10 December 2005

The Gap Kid Who Had Other Ideas...

Like most parents, I had this preconceived notion that I would probably produce "Gap" Kids. You know, the kind that gravitate toward navy blue plaid skirts, button-down collared oxford shirts, knee socks and Bass loafers with no visible scuffs. I figured my kids would pop out in preppy mode.

I should have known when Katie popped out and refused to follow the rarely mentioned, but essential rule that she would actually breathe upon arrival in the delivery room, well, after I got over the terror of her delivery room prank, that I was in for an interesting adventure. I mean, she was two weeks late, and you would think, at the very least, she wuold have the decency to do the one thing that is expected of every baby that crosses the great divide between inutero and insanity; Was it really too much to ask that she just...breathe?

But that would set the tone. Katie has always done things her way. It made no difference to her if I had been waiting for 9 long months to hold her and do all that stuff the baby books alluded to. Katie had her own ideas - right from the start. In a rare display of consistency, she has remained faithful to that tenent. She has strong ideas and principles and she's not afraid to defend them.

My daughter easily mastered the rudimentary skill of breathing, but she has taken my breath away on more than a few occasions in the finest way possible. Mostly, I'm just in awe of her resolve, her powerful presence and the confidence with which she lives her life. Laid-back is not an adjective I would ever use were I asked to describe my daughter. There simply aren't enough descriptives.

Yesterday at work, I walked in to find several of my coworkers huddled around the computer monitor. Did something happen? Was there breaking news? What was the object of everyone's attention? As it turned out, one of Katie's friends had pulled up Katie's "My Space" site and, apparently, Katie had uploaded some new photos. Some I had seen before, but there were a couple that were new to me.

There was Katie - staring back from the monitor. It was a beautiful photograph and I finally understood the reason for their gaze. Katie works part-time at the same place I do, though she has been with the same group for four years. This is her territory, her turf and although I work there full-time, much to our collective chagrin, Katie can run that place with her eyes closed and both hands tied behind her back. She knows what I'm looking for before I ever ask for it. I may put in more hours than she does, but there's no doubt in anyone's mind that she's the brains behind the operation.

I am grateful for my job and I've learned quite a lot. It couldn't have come into my life at a better time and it is because of the kindness of a dear friend that I am there at all. But it's hardly career stuff. Truth is, I'd rather be writing. However, sometimes economics rears it's ugly, uninvited head and wouldn't you just know I've grown accustomed to having a roof over my head and, after five years, I kind of love my house. I have never lived in the same place five years, so somehow it's become home. Given that my mortgage company expects to be paid every month, Dan and I have had to pool our resources for those silly little essentials like food, shelter, petrol and insurance. Of course, I only ask him about six times a week if he can promise me that we might be in a position where I could write full-time, next year. Lovely man that he is, he always smiles and says "Absolutely. Of course you will. This is just temporary.". He realizes that this answer will satisfy me for a few hours, until I ask him yet again.

Can't blame a girl for trying.

In the meantime, I work in the world according to Katie. Almost imperceptibly, as we (well, she, not me) grow older, I feel our relationship moving more toward that of trusted friends, and perhaps what we have between us has less to do with authority - though, to be perfectly honest, I think any position of authority I might have imagined was more illusion than fact - something that Katie allowed me to feel.

From early childhood on, my no-nonsense daughter had her own ideas about how things should be. More often than not, she was exactly right. Maybe I managed to nudge her in the right direction, and talk her onto an airplane or two - which was fortunate and practical because, much as we might have wanted to, we couldn't stay in France forever.

At 22, barely 5 feet tall and maybe 108 lbs., Katie has grown into a beautiful, dazzling young lady. So lovely, in fact, that her co-workers and friends stop in their tracks to closely examine her photos on a computer at work. Of course, I had to go along with the consensus. My daughter is exquisite, both physically and maybe even more incredible in terms of intelligence and that force of a true spirit that seems to cast a glow on things both internal and external.

I could not rightfully take any credit for all of the accolades, even as I tossed in a few of my own. Katie was at class as we were fawning over her latest offerings and it was a good thing, because Katie would have broken such non-sense up in short order and reminded everyone that it was a salon and day spa we were running – not a photography class. And to be honest, for her to make such a statement would have been vintage Katie, the Katie we have all come to love and hold so very dear – the tiny, yet powerful, pixieish little “tornado”, (she has the tattoo to prove it!), has so much more going on than meets the eye.

My daughter is a lover of art, writing, all things history, European and otherwise, music, sociology, psychology and philosophy. She loves exchanging ideas but she doesn’t like plugging in formulas or memorizing math computations. Math just isn’t her bag. She hates air travel as well, but she doesn’t all that to hinder her desire to discover the world. Though only 22 years old, she’s already visited France, the UK and Ireland, where she was installed as an au pair and lived with a wonderful family and their three children. It was a great experience and the opportunity to live with an Irish family and work within a new culture appealed to Katie on so many levels.

My daughter loves shopping at thrift stores and consignment shops, wears heels that I would easily break my neck in, and changes the color of her hair more times than a chameleon changes color. This daughter of mine, when she agreed to be my maid of honor, surprised us all (shocked, really) by having certain strands of her hair tinted fuchsia. Now I have to ask you, how many people do you know who could pull off fuchsia hair, not to mention a beautiful skirt of the same color, and look good doing it? Clearly, this is not the stuff of Gap. I’m not sure The Gap even acknowledges the color of fuchsia. It seems too removed from khaki. No, Katie is not a Gap girl. We like it that way.

Katie has been my anchor. She has told me that Justin's not nearly as "out there" as many of her friends near the same age. She tells me his actions and decisions are pretty typical. She looks me straight in the eyes, especially when I feel most addled, and says, "Mom, Justin is going to be just fine. You'll see.". And of course, I cling to those words and her prediction. Knowing Katie, I think if she truly were concerned, as close as she and her brother are, she would shoot straight with me. At least, I'd like to think so.

The bond she shares with Justin runs deep and they truly are each other's best friends. It pleases me, this close relationship they share, and makes me wonder what it would have been like had my sister lived, but of course it could never have been quite the same. There's only 3 years and 3 months that separate Katie and Justin - and there were ten years between my sister and me. I'd still have loved to have had a sibling or two. Sometimes it's so puzzling to me when I hear of people who say they "no longer communicate" or have nothing to do with their sisters and/or brothers. I find that so sad. What could be so horrible that you couldn't work through it and get on with the fun of being siblings and sharing funny stories about what a dysfunctional childhood you had? Oh well, there's a lot I don't understand.

On August 26th, 1983, I was presented with a beautiful 6 lb., 14 ounce daughter and gosh I've loved helping her grow up, just as she's helped me grow up on so many occasions. Katie didn't turn out to be The Gap kid I always imagined. She's way too quirky for that cookie-cutter nonsense. Me? My closet could have a Gap sign hung on it because The Gap is well-represented, as are Doc Martens of every shade and style.

I go out of my way these days to avoid my favorite store because it's just too hard to peer through the windows and imagine what it used to be like wandering the aisles and touching the t-shirts in all of those luscious colors. Fortunately, most of what they sell is pretty timeless (i.e., boring), so at the very least, no worries about being "trendy", but then again, I never was. I hope someday I can visit and buy a few things, guilt-free. Until then, I have only to walk to my closet and, if I try really hard, I can simply pretend I'm in a fitting room with a lot of familiar looking clothes. For now, it's more important that I make sure I have a closet and a house to shelter my collection. You know, that dreary part of being an adult that requires one to have priorities. :-)

I guess this is my way of saying a huge thanks to Katie for keeping it real and never allowing life to get boring. I guess it's just like in the song James Taylor sings,

Once you tell somebody the way that you feel
You can feel it beginning to ease.
I guess it's true what they say about the sticky wheel,
Always getting the grease.

I know it sometimes seems as if I'm all caught up in trying to figure what's going on with Justin and that's because, well, I kind of am! I can remember few times you've been the "sticky wheel" so there you go - that's why you haven't received any grease, but please accept my gratitude for being everything I could possibly want in a daughter - and please feel free to keep reminding me that it's all going to be just fine.

I love you tons. We all do, more than you will ever know.

09 December 2005

And The Little Child Shall Lead Them...

"There is no normal life that is free of pain. It's the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth." ~ Fred Rogers

"It's all about friends, it's all about love and having someone you know you can trust. We're in this together, it's all about us... Hold onto to the good things..." ~ Shawn Colvin

And so it is...the season of hope...so much hope and I've got a well-spring of it. I still stumble, I occasionally fall, but I do know how to get back up again. Sometimes the road is clear and free of debris and feels just like a golden path really should. Other times, things appear so murky and obscured in fog, but I just have to hold on and trust my compass - discard that artificial horizon and trust that I'm still upright and making progress.

I am grateful for many things, even though I still feel twinges of fear as my kids navigate their way toward maturity and adulthood. I just have to trust they'll find their way and remember that I'm still finding my own. Making more meetings helps because the energy exchanged with others in recovery is so palpable and potent and most times I walk out of an AA meeting feeling as if I've been given a spiritual booster.

Last Saturday, Justin asked me if I would be interested in tree shopping. Yes! Yes! Yes! We needed something light, fun and seasonal.

First stop - depositing my paycheck. Justin drove to the bank and as he approached the drive-thru, it was then I realized that I had left my check at home. Oh well, it could wait. We were hungry with fajitas on our mind. We needed a Chili's fix and pressed on.

After lunch, we realized that we were in the same plaza as K-Mart and the Optimists Club had set up a tree lot. First we trekked into K-Mart and after about five minutes, Justin was ready to bolt but not so fast. I made this guy, I like to think of it as "encourage", walk down every aisle of Christmas decorations...though I tried my best to skip anything hinting of Martha Stewart. We're not huge fans.

After spending a small mint on lights, ornaments and one poinsettia, it was onto the tree lot. Nevermind that we had a perfectly adequate 7 1/2 foot artificial tree that was only 3 years old and barely used. Justin and I love live trees and I have no idea how we ever came to possess an artificial tree in the first place, but we didn't let that stop us from walking through a forest of recently cut evergreens and finding about ten that we found to be perfect.

Finally, we both wound up staring at this gorgeous 10 foot Frazier Fir and it had our name written all over it. Justin ran and alerted the guy in charge and before we could change our mind or wince at the price tag, the gentleman had the tree on the really cool contraption that nets the whole thing up and was asking which vehicle would be taking it away. Fortunately was driving his Blazer.

A very long Christmas tree
Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
After lots of rope and a little adjusting, the tree was soon atop the truck and off we went - headed for home and an evening of decorating - "Christmas Vacation/Griswold Style".

Justin had already fished out the lights from the garage and found the video - so after a bit of rearranging, a few photos and some popcorn, Justin built a fire in our Vermont Castings Wood stove, hung six stockings on the brick wall behind the wood stove and directed us to find our places - sitting amid boxes of decorations, warm with the glow of the fire and even warmer in the glow of being a family.


I hardly ever make it through a movie without eventually falling a sleep, but after I finished some popcorn, I looked around and I felt completely blessed. Everyone in that room wanted to be there - Justin coordinated the entire evening. I ran upstairs at one point to retrieve a battery or bulb or something, and I overheard my son make a comment downstairs that stopped me in my tracks.

"You know, if we had more evenings like this, I'd never think about getting high. I love nights like this - it's the best. We should have more evenings like this...".

I wasn't sure I heard him correctly, so when I came back downstairs, I asked him what he had said a few minutes earlier. Justin repeated his statement without reservation or hesitation. I looked around at the mass of clutter, the boxes, the strings of beaded garland, the half-decorated tree and felt the heat of the fire he built which, by now, was putting out so much warmth we had to open one of the patio doors.

Our living room was hardly photo-op material - "Southern Living" or "House Beautiful" wouldn't give us the time of day, but who needs a second opinion? I took it in because it contained three of the most precious things in my life; my son, my daughter and our animals. So what if there was scattered, mismatched decorations, a couple of cats eyeing the tree, or a coffee table with empty soda cans and spent bowls of popcorn? This evening, this gathering, this ritual, I wouldn't have taken anything for it. This was an early Christmas present and I can't imagine anything close to the treasure, the gift, really, of being with people who make my life completely crazy and rich beyond anything I deserve.

I guess Christmas isn't really a ten foot Frazier Fir, or shiny ornaments or brilliantly colored lights. It's looking around the room and seeing people who, merely by their presence, make you feel as if your heart could surely burst - because of the love exchanged that makes up for mistakes, miscalculations and missteps that are part and parcel of being human. And even though you know that there will still be times these people you hold so dear will get around to driving you nuts and worrying you into gray hair and wrinkles, you wouldn't trade them, or moments like a special evening, for anything the world could possibly offer.

Katie. Justin. Pops. Granny. Princess. Sylvester. Tabitha. Cassie. Even weird Felix. I love you more than you will ever know.

Yes, Justin, let's have more of these evenings. The next time I tell you that I have to do one thing or another - nag me until I get the point and remind me to thank you.

Christmas tree 2005

Christmas tree 2005
Originally uploaded by susiewrites.
With an aviary above and cats down below - It's a toss-up as to what might wind up in this tree...There is never a dull moment in this house. Oddly enough, it all feels perfectly normal and I love it all. Hey, before the season's over, I might wind up in that tree.