Thursday, July 29, 2010

Photographic memories

There is nothing more depressing than looking through old photographs. Ours are jumbled helter-skelter in two really cheap plastic drawers that gape from their shoddy housings and shed their contents as you move them about. And those contents could serve as evidence for any theory of bad parenting you might harbor (like, if you were one of my kids). There are too many pictures of one child, too few of the other, too many forced smiles with lips pulled painfully back, too many averted looks. And there are all the stories that you know lurk behind the pictures: the hurt feelings, the parental lapses, the unassuaged fear and loneliness. And all the beaming strangers who look vaguely familiar. I must have known them once. They may have been close friends. Who the hell are they?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kids say the darnedest things redux

She was a precocious 3-year-old:

* [To me] “I love you very much—and I will not bite you anymore!”

* [To me] “I don’t need you anymore, but I’m letting you stay here because I love you.”

And then she became a teenager …

* [When I came home with bring pink sneakers] “Does Daddy know about those?”

* [To me] “If you dropped dead right now, Mom, I would think, Thank god the nagging has stopped!”

* [Looking contemptuously at my sturdy shoes] “Where do you think you are—the Midwest?”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kids say the darnedest things

My son J was, of course, brilliant. But my daughter C was no slouch in the wise-child department. Witness the following from when she was 2:

* "I'm a woman. [Later.] I'm a person."

* M: You're so special.
   C: I'm so short.

* M: What are you drawing?
   C: A young mom.

* "When I grow up I'm going to be a boy."

* "When I grow up I'm going to have a penis."

* "You're a mommy craphead, and I'm a baby craphead."

* "Water goes away."

* [Out of the blue] "We have mayonnaise."

* [Holding out a raisin] "Want a bite?"

* "Hold me—for God's sake!"

* "Mommy,  go away. Daddy, go away. Bobo, go away. And I will do the laundry."

* "Now don't say anything. I am the doctor."

* [To M] "You are pretty bossy!"

* [To brother J] "Go to your room and do your homework!"

* "When I'm a daddy, I will not wear underpants at night."

* [To Other] "You have a beautiful penis!"

* "I love you, Mommy. And I even love myself!"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

No heroes

So I finally finished The Boys' Crusade, by Paul Fussell, which is a pretty devastating argument against war—of any kind, ever, for any reason. My father has made a thorough study of the book and written a detailed chart pointing out where his World War II experience and Fussell's overlapped and where they differed, and he's given copies of the book and his analysis as gifts to people who have helped him out over the past couple of years, particularly members of the Unitarian church who have driven him to his medical appointments at the VA. Seems like a not very cheerful gift, but relevant on such journeys I suppose. It's dispiriting reading, and I don't recommend it if you're already depressed.

But I was charmed by an addendum sent by my dad when he heard I was finally getting around to reading the book. It was a Wikipedia article on Fussell, with a description of his ex-wife's allegations of adultery highlighted in yellow, and in my dad's creaky, wound-blasted handwriting the words "This you must remember: There are no heroes."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy birthday, B

Today my friend B turns ... well, I won't say. I don't have a friend that I "grew up with" in the ordinary sense, no one who matched me step for step over the long haul of childhood. But B is the person I "grew up with" as an adult. I met her when I was in my 20s, and we have been fellow travelers—literally sometimes—ever since. She doted on my first-born, saved my second-born from abortion, walked me through the valley of cancer, flew from New York to visit me in San Francisco when my mother had a stroke and my father was hit by a bus. Mostly she's provided a moral compass for me whenever the dial on my own has gone into a spin. She's been my personal Emily Post and Abigail Van Buren and my rabbi too (since she's actually Jewish and I'm merely Jew-ish). It's not just pain we've shared but pleasures too: parties and trips and movies and books. Happy birthday, B—and lucky me!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wakeup surprise!

In the dim dawn I accidentally emptied a pepper packet instead of a salt packet into my oatmeal. And you know what? It's not that bad.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The proof is in the error

In Paul Fussell's Boys' Crusade, which I'm still slogging through like a good soldier (when I can bear it), there's an account of a typo that turned out to be a test of bona fides when German spies tried to pass as Americans:

"Every American officer carried, in addition to the metal identity tags around his neck, a laminated card with his photo. These cards had one curious feature: an uncorrected typographical error. The top of the card read NOT A PASS. FOR INDENTIFICATION ONLY. Someone preparing the disguises of the Skorzeny spies couldn't resist—some will say 'in a German manner'—pedantically correcting the spelling on the false cards issued to those masquerading as American officers."

An error that becomes proof of authenticity: It calls to mind the value placed on a knitting mistake as evidence of the genuineness of a sweater advertised as handmade. Or the mole that highlights a beauty's otherwise flawlessness. Or, more in keeping with Fussell's context, the scars that allow identification of a mangled body.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

When he was 7, 8, 9 ...

When he was 7:

* M: I saw Wally Shawn on the street today. I think he lives in our neighborhood.
    J: Oh, is he a drug addict?

* [On receiving a Casio synthesizer from the tooth fairy] "This is how life was meant to be. You could say I'm happy two times!"

* "I just can't have enough of these kisses!"

* [After M uses spit to wipe jam from his face] "I didn't come here to have you ransack me!"

And when he was 8:

* "Mommy, will you take me to an open-casket funeral?"

When he was 9:

* J: You know what you are?
  M: What?
   J: Mrs. Dime Store Flatulence!
  M: What's that?
  J:  Someone who farts in the dime store.

* [Complaining about his baby sister C] "... and she has this weird vision thing that turns you into her love slave."

* "I'm going to give this green slime to C so she can socialize with it."

* M: Does your friend Mohammed speak English or Arabic?
   J: English. He speaks it very well. He even knows curse words.
   M: Really? Like what?
   J: He said, "Go shave your pussy" and "Go find yourself a dick."

And there the record ends. Alas.

When he was 6

No topic was off the table at our house. Maybe that was a mistake:

* J: Mommy, I want to have sex with you!
   M: You can't. Mommies and their little boys aren't allowed to have sex together.
   J: Is that because their baby would be half your size and half my size?

* "Mommy, you know, you can't solve ALL your problems with magic."

* J: Mommy, have you had a heart attack?
   M: No, not yet.
   J: Oh, that's right. You had a nervous breakdown.

* "Mommy, if you let me watch you and Daddy have sex, I'll give you all my jewels."

* "Daddy let me use a knife once, or did he let me turn on the oven?"

* "I think I have the best mom and dad in the world."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

And when he was 5

Maybe it's just me, but is there anything funnier than little boys talking trash? More from the mixed-up files of my son J:

* "I'm going to tell Alex that he's so crazy that his ass goes pee and his penis goes poop!"

* J to M: Nice butt, Mom!

* J: Here Mommy, I'm going to kiss your bosom [kisses my bottom]
 M: That's not my bosom.
   J: Too late! I already kissed it!

* J: Sexy! Sexy! Sexy!
  Alex: Don't say that word when girls are around.
  J:  Why not? My mom doesn't mind.
 Alex: Do you know what "sex" means?
  J: No, what?
 [Many whisperings]
  J: Ewwww!

* [Talking to himself] "Nobody's perfect, you know."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Paper tale

Other and I have sometimes felt annoyed by the mountain of paperwork my sister-in-law J left us to excavate. Particularly onerous have been her taxes. But in just the way a drop of pondwater can be a magnifying glass for viewing the flora and fauna within it, so my sister-in-law's taxes have become a kind of lens on her life.

My sister-in-law and I did not always get along. There were resentments that flowed both ways, and there are wounds that fester still. But when I look at how she spent her money and what it tells me about her, I feel only admiration and sympathy and affection.

She donated hundreds of dollars a month to nonprofits, particularly community-building ones. She bought self-help and self-improvement books, as well as books to satisfy her vigorous curiosity. Her medical expenditures were unending and heartbreaking: everything from painkillers and sleeping aids to feeding-tube supplies and emollients for her radiation burns. Even the little vanities that seemed extravagant—the monthly appointments with her colorist, the shopping sprees at H&M and Uniqlo and Zanna—are humanizing when I see them laid out in black-and-white receipts and totted up into a sum that is dwarfed by her charitable tithing.

It's hard to read the mind of anyone, much less a dead person—and J was particularly inscrutable and contradictory—but the objective record of her giving and spending is unambiguous. I wish my taxes told as moral a tale.