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Garage Sale

At 6:30 a.m. Friday, someone was already waiting for us to expose our wares, ready or not. "How much for this top and skirt set, honey?" she asked me fairly patiently as I click-clacked around the garage in a hurry, sliding boxes and topping pricing markers with importance; I had to get to work; I had to feed the kids breakfast; I had to make their lunches; I had to .. to.. . DO... LOTS. OF. important... THINGS. I was busy. "Three dollars. ?" I blurted as if under undue pressure, and then left the rest to John, who was relaxed, detached, and as a result actually accomplishing tasks while I was filling the garage with unproductive, invaluable tension. By 7:00 a.m., the kids' lunch was half-made, their breakfast half-eaten, my earrings half-on, and my shoes still click-clacking with false, forced authority all over the wood floors, the tile floors, the beautiful expensive flooring in the house we're indebted to for generations, the house 50 successful garage sales still couldn't afford, the house we love, but probably shouldn't have bought, the house we will stay in until we've resolved all the other poor choices, and learned all the other late "life lessons".

John braved the constant traffic and occasional haggling with "customers" on Friday, with virtually no comments, other than how much we made by selling junk to others. Saturday morning it was my turn, and I had to get over myself and my irrational fear of the unknown, and the fact that it's also irrational that the "unknown" includes allowing unfamiliar people onto my driveway (how horrifyingly anti-social for someone who considers herself "open" and "liberal"), let alone INTO MY GARAGE, only *feet* from a portal into my home, the home with the mess and dysfunction and reality I have yet to "manage" in any acceptable way, despite my criticisms and my know-it-all, have-a-response attitude about everything until I screw up and see how hard it all is, and how we're all just a bunch of snot-nosed kids when it really comes down to it. But having that realization around my mounds of dirty clothes and pet hair isn't necessary, is it? Even though a lot of the dirty clothes were carried downstairs by my kids at my request with pretty decent attitudes, and the pet hair comes from two of the most peaceful, family-oriented creatures on earth? Yeah, still. Not necessary. Because the peace is always the after-math realization I have. I look BACK and go, wow, the kids are really basically sweet. I shouldn't yell so much. SIGH. Wow, the animals are so amazing and low maintenance. I should appreciate their part in the family more. SIGH.

But I digress. By Saturday morning, it was my turn. After shoving down any remaining human emotion I might have about allowing others near my territory or whatever nonsense instinctively rules my brain, I parked myself in the garage and forced friendly "HI"s to come out of my mouth. I answered people's questions. I negotiated prices. I even had conversations that I was disappointed, YES, DISAPPOINTED to end. People were full of information for me: they'd had a garage sale last week and now here they were buying more stuff, ha, hahaha, ha, ha; they were stopping by on behalf of their aging parents who loved garage sales, did that TV work?, no they didn't want me to plug it in, nevermind; why are you selling the Wii Fit?, did you not like it, oh, you didn't use it to get in shape like you thought you would, yep, they understood that, ha, hahaha, ha, ha; would I take fifty cents for these two toys marked fifty cents each?; how about a dollar for the already priced to sell three-dollar DVDs? When the customer who asked the last question literally STUFFED HER WALLET -- WITH PANACHE -- INTO HER BRA EIGHT INCHES FROM MY FACE AFTER HANDING ME A DOLLAR AND WAITING FOR TWO QUARTERS BACK, I wished I'd studied Zen Buddhism. Or been blind. Or non-judgmental. Or somehow oblivious. But no; I am none of these.

I'm a broke, educated, white mother of two white males in the smack-dab-middle of the United States of America. I have a high paying job and lots of nice things, and I pay for my kids to go to a school that will teach them about a world that exists beyond their skewed, screwed-up house with two-car garage. I have no more hope of perspective or depth beyond what I can claim to pay for. Somehow the white trash bra-wallet lady seems to have something figured out here that I don't, much to my instinctual, consistent dismay.

Mr. In Control vs. Mr. Entertainment

The kids are smitten with the nine-year-old daughter of my mom's next door neighbor, which has introduced us to the phenomenon of what life will be like when they're in high school. Her back yard is not fenced, and neither is my mom's, so the first time they met, and after the obligatory shyness wore off and their natural competition rose to the surface, the flirtation of choice was racing across the length of Her back yard. Quinn always loses when it's a race based only on speed, which means two things: Quinn gets frustrated and moves on to something else, and Bryce demands a race every. single. time. he sees Her.

Last night all the families were out before fireworks started, and Bryce used his trusty "let's race" line to get Her attention. Cue the same rules, the kids in the same line-up, and the same four seconds of all-out sprinting followed by Quinn's desperate attempts to win for once by heading for the finish line before reaching the agreed upon mid-point of the far fence, and Bryce's (legitimate but screechy) accusations of cheating (even though Quinn still never wins). Party music was playing on the back porch when all the kids came up for a drink, though, and She started to dance, which led to Quinn joining Her with his signature hilarious lip-syncing, finger-pointing, disco party moves in perfect rhythm to whatever was playing. Bryce got his drink and said to Her, "let's go race again," but as he ran off, She hesitated and said, "I want to dance, I don't want to race." Bryce didn't even know what to make of this. He had no desire to dance, and no intention of dancing. (I can totally relate; in fact, this is probably a medical condition he inherited from me, much like his desire for control, frustratingly photographic memory, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.) He tried to wait patiently while She and Quinn jammed through all the classics streaming from the digital cable party channel. The entire bottom half of Quinn's head was soaked with sweat and he was probably delirious with fatigue and dehydration, but nothing was going to take this victory away from him. I tried to encourage Bryce to join them, but he just ignored me. He tried a different tact, walked up to Her mid-shuffle and said, "let's play climb the mountain on the rocks over there!" to no avail. She told him to dance too, but he shook his head and I could see his mind racing for something to offer Her that would be more compelling than dancing, and dancing with Quinn of all people! Quinn was lapping it up, performing for the neighbor family across Her back yard, lip syncing to songs he didn't know and pointing frantically, occasionally changing up his points for some air guitar when the songs allowed for such genius.

Finally, She was ready to take a break from dancing and agreed to humor Bryce's constant requests to play a game, any game, any activity involving role playing that might somehow resemble video game life where he could feel in control, directing the activities of all the players and declare the winner according to his pre-determined set of logical rules. Bryce seemed to relax again under these circumstances, although still perplexed by the whole thing: the dancing, ... who can tolerate all that out-of-control, purposeless movement with no defined end in mind? Watching the three of them play and the boys compete for Her attention and approval in whatever way they could, I said, "the teenage years are going to be tough with those two." "Yeah," said my stepdad, " 'Hey Quinn, find out if she likes me.' '...Well, Bryce, I've been out with her four times now, but I just can't tell.' "

And just think: before this set of exchanges, all I was worried about for the evening was firework safety.

If that's not a postmodern expression of injustice, I don't know what is.

The other night in the game room, in lieu of playing another smashing round of "Hangman" on the kids' chalkboard, we played "guess the picture" which is exactly what it sounds like - no more, no less. In the spirit of Calvinball, none of us defined any rules or guidelines, but a pattern of each person drawing two mystery pictures at a time emerged organically. After one round of this pattern, Bryce wanted to play again. I was out of ideas after my masterpieces of "castle" and "crown", so I gave my second turn to John, who drew his final pictures just before we both announced it was time for teeth-brushing and face-washing before bed. Bryce objected, saying it wasn't fair, John had had three turns, so he needed three turns. John opted for a sly approach and threw in a previously unspoken "guess the picture" rule, saying he and Quinn had taken four turns total, and mom and dad had taken four turns total, so the "teams" were even. Bryce continued to wail and we continued to herd Quinn into the bathroom for bedtime rituals. Bryce's rage had to be expressed, so he growled and ran back to the chalkboard and angrily scrawled this in his choppy second-grade cursive (parenthetical, correct spelling, and all):

dad had three turns
mom, 1 bryce, 2
quinn, 2
(no teams)
unbalanced

I read his message and gave him a high five. That kid's going places, I tell you.

Reparations, 2009

In January I made an actual New Year's Resolution. Well, okay; it wasn't exactly "specific" or "measurable," the way real, adult, professional goals are supposed to be. It was more of a theme, but not one that could be adequately described with words. My new year's resolution was more like the artist formerly known as prince's symbol - elusive, non-descript, cartoonish, even. My life by mid-year was going to epitomize peacefulness, genuineness, gratefulness, graciousness, any -ness I could think of that was consistent with my ever-forming "values." At the time this seemed perfectly reasonable and realistic. By not placing specifics around the resolution formerly known as Fix My Life, it seemed somehow doable, maybe probable, and even enticing. I would simply know when a choice presented itself to me to prove my commitment to The Resolution. You see, the past few years have taken quite a toll, and not necessarily in the way you might assume -- not in all bad ways. Good news in the way of a beautiful home, healthy kids, career recognition, and little joys like the barn kitten we brought home from a Thanksgiving visit to my dad's charmed Kentucky life have been probably appropriately (or at least not surprisingly) balanced by bad news in the form of health scares, horrific family strife, near-fatal accidents, and the stress that accompanied the "career recognition" I just mentioned. The Resolution was going to be my awakening from the comatose survival mode of simply reacting to the chaos around me. I was going to consciously choose everything from my tone of voice when I'm saying, "we use napkins in this house" and "stop licking the seatbelt" to my breathing patterns during mind-numbing, politically charged meetings at work.

Yeah, well, that didn't work for long. The tangible results I was looking for would have shown up first in the mirror, when I would glance there without cringing at the reflection of the dozens of extra pounds that the chaos and resulting coping mechanisms of these past years have cruelly deposited. They would have certainly shown up in my closet, where I would have been able to wear 90% of what hangs there limply instead of the mere 10% that is faded and worn and soon to be stretched to oblivion. While I haven't forgone the possibility of achieving the resolution formerly known as Fix My Life, I have woken up to the reality that the vague, artistic symbol communicating The Resolution needs to be shaped more like a treadmill than a cup of frozen custard and Oreos, or a margarita, or a couch. I know losing weight won't achieve all the "-ness"es I strive for, but I'm awake enough to recognize that I have to start somewhere, and the ability to recognize my own face in the mirror and fit into my own clothes would be a refreshing start.

So, at 5:00 a.m. on June 15th, picture me cursing January and my stupid, stupid, undying theme of a 2009 resolution to Fix My Life. I will be heaving and frowning in an attempt to exercise after only sitting and coping for two years, and wishing I'd picked a "SMART" goal per Corporate America's instructions, one that by now I could have failed to achieve and simply look back and sigh over, like, "oh well, that didn't work out - it was just too darned specific!"

For The Birds

Leaving the movie theatre Friday night after seeing "Up," Bryce's voice caught my attention as he called to us: "What is this I'm looking at? Guys!! What is this?" Normally I would have let my impatience to hurry up and live this pesky life override any temptation to exacerbate Bryce's already overblown sense of curiosity, but the tone and message of Pixar's latest masterpiece was still fresh, so in one fatal moment, I turned around and said, "what?" Bryce's usual, seemingly impossible stationary bounce was magnified and exemplified by his wide eyes and pointing finger, and I followed his gaze into the freshly mulched movie theatre garden of prickly bushes and saw two pink, writhing, see-through lumps of flesh topped by dry, open, barely chirping, tiny bird mouths. John tried to keep walking, but now Quinn was involved too, and soon all three of us were guilting him into helping the pitiful creatures. It wouldn't be that hard, I said. My own brother found three nestlings as a kid, I said. My dad raised them on whatever gruel we could find in the house and they lived and flew away weeks later, I said.

Once in the car holding the makeshift nest, a sense of panic and doom came over me. "Uh, this doesn't look good," I said, noticing how truly transparent their less-than-paper-thin bird skin really was. "I don't know if they're going to make it." John nodded his "yeah, I know, that's why tried to keep walking" nod. Pet stores were closed, so we rushed to the nearest open grocery store and quickly settled on baby formula as the method of Bird Life Saving we would try on, like a cheap new pair of shoes or something else equally necessary but unfamiliar when the technical requirements really become important to know. There was brief panic when the grocery store's pharmacy was closed: "WHAT? WHERE WILL WE FIND AN EYE DROPPER?" We searched frantically until we came across a basic syringe, then breathed deeply and tried to keep from exploding when the cashier needed an old-school price check on it: "Can we show the guy where it is on the shelf? Don't you know we have dying baby birds in the car, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PEOPLE?!"

The box from Bryce's serendipitously recently purchased tennis shoes was still sitting out waiting to receive its new occupants, who miraculously lived through the night despite my pathetic attempts to feed them human baby formula with a syringe, despite my almost choking and drowning them in human baby formula, despite my not keeping them warm enough in that huge shoe box on a marble counter top in an an air-conditioned house built for humans a thousand times their size. The little one died a few hours into Saturday morning, simply but tragically still when I came to feed them both mid-morning after being shocked that the night hadn't taken them. Who knew Death liked to hang around 'til mid-morning? And for a harmless baby bird, at that. I spent a few hours looking for a wildlife rehabilitation center, but couldn't get anyone on the phone, and realized that when I decided to "try to save the birds," it was really my decision and not one I could somehow pawn off on the local authorities like I think I'd assumed in the back of my mind outside that theatre. I took the kids to find real bird food and an eye dropper after John suggested the human baby formula might have been too rich and the syringe too aggressive for these tiny, tiny creatures. The real bird food was thicker, and after a few feedings left a paste on the outside of the remaining baby's beak. But, again, despite my horrifying performance as a baby bird rehabilitator, he lived through another night.

He didn't make it past dinner time, and this time Death decided to play it up for us, make the whole thing more traumatic and memorable. When Bryce and I went in for a feeding, the still-naked bird felt cold and looked paler than before. I offered the eye dropper of freshly prepared, bonafide baby bird food, and he opened his mouth, but when I gingerly squeezed a drop in, he sputtered and gagged, and he seized and drew his wings and tiny pink feet as close as possible, until...nothing. Bryce said, "what's he doing? Why is he doing that?" and since he'd been anticipating the second bird's death for the past 24 hours, said, "Is he dead?" "Well....he's dying," I said. The bird's beak opened a few more times, but his breathing had stopped after the first (last) drop of food. Bryce asked, "Should I carry the box in to the kitchen and let everyone know?" When he walked up to John and shared the news, John said, "Well, we did everything we could." I gave him the evil eye, thinking his response was cold and brief and non-responsive, but it was actually what Bryce needed to hear. "Wasn't it lucky that I spotted those birds? They were SO lucky that we found them and tried to help them live longer."

We all participated in the back yard burial and memorial service, which consisted of the kids and I in our pajamas and John in shorts and flip flops with a shovel, the two bird siblings wrapped ceremoniously in official deceased baby bird paper towels, and our dog Pax in the background, perplexed and softly mouthing his chew toy, which all of us thought was a symbolically significant and sudden chirping of neighborhood birds. When John noticed it was only the dog's toy squeaking, we all laughed, patted the ground, and sat on our back porch before having ice cream.