Friday, January 26, 2007

Typing lessons

Jenn and I treated the girls to dinner at the local Friendly’s the other night, sort of a quasi-reward for the H-Belle behaving at daycare. The girls love to eat out.

Hannah plopped herself next to me and started chatting away.

“Babci, will you color with me? Oh yes, I want macaronis and cheese but no pickle. Can I have chocolate milk?”

As little sister continued to jabber, Sophie quietly took out her complimentary crayons and started her own busy work. She glanced our way and sighed. She and her mom know what they’re up against when we gather as a group - the “I’s” against the “E’s”.

Who would have thought that my older granddaughter would already grasp the concept of psychological types?

It started months ago. Sophie and I were hanging out, doing some project or other, when she turned to me and exasperatedly noted, “You’re an ‘E’!”

“Excuse me?”

Eyes rolling and repeating to dense grandmother, “You’re definitely an ‘E’, Babci. And I’m an ‘I’.” My need to talk a lot was obviously wearing the kid out. She had learned from her mom that some people were “the life of the party” and called extroverts while some people loved their private time and were introverts. She and her mom were in the latter camp; I and Hannah were definitely cut from the former cloth.

Shades of Carl Jung. Sophie was sizing us all up and had a pretty good understanding of how humans tend to behave. She seemed to like the idea that she could explain to herself just why she needed to be alone and play quietly at certain times … that it was good for her, felt right. On the other hand, even though it was frustrating to be bombarded by the exuberance of the other type, like me or Hannah, she also found it highly amusing.

It came full circle at the restaurant with Jenn at her side. Sitting across from us, they watched as Hannah proceeded to chat up the waitress, the older couple across the aisle, and then a family group as they passed our seats.

“No pickles on my plate!” as a final reminder to the waitress; “Why you not getting ice cream?” to the retired couple as they got up to leave; “I know you!” to the woman passing by who was a helper at Hannah’s daycare.

Jenn had Sophie giggling when she commented on the family dynamics. “Can you imagine going to the movies with Babci and Hannah?!”

I picked up on where she was going. “So, I guess you two would have to sit in another row just so you’d have some peace and quiet.”

Sophie chimed in and pointed at me and Hannah, “Oh yes, mommy, they’d be talking all through the movie!”

The die is cast. Hannah and I will continue to bounce and babble while the quiet ones, the deep thinkers, the family introverts will continue to sigh patiently and endure.

My son-in-law? “Daddy is an ‘I’ and an ‘E’”, observes Sophie. I think she’s right.

Move over Carl Jung, here comes Sophie.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Start spreading the news

Jenn sent me an email today about another mother and daughter. The daughter is a grad-school student in New York city, coincidentally another Jenny.

I remember my Jenn's days as a grad student in New York. So when I saw what this daughter was up to, I wasn't too surprised. It goes with the territory. Ya gotta love New York. Where else would email turn into art? (Maybe Berkeley but I've never been there.)

Here I am, trying to lighten up and get rid of my stash of old emails while other daughters are savoring every word and putting their mother's correspondence on public display.

I have to talk to my son-in-law. He's busy painting fruit. I think I've got a box of old bills and emails and Christmas cards that he could turn into massive collages - cut and paste and find a gallery. I could be larger than life.

On second thought, where's the dumpster?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Fruits of labor

Yes, I’ve been remiss in this new year with the blog. Mea culpa. I’ve been occupied with the new school year at work and with the grandkids. Oh, and I’ve been housecleaning.

My daughter blew into my house last weekend quite unexpectedly, a determined look on her face.

“Mom, let’s open up the rest of your boxes. You’ve been here since August.”

Now, you have to understand, this was Saturday and I was still in my decadent Christmas-gift robe which renders me incapable of doing any housework. The robe is so soft, so fleecy, so cozy … it wraps itself around me and whispers sweet nothings in my ear. I’m enjoying its caresses better than my tryst in the parking lot. I can take this one to bed without feeling guilty the morning after.

Where were we? Yes, the daughter shows up on mother’s doorstep ready to purge mother of her past life’s possessions. She means business.

Mom, seeing that daughter means business, wishes she had a tranquilizer to pop but settles, instead, for a quick change into jeans and sweatshirt to better accompany daughter in the extraction and elimination of most of Mom’s earthly belongings.

We begin. Girls are underfoot. Sophie wants to color. Hannah wants to eat. Jenn is in my spare bedroom, having already raised an eyebrow or two at my choice of CDs and changing the music-to-work-by to something more upbeat and current. New Age is out; Jerry Garcia and Sheryl Crow are in. I’m easy, well just in parking lots in broad daylight but that story has already been told.

I realize that I have, indeed, a lot of unopened boxes left from the movers from hell. They are sitting in my dining room and spare bedroom. We decide that we will go through as many as possible, separate the really important I-can’t-live-without-it stuff from the you-gotta-be-kidding it’s-gone-with-the-wind knick-knacks.

My energy fields are erratic at best. No wonder I just want to lounge about in the robe. Feng shui has left the premises. There’s no room at the inn.

My daughter offers the solution. A new year is upon us. Starting over is as simple as tossing out the old to make room for the new. I need to lighten up.

Looks good in theory, eh?

About an hour into this project, I realize that Jenn is ruthless and will take no prisoners. I find myself snatching small items and stashing in bedroom drawers before the terminator sees them. The grandkids provide enough of a diversion to let me get away with this.

Finally, she cuts a deal with hubby who turns up to take the two little ones home so that mommy and babci can really get down to the nitty gritty - the going-over-by-hand examination of papers, photos, diaries and such (some of which I hadn’t sorted since I was in my 20s). Of course, the many photo albums and loose pictures take the most effort. Jenn alternately laughs and cries as she opens up not just my past but hers too. Photos of her and her brother, familiar toys, rites of passage like first communion and confirmation. We see family members now gone, the god-awful forest wallpaper in the dining room, the cartoonish legs painted in the stairwell leading to the notorious red shag rug in the rec room. Winnie the Pooh painted on her bedroom wall; a large moonscape filling up her brother’s wall. It was quirky and eccentric. It was us.

She finds a photo of me dancing at a high-school party and my four-year teen diary. I let her read aloud from my diary and we are soon laughing at how innocent it all was compared to her high-school experience. Hearing my written words come from my daughter’s lips is quite a revelation. As she reads about the common everyday events and brings up family and friends’ names, I can almost see myself again as that na├»ve 16-year-old. I was so protected, so trusting. My parents would always be there to take care of me. My friends were forever friends. My biggest worries were keeping up with my homework and making sure I didn’t scrape the side of the car pulling into the garage.

She cannot believe what she is reading. I think she pities and envies me my innocence, my “Father Knows Best” existence. Her generation did not have it so easy but that’s her story to tell, not mine.

We move on to all the remaining bric-a-brac. She is merciless and I keep hovering to see what treasure she is furtively ditching into the giveaway pile. We find ourselves negotiating over ceramic swans (she hates swans), wooden Easter eggs (where did they come from anyhow?), artificial fruit (“Mom, this is so old-fashioned”), and bookends which always reminded me of her and her little brother. Nostalgic? Yes. Necessary? No. With her prodding, I give up the fight and relinquish these artifacts and more, much more.

“Some woman with small children will find these bookends and love them, Mom. You will make her happy.”

The last major battle is fought over my David Winter Cottage collection. I have to be shown empirical data to be convinced that all these little houses are not worth keeping for the grandkids. Heck, they are nestled in their original boxes with certificates of authentication. They must be worth something. Jenn sadly and knowingly shakes her head and tells me to do a search on eBay. Sic transit gloria mundi. (That’s Latin for “dammit, the kid was right”.) The David Winter Cottages are dead in the water. No major activity on eBay. People are waiting and begging for someone to bid and no takers.

She knows this is a hard blow. My one set of collectibles is not being collected. We make a compromise.

“Take a photo of each cottage, Mom, and we’ll put the entire collection up on eBay for you as a one-time offer.”

I don’t have much of material value to leave my kids, grandkids. No college trust funds. No savings accounts. If my life had taken a different turn, with a different man, I may have gotten to what will be the non-events of my life: a Golden Anniversary and a financially secure old age.

Jenn stays late into the night. We fold curtains, sort books, and locate most of the priceless memorabilia which will be stored in the spare bedroom. The photos, the diaries, the handmade ceramics, my parents’ silverware, the music books all receive a reprieve. They are keepers.

The place is still in disorder but the cleansing has begun. I will break down the cardboard boxes and take other re-filled boxes, including my fruit and eggs and bookends, to the local goodwill store. These relics from my past are dispensable.

They may sit on a shelf and gather dust or they may catch someone’s eye, fill someone’s present need.

They are not a part of my future.

My future is here; it is alive and well. I see my future in my daughter’s eyes, my grandchildren’s faces. It is palpable and organic. It will not gather dust.