Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Archeological Dig in my Living Room

Last week, my husband told me that he was ready to have the wood floor installed that I've been waiting for in my office/living room. He's kind of in charge of this since we own a flooring store and has to schedule the installers, etc. So I've spent the last week cleaning this room out and it's been like an archeological dig.

Up until 33 days ago, I was a compulsive spender (who's counting?) so, of course, the wreckage of my shopping past was in there. I found so many beautiful, new picture frames in there that I'm ashamed of myself. What could a person be thinking when she buys so many? They're on sale so I'll buy 20? There are art prints of every size, both ones I love and ones that are just masterpieces because one time I was going to teach Art Masterpiece and bought everything ahead of time but then the school decided not to go with it. This is what you're like when you're a compulsive spender. There are gorgeous, wood carved wall hangings. There are two clock collections from the 1940s and 1950s, one of starburst clocks, and the other of hanging rope clocks. Was I trying to buy time? There is more furniture than can reasonably be squeezed into a room: my piano, my desk, two couches, a coffee table, two end tables. There are wall-to-wall ceiling-height built-in bookshelves and two free-standing ones, all of which have books piled on them.

Now the room's empty. Of course the rest of the house looks like a bomb hit it. And tomorrow the guys will show up and start working: pull up the carpeting, repair the drywall, paint the room, and put down the wood. But this week sometime, I'm going to have to answer the question of what, exactly, I'm supposed to put back in there when they're done? This is actually supposed to be a house, not a warehouse. I am committed to really making each room usable. Outside it may be HOA-hell with annoying gates and identical houses, but inside it's mine.

My mother, who, besides being a Holocaust survivor, was also once a Skokie housewife, weighs in with her opinion. She says, "Move your stuff out of there! Leave only the couches! It's a living room - don't let the kids in there!" She'd probably like me to get the couches wrapped in plastic and rope it off.

But I know that in there, somewhere, is my book - all my books, the ones I've written and the ones I haven't. The one about growing up one of seven sisters with Holocaust survivor parents; the one about being fat for 25 years; the one about how hard it is to leave a marriage, even when you know it's the wrong guy; and the one about being a teenager in the only Jewish family in Scottsdale in the 1970s on food stamps. Those books are in that room so I guess I'll keep that in mind when I'm rearranging. I need to make them easy to find.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Full House

Today I was sitting in my weight-related 12-step meeting listening to a share when suddenly I realized I felt full. And I don't mean full of food. I mean that for the first time in my life - 49 years - I don't feel like I absolutely need something that I don't have.

I don't mean to make a big deal out of nothing but remember, I'm Jewish, the child of Holocaust survivors, number six out of seven daughters. Want is my middle name. I was born fighting my way to the top of the family, born fighting for food from a mother who never bought enough, and apparently born ready to buy everything else.

But lately there is calm. I take no credit for this other than after what I hope to have been my last compulsive shopping trip ever, I came home with a set of filled bags hardly knowing what I'd bought and hid them in my closet and realized I was very sick. I then walked around the house with my camera and photographed the evidence of my shopping sickness: too much furniture in every room (because one day I might move into a house twice as big and I'll need it); the closet filled with empty bags, each with a receipt in it (because I might return everything); books piled everywhere, even duplicates; my kids, turned into compulsive shoppers themselves, toys everywhere in their rooms; my living room now a storage warehouse, filled with all the paintings I never put up, an antique mirror collection, and enough furniture for two living rooms. The wreckage of my past.

It's just been about 28 days right now. Baby steps. But full is good. Full is something I never felt before. Full means that I might be somewhere near gratitude, and that sounds like a pretty good place to live.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Home Sweet Home

This is our neighborhood: we're trapped in a subdivision of three streets and we live on the middle one. The houses, though not completely identical, are pretty much identical. You'd have to live here to be able to tell the minute differences between one exterior elevation and another. Let's just say that there's a lot of stucco and mission tile roofs, Mesquite trees and gravel front yards.

One of the reasons why the houses look the same is because we have an approved color palette for our exteriors and we aren't allowed to change anything without submitting it to the architectural board. Even, like, if we wanted to switch from grass to gravel. I know I'm supposed to be very reassured by this firm control - after all, no one can suddenly come along and paint their house flamingo pink. But we can't even have a garage door different from the others, and they're starting to look dated, like we're a time capsule from 1993. I'm all for historical accuracy, I'm just not sure about anachronism.

Since we live in Arizona, I have neighbors I've never met. For some reason - the heat maybe? - people don't leave their houses here, they hide inside, or they open their garage, hop in their car and drive away. Kids don't play outside because of those gravel front yards and because every one of them goes to a different school and they don't know each other. Anyway, with lots as small as ours, a good neighbor is always a quiet neighbor, and a good neighbor driver is the one who doesn't try to run over my kids if they do wander outside.

Our neighborhood is also gated, which means that everytime I try to get in here the gate malfunctions in some way and starts slamming shut on my car. Sometimes the gates break on both ends - the in and the out - and I'm trapped in here like a jail cell. The gates weren't original to our neighborhood, rather they were voted in and not by us, because we're Democrats and don't believe in such exclusionary nonsense. Cars get stuck trying to get in or out of the gates or they just lurk around a while and get in following someone else. After all, these are not security gates; they're just for show. And they're only supposed to show the world that we're richer than everyone outside the gates.

But the neighborhood looks good - it's very neat. It has to be. About once a week a tiny white pickup truck from the Homeowner's Police drives through here with a guy inside holding a clip board. He stops in front of each house, carefully examining our home for any infractions of our HOA rules, like leaves left in our gravel front yards or garbage cans left out on non-garbage days. Within a few days we'll have a letter titled "Friendly Reminder," which is not friendly nor is it a reminder, it's a violation notice. I head outside to rake, I haul in errant garbage cans.

It's Arizona, it's our house, and we've been living here for 16 years.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interrupting My Mother

My mother takes me to lunch at a Jewish deli for my birthday. My hopes for the lunch are pretty minimal: I'm hoping we won't fight and I'm hoping she won't eat off my plate.

There's a lot to fight about between my mom and I for some reason. Even though she's proud of me for being so committed to being Jewish (except for that meat and cheese thing - oops), she also seems to feel like she has to cut me down to size a little; to remind me that I'm just a little pisher - the number 6 daughter out of 7 so why don't I shut up anyway?

Since she's a Holocaust survivor and was Orthodox until the Nazis came and killed all the Jews of her town when she lost her belief in God, she automatically knows more than me, as she loves to tell me. I don't know anything because the only thing that has validity is the way they did it in the Old Country before 1941.

So I'm sitting there and things are going pretty well. She is not eating off my plate. Because I know she wants to, I don't finish my soup and hand it over to her so she can finish it. I save a small plate and hand her things from my dish. I don't mean to be a germ-o-phobe, but my mom is normally picking at things with just-licked fingers and then coughing a phlegmy cough.

Then she stops the hostess to chat with her. My mom has two purposes to every conversation she starts with strangers: she's going to tell them that she has seven daughters and she's going to tell them that she's a Holocaust survivor. This is kind of funny because she's never been the type to go speak to schools or join a Holocaust survivor organization, but strangers? She loves to tell strangers.

So she says, "Do you have any children?"
The hostess says, "Yes! I have a wonderful boy. He's 16."
"Only one child?" my mom asks. "Why only one? Didn't you want a girl?"
"Well, I got divorced when he was young and so I never had another."
And here it comes. "I have seven daughters." She looks at me. "This is number six." I'm a number, not a person.
"No! Seven daughters!"
"Yes. I guess I was trying to have a lot of kids because of the war. I'm a Holocaust Survivor, you know."
"I didn't know."
"I saw my whole town wiped out. My family was the only one that came out intact."

By now there are people teaming over at the hostess stand. The hostess needs to go back to work. It's a Saturday at this popular deli at lunchtime, and my mother has brought up just a little, teeny, tiny topic: THE HOLOCAUST.

How do you change the subject when the subject is the Holocaust?

I help the hostess since I've lived with this my whole life. I transition the topic back to her 16-year-old son, back to easier ground, back to children, which is what we had been discussing in the first place.

How do I interrupt my mother when she's talking about the Holocaust? I don't know.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Guess Who's The New Piano Teacher?

First we had the piano teacher we had to meet in a desolate church after hours, a referral from a friend, where I sat uncomfortably on a rolling, backless stool for an hour waiting for my kids to finish their first piano lesson. At the end, he made a pass at me, the mom.

Then we had another piano teacher who lived in a mobile home, and it wasn't so much the overall creaking and groaning of this, but the sitting on the sagging couch with my allergies and her two long-haired cats for the hour each week. She was some kind of fundamentalist religion and very excited about having Jewish students, especially since the Christmas concert was coming up. We didn't make it to the Christmas concert.

Then we had our last piano teacher, one at a music store, which I thought would finally work out because it was a professional place of business where I paid with a credit card and they had a cancellation policy and all that. But she had her foibles: the rotton sonofabitch ex-husband whom she liked to talk about for half an hour after the lessons, her money problems, her car problems, and, yes, her fundamentalist faith and how excited she was to have Jewish students especially - you guessed it - with the Christmas concert coming up.

So, there have been no piano lessons for almost two years, resulting in my mother asking to have the piano since in my family everyone considers everything communally owned. If I'm done with it, I need to pass it on. I say yes but the rest of the family says no. My daughter decides I'll be the piano teacher. I did take lessons for 6 years and was quite the prodigy among the little Jewish girls of Skokie at one time. Let's put it this way: at my 1971 5th grade graduation from elementary school in Skokie, I played a solo of "Love Story." I know, it's impressive.

And here's what I figure out right off the bat: my kids have not been exactly learning how to play piano, they've been learning this thing called finger numbering. If they put their fingers in the right position and then know which finger number to push, they will play a song, like a machine. I know it wasn't like that for me, and it takes a lot of thinking to remember how I was taught. So I introduce my daughter to the piano, the octaves, the keys - both black and white - the whole keyboard, and the repeating notes. By the end of the first lesson, on my birthday, she plays "Happy Birthday" to me.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Time's Up

Well, I just wasted the first hour of my birthday on the Internet. What's new? I also wasted my last half-hour of being a 48-year-old on the Internet. I guess I should have somehow savored that last little bit of 48-year-oldness -how do I stop time again? - but I just kept clicking on this link and that link, and when I looked down at the computer clock it was, oh yeah, Happy Birthday.

Here's the exciting life of an unsuccessful writer. It's one o'clock in the morning. My husband is asleep, but dressed, on top of our bed. He has this convoluted idea that his wife (that's me, I'm the wife-thing) should actually go to sleep with him each night. Since I don't actually sleep this causes some problems. My kids, however, are asleep, in pajamas, in bed (I can't actually swear to what the 13-year-old wears to bed anymore and I'm not checking). And I am sitting up, working on an assignment for my on-line nonfiction writing class, worrying about the assignment for my in-person class, and wondering, what am I supposed to do again about the book I wrote? My opus? You know, the thing I was born to write?

Yesterday I woke up a little sick. I lurched out of bed and made my way to my medicine cabinet. The house was very quiet and suddenly I heard these words in my head, and I'm not schizophrenic. The words were, "Time's up." Now I'd like to think that's divine intervention, like the name of a book I should write, but, I don't know. It sounded a little like a death knell. I give a lot a weight to the little thought that pops into my head without me thinking it in the middle of the quiet, sleeping house.

So, since I'm not dead yet and it's been eighteen hours, I'm going to give Mr. Time's Up a positive spin. Time's up on the training to write. It's been eight years - I think I know how to write. Time's up on the preparing and the over preparing, on the proceeding gingerly. Time's up on all that. And if it's the other Time's up, what better reason to get my stuff out there than immortality?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Can You Say "Childhood Obesity?"

Here's what my 9-year-old daughter ate tonight from 7:00 till 9:00. You tell me if this is a lot of food.
- a taco salad with taco meat and cheese on it.
- tortilla chips and salsa
- a box of edamame from Costco
- 2 pieces of raisin toast with butter
- a snack cup filled with chocolate chips
- fresh pineapple

Here's what my son ate, also from 7 to 9 pm:
- two meat and cheese burritos
- about a thousand tortilla chips with salsa
- 4 pieces of raisin toast with butter
- fresh pineapple
- blueberries
- a bag of barbeque potato chips

And they're both very thin. As in, finding slim enough clothes for them is a problem. They get this from their father since if I actually eat one extra bite per day, I will gain ten pounds instantly. And it will all be on my fat butt.

The only thing that finally made the two of them stop eating is that they had to go to bed, and I'm not absolutely certain that my daughter doesn't hide food in her room that she eats after she gets in there.

Husband? Another pig. Three gigantic burritos, almost the entire bag of Costco tortilla chips, all my homemade salsa, along with anything else that's not nailed down in our house.