M.I.A.

1109This blog is more of a reflection of me than I realized, or that you knew. Grab a Starbucks or a Big Gulp or whatever they serve wherever you’re reading this, and I’ll explain.

Let’s start with the easy visible part. The blog’s overall look is one of simplicity. Or at least as much simplicity as can be mustered when you’re sorting through all the sidebar options the good folks at WordPress make available. I chose that particular photo of myself because of the grey T-shirt, which lends to the grittiness of city life as seen through the—what are those, anyway? binoculars?—in the header’s image. And the image denotes taking a closer look at the human landscape, and it ties to my blog’s subtitle about observations.

Now for the invisible part.

On the “About Yours Truly” page I’ve listed random facts about myself. Absent from the list is that my 32-year-old daughter is disabled. She is unable to speak and has only gross motor movements as a result of an illness she suffered at age 14. Prior to that she was a straight-A high school freshman in perfect health.

That’s a really big deal, and a really big part of who I am, yet I intentionally omitted that fact. And here’s why:

Human beings are only, well, human, and when we’re at the movies or shopping at Anthropologie (did I mention she’s cognitively intact and has great taste?), I imagine people see The Girl in the Wheelchair and The Mom Pushing the Wheelchair. And therein lies the problem.

We are both, yet we are neither.

That seconds-long encounter fails to tell about us, about me training to qualify for the Boston Marathon or about Erin’s love of all things quirky and retro. That seconds-long encounter invites pity, not conversation.

A few years ago my husband urged me to write a memoir centered around Erin’s illness and the stone-in-a-pond ripples it has had on not just our family, but on people we’ve never met. Currently I’m writing—fingers crossed—the last draft and although in June my editor said he’d like this draft to be completed in three months, I’m about halfway done.

To chronicle something so personal yet so universally relevant is a huge task. And thus my absenteeism from this blog.

Recently, though, an essay of mine was published online at BioStories, so that was cool. It provides a glimpse into the memoir, if you’d like to read it.

This blog, like me—like all of us, probably—has a shiny side it shows the world and a personal side it grants entry to on a selective basis.

Welcome in, friend.

Falling Flat

Did you watch Cake Boss? Or the Holiday Baking Championship at Christmas?

Me neither.

I tried Cake Boss but couldn’t do it, and not just because of Buddy’s New Jersey accent—because of the caliber of cakes these “amateurs” put out. It’s nothing I relate to. Same with the holiday baking show: I knew when the contestants threw together a cranberry meringue pie or a white chocolate, pear, and fig morning bread at a moment’s notice, it was over. Amateurs, indeed. But back to Cake Boss.

I’d love to learn cake decorating, and if my second attempt (see? I’m not totally unrealistic.) looked anything like the cakes on TV, I’d do it. And the beauty of being a glass-half-full person is that in my mind, my cakes would look like that, with fondant smooth as glass and roses so realistic your allergies would flare.

How I imagine it looking.

But here’s what would happen:

First, there’d be stacks of unfrosted cakes reminiscent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa that were too lopsided/stuck-to-the-pan-to-come-out-cleanly/homely-to-be-resurrected-with-frosting—your pick—to bother with. The cakes that were salvageable would be lopsided/homely when I was finished with them.

My fondant would look like a patchwork quilt and my roses would be mistaken for globs of frosting that dropped when the decorating tip fell off the bag. Oh, they’d taste fine, as long as you ate with your eyes closed.

How it would look. As you can see, I’d give up on the roses altogether.

But that’s not what keeps me from trying—what keeps me from trying is my family. They’re polite. To a fault.

I’m not sure if they’d encourage me because life’s just easier that way or if they’d genuinely desire being force-fed cake for the rest of their lives, but here’s how it’d go down:

My cake would sit magnificently on an elevated plate in the middle of the table—no dessert in front of the TV tonight!—like the turkey in that Norman Rockwell painting. Once it had been duly admired, I would cut it, serve it, and pretend not to see the sideways glances when they eyed Mom’s creation, their looks of pity and disbelief. I’d ignore their praise spit out in short bursts, belly laughs threatening to escape. But still, I’d know. A mother always knows.

So I’ll keep my cakes in my head, where they’ll always be perfect, and stick to knitting. Because I do a mean garter stitch.

 

(Images: CC:Flickr)

Fantasyland

Courtesy: Disneyland

We’ve been married a long time—long enough that it requires less calculation to say how long we haven’t been married than how long we have, when anyone asks. And we’ve been married long enough to drift apart, a casualty of shifting interests and temperaments, patience and desires. It’s common, I suppose; it’s just not widely advertised.

Oftentimes couples wives try to pinpoint what happened, if there was a single incident that pulled the loose thread that unraveled the sweater. Did I change, or did he? she’ll wonder. (Translation: is it my fault, or his?)

In our case, he changed. In our case, it’s his fault.

Because what kind of animal doesn’t enjoy going to Disneyland?

Oh, he liked it just fine, early on—at least he said he did. But now I can’t help wondering, was it all an act? The smiles, the offers of a Dole Whip, the sitting statue-still while a lady clipped our silhouettes, her hands flying like a Benihana chef’s? Or did he like it just fine for a date, because he knew I liked it, his teeth gritted behind that smile? No, that can’t be. I can spot insincerity from a Space-Mountain-on-a-school-holiday-line away. Besides, he’s not very good at acting.

I don’t understand how he’s blind to the memories, why Disneyland doesn’t hold the slightest sentimentality for him. It was, after all, where we took our firstborn on her second birthday. Is that when it happened, when he became a man I no longer knew? Kids under three were free, so he couldn’t argue with the price. Was it because that free admission ballooned into half a paycheck by the time we left? Or that he had to carry our daughter for hours when she was too tired to walk? Still, it was nighttime by then and the scorching July sun had set. To this day I don’t know what he was complaining about.

Over the years our family’s size and Disneyland’s ticket prices increased concomitantly, and we visited less often—or maybe it was my husband’s grumbling that kept us from going. Anyway, while we were gone they became crafty, those Disney folk. For instance, rides no longer exit into brilliant California sunshine; now they dump you directly into themed gift shops so that when your Pirates of the Caribbean adventure is over you find yourself wading through tricorne hats, eye patches, and flasks. But where I see crafty, my husband sees money-grubbing, children-stalking henchmen. Potato, potahto.

We will probably never go back—not because our girls are grown, but because Disneyland recently raised their adult ticket prices to $99. Without parking. Without food. Without Advil.

So I’m left with my memories and my silhouette cutouts. Come to think of it, maybe there weren’t any flasks in that gift shop after all—maybe I’m just fantasizing about what would have made a day at Disneyland with three small children bearable: a flask filled with something stronger than a Dole Whip.