When Lack of Lingerie = Legumes

My brother’s Kansas Picture Bride and I arranged for a late birthday celebration for the two of us. Kansas and I use any excuse to get our families together when our schedules calm down, which is rare, seeing as Kansas is in nursing school, having a rip roaring time with studies that include studying cat cadavers. She’s a farm girl, so she’s not squeamish and she tells it like it is no matter what we’re eating.

Since we tend to discuss things like cat cadavers with Kansas, no point going for a highbrow establishment for our birthday dinner. We’re usually laughing so hard that our stomachs hurt, so why waste money on haute cuisine? If I even mentioned haute cuisine, Kansas would give me the Heimlich, thinking I had something caught in my throat. Kansas has taught me many things since she moved to our moldy shores, such as the wonder and necessity of Velveeta. Kansas also cured my brother the Agitator* of Vegetarianism. They hang you for less in her home state.

So we chose the Olive Garden. In Lynnwood. I wouldn’t recommend taking a person with any hint of dementia to the Olive Garden in Lynnwood. They would be disoriented, because they could be anywhere. They might think they were in New Jersey, or Ohio, or Indiana.

If the economy’s tanked, there was no sign of it at the Olive Garden on a Saturday night. They don’t take reservations, but the host on the phone had said they didn’t get busy until 6:00, so we figured 5:15 was early enough to beat the rush. 5:15 for me of course meant 5:00, at which time the Little Monster and I arrived to find people spilling out the door to stand in line for fifteen dollar spaghetti. (I continue to expect bland places, replicated like guppies by the hundreds in bland neighborhoods across our country, to have bland prices.) Our wait time was projected to be 20 minutes. Although the Little Monster had groused a bit that his Momster was getting us there so gosh darned early—again—he was thrilled to hold the flying saucer that would vibrate and light up when it was our turn. The flying saucer made no sense, since the host also yelled out our name when it was our turn, but it kept LM happy, so what the heck.

Kansas and the Agitator arrived early and helped us pass the time, so we were warmed up for good conversation by the time we were guided to our table. We were so merry, laughing and talking, that we could have been filmed for an Olive Garden commercial. Except we’re not blonde and thin. But, gosh, free bread sticks are such a gas! Everyone else at the Olive Garden was ecstatic about their free bread sticks, too, so it was pretty loud in there.

Of course 5:15 for the Man I Married, who was meeting us there, meant 5:30. When I phoned him to ask where he was, he said I told him 5:30.

Did not.

I asked if I should order for him. Sure, he said. Order anything. He didn’t care.

Really? Hm. I got that feeling. You know the one. The Bad Marital Scene About to Happen Because I Know I Am Going to F&ck This Up Even Though He Said ‘Anything’ Feeling (otherwise known as the BMSAHBIKIAGFTUETHSAF). I called him back. “Can you give me a general category? Chicken? Pasta?”

“No pasta,” he said.

“We’re at a PASTA RESTAURANT and you just said order anything. Anything at a pasta restaurant generally involves pasta.”

“No noodles. Anything else, though. And you did say 5:30gottagobye.”

I ordered him ribs, which he approved of when he arrived. Marital harmony saved by listening to the BMSAHBIKIAGFTUETHSAF.

I was a vegetarian for many more years than the Agitator, even, but something about sitting with Kansas brought out the snarling carnivores in us. We both ordered steak. Atop a bed of pasta.

Kansas and I were the only ones at the table drinking wine, so of course, being sisters now, our conversation got intimate. In fact, we started discussing intimates, or lack of wearing intimates. The Little Monster was across the big table, focused on a computer game that the Agitator had wisely brought along for his amusement, but he perked up. “WHAT DID YOU SAY? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” he yelled, knowing as all kids do the instant the conversation turns to something interesting amidst all of the boring adult droning.

“Nothing,” I said. I said to the Agitator, thinking the Little Monster wouldn’t know the term, “We’re just discussing Going Commando.”

“NOT WEARING UNDERWEAR?” the Little Monster shouted.

“How did you know about Going Commando? Who taught you that?” I snapped.

“I don’t know. We just say Going Commando.”

“Saying Going Commando is NOT appropriate,” I said. “Only adults can say Going Commando. Only at the Olive Garden in Lynnwood. Never for kids to say at school.”

The Agitator sat between us during this exchange, looking back and forth at us like a spectator at a tennis match. At its close, he said to me, “I have no idea what you all were just saying. I just kept hearing something about garbanzo beans?”

Say it out loud:

Going Commando. Garbanzo Beans.

I get it. At least the garbanzo part.

We all laughed so hard we about pumped our own stomachs (which would have helped with my caloric intake count), and then we moved on to discussing farts. When the Little Monster was out of earshot, of course.

Private Parts & Bums In Need of Tighty-Whities
 
—–
*The Agitator can stir things up, or, like a washing machine, he can get the scum out.
 
 

Aqui, Gato, Gato

From my sister-in-law Kansas we learn interesting facts about her nursing school curriculum, such as the school’s use of cat cadavers for study. You might be morally opposed to this practice, but it seems like a necessary evil. Next time your nurse sticks a tube up your you-know-what, you might be glad that she or he has some knowledge of your innards based on autopsy practice, and perhaps her skill will prevent your autopsy from happening sooner than later.

The sad fact is that Humane Society estimates that 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized annually in this country, but the estimate varies by a cool million because nobody’s really keeping track. The numbers (or lack of them) illustrate our unfortunate value system. Those questionable values are further illustrated by our enlisting our unwanted and cast-aside feline friends in the cause to prolong human lives.

I was surprised, however, to learn from Kansas that the school’s cat cadavers are all imported from Mexico.

This made no sense. There are obviously more than enough cat cadavers in the U.S. to supply all of our medical programs, but apparently felines in the U.S. have rights—after they’ve been sadly exterminated by the millions—that their south-of-the-border feline cousins don’t share. The irony and horror of all this deserves A Modest Proposal.

From Kansas we also learn that the cat cadavers from Mexico are huge. This surprised me, too. If los gatos muertos were homeless and under-nourished, as I envisioned, how did they get so big? Perhaps they’re not homeless at all. Perhaps, since kitty cadavers are easier to export than cannabis, well-fed felines are routinely catnapped?

Perhaps it’s because they’re bigger that we import them from Mexico? Easier for young students to, you know.

All I know is that’s one FedEx shipment I would hate to see misrouted.

Alas, Poor Olive, I Knew You Well

“I am so sad,” I said to the Man I Married while I manned my post at the window, watching the Little Monster jog up and down the block.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” MIM said reflexively, not looking up from his magazine.

Thirty seconds later, he looked up, the visible gears kicking in as he remembered our Gottman Institute training about successful couples and how they manage Bids for Connection.

“What are you sad about?” he asked mechanically, as if he were reading from the manual.

Gottman says that happy couples “bid” 100 times in ten minutes—bids can be verbal or non-verbal. What’s a happy couple to do when all one of them wants to do is drink his coffee and read? Indeed, MIM remembers the term as “Bids for Attention,” which was more than I remembered a few years after the workshop. I had to ask MIM, “What’s the Gottman term for that pestering thing?”

Six-hundred times an hour? Hand me some eyeliner and an asp.

I laughed because I could tell about the Gottman thing, and he knew I knew. I could say, “Oh, never mind,” since he would obviously rather read his magazine, which was fair enough, but, since he was trying despite his desire to do something else, I went ahead and answered.

“I’m sad because I’ve lost eight pounds now, and apparently it was all martini weight. Which means I’ll never be able to drink martinis again. I’m very sad about the martinis.” It had been three months since I’d foregone my nightly seven-olive martini and the snacking (and second martini) that went with it.

Then he started to problem solve.

“Well, it’s not that you can’t drink martinis again. You’ll just have to drink them with more moderation, and then you’ll just have to balance them with more vigorous exercise.”

I looked at him.

He looked at me.

He returned to Go and said, “That is really sad about the martinis.”

I laughed again. We might not always manage to respond positively to Bids for Connection (though MIM manages Bids on eBay quite well), but I am sure we must laugh 100 times a day.

Now the Little Monster can easily surpass 100 bids in a quarter hour. Let’s just say that around the 67th bid, I’m not seeing that Lego firedog. All I can see is this:

Make Mine Dirty. And Bigger.

Searching for Middle Ground

Although enduring multiple miscarriages over a decade wasn’t easy, I feel no sense of loss about a biological child as we finally finalize the adoption of the Little Monster. If my first pregnancy had carried to term, I would have a seventeen-year-old right now. That’s a mind-blowing thought, but it’s as mind-blowing as the notion that I might wake up tomorrow next to Jon Bon Jovi (the glare off of his teeth would quickly snap me out of that pleasant reverie) or Michael Chabon (who is so potent he caused an infertile woman to conceive simply by standing next to her at a Jewish prayer service*, so at this point in my life I don’t even want to read one of his books within eight miles of a dusty menorah). 

Since my phantom high-schooler and the others that followed are all beyond the realm of reality, their absence is not even a concept that I can grasp, much less grieve over. I can’t imagine anyone other than the Little Monster hollering “Momster!” all the livelong day.

But I felt a sense of loss not only that I hadn’t been able to name my child, but that the Little Monster would be taking my husband’s last name, which I myself had never done. The name suits him, and they are quite the pair, two peas in a pod, and I had no politicized or feminist feelings about matrilineal versus patrilineal surnames for him; I’m no bra-burner, because frankly they cost too damn much. But I did feel a low-grade sorrow that none of the Little Monster’s names were for me or from me or of me, and that we didn’t have a certain FAMILY STAMP OF APPROVAL that a shared name would give us.

He would keep his first name, which I have always loved, and after nine years is an ingrained part of his identity. I assumed he would keep his middle name, too, which was a plain name I wasn’t crazy about. I’m not sure why I took it as a given for three years that his middle name should be kept. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted his middle name to change, too. I mulled it over for days, and one day it came to me, the perfect middle name:

Thomas.

It was obvious once I thought of it.

The middle name that the Man I Married acquired when his dad adopted him. The middle name of MIM’s father, and grandfather, and for all I know great-grandfather.

And it was my great-grandfather’s last name as well—actually, his adopted name also. He boarded a ship in the late 1800s as Manuel Lopes but disembarked that ship in Hawaii as Robert Thomas, to avoid discrimination against the Portuguese. My grandmother was Frances Elizabeth Thomas.

My brother is named Thomas.

As was my cousin Tommy, killed by a drunk driver before he could shuck the diminutive form of his name. I have sometimes thought that the Little Monster resembles Tommy.

The name would unify us as a family. A middle name that would provide middle-ground.

I adored the idea of Thomas as his middle name. I felt married to his having that name the minute I thought of it.

Which terrified me.

What if he didn’t like it? What if he wanted to keep the middle name he already had (though for the most part he had trouble remembering it)? Would I be able to let Thomas go? Surely he had the right to make his own choice. Or did I have the right to name him, knowing that he was too young to fully understand the significance?

I refrained from bringing it up to him. I would be crushed if he didn’t like it, and then I would be faced with a moral decision. Obviously I would have to accept his decision, but I didn’t want to if he said no.

One day he and I took a gloriously nippy and clear December walk. Late autumn leaves crunched underfoot. I took a deep breath and broached the subject.

I explained that there was a name that was from both sides of the family, a name that I adored. I built up the suspense for both of us as I talked about great-grandfathers and brothers and cousins and uncles who all shared the name.

“What is it?” he finally butted in to ask.

“Thomas. Your dad’s middle name,” I said again in a rush. Please please please please please, I thought. “It could be your middle name, too. If you wanted.”

He beamed as if we’d stepped into the end of a rainbow. “Really? Thomas would be my middle name?”

“You would be…” I pronounced his full name, first, middle and last. “Would you like that?”

“Yes,” he said. He smiled the way he smiles on Christmas mornings when he discovers what Santa has left for him.

“I am so happy,” I told him. “So very, very happy.”

At the therapist’s office a few weeks later, as we prepared the Little Monster for what to expect at the adoption court, the therapist once again brought the topic around to the Little Monster’s new full name and its significance as his being a part of a forever family. We had discussed its import several times. “What’s your middle name?” he asked the Little Monster to repeat.

The Little Monster thought hard. “Uhh, George?”

—–

*Read Waiting for Daisy.

Reader, I Awakened Him

I arrived home late one evening to find a pretty car parked in my driveway. Really, really pretty. Not a red convertible Mustang that I’ve long coveted, but a pristine, 1960 something-or-other that looked like an old taxi, but shiny and new looking, turquoise and white. For Sale signs perched in the side and back windows. That’s how I knew it was a 1960 something-or-other.

I had several simultaneous thoughts:

1. What freaking idiot (to use a favored family term) parked in my driveway?

2. @#$%^&! The Man I Married has got some dork band mate or beer mate or most likely beer-band mate in his Barage again, and MIM should have known better than to let him—definitely a him—block my parking spot.

And last:

3. Oh My God, The Man I Married bought me a car for Christmas!

The For Sale signs that he’d left in the window were his clear hint to me that, yes, he had on a whim bought a gorgeous, quirky car, “For gorgeous, quirky you,” he would murmur as he handed me the key. The car reminded me of Fran Lebowitz’s taxicab, squat and rounded—sort of like me, too. I did wear turquoise eyeshadow in 1976. MIM knew that I adored Fran and her cab. Wow, he’d hit it out of the park on this one.

I parked my 1999 Honda across the street (@#$%!) and knocked on the Barage to rustle up possible owner of car, not quite believing Suspicion #3, because any car that MIM bought me would probably look like this:

Not out of mean-heartedness, but because to MIM the car would look exactly like this:

He would see no difference between the potential and the reality. When you find yourself married to a personality trait like this, it’s sometimes like living with Jesus and sometimes Marilyn Manson–depending on the day, it can be inspiring or migraine-inducing.

In response to my rapping like the Ghost of Christmas Present, the Barage was dark and silent. So I let myself into the quiet house.

Now, I hadn’t had the easiest time that evening. I’d gone to an educational event that turned out to be a Drink the Grape Kool-Aid-type Sales Pitch that was so over the top I’d feared I’d been suckered into a cult indoctrination–the kind where they lock the doors and won’t let you go to the bathroom. But I managed to escape early with nobody tackling me, and I even snagged a free bag of chips, which I munched on the way home since I’d also had no time for dinner.

I wanted to get home before MIM went to bed, so that I wouldn’t have to bumble around the bedroom in the dark, trying to find all of those accoutrements so necessary for sleep once one reaches middle age—earplugs, meds, wrist-braces, heated mattress pad switch—and I also wanted to be able to see the thermometer, to ensure that MIM and I had reached our Compromise Room Temperature. Since I liked the room about twenty degrees hotter than he did, the compromise was that he was ten degrees too hot and I was ten degrees too cold. The truth is that MIM has no idea what the Compromise Room Temp is, because if he did, it would just lead to another argument.

On my drive home, I took 80th Avenue, which is a major east-west thoroughfare with just one lane in each direction. It used to be a minor neighborhood street, but now suffers from constant, heavy traffic in front of the nice old homes and the church on every block (the law here used to mandate one church for every bar, so my neighborhood has one heck of a lot of churches–I’d really like to try out the Chinese Evangelical Church one day).

Doh! My west-bound lane was closed for half a block due to construction, and in the wisdom of the Seattle Department of Transportation, they left no guide for drivers. No flagman, no helpful hint, no nothing.

Which resulted in a game of Chicken. Like in Grease. Or was it Footloose? Except instead of cute actors with big hair and sewn-on pants, it was people like me (see above references to middleaged, squat, round), or the mother in front of me. The two cars in front of her had peeled off to the left to try a side street (not using their blinker), but the mother in front of me decided to sit. And wait. For the entire length of the lane to be clear so that she could creep up the wrong side of the street. She waited. And waited.

This situation is (waited) when I most love to exercise (still waiting) my vocabulary: in the car, when I’m mad (waiting), and the Little Monster isn’t with me. Better than therapy. Except that I’m mad.

But we are in Seattle, so one must not use the horn. No, not ever. You would be water-boarded with homebrew by the polite denizens if you honked.

On our cross-country drive this summer, we drove through Nowhere, Montana to find one lane closed on a highway. They’d hired no flag person to stand in the hot sun all day directing traffic. They had simply erected temporary, timed traffic lights, so that traffic headed in opposite directions took turns in the lane. We thought that was one of the neatest things in our entire 3,000-mile trip. If they could manage that in the middle of nowhere, why couldn’t Seattle get its act together?

I finally managed to squeeze around the mother’s (waiting) car to turn right, which turned out to be a dead end.

So I wasn’t in the best of moods to find my driveway occupied, and I continued to not be in the best of moods to find that despite my risking Trial by Ordeal to escape the cult indoctrination in order to get home before lights out, MIM was already sacked out in the dark.

To his credit, he did leave the porch light on for me, which is not usually the case.

To my lack of credit, I woke him up. “Did you buy me a car?” I asked the inert form under the blankets. Seriously, would you be able to wait until morning to know the answer? But to my credit, he wakes me up all the time, not on purpose, but because he’s just a noisy kind of guy. While I usually am quiet as a gerbil if I know he’s sleeping (which is a lot).

He sat upright in bed, splurting and sputtering. “I was asleep.”

“There’s a car in the driveway. A really pretty old car. I thought maybe you bought it for me.”

“I was asleep! No, I didn’t buy you a car.”

Though he clearly hadn’t bought me the car and wasn’t faking lack of knowledge to string along the suspense, I was hoping he would get up to look at the car. First, even 90% asleep, not being able to see straight because he’s so mad at his wife, and looking from a bright house out to the dark driveway, he would be able to identify the Make, Model, and Serial Number. When cars whip past us on the freeway, I see “green car,” but he sees “1966 Ford Galaxy.” When I ask how he knows, he’ll say, “Because of the grill.” Or the taillights. Or the fins. Or the real kicker, “Just the shape.” This from a man who doesn’t notice he’s been standing in six inches of water every time he takes a shower because the drain’s been slow for the past month. This is another one of those Jesus/Manson character traits. He doesn’t notice his wife’s new haircut, but he also doesn’t notice her ten-pound weight gain or the 47 books I have spread all over the house because I’m in the middle of reading all of them.

Second, once identifying the car, he’d think it was pretty neat, too.

And then he’d buy it for me.

He went right back to sleep. Lying next to him in the dark later, I heard the engine fire up–an unmistakable old car sound–and listened to it driving away.

The next morning I apologized for waking him up. “I thought you’d bought me a new car,” I added.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t buy you a car. I’m really sorry.”

Sorry, I understood by his expression and sincerity, that he would never be a man who would surprise me with a car. And sorry that I would always be a woman who hoped he might.

The Importance of Being an Onion

I said to a friend last week that I still don’t know who the Little Monster is.

This is because the Little Monster himself doesn’t know who he is. He was too many things to too many people for the first two-thirds of his life, and now for the last third of his life he’s something different for us. He wears too many labels. He has a 2000-page case history documenting what he is and how he got to be that way. But it says nothing about who he is.

As his Momster, my job is—as much as is possible amidst the constant “use a spoon instead of your finger” guidance—to stay out of his way as he discovers himself. The essential Little Monster at his core. Not whether he wants to grow up to be a fireman or a pole dancer, but his true nature.

The first year with us, just one word summed him up: ANGRY. But that’s no longer true.

I could say that he is loving, cheerful, and eager to please. But is that who he is? I believe it is, but perhaps it’s another survival cape that he wears. Perhaps he’ll shuck it someday (likely when he’s a teenager) just as he did the anger.

I also think stubborn is a trait that’s likely to stick.

My father describes my mother and her forebears as stubborn (not framed as a compliment or an insult, but as a simple fact), so LM could easily be my genetic offspring with that characteristic, which I’ve learned to see in myself as positive. I was stubborn enough to stick with the Little Monster during that ANGER year, for instance.

But I see glimpses and glimmers of the blue-blooded prince beneath his confused camouflage.

Like the other day, I packed him off to school with the Christmas goodies that Tutu once again supplied me with to thank the teachers, therapists, camp counselors, neighbors, and social workers who helped this family to become forever.

This year I got lazy and labeled all of the macadamia nut goodies myself, whereas I usually have the Little Monster address them—an arduous, painstaking task that can seem more painful and longlasting than a bladder infection. I think sitting down to address the gifts, like making homemade cards, at least causes him to consider the notion of gratefulness—as much as any child is capable of feeling gratitude when all they really care about is what’s under the tree with their name on it. Doesn’t matter who it’s from and how it got there.

I’ve also helped him distribute the gifts into school mailboxes in the past. But this year I asked him if he was okay to pass out the chocolates himself, and he said yes. I thought, well, there’s going to be a boy throwing up in school today after eating fourteen boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

But when he came home that night and I searched his backpack, as I always do, I found a list, handwritten in pencil on a piece of folder paper, entitled:

DISTRIBUTION

Under which he had copied out a list of the names from the candy labels. He had used his recess to hand deliver each box, checking off his list as he went.

So there I was doing my usual spot check on what he might have stolen. Perhaps expecting crinkled mac nut wrappers.

What he stole was my heart.

With what earnestness he had completed his task. Until that moment, EARNEST would not have occurred to me as a word to describe him. But the word loomed up in front of me as clear as DISTRIBUTION.

He’s an onion.

With each layer that peels back as he becomes comfortable and secure enough to become himself, he makes me cry.

Please, Sir, May I Have Another Sock?

The Little Monster made a simple sock puppet at school. I’ve watched him play with a variety of other puppets. He’s gifted at imitating the animal voices and bringing the critters to life, and his pretend-play with puppets must be therapeutic. He has a turtle puppet, but it’s off limits for the moment until I can figure out how to wash it—you don’t want to know what’s on it.

Seeing LM play with his dingy, handmade sock puppet might seem a little Dickensian if you saw him on a bus. Poor child has only shabby socks to play with! You’d know better if you saw his bottomless toy chest that magically fills no matter how many Goodwill drop-off runs I make. I’m sure he’ll embarrass me by showing Timmy the Sock to our social worker.

The day LM brought the sock puppet home, the Man I Married put LM to bed because I was out drinking at a book discussion group. LM wanted to bring Timmy to bed, but MIM wisely told him that Timmy would be too much of a distraction, and that it was time to go to sleep; he’d see Timmy in the morning. MIM tucked the Little Monster in and escorted Timmy out of the bedroom.

Awhile later, MIM heard a variety voices coming from LM’s bedroom.

“Gosh darn it,” he said to himself (I’m translating from the French). He gently put down his book on tractors and tools to go investigate, patiently making his way back to LM’s bedroom, where, like Grandpa Walton, he would good-naturedly ask LM what in tarnation he was up to? (Still translating.)

He opened the door, and there was LM lying in bed, in the dark, hand up in the puppet position, carrying on as if Timmy were really there.

Could there be a more moving puppet show?