I used to scream bloody murder when I was a child. I would shriek so loud, so long, that eventually I would go hoarse. I even developed nodes–tightened knots on my vocal chords. When I finally figured out screaming wasn’t helping me I stopped. This allowed my vocal chords to relax and I discovered I had a deeper register. (As a result, I sing somewhere between contralto and tenor with a hiccup in my falsetto.)
What I couldn’t have told you, even if you had asked, was why. Why did I devolve into a nightmare child shuddering in hysterics? I couldn’t tell you then, but I might be able to tell you now.
As my favorite tv show—The Big Bang Theory—comes to an end, it wrestled recently with a surprisingly feminist sub-plot: whether or not a woman should want to have children and what it means if she doesn’t. The series frequently pokes fun at parenting including the ambivalence surrounding having kids. Perhaps I have laughed a little too hard at some of these jokes, or maybe I appreciate that someone had raised a question that bothers me in my own struggles with motherhood*.
She didn’t know you would be so clingy, so demanding.
Such a total leech.
Sucking the life out of me.
But when you started in on my kid, that was it.
It was time for you to go.
It wasn’t easy.
You didn’t want to leave.
It was clear.
You had to die.
Stuck home on a snow day, I’m Googling ways to end you.
It wasn’t enough to get rid of you.
I had to totally erase your existence.
Clean anything you’d touched like a literal plague.
Boiling all the sheets was easy enough.
But trying to get a kid to sit still, while I tore your influence away one painstaking strand at a time?
Everything had to be examined.
All the lies and denials.
It was a total nit-picking nightmare.
I went to a specialist.
We went over everything.
Talked about how you wouldn’t let go.
How I just wanted to cut you out of my life so badly I was willing to get rid of anything you held dear.
“Just do it.” I told her. “Quick, like a band-aid. I’ll close my eyes and think of Sinead, Sean, and Shaquille. They’ve made it work for them.”
She talked me down from the nuclear option.
Getting your hair done is usually a calm, soothing experience.*
But getting rid of you was not.
With every stroke, it felt like I was being pulled in two.
As she scorched my tresses in thirty-second blasts, I visualized you frying until your little head popped.
I imagined your tiny death rattle.
And then I went home and cleaned like a woman possessed.
If you’d touched it, into the garbage, laundry, or freezer it went.
And then, I tackled my child.
It wasn’t pretty.
It wasn’t fun.
But it had to be done.
And if you ever come back into my life, I will totally do it again.
Breaking up is hard to do.
But in eleven days, after a repeat cathartic cleansing, it’ll be over.
I’ll finally be rid of you.**
Happy Lousy Valentine’s Day, you creep.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I’ve never paid so much to have my hair done only to leave a ‘stylist’ looking more like a train wreck. Except for the time I went to high-end salon and they gave me (without my permission) some godawful cut called a ‘Rachel.’ Looking back, even this experience wasn’t that bad!
**Don’t visit us for at least two weeks to be safe.
You read this far bonus:
I found a weirdly appropriate book in French while searching for Google images to accompany this post. I couldn’t quite fit it into the above text but wanted to share it with you.
Her blond, twisted curls were fixed and her little pink-and-white gingham dress was stiff and yellowed with age. By the time she finally became mine, she was twenty-seven years old. Pretty ancient for a doll. And, by ten, I was old enough to know she wasn’t to be played with.
So, until I reached my first decade, I enacted my primal childhood dramas on my Barbie and baby dolls instead.*
There was one other doll who bore the brunt of little girl adventures in our extended family: Grandma Laura’s walking doll.
This doll was an antique, but, she was never treated like one. Built with a stiff cardboard body with wooden limbs, she was meant to be played with.
If she ever had a name, I never knew it. She was just called ‘the walking doll’ because she had creaky hinges at her knees which caused the leg to swing back and then forward as you walked behind her.
She sat in a chair in my grandparents’ living room, waiting for one of the grandchildren to come play with her. She was much loved and it showed.
The walking doll’s hands were worn to indistinct nubs and the plastic along her arms was cracked or missing. At one point, someone loved all the hair off of her.
My grandmother must have cut down a wig to cover her bald head. The walking doll’s new style was choppy, black speckled with grey, and in no way resembled a typical baby doll. I never knew she had any other hair color.
Until I took her to the doll hospital that is.
It was always my intention to take good care of my bequests, but time, family expansion and inattention takes a toll on the mechanics of people and toys.
Many years ago, Amy’s rubber band broke, leaving her looking much like an extra special victim from a crime drama.**
I found Patricia Buckert after a quick search online and contacted her to see if she could recover my long-time companions from the benign neglect of thirty-some years in storage.
A professional with certification through the Doll Artisan Guild, Patricia studied at Seeley’s in Canada and traveled to West Virginia to learn advanced secrets of doll restoration. Patti Ann’s Teddy Bears and Dollies provides a rare service—not just doll repair—it’s more like finding doll nirvana.
When she talks about the dolls she’s made—with kiln baked porcelain crafted and painted by hand—you know you’ve found a kindred spirit.
Her doll hospital is located in Oshtemo, MI along Stadium Drive in a small, green house.
Even with the big white sign out front, you might miss it. But once you’ve entered, you’d never forget it.
The front room is overflowing with dolls, prams, strollers, a crib filled with wide-eyed babydolls, and shelves where lady-like figures pose, en deshabille, with porcelain-dipped lace to trace their décolletage. Nearby, a wire carousel houses miniature accessories: shoes, socks, and delicate unmentionables with froths of lace enough to choke a Clydesdale.
This dolly sanctum sanctorum is a veritable paradise for your inner child.
When I show her Amy, Patricia immediately recognizes her as one of the series of Little Women dolls created by Madame Alexander. But she’s entirely surprised by her second patient.
“I’ve never seen a doll quite like this before.” Patricia says, as I place the doll on her counter.
“She’s been in the family for a long time. She first belonged to my grandmother.” I explain.
As I remove the doll’s outer garments, her poor condition is revealed. A spring falls off her leg as I remove her bloomers.***
We also learn that originally, she was a redhead, similar to my grandmother’s brunette shade…that she kept in a bottle under her bathroom vanity.
“I’ll see if I can find anything in my records to help identify her.” Patricia promises.
“Look what I found! As I was going over your doll I found the Babs marking. This helped me identify it.”
According to the site linked, the Babs Walking Doll was made between 1917 and 1921 by the Babs Manufacturing Corp. Since my grandmother was born in 1909, she was between eight and ten years of age when she was given her. Knowing my doll is over a hundred years old, makes me treasurer her even more. But, she was in pretty sad shape.
I asked Patricia to do what she could to recover her lost charms. This no doubt destroyed whatever value the doll might have possessed, but, I would never sell her and I felt that she deserved her own personal make-over.
It took a lot longer than I would have imagined. But I suspect you don’t undo a century of aging in a day.
Amy came home first.
You can’t see it in this photo, but she now has two satin shoes covering her feet. The mar on her cheek is gone and, with restringing and repairs to the dress, she looks as good as new.
I asked my mom if each of her sisters had their own doll from the series.
She seemed surprised to learn there were other dolls.
Mary, age 8 or 9, in her Beer Barrel Polka outfit.
“Oh, yes. She is one of the daughters from the March family, from the book Little Women?” I tell her. “Did you read it?”
“Oh, well, I’ve seen the movie.” Mom says. “But no, I was the only one who got a doll like this.”
“I thought, because you were one of four sisters and the book is about four sisters, maybe you each got one to represent your relationships.” I say. “But you were the oldest, and that would make you the ‘Meg’ doll instead of ‘Amy’ who is the youngest of the March sisters.”
“I really don’t remember that much about the story.” Mom admits. “But I had blond hair like this as a girl.”
It is always a shock to find someone doesn’t cherish the same books you do. I love Little Women. But if I were to pick a March sister, I would be Jo. Brave, adventurous Jo who writes and dramatizes her life. That, and the fact she has brown hair, just like me.
I finally got to pick up Grandma Laura’s walking doll this fall. I then learned that PattiAnn’s is closing; after so many years spent learning the art of doll craft, Patricia is retiring.
“Is this because people aren’t buying dolls as much?” I ask.
“Yes, partly. Children just don’t play with dolls the way they used to, not with the invention of iPads and electronic games.” Patricia sighs.
I look around and have to ask, “What will happen to all of this?”
“I’ll be selling it off as I close-up. You can check my Facebook website for details of the upcoming sales.”
I have my camera with me and I ask her if I might take a picture of her with a doll, “Which is your favorite?”
“Oh, all my real favorites are back at home, packed up for the move.”She looks around for a bit and then picks up a laughing babydoll. “But, I made this one for my mother before she passed away. So, I’ll be keeping her.”
We keep what matters to us. I don’t know if I would have a doll collection if it had not been for the one’s given to me. I have quite a few. My first years of independence during my tour in the Army were incongruously spent collecting dolls while stationed overseas. But those tales will have to wait for another day.
For now, I will be grateful I got my dolls repaired by someone qualified in a craft that is dying out.
And for those of you who are interested in the results, here is my walking doll, in her new dress cut down from a dress my mother made me:
I think you will agree, you wouldn’t recognize her from her former self!
I travel for a purpose. Generally, that purpose is to get to a destination. Sometimes, however, for my son’s sake, I travel for distance. For pleasure. To lose myself in the rolling roads dividing the countryside into rows of waving cornstalks and fields of bucolic cows chewing endless mouthfuls of grass. Usually there is an Aaron Copland sound track playing in my imagination.*
Recently, however, I had this experience backfire…and go hilariously bad. The tale ends up with a life-saving intervention from the Michigan DNR and a ‘Hail Mary’ airport pick-up. Join us for the missed-flight entertainment, if you dare, on the adventure I am calling:
F*ck the Road Less Traveled
It all begins with meeting a friend from afar.
Like most heroic quests, ‘Jay’ comes a long way to meet me. (Okay…technically she is visiting family, but still, meeting me is the added cherry on the trip-from-Japan Sundae.) Unlike most of my ‘internet friends’ who are likely market-research algorithms with questionable profile pics, Jay is a real live person.
Jay is so terribly cool, she met up with me at the nearby Panera for an hour of lovely conversation–despite juggling jet lag, a toddler, and the joys of accommodating myriad family obligations to meet up with someone she only knows in the digital sense from Nanowrimo.**
I was geeked. Her dad joined the venture–mostly because he was her chauffeur–but he was an engaging story teller who kept the conversation rolling. When our time together ran out, he invited me to come up to the family reunion scheduled for Saturday next.
“Sure.” I say. “But I’ll have to leave in time to get my mother-in-law from the airport.”
“I live in the woods, so, when you get up there, just call me and I’ll meet you so you can follow me back to the house.” He assures me.
“Oh, I have GPS. I’ve been up in that area before. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Saturday rolls around and I cram my kid in the car and we’re off winding the back roads of beyond because I haven’t yet figured out that my car’s GPS has been avoiding highways on purpose. We arrive with only a few rural/off-map detours. (Okay…we got lost three times finding the house. But for me, that’s ONLY three times.) This makes me unbelievably cocky. If you don’t know me well, know this…if anyone can get lost going someplace, it’s me. But, I’ve come to rely on my son’s innate desire to travel to get us where we want to go.
Jay is warm, her daughter is adorable, and her father is welcoming. A yard full of strangers don’t question me or my giant son’s right to be there. The picnic is a nice, if brief, interlude at someone else’s family reunion. Before long, it’s time for us to leave to meet a plane. I tender our regrets clutching the scrawled map Jay’s father painstakingly wrote out for me to follow back to civilization. Upon leaving, I immediately take a wrong turn and don’t figure it out until it is far, far too late. Much to my son’s delight.
If you have never been to Fremont, Michigan, I highly recommend you visit. Especially if you want to become part of the witness protection program. Because, I promise you, once you move there, no one will find you again. Ever.
We are in the car, driving in the wrong direction, down a dirt path and I’m alternately swerving to avoid trees that are apparently just growing in the middle of the track we are following and I’m questioning whether the map is wrong or I am.***
It’s when we finally hit tarmac that I make my worst mistake of the day. There is an option to turn left or right. A quick glance at my dashboard GPS is of no help. So, with my son as the designated navigator we turn left. The most mistaken 50-50 shot of all.
This is where the paved road ends…
When asked whether we should turn around or keep going, my son’s intrepid response?
“Straight!” He barks from the back seat.
I eyeball my GPS doubtfully, tap the screen and gauge how far it is through the unmarked green area to the road it depicts on the other side.
“Well, it doesn’t look like it’s too far…about half an inch.” I think to myself. “How far could that be?”
Those of you who have ever taken a snowmobile trail are probably laughing your heads off at this point. I, however, haven’t a clue.
And into the woods we go…
Need I mention it is a one-lane track?
And that we need to hit Highway 31 pretty darned quick if we are going to have a chance to make the forty-some odd miles back to the airport in G.R.?
Pretty soon, things get a bit desperate. We’ve been in the woods for at least half an hour. We are definitely going to miss the flight we were scheduled to meet!
Who do you call when, at fifty-one years of age, you are lost and need assistance?
*Gets cell phone*
BEEP.. BEEP.. BOOP.. BEEP.. BOOP…
After a frantic conversation in which I fear signal loss almost as much as I fear the drones of mosquitoes following our car like we are to-go container they are trying to figure how to open, Mom comes to the rescue…
Insert appropriate theme song here
…of my mother-in-law anyway.
“I’ll go.” Mom promises. “But you owe me! I was already in my pajamas for the night!”
We keep driving. The huddling clouds overhead limit what visibility we do have beneath the canopy of the old growth forest we are traversing.
I’m not exactly panicking…yet.
But I’m thinking about it.
When along comes the cavalry…
I have to unroll my window in order to ask for directions.
The mosquitoes, at least, were deliriously happy.
The nice young men from the DNR—wait…doesn’t that mean Do Not Resuscitate?—correction, the Forest Service Department of Agriculture (it says it right on the door, Kiri) give me some directions on how to get out of the woods.
“You’re gonna come up on a fork in a bit, take it to the left…then you follow the road until you see the exit to Highway 31. It’s not that much farther.”
I thank them, and slap at mosquitoes trying for a second pint of blood, before I hastily close the window to depart.
Our vehicles squeeze past each other like fat ladies wearing hoop skirts moving through a narrow hall.
And then we are back on the trail, slightly more confident that we will make it home.
There’s the fork…
And more trees than you can shake a stick at.
And then we come to what looks like another choice…
This turns out to be a random opening in the forest.
“What the actual hell?” I am cursing young men who think they gave detailed directions but obviously skipped a few steps.
If I knew how to use Google Earth, I’d check to see if our little blue Prius was captured in the center somewhere.
While it is possible to go left, that way seems certain doom based on the quantity of wild flowers and stumps in the way.
We veer right and hold on to a waning hope.
The GPS is now openly mocking me.
It dances in circles around and around but never moves toward Highway 31 and freedom.
We pass the dusty roundabout, heading right.
Pretty soon, we see a verdant meadow, puffy clouds, and dream of escaping this wildness nightmare.
But those fantasies are dashed by what looks like the burial site for other lost travelers cleverly disguised as a “Coastal Plain Marsh.”
Leaving the erstwhile, granite grave markers in our rearview mirror, I can’t help but feel like the forest is trying to tell us something.
But what could it be saying?
Apparently, it’s telling us it is time to go home.
There, in the distance, it beckons us.
The way out!
Ahhhh….civilization…or as close as it comes in rural Michigan.
As we drove home…we admired the sights we thought we’d never see again…
Even traffic cones were a welcome sight!
We passed the bakery with the oddest name ever for a location smack in the middle of an alluvial plain.
And then, like the plains of Africa in the song by Toto, the rains came.
Bedraggled and drained, we make it home in time for dinner.
And it’s going to take a lot to drag me back to Fremont unless I’m giving a guided tour, perhaps by a team of strapping forest preserve on-call rescuers? For emergency purposes only, of course.
Until then, I grow restless, longing for some solitary company…and a song to sing me home.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I mistakenly Googled Erin Copeland and got a completely unsuitable track the first time. #NOT MY MUSIC.
**If you do not know what NANOWRIMO is, we are apparently not as close as my imaginary internet friends.
Thank you for joining me for a retrospective of the Mother’s Day bonsai bonanza at Meijer Gardens. I highly recommend you attend the special exhibits like these, or, failing that, stopping by to enjoy my obsessive photography habit.
I started this post about ten days ago…but caught the flu so bad, I couldn’t finish writing it. I kind of collapsed instead. I am finally crawling back up on my personal hobby horse–the bedeviling holiday traditions that trap you in a tinsel choke-hold and won’t let go!
I won’t say that I am single-handedly keeping Hallmark alive, but of my entire family, I am the only one I know who sends holiday cards because I have to and despite the fact that I lost all religious affiliation years ago.
I have never been diagnosed with OCD (?Overly Cheerful Demeanor?), but it’s the only explanation I can find for why I put up a Christmas Solstice Tree, bake and decorate a bajillion festive cookies and, of course, send out the ubiquitous holiday cards.
It’s a sickness really.
I waited too late this year though. The holiday came and went (a Day Early) and I had yet to write out a single card. You’d think this was a sign! Maybe this year would be the year? Can I break the cycle?
Turns out…no. I can’t.
Four boxes of holiday cards at the ready—espousing nicely generic season greetings—printed family photo montage highlighting 2017 high (and low) points ready to go, festive stamps at hand, I sat at a table and manically wrote out a personalized greeting to everyone on my list.*
Did I mention I was suffering the worst plague at the time and, maybe, started hallucinating about half-way through the pile?**
To say some of my cards were a bit weird…well…I really wish I had taken pictures of some of the better entries. Fortunately, friends were willing to send me a few as proof of madness friendship. Seeing them now, they don’t sound nearly as weird as I thought they were at the time.
But, I do remember a few choice comments I wrote:
Please remember on New Years Day to toss a roast beef out your front door before heading out. This is to feed the dragon perched on your gables. It need not be cooked—many dragons prefer a raw gift—but a nice sear is also appreciated.
Do not forget to watch for acid-spitting lizards though. They are much more temperamental and you’d be advised to crawl out a side window to avoid them…”
The longer I wrote, the more like a cry for help some of the cards started to resemble:
Dear Chicago Friends,
“I do not understand why or how this tradition started?! Nobody writes physical mail anymore! What is the point? This is going to reach you well past the New Year and, honestly, I’ll probably have babbled ten times equally dull daily complaints on Facebook. Maybe next year I’ll just do that. I’ll Tweet my greetings! Except, that I am a Luddite, and eschew Twitter. Not just because a certain member of our government has made it his bilious verbal diarrhea playground…but because I have standards. Dammit.
I practically accused my California cousins of outright smugness in their choice of vacating Michigan winters for the dubious joys of living on the San Andreas Fault:
Then there were the feeble attempts at humor involving the likely contagion I was spreading this season:
Dear Philly Friend,
“…can you catch depression when you catch a cold? Mostly it’s the fact that I had all of my cookie rolled, cut, baked and nearly all frosted when this cold happened. As a result, I didn’t dare send them to anyone…for fear of spreading the contagion…
Apparently, I’m less circumspect with card distribution. Don’t lick this card. You’ve been warned. Probably too late though. You’ve already licked it haven’t you? Sigh. Oh Well, swift recovery to us both in 2018!”
Then I hit the wall I always hit after about four hours of writing inane holiday greetings (interjected with subliminal pleas for the madness to stop–see below). I start doodling to fill up the dreaded white space:
I have a list of about sixty people to whom I send cards. I had enough holiday stamps for about half of the list…after that, you got a Wonder Woman or Star Trek stamp depending on your likeliest affiliation. When in doubt, I used one commemorating the eclipse!
The later on the list your name appears, the weirder the card entry you’ll likely get. Also, the more my dyslexia and spoonerisms would crop up.
I can only imagine what the person getting this one thought of it all…
I have no choice. I have to send them. Then again, THEY have no choice, poor people, but to accept them. And secretly, I hope they like them and send me one in return. It is the obsessive compulsive gift that keeps on giving!
In the end…only Hallmark really wins.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes*:
*I cannot send a blank card. Really. Unless I am at death’s door, so a few of you may have one of these rare creatures. When I hit that marathon writer wall, I autographed a few and called it good. I’m still shuddering from the absence of ink though.
**I started to feel a little human, but the persistent cough worried me. So I went to a med center and caught a completely different virus. If this piece is unfinished, I probably died mid-sent…
I am spending Christmas Day writing cards to friends because, apparently, I am living the holidays backward. And it started off so promising too…
The cookies were baked and frosted in early December…ready to be handed out to teachers and neighbors instead of requiring exhausting shopping jaunts and wrapping to accomplish. Ta dah!
*She gloated and lo’ the gods of irony did take notice.*
So, of course, the minute I added the last dragée sprinkle, I came down with the worst bubonic nasal funk, like, EVER. I didn’t dare hand out the frosted ones out to anyone…I liked.
We’ve been eating them all in lieu of chicken soup. (Note: I make something like 100 cookies each season.)
As a result of the plague, all shopping was done last minute. Like on Saturday, or as I was calling it, the Eve of Christmas.
I gritted my teeth and plowed through the tinsel strewn madness in a frantic bid not to throttle my fellow man–just so I’d have presents to hand out at the family gathering.*
I stayed up all night Saturday wrapping the last-minute what-nots decorated with frills and furbelows and wondering why BBC America wasn’t showing the much-awaited Dr. Who Christmas special.
*A clue, she has not.*
Dizzy with a stuffy head, thrown by the fact I work from home and days are marked by whether I have to shove my kid on a bus or not, things are spectacularly wonky. Festivities happen in spastic fits and starts if they happen at all. To be perfectly blunt, I’m off! In fact, I am so off in my order of traditional holiday crapola, that we celebrated early.
LIKE…a DAY early.
I woke Sunday thinking that it was Monday because I saw a mail van delivering to the house next door. So, Santa came early. I made the traditional pop-n-fresh, cinnamon rolls from a Pillsbury can baked into the shape of a lumpy Christmas tree the way my mom always made for us when we were kids. My son happily opened his giant tube of popcorn and his Orville Redenbacher fun-fun air popper.
It is only after the morning is gone and all the presents are opened that I realize…oh, wait. It’s only the 24th.
So, here we are, December 25th with nothing to celebrate. The snowy day precludes the emergency ‘road trip’ that I blankly promised my son yesterday with the caveat “If the weather is good.”**
And we woke to this…
This wouldn’t be so all-fired tragic if it weren’t for the irony of it all.
My kid, the Calendar King, said NOT ONE WORD about the fact mommy was off by a day.*** I guess all kids dreams of Christmas coming early. This does explain the kind of puzzled looks he kept giving me when I told him to keep opening his presents though…
So, Happy Holidays to everyone… and I might as well wish you Happy New Year. I’ll be with you in spirit/s next Saturday as we toast farewell to 2017! Because who in their right mind would put New Years on a Sunday of all things! Am I right?
*I was shocked to find other people shopping and leaving me with no place to park but the butt-end of the parking lot. Seriously, why weren’t they all home with their families and snug in their beds?
**Note: all weather is good weather for travel according to my son. The roads could be melting with lava, hail could be denting the roof and Pteradactyls might be making a bid to return from the primordial ooze from which they sprung and he’d still say, “Car ride?”
***Yeah yeah. I know. Non-verbal autistic. But he could have pointed to a calendar or something!