......finding a new home for lutefisk lovers.

(ok we don't love it. or even like it. but we're supposed to.)

25 February 2011

Unpacking Day #217

Here are some truisms about moving:

1. It takes a year to fully move into a new house.

2. Three moves equals a fire.

3. Moving all of your belongings in milk crates packed into your backseat is fun. Moving all of your belongings in a moving truck, a car transporter and a rented minivan means you have too many things. And it is not fun. It probably means you're leaving a place in which you have been comfortably ensconced for a prolonged period of time. And because you're so comfortable, you've probably gotten lazy about purging. It also means you have children. Moving with children will be the topic of my first book/novel/independent film.

After 7 months in our new house, I recently spent the day - my entire day - unpacking boxes. Can you effing believe it? Can't I be done with this already? Boxes that were shoved into closets and forgotten. Boxes that now acted as shelving in our garage. Boxes that held very important things that I needed yesterday...........and who knows which box is the magic box that contains the needed thing? Which is why I spent the entire day unpacking boxes. Every time I opened a box that didn't contain the needed thing I would utter some form of "Christ on a bike!" and paw through the garbage masquerading as my stuff.

I found things that never should have been packed. Things that were so garbage-like that they didn't even make it into the throw/sell/donate lineup. But every once in a while one of articles of detritus would shake me; it was like a window into our past. At 4041, this thing was garbage - but here, post 4041, in a new home all the way across the country, this thing is a souvenir from another era.

In one box, I found a note scribbled on a the back of a used-up sheet of Avery mailing labels that read:

"Liam is watching "Space Chimps" for 2 hours. If he comes into your office a single time, he will not get the treat I bring home for him. I will eat it."

I wonder where I had to go? What was so urgent that it would make me leave my child in the care of "Space Chimps?" And what super secret batphone meeting was Mike involved in that made coming into his office "a single time" such a heinous crime? But most importantly, what treat did I bring home?

(and did I eat it?)

18 February 2011

Making a Good Impression on the Neighbors, Part 2

Did I ever tell you the one about the new girl in the neighborhood who was trying to make friends with the other moms until her child swam under water and bit someone's toe? And then how they ran away in humiliation with their beach towels flapping in the wind? I don't think I did.

I find myself thinking about summer a lot lately. The snow is beautiful and the cold really isn't that bad but I'm suffering from an isolation that comes from being the new girl in winter.......... and from living in a house that sits at the end of a driveway that could be used for dogsled races. Far away from the road that has no sidewalk on which nobody walks. Does that even make sense? Whatever.......my point is that there are no people in New Hampshire. Just trees. Yes, they are pretty trees but I would prefer it if they could walk down my street and stop and chat with me for a while. So I find myself thinking of summertime when you might see an occasional person relinquishing their precious privacy and walking to the beach. Right past my house. Where I will be waiting at the end of my driveway.

And while I was thinking of summertime, and people walking down my street, and my need to accost them with my friendliness, I recalled the particularly humiliating and ill-timed scenario mentioned above. Shortly before school started, our neighbor invited us over to swim in their pool and meet some other families from Liam's new school. Lovely idea (should I worry about what to wear for the swimsuit portion of my audition??). While he was swimming with the other kids, my son, who was 7 years old and NOT teething at the time, felt strongly about a particular inner tube. He wanted it. And despite his best efforts, using all of the tools he learned in preschool, he was not able to persuade the inner tube occupant to share. So he swam underwater, grabbed her foot, and chomped her big toe.

I'm trying to make nice with the other moms and show them how normal I am when we're interrupted by a scream. We all race to the side of the pool clamoring for information. "What happened?! What happened?! Who's hurt?! Call an ambulance!" says the gaggle of mothers. The screaming girl calms down momentarily and cries "HE BIT MY TO-O-O-OE!!!" "WHAT??!!! Who?! Who?! Who bit your toe?!" says the gaggle of mothers, looking for the wild toddler who must have escaped from his harness and sneaked into our party.

"HIM!!" she says...........just as Liam's head ever so innocently bloops to the surface. Bloop. His face is very hum-de-dum-de-dum. Like "don't mind me, I'm just going for a swim." If he could whistle, he would've whistled, just to add an extra layer of "just-minding-my-own-business-here". Hum-de-dum-de-dum.

"GET OUT!" I say. "GET OUT! What is WRONG with you?" (I know you're not supposed to say that but, seriously, what was wrong with him?). I hitch him up by the elbow and drag him home, leaving a trail of disbelief and humiliation in our wake. I picture the other moms saying, "Do you think Minnesota children still bite when they're in 2nd grade? Maybe it's a regional thing."

I don't even know where to begin. So I go back to "What is WRONG with you???!!!" Here's his explanation:

He really wanted that inner tube. And he asked politely.......but she refused. He offered some alternative ways to share........but she ignored him. He had used up all of his tools and he was getting frustrated. He said he considered punching her in the face. But he knew that was wrong. So he tried to think of something that would be.........less wrong. And he came up with swimming underwater and biting her big toe.

And although he was actually quite proud of this reasonably deduced plan, he soon fell prey to embarrassment. When the kids from the pool knocked on the door and asked him to come back, he wouldn't come to the door. And he wouldn't go back. The new kid was a biter.

Flash forward to February, and Liam can now talk about the incident with no sign of embarrassment. "Was it Isabella you bit?" I ask. "No, it was Francesca," he says casually while choosing a gumball. He can sit next to Francesca's sister, who witnessed the crime, at morning circle time and chat with her completely free of baggage. She shows no fear of biting or other inappropriate behavior. It's completely behind them. And they can all be friends.

Which is pretty amazing. If one of you bit my toe, I don't think I could get over it.

15 February 2011

We visited Boston's North End recently. It's the neighborhood closest to the train station so this is our default on a daytrip to Boston. As in, "I don't know where I am or how to get anywhere but I know there's pizza if I turn to the left." The North End is like visiting "Italy" at Epcot Center. It's so real that it seems fake. We walk through the streets like we're on a tour, pointing at ladies in housecoats who are screaming at someone in an upstairs window - in Italian, of course. They could be saying "Did you pick up some rinse agent for the dishwasher?" but it sounds like "Say goodbye to your nutsack you freakin' bum!" Who knows?

Being from Minnesota, we have very little exposure to Italians. If you could choose a species on the opposite side of the color wheel from Minnesotans, it would be Italians. They are dark, we are light. They are loud and expressive - and we don't like to inconvenience people with our emotions. Better to keep that in check. They are WICKED PISSED like maybe someone's gonna get capped! And we are a little tee'd off if you don't mind me saying so.

There were Italians in Chicago, where we lived for 8 years, and they scared me. They were always fighting; always "not speaking" to someone. I always asked why they weren't speaking; it was like a sociological excavation for me. What makes these people punish each other with silence? Most often, the answer was an ambiguous "She knows why!" I worried that there was someone out there who wasn't speaking to me. And worried that I should know why. Maybe I butted in front of someone's cousin at the grocery store. Or gave someone's kid a broken crayon at storytime. Someone could be punishing me right now and I don't even know it. Other times they would reveal the reason for silence and the offense was usually ettiquette-oriented: "My mother brought a ham to her house for Superbowl Sunday and she didn't put the ham out!" This is grounds for not speaking.

But these were suburban Italians; and although they were angry, they were somewhat more homogeneous. So as to fit in at their toddlers' soccer games. What we saw in the North End was real Italian. Like "my mother doesn't speak English" Italian. Like Godfather Italian. Not "we're worried that The Sopranos portrays a negative stereotype of Italians;" more like " I wish Tony Soprano was my dad!" We go to a restaurant and get seated at a table right in the middle of the room. It was like theater in the round. Our heads swiveling in all directions so we can observe the cast of characters. How do they get their hair that dark? Do women really have mustaches? What are they so angry about? Wait, now they're kissing. Where are Tony and Tina and when will the wedding start?

Across from our table sits a family of four. Dad is wearing a velour tracksuit and a series of gold chains. Really. Seriously. Even Mike, who prefers to downplay the details so as not to disappoint, will back me up on this one. Mom is irritated by velour tracksuit dad because he keeps yelling at the children but continues to eat his spaghetti - while she gets up and down, up and down, picking them up off the floor, cutting their food, cleaning up their spills. She hasn't eaten yet. Finally, she's like "Enough already! I'm eating!" And she sits down. Three year old starts crying. And velour tracksuit dad raises his fork and points it at crying child and says:


Well. That was worth the price of admission.

11 February 2011

Painter Postscript

I forgot to mention that my painter's ex-husband eventually saw the error of his ways. After 10 years apart, he asked her to marry him again. So she did. And they've been happily re-married for 20 years. She's not hanging out in bars any more but she puts on a pretty good show for me.......(I'm gonna harden my heart........I'm gonna swallow my tears.......I'm gonna lea-ea-eave you he-e-e-e-e-re.....).

And, yes, he is such a crank and she wants to put a pillow over his face.
But she loves him.

happy valentine's day :)

08 February 2011

I miss my painter......

When she told us she was leaving to spend the winter in Florida, we must have recoiled. Our faces must have registered a combination of shock, dismay, desperation and "Why me???" Because she quickly responded as if she were promising us a new puppy.

"Don't worry!" she said. "I'll be back in April! And I promise I'll put you at the top of the list! I won't even go home first! I'll just come straight here and start painting!"

Ok, I added that last part. But I bet she would do it if I asked.

Painting this house has been the number one most important factor in getting more comfortable in this place. She is - little by little, room by room - painting away the longing for our old house. The bright, colorful, sassy 4041. It may never be completely gone.........but we certainly feel much more comfortable in this new skin.

Thanks to our painter.

She sings while she works and we take "bitch breaks" where we talk about our husbands. "My husband is such a crank," say says. "Today I almost put a pillow over his face." She listens to the oldies stations while she works. The station that plays all the hits "from the 70's, 80's and today!" But really, there's not much "today!" When her daughter comes to help, they listen to the adult contemporary station (very Cities 97 for Minneapolis folk. A station whose tagline should be "all the songs that no one hates!").................but then she doesn't sing. It's quiet and not nearly as fun. But turn to the 70's station and it's like rollerskating with my bluebird troop all over again.

"If you change your mind......I'm the first in line. Honey, I'm still free! Take a chance on me...."

She knows every word to every song that has ever been played on the radio. Oh.....except "Harden My Heart" by Quarterflash. Which surprises me. I stop what I'm doing when I hear her not singing. Oh wait, there she goes. She was just waiting for the chorus.

When she was young, she had dreams of being a singer in a band. But her husband didn't want her hanging out in bars at night. So she divorced him. She became a single mom with 2 young children........and she was a singer in a band. She says it was the happiest time of her life. This is, coincidentally, when she started painting. She had married young and had no marketable skills - except singing - which wasn't paying the bills. But her father had been a painter and, as a little girl, she would beg to help him. He always said no. Painting was man's work. So she watched him instead.

And when was a young, single mom who needed to feed her children, she remembered watching her father and thought, "I think I can paint."

On her first job, she spilled a gallon of red paint on her client's white carpet. And she thought her career was over before it began. But she scrubbed the daylights out of that carpet and kept trying and kept putting food on the table. And now, 30 years later, she's transforming my house from a sad, flesh-colored den of suburban stagnation to a bright, crisp, happy home by the sea.

As you loyal readers know, she bathed the first floor in a color called "Sea Pearl." She understands how color can make you feel........how can something that surrounds you every day NOT affect your mood? And on the day that she took her roller and covered the last patch of the color we called "Sadness," she was as excited as I was. She even described the moment for me, bless her heart. She said, "There was just a small square of "Sadness" left. And I went like this and I rolled it a couple of times and I watched it disappear AND I JUST ABOUT HAD A BIG O!"

I love my painter.

Here are some examples of how she changed my life:

Remember this? This wallpaper was also used in the entry hall. You know, where we greet people? It was mortifying. Sometimes I wouldn't let people in. And now......

........the entry hall looks like this. Sea Pearl with stripes of Light Pewter and 1/2 tone Light Pewter.

The Rec Room BEFORE. We call this color "Flesh." If anyone would like the tapestry valance, you can find it in my garbage can.

The Rec Room AFTER. Baltic Gray with Sea Pearl trim. And no tapestry valance.

The new eat-in kitchen. Chalkboard paint below and Split Pea above.

And the place we spend most of our time........I call it the flophouse.
No more Sadness! Just Sea Pearl as far as the eye can see!

04 February 2011

Re-entry Reflections

Have you ever come home from a vacation a changed person? Not overwhelmed by unpacking and piles of laundry or resentful of your nagging email box? You don't groan when the pilot says "The temp here in Boston is 23 degrees," and you don't curse the snowplow that leads you home from the airport? And instead of feeling sad that vacation is over, you're excited to go home and wrap your arms around your husband and kiss your sleeping child? Because you're just so happy to have been there? To have seen what you saw and felt what you felt? Knowing that Christopher Cross, crooner of the junior high era, was right..........it's not far to never never land?

I have a secret island that I visit every year, surrounded by a bevy of women who teach me about who I am. We do very little but feel the warmth of the sun and stare at the turquoise blue water; our biggest activity is deciding where to eat next. In the midst of all that laziness (and eating), we talk and we listen and we cheer and we marvel and we laugh and we laugh and we laugh and we laugh. And then we laugh. And then after that we laugh. And then we have a drink. The kind that requires two hands.

When our lazy bodies require food, we get up off of our beach chairs and we stroll along the cobblestone streets while street vendors call out "Hey, Charlie Angel!" or "Ohhh, you ladies from Hollywood?" And we say yes............yes, we are from Hollywood.

But it's funny how all the revelry (and the laziness) reveals our stripped-down selves. How our realness seeps through our pores and gets reflected back at us through the prism of this bevy of women. "Don't live in limbo," one of these women says to me as we hug goodbye at the airport. Even though I tried to be factual and objective, I still came off as the girl who wants to move back to Minneapolis. And this nugget she gives me is like giving me permission to live here - in my new home away from home. Trying to enjoy New Hampshire does not mean I'm cheating on Minneapolis.

So I put that in my suitcase with the sand and the sunshine and the turquoise blue water - each year a part of that island comes home with me. The part that says life is good.........so go home and enjoy it.

01 February 2011

It's not just pride.....it's relief.

It's not just pride. Or joy. Or even excitement about the 2020 Winter Olympics. For me, uniquely, it's a huge relief.

Liam is not a joiner of things or a taker of classes or a player of sports. Because he already knows how to do everything. Perfectly.

Or so he assumes. He always seems strangely surprised when he finds he can't do something the very first time he tries it. He's like "WHY AM I NOT GIFTED AT THIS???!!!! I'M QUITTING!" To not be gifted at something is pure humiliation. Therefore, the need for instruction is humiliating. Therefore again, he resists instruction. How embarrassing to have to be taught something.

Sometimes he knows when he lacks sufficient information to do an activity. So, obviously, these activities are off the table. He doesn't want to take basketball because he doesn't know how to play basketball. "But that's why you take basketball," I say. "So you can learn how to play basketball." He looks at me like I'm naive. How embarrassing to have to be taught how to play basketball.

Each time he signs up for a new activity, he begs me to "unsign him" - after he discovers that he's not an expert at said activity. He's baffled that I can color better than he can. Like I'm some kind of coloring savant and he has a coloring disability. I try to give him some tips that I've learned over the last FORTY YEARS but he's insulted; he shouldn't need tips. I tell him over and over again, "I've been doing this since 1970. What kind of problems would I have if I weren't better than you?"

As if this weren't enough, his lanky limbs grow way too rapidly. And they operate independently of his brain; so his movements often look like those of an octopus falling down the stairs. He IS "arms akimbo." The simplest of actions - like standing up or changing directions or sitting in a chair - could all be featured on "America's Funniest Home Videos." Now you want to give him a ball or a stick or some other object that could just as easily be used as a weapon? I suggest you duck and cover. Seriously. Run for the hills. Or put on a helmet and watch from a safe distance because it will probably be really funny (omigod, did I just say that? I don't think you're supposed to say that.) But it's true.

He is a klutzy perfectionist.
My child is a klutzy perfectionist. I have to parent a klutzy perfectionist. How on earth do you do that? Is this some kind of mean parenting karma?

But I digress.........

When we decided to move to New Hampshire, we made a pact to make like tourists; live like we're leaving next week. Find everything that this place has to offer and do it. Which means we have to ..........ski.

And by "we" I actually mean Mike and Liam. Because I vowed long ago, on the last of many peer-pressure fueled ski outings, that if I could just make it back to the lodge, I would never leave it again.

So we're going to take this kid who doesn't like people "teaching" him things and who looks like an octopus falling down the stairs and we're going to strap two sticks to his feet and put him in a class and say "Have fun!"

I have very low expectations. Very low. I expect that he will be amazed when he finds out that he can't ski and then he will be annoyed and offended by the ski instructor who tries to show him how to ski and then he will be humiliated by his lack of giftedness and finally he'll be angry at us for making him do it and he'll scream that he's NEVER SKIING EVER AGAIN!

But...... (drum roll please).........he doesn't do any of that! We put the sticks on his feet and he doesn't fight us. We put him in the class and he listens and follows directions. Just like normal people! And then......he SKIS!!!! I'm spying out the window and I almost say out loud (from inside the ski lodge at the ski resort) "IS HE SKIING????!!!!!"

Not only is he skiing but it looks like he's doing it really well. And when we see him, he's pink and shiny from the cold and the joy and the exercise and he does NOT say "unsign me!" Instead he says "I love skiing!"

A phrase I've never heard about any organized physical activity ever - in all of his 8 years.

A huge relief. And, yes, a little pride, too. Maybe someday I will get the opportunity to hear the phrase I tried out so many times when I was pregnant, trying to hear how this name would sound in the real world:

"And the gold medal goes to..........Liam Noonan! From the United States of America!"