I wrote the paragraphs below in May, and then couldn't quite get them finished enough to post, for whatever reason. It's now fall, my favorite season, and we are firmly moved into our new house, which we love. I am only a little tiny bit in debt at this point because I sold the old house. We are all good, even Leonardo di Prancio, who found a new home without young children to bite (oh yes he did) because that dog just could not stop making his point (with his teeth). We miss him, but look at his four months with us as a really great foster home experience.
We have been laughing.
It's the glorious beginning of summer, all sunshine and lawn mowings every few days filling the air with the smell of grass, and that air is not too moist and heavy to breathe, so we breathe in deeply all that grass and new leaf smell. Ah.
The girls have me drive by the house we are moving to every few days, just to check up on it, to make sure it is not getting lonely sitting there empty. We talk about putting up a tent in the backyard, sitting on the screened porch and watching the dogs play, pulling up carpet and painting the bare floor underneath it crazy colors.
There are three bedrooms, and one of the bedrooms is considerably smaller than the others. The girls fought over which of them would have to take the smaller one, and no verbal trickery ("Which of you lucky girls will get the cozy one?") convinced either of them to relent. Finally, in a show of astoundingly bad mothering judgment, I promised the one with the smaller bedroom would get a TV in her room, which is frankly ridiculous. Predictably, they both then wanted the smaller room and the fight raged on, transported to a new battleground.
When the loan came through from the bank, it turned out to be $15,000 short of what I needed. Rather than accepting the various kindly intentioned offers of help from people with a better debt-to-income ratio than I currently possess, I decided to stand on my own two financial feet and take advantage of the only loan readily available to those such as myself, a credit card. It makes me giggle nervously just to say it (or cry, as I did after I finalized the deal with the card company), because I'm informed enough to know that buying a house (or, not to exaggerate as I dearly love to do, a portion of a house) on a credit card counts as a show of astoundingly bad financial judgment.
Unless, of course, you pay it off very quickly. So I explained to the girls that we were going on a total spending freeze. Further, we were going to get rid of some unnecessary expenses, including our satellite TV subscription, until the credit card is paid off.
This is no sad story. These are totally luxurious choices. The girls have not missed eating out or being able to turn on the TV and flip between hundreds of channels, and I certainly haven't, either. But it does mean that I managed to use my astoundingly bad financial judgment to negate my moment of astoundingly bad mothering judgment, and I find that simply delightful.
After my string of mopey entries, I'm trying my hardest to get my sense of humor back again. "Trying hard" and "sense of humor" don't usually go well with one another, so excuse any moments of awkwardness you may witness.
I've finally stopped removing tags of myself from every photo friends might post of me on Facebook. I'd say it's like I'm OK facing myself again, but I have no idea if that's it or not. I do notice that I seem to frown an awful lot in those candid shots, and that is totally at odds with how I think of myself. My sister gave me copies of the photos she took of us over Christmas last year, 6 weeks after J left, and I can hardly bear to look at the ones she took when I wasn't aware of the camera because I look like nothing but sad. S-a-a-a-a-a-d. I hate to think that this was the face I was showing my girls every morning.
But lately I've been feeling so much better, and yet I am still showing up as Old Dimple-Between-the-Eyebrows-Frowny-Face McGee. I have no idea how you Smileys out there do it, showing up radiant in every action shot, all pleased looking in every group photo shot. So I'm also trying to figure out how to jumpstart my humor again, so I can go back to bemoaning how my smile makes my jowls go sort of bumpy in photos.
Since I know that the key to humor is deliberate and careful analysis, combined with a broad (yet precise) strategy for everyday scenarios, I've been thinking a lot about laughter. Specifically how I can ensure that my girls and I have a sufficient supply thereof.
One of the perks of being single again is that I am once more Boss of My Own Music. Whatever I'm in the mood for is what I can listen to, although it's true that I often let the girls choose, too (which is why my Pandora account has not only an Avril Lavigne station but also a "What the Hell" station, in case you were wondering. Annika.)
Music is pretty much the height of happy-making, right? (When it's not the nadir (?) of sad-making, anyway.) Some of my very happiest memories are tied to music. Sitting with my college buddy, John, out on the roof of his apartment eating Haagen-Dazs straight from the container while listening to Alban Berg blasting from his very nice speakers. Going to hear Carmen with my mom in high school, an event I invited her to and therefore felt very grown-up. Sitting front row at a Bruce Springsteen concert with my boyfriend, shortly after we'd decided to get married. Singing "My Favorite Things" with the girls in the car. Crying in that weird happy way when Emmylou Harris sang "Prayer in Open D", and it was the first time I'd heard it outside of the PICU. That short time I dated a music composition major, who wooed me by humming the theme from his latest piece, which turned out to be straight from Shostakovich, but he laughed when I pointed that out and said, "No wonder I love it so much!" Dancing to the Pixies with Scott before we took off for Nairobi and the best summer job a kid ever had.
One of my favorite internet reads is Jeremy Denk, who has a knack for explaining music in a way that allows non-musicians to understand, at least a little bit, how musicians think about music. Given the amount of time, level of commitment, and sheer intelligence it takes to become a professional musician, you just know they have to hear music in a whole different way than the rest of us, which, as it turns out, is exactly right and vastly entertaining to read.
Last summer Jeremy Denk wrote about humor in classical music, complete with audio examples and his usual insistence that classical music isn't just to be revered, but to be understood as another gorgeous expression of our common experiences. Much of his analysis of the humor in the Beethoven sonata he uses as his example has to do with thwarted expectations. And I guess that this is how I've always understood humor, too, in the surprise of it, and it's why so much humor has such dark overtones.
It's why I (or we, when we were a "we") had our funniest moments when shit was so totally not funny .
But lately I've been appreciating the Comfort Laugh, which is the kind of happy laugh you give when stuff turns out exactly as you thought it would. For example, on the drive to the girls' and my first kayak outing, I was taking bets from them on how long it would take me to fall into the water. To their credit, neither of the girls were giving time in seconds. So when I fell into the water approximately 5 minutes after arrival at the lake, there was really no surprise factor for them at all. Maybe there was a bit of surprise for the 6-year-old boy fishing with his parents on the shore, but he struck me as the sort of kid who would have laughed, too, even if he had known me all his life.
It was the same laugh I gave when Leonardo and I were having a stare-down to determine who would be in charge at the house, and he gave me an unwavering glare and then lifted his leg and peed on my foot. I saw that one coming, and I knew it was a very bad sign that I was going to lose the battle, but it was too funny not to lose the staring contest and just sit down and laugh. With a wet foot.
It's the same laugh the girls gave when I locked myself out in the middle of the night, and they had to let me back into the house. That's the kind of stuff I do, along with making pancakes for dinner and throwing impromptu dance parties and insisting that walks in the rain are good for your constitution. It's not hilarious, but it's comforting. And still kind of funny when your mom falls in the lake, even if you saw it coming.