At times, a little sadder.

The cancer thing went fine, as it turns out. The young wife did become healthy again. People tell her all the time they can't believe she's a cancer survivor; her hair has grown back, the scars are barely visible, she could run a marathon if she wanted to. (Though she'll stick with a loosely-structured gym regimen and the occasional 5K, thank you very much.) The little daughter who was only an infant when her mom was diagnosed is now a pre-teen. Her goal was to live long enough to see her child's first day of school; she tries hard not to take for granted all the days after that.

As the couple sits down to a dinner of leftovers after a busy day working and running errands and managing all the distractions of their lives, they remember.

Happy anniversary, dear.
Happy anniversary to you, too.

They'll remember that not only has it been 23 years since they professed their more-than-friendly feelings for each other in their high-school band room, and thus became a couple at the tender age of sixteen/fifteen, but ten years since the cancer. But it's not the milestone it once was. In the ten springs since she was sick and fighting for her life, they've lost three parents. She has sat at the hospital bedside of two dying parents, battling cancer themselves, on two different March 19ths.

Spring has become a time to remember, but also a time to forget.

In my part of the world, March can be either a beautiful entry into spring or winter's last gasp. It can be warm enough to open all the windows, or there can be six inches of snow on the ground. Kentucky March, mid-March in particular, can be either bitter or sweet or both on the same day.

And that's just the weather. Throw college basketball into the equation, and March becomes even more volatile.

So it is with this one particular date. It has been a day of great joy and great sorrow. It has been a day where I've seen my life begin and a day where I can imagine how it ends. Sometimes it feels like something worth celebrating; sometimes it fails to register as a day of note.

Yet there is one constant.

On every March 19 since that fateful day way back in 1990, Jason has been there.

Here's hoping he's at my side for many more. 23 is not enough.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Filled to bursting

Short update here on the kid:

She kinda did awesome at her state championship swim meet. Like, bring-tears-to-your-eyes awesome. 

She swam personal best times in all three events she qualified for; this was her goal. And she nailed it.

The biggest victory was in the 100 backstroke, where she was seeded 29th and realistically had no chance to come back for finals. She swam her little heart out, and placed 18th. The top 16 came back for finals, but as second alternate, she got to warm up for state finals and wait it out to see if there were any no-shows. Her name was listed in the heat sheet alongside the elite swimmers. For a brief time, she got to see how the other half swim.

It was an honor for a kid like her just to make the cuts to get there last weekend, so we were already beyond proud of her. But to see her go out and swim her fastest times ever and see her hard work and dedication pay off--it was inspiring. When her times were posted on the scoreboard, I felt my heart swell to bursting.

Some of the other parents are used to this. Their kids qualified last year and have been swimming at the top of the pack since they were old enough to jump off the side of a pool without floaties. Their children not only qualified for finals but sometimes won the whole event.

Yet I promise you they were not any more proud of their little athlete than I was of mine.

She swears her fast times were partly because we found her an inexpensive and "imperfect" version of a fast suit on eBay that we saved until this most important of meets to give to her. (It's not caving to peer pressure when you only pay a fraction of the price since the suit was heavily discounted due to slight mangling during shipment from China. Right?)

And if she wants to think that, fine.

For I know the fast times at Swimville High are really due to the heart of the kid inside the suit. And this makes me more proud than I deserve.

Monday, March 4, 2013

If the zombies come, at least I can let the house go for a while.

I had to go the the basement last night after The Walking Dead to throw Ainsley's school clothes into the dryer. This is a common thing. I always forget about the load of completely-essential-to-life clothes I start after dinner on Sunday night until after I've watched the scariest show on television (besides Celebrity Apprentice--All Stars), and then I have to trek down to our creepy basement alone whilst imagining there's an un-dead corpse camped out behind the water heater. It's a great time to be an easily-startled person who loves suspenseful television.

As Jason went upstairs to bed and I went downstairs to hang with the laundry ghouls, I tried to garner some pity.

"I bet there are walkers down here. I'll try not to get eaten."

"I'm sure you will."

Thanks for the support, dear. I hope there's a walker in our closet that you find and have to stab in the eye with a plastic hanger. (I hoard the metal hangers down in the laundry room just in case.)

To put Ainsley's clothes into the dryer, I had to first fold the humongous load of swim towels that I discovered forgotten in the dryer. Motherlover. Many minutes later, a zombie did emerge from our basement. She had my hair and was wearing my pajamas but was moaning and stumbling. She was not hungry for brains. She was hungry for sleep. And a massage. Maybe a date night.

For the current swim season is almost at an end. And until next weekend, when it is finally over, every day I'm shuffling. (And spending way too much time listening to LMFAO on pop radio stations, apparently.)

A colleague was down in the library last week, and we had been talking light-heartedly and laughing while her class was working. Then she mentioned that she might get her young son involved in swimming, and things turned serious.

I felt the need to tow the party line here and sing the praises of competitive swimming, but what I really wanted to do was to tell her to run away. Far away. And never look back. To maybe have her child pick a sport less time-consuming and stressful for parents, like professional baseball or extreme knife-fighting.

The whole time I was talking to her, I wanted to tell her how wonderful swimming is. But at the same time hold up hidden pieces of poster board with editorial comments. You know, like Juliet did to Jack when he was locked up at the Hydra station by Ben and being spied on with hidden cameras. (Sorry! Lost will never really be over for me.)

If someone asks me about swimming, here's what I would say. Because THEY might be listening. In parentheses is what I would discreetly write on cue cards to show what I'm really thinking.

"Oh, you will love being a swim family!"
(It beats being a zombie family. Marginally.)
"It's a life-long sport."
(Because each swim meet feels like it lasts a lifetime.)
"You become really close with the other swim parents."
(In that same way that survivors of military campaigns are close. Misery be the tie that binds.)
"Your kid will be in such great shape."
(Oh, the food you will buy to fill that sculpted stomach, that skinny torso capable of digesting inhuman amounts of carbohydrates.)
"The travel meets are the best; the parents always have a big party in the hotel lobby."
(Because the veteran parents have sadly learned that heavy drinking is the only way to survive.)
"It keeps your family busy and your kid out of trouble."
(And slowly takes over every aspect of your life until you are just a well-humidified shell of your former self.)

I may have scared my colleague off. I hope not; this is just end-of-season burn-out talking. And Jason and I are the only ones burned out at my house. Our swimmer is still fired up, loving every minute, looking forward to her first major championship meet. I suppose that's what's important.

This time next week, I will occasionally be able to take afternoon naps as needed to fend off migraines and/or fatigue-induced nervous breakdowns. I can run errands after school. I have my weekends back to stay caught up on household repairs and cleaning and, maybe, doing something just for fun. Crazy! I will have time to finish one of the five books I've started this season and tried to read in the loud, hot, distracting environment of the meet pool, only to give up and check Facebook for the 50th time that hour instead.

And then, come April, we start over. Unless the zombie apocalypse has happened by then, and that walker behind the water heater finally makes me her late-night snack. Will I fight her off or welcome her chomping? It all depends on how behind I am on laundry that day.

So, friends, here's my bottom line on youth competitive swimming, and probably any other youth sport. It's terrific for the kids. It's fun to watch them grow in the sport and work hard and be successful. It's great to meet new people and have something that gets the whole family out of the house and active. It teaches skills for life--time management, prioritization, teamwork, self-esteem, healthy exercise and eating habits. 95% of the time that we are involved in this sport, I endorse it with my whole heart and think it's the best thing we've ever let our child do.

But the 5% at the end of the season makes Mama a little nuts. And yearning for some sort of an apocalypse.