I am overwhelmed with homeschooling. I have these days occasionally, when I question my decision making–WHY did I think it was a good idea to take over my children’s education? Lily can’t yet tie her shoes. Sofia struggles with her multiplication tables. She hates math. I agree. I can’t do 6th grade math, so I hire it out, but still.
I consider climbing into my closet, layering the floor with cozy blankets and refusing to come out, hiding from everyone, regressing to my childhood ways. I used to climb into my closet in 2nd grade, open the floor board and hang out in the crawl space under the house. It’s quiet under the house. There is dirt under the house, spiders, unkempt, unmanicured space, the outline of the house but empty with possibility that just around that beam: Narnia. And no one can find me.
Instead I wake Claudio at 2am and ask him to do a Meeting of Two with me. It’s an offshoot of 12-step meeting culture–we take turn sharing our feelings uninterrupted and without cross-talk, solution fixing or shaming. The mere fact that he’ll wake up and listen to me say the Serenity Prayer and then share my experience tells me I married someone extraordinarily kind. He says only about knowing what it’s like to be overworked,and that gives me comfort. And then he tells me to get some rest. I need that simple wisdom. “Go night night,” my dear friend Barbara says to me when I call her with a worry late at night. “Nothing is worked out after 10pm.”
Lily still ends up in our bed, so I go to her bed. Musical beds. Claudio finds me there at daybreak, in the pink llama sheets with her curtain that wraps around her bed tightly shut, a cocoon.
I cry some. “The kids are too quiet. They’re downstairs reading Garfield, rotting their brains,” I say. “I’m too tired to go down there right now.”
He goes downstairs.
“ANYONE WHO IS READING GARFIELD NOW HAS A CONSEQUENCE!” Tears from girls. He stomps upstairs, I hear him open my office door, toss in two Garfield, slam it shut.
I have a protector. I beam.
“Do math!” he yells.
Lily comes into her room. She has on a pink silky long nightgown with a black choker. Hard and soft, a family inheritance.
“I want to cuddle.”
She ignores me and climbs in beside me.
“It is my bed.”
Her toes are icicles.
She finds her spot under my arm, flops her leg over my body, clamps me. “CLAMP!”
I sigh, a large breath. She does too. I feel her heartbeat, think about how she’s done this her forever, how she used to fit in my belly, then on my body, now, seven and a half years old, she can trap me.
I cry quietly. I’m so grateful and so tired. She doesn’t say anything. I hope I’m hiding it from her.
She looks up at me, the one hunk of hair shorter than the rest over her right eye. She cut it herself six months ago. No one else would know that about her, I think.
“Mom, when I grow up, can I be a writer like you?” She has brown eyes, french-girl short bangs, a face like the moon, round and still baby enough and morphing by the hour.
No. I want to say. Be a writer who writes! Works! Is successful!
“You can be anything.” I smile.
“I’m going to be an actress. I’m very good with feelings. I use sad music to really feel things. And I already have ten books.”
“One is called ‘Lucy’s Box.’ It’s dedicated to you and Dad. One is ‘A Boy Named Max.’ There’s ‘Christmas Eve is the Best Holiday.’And ‘Calm the Serenity.'”
“Curious. Tell me that one.”
“It’s dedicated to you.”
“You don’t say? Plot?”
“It’s about a lady who goes to Alanon. You know how all they talk about at Alanon is serenity?”
“Well, this lady is stressed. She’s trying so hard to be serenity, to be so perfect that the serenity is stressing her out. No one’s perfect mom. She’s looking so hard for serenity it’s making her nuts. So–Calm the Serenity. It’s a good book. I don’t want to ruin it. That’s all I’ll say.”
I think about grace. She takes my breath away, like seeing the exact right billboard on the side of the road, or a vanity plate, or a song on the radio right when I most need it. Grace. Lily has always been my God Whisperer. She asks, “Why am I the only one that knows that when you break something down and down and down, smaller and smaller, all you find is light?” She tells me about the meadows in heaven where she spent so much time between lifetimes. She has God Stories, remembrances of her pre-life, and I beg her to tell me as many as she can remember. She tells me about sitting in God’s lap, a big, fat woman, so kind, so loving, and how she screened for her all the possible mothers she could have.
“Mom, when we came to your picture, God said, ‘Pick her. She’s my favorite.’ So I did.”
I was 18 years old when I was crowned Miss Idaho USA. Sometimes I say this as an excuse: “I was only 18.” My mother, Momma Bean, two minutes after I was crowned hugged me, whispered in my ear, “You’ll always be a former Miss Idaho.”
I decided on a whim. Some rich kid golfer I was dating suggested in an off remark, “You’re hot. You should run for Miss Idaho. You’d win.”
I was tired of fighting with my father, Floyd. The first time I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” I was shocked. Martha and George were married, not father-daughter, but they described my life with Floyd completely; fighting for the sheer joy of it.
Floyd: “You’re a god-damned pain in the ass, Kelli.”
Kelli: “You drink too much, FLOYD.”
Floyd: “I oughta sell you to the gypsies.”
Kelli: “They’ll ask for a refund.”
Floyd: “I sold a car to the gypsy king last week.”
Mom’s voice from the other room: “Floyd. Kelli. Play nice.”
I used being the queen of Idaho like I did getting straight As, becoming a cheerleader, class president and a born again Christian: as a way to get Floyd’s goat.
“You’ll be sorry, Floyd. I’m going to win Miss Idaho and rise above this shithole.”
Long drag on his Marlboro Red: “Oooooh, doggies. You’re going to make some man’s life hell on earth.”
I started drinking a month before the pageant.
The Miss Idaho pageant took place on a stage decorated with a taxidermied moose. This fact should give you a feel for the competitors—Idahoans are not queens in the way that, say, southerners are queens.
I was still backstage, standing along side the other four top contestants, when I felt it as the judges’ final score was tabulated. I just knew. It was a physical sensation, an internal earthquake. I won. I turned to tell the girl behind me that she just lost, or to see if she felt it as well. I stopped myself: that would be so unroyal. I wanted to tell someone and I couldn’t; the only ones around me were the losers, and I felt at once the unbearable solitude of the champion.
We top five tromped to stage. I floated. The emcee tried to drag out the tension when it was down to only two of us, but I was giddy. I motioned him to move along, get on with it, I knew. But when he said my name, that mythic thing happened to me: tears sprang to my eyes, I covered my face. The outgoing queen put the crown on my head. I looked up to God, I mouthed the words ‘Thank you’ to the judges, I waved ‘Hi Mom’. I waggled my legs like a football dude in the end zone. I gave a Nixonian thumbs up. And then I didn’t know what to do and I walked back towards the twelve losers and waved at them.
And then I laughed hysterically as I walked the plank that went out over and into the audience.
I thought being Miss Idaho would class me up, stamp me with greatness. I thought Floyd would finally respect me and see me as his pretty, pretty, pretty sweet daughter. I thought it would fix him, get him to stop drinking, simmer down and be the family man father I always wanted, not the guy sleeping in red silk briefs on the family room couch, sweating out a hangover.
The morning after winning Floyd said, “Didn’t take much to win in that crowd. All you needed was two nipples instead of six, all your teeth and to walk on your hind legs.”
People have a lot of opinions when I describe Floyd to them. Why would I ever think that he would be that kind of dad that I was hoping for? Once when I was ten years old, at riding the monorail from Disneyland Hotel to main gate, Floyd was standing in the aisle. I had a seat and kept trying to get his eye to tell him I’d share. I finally did, and I sat on his lap the whole way to Disneyland. He sang
Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown,
Baddest man in the whole damn town,
Badder than an old king kong
Meaner than a junkyard dog
in my ear. He had a crunchy beard and his breath smelled like the Marlboro Red he tossed away before loading up on the god-damned bus, as he put it, but for a moment I felt so welcomed by him and I knew he had it in him to be a sweetie pie. I know it’s difficult to understand for a family outsider. I loved that Floyd Bean with all my heart.
Being a queen didn’t make me feel prettier. Even though Floyd made six figures a year selling Chevrolets, it occurred to me one day that I was white trash. My mother wore sweatshirts that had a pig face on the front and a pig butt on the back. She’d give me her whole paycheck from her job at Boise Planning Association to buy me prettier dresses than even the one she got married in. The look in her eye, pure love and wanting so much better for me than the life she had for herself, kind of killed me while she sat there in her Keds tennis shoes and her Roseanne Barr football helmet-hair and pear-shaped body.
Instead of getting a nose-job and boob job, as advised by pageant people, I drank till I blacked out and screamed at people in bars, “You mother fuckers are drinking with Miss Idaho!” They flew us to Mobile, Alabama and locked us up for a month of rehearsals for the Miss USA show. We went everywhere with a police escort and changed clothes three times a day. The only way I got through it was by buying up all the Nyquil in the hotel gift shop.
The opening number of the televised show required each contestant to dress up as something representative of her state. Most of them looked like Vegas showgirls. I didn’t know what to be: The Yellowstone National Park or a Baked Idaho Russet Potato.
“Stop bellyaching,” my state director, Barbara said. “I’ll put some strips of glitter on a blue leotard and we’ll get a feather headband. You can be the Idaho State Bluebird. Wear heels.”
I was a very tall bluebird.
I remember standing back stage as the Idaho State Bluebird. I was broken. It was right after Top Ten had been announced. The sounds of quiet sobbing cascaded around me, all us state queens who hadn’t made it to the next level. I was standing at the craft service eating Oreo after Oreo, hoping the camera would get a glance of me with the black gunk in my teeth. I was high on Nyquil and thoroughly disgusted at myself.
“Kelli,” Miss South Dakota said, “stop. You’re going to hate yourself if you get fat.”
“Sweetie,” I said, “don’t you hate yourself yet?”
Ten years after the Miss USA pageant I was waitressing at the Malibu Chart House. I lived in the Pacific Palisades. I covered every mirror in my apartment with black fabric because I couldn’t stand to look at myself. I had the Suicide Hotline on speed dial. I drank till I could leave my body and float around the ether, deciding whether to stay or leave this earth.
I ended up in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I identified externally as an Alcoholic, and internally as a Recovering Beauty Queen.
My first sponsor had been a Beauty Queen’s chaperone down south where Beauty Queens were for real, so I knew she could guide me. She knew Beauty Queen pain. As an amend to myself she made me sit in front of a three way mirror in my closet and look into my own eyes. That was it, just look into my own sweet eyes. I must have sat there for a good hour, and after looking into my own eyes for some time my face started to morph. My own face disappeared. I was an old Indian man. I was an ancient Chinese momma. I was a black cleaner woman. I was a thin Australian rancher. I was a sweaty old priest. I was a thirteen-year-old boy with acne. I was an Iranian princess and a Zimbabwean slave; I was a Scottish garbage man, and a Native American mother. I was a Buddhist monk. I was a French girl. I was Floyd C. Bean.
“Gorgeous, I tell you, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.”
I have no words. I ran out. The kettle is empty. I’m spoilt.
I don’t want to write so Nellie Negative.
I feel time’s ticks.
Any free moment I have when the house is empty—Claudio or Gilma take my love monkeys away—I crawl in bed, my soft sheets, a bed in daylight, and cry for her. Momma Bean—only since August, I grieve so much for her, not her death as much as what she left undone. She was undone. Her last years—let’s say her 24 last years she was already gone, but not gone, Momma Bean grief—it is slow and relentless and winds its way down, around and through me. My busy life can’t hold it. It sneaks in sideways, comes upon me on awakening, more so after a mid-day nap: Momma Bean is gone.
It still takes my breath away. I feel both hurried and calm—it won’t stop. She’ll be gone now. She’s gone. I’ve lost folk before, but she was gone so long before she ever left—I grieve her gone-ness, how she was already past due after Floyd died.
Or maybe the truth of it I was gone, a latch-key daughter in California: I was long gone.
Those I am with now are my three, my trio, my triage, my trinity: Claudio, Sofia, Lily. Our home has so many windows, such light, I sleep in with them, guiltlessly. I should be up and doing yoga, writing, walking the dog, writing. I should. But I luxuriate, I breath in, I pull the covers to my chin, all white sheets, soft and cool. I watch Lily sleep. I rest. I quit coffee because last week my writing sounded so jagged and when I met a friend in Whole Foods the way she quirked her head at me while I spazzed on about something made me realize I crossed a line: seven shots of coffee are too much.
I ask God for guidance and help, I pray in a constant conversation, but really, my Ruby Slippers shine.
“Claudio,” I say, “I hope we both realize, as far as incarnations go, we hit the human jackpot.”
Maybe I’m too easy on myself. I should jog, join a grief group, cry more. I try to sit still for thirty minutes when I first wake in a prayer meditation, calm the detoxing-caffeine brain, come home. Lily bloodhounds me, puts her head in my lap, prays quietly while I meditate.
Sofia wakes and yells out, “I dreamt I was a white slave, mom! A rich girl helped me survive by unlocking a door, hiding me from the mean master. You were at an Alanon meeting and I came to find you and told them all how the stranger saved me. She didn’t’ say a word. I was so grateful, Mom. I was sobbing. A total stranger saved my life. Isn’t that amazing?”
We four dress, put on merry hats, the Pomeranian on a leash and Lily leads us on a walk around the hill. It’s how I live in this moment with a kind husband, he apologizes, he is courtesy itself, he leads the pack of us from the back, as all Wolf leaders do. A stranger in a mini-cooper calls out, “Watch out! Move!” when a car could hit us on a blind corner, saving our lives.
Claudio carries his morning coffee, teaches Lily not to take all the neighbor flowers for her fairy garden, Foxy Pomeranian needs a bath when we arrive home so we put her in an industrial cow-looking thing we put ice in with pop cans at parties and Claudio runs warm water from the faucet.
So much life I can’t stop to write or do much of anything, save my family, save my family.
She’s been here in the house since she died. It is freaking out the kids, her visitations. We see her in our peripheral vision, a shadow where there is nothing blocking the light source. A displacement of air in the bottom bunk bed. A floor board creak. A heaviness in the upstairs of our home, as though showing off that she now can make it up all sixty stairs from the street, and the ten more inside our home. Claudio and I call our home “The Mother-in-Law Free Zone” since neither of our mothers can easily climb stairs. We don’t get Avon ladies or Trick-or-Treaters or Politicians here, but ghosts, Momma Bean’s floater got no issue with stairs.
Bedtime, never easy, has become impossible.
“NO! Grandma Beanie climbs in Lily’s bed at night and it totally creeps me out.”
“Ok, I will deal with her!” I say. “Next time it happens, wake me up.”
A brokered peace and we are all tucked in for about 45 minutes when I hear Sofia scream: “She’s here!”
“She’s HERE, mom!” she yells again. It wakes me out of my drifting pre-sleep, that sweet place it’s so painful to be wrested out of, so I say, “Okay, honey,” because I agreed to come and because the pronounced sense of a body plunking into bed, her dead grandmother, must be unbearably creepy to deal with alone.
I leave Lily in my bed with her dad, her sleepy voice saying, “Don’t go, momma, I need you.”
“It’s my Momma, Lily. I’m going to sleep with her one last time.”
I crawl in between Lily’s pink llama flannels, say, “Momma, I get why you’re here, but I’m okay. You can go rest. You’ve done so much for me; you of all my loves deserve a rest. I spent hours on google looking for a box for your ashes. I ordered you a mini-wooden cabin with an outhouse option. I couldn’t imagine you in some hokey box with a quotation and outline of an eagle or mountain range. I ordered two crafty cabins, one for each Bean sister, we split you even-stevens.”
The bed is quiet, I get no response, no shimmer, no whisper of a breeze, but I believe Sofia. She is not the child prone to woo-woo, not like Lily and I. If she said Momma Bean is here, she is, even if I can’t sense her much, other than scanty hope. I’d like to see her ghost. I’ll stay in this bed all night, even though my toes hang off the edge, even though Lily has more than 25 stuffed bunnies in here so I can barely move between the ghost of Momma Bean and all the stuffed animal clutter. I’ll follow Momma Beanie to the moon and back for one more moment with her, my sweet, deliciously odd Momma Bean.
Kristi said she felt her after she passed also, she came to her during a nap, also in bed.
“How’d you know it was her?”
“I had the sensation of so much irritation I could barely breathe. It was her.”
“Momma,” I continue. “I know you know how I feel, because you used to tell me how much you missed your mom after she died. I got to have so many conversations with you in this lifetime. You were so kind to me always, even when I was such a shit, and I love the parts of me that remind me of you, even my ability to go to Whole Foods looking like crap warmed over because you gave me nare’ do care about my general lookiness. I’m able to go to lunch in Beverly Hills sans Botox because you were my Momma. I know little girls love their mommas, but I have to say, I think I love you more than most. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to talk to you often or look you in the eyes. I wish I was able to look at you more when you were alive.”
The last Thanksgiving, we spent together was during the heat of Claudio’s madness, my own madness, and I was a gimp of a person. Momma Bean sat opposite me at the round table Kristi served dinner on. I hardly said two words to her. Kristi later told me Momma Bean peed on the chair-—her body had been shutting down for years, YEARS, it’s why I thought she’d never die, Momma Bean, who broke a wine glass with her spazzing out hand at our wedding, some nerve reaction that caused her to crush two wine glasses in her hand. It was the last time she visited here at our home. I think she willed herself up our stairs. She gave me away to Claudio. My mother-in-law called the day after the wedding to tell me she thought my mother was a drunk.
“She’s not a drunk. She’s Momma Bean. She’s constantly dying.” It’s hard to explain to new in-laws.
After the funeral, mortician John who buries all Beans hands her to me. “Not much left, is there?” She is inside a white paper bag with little white handles, something light enough to carry a lunch in. It has the name of the funeral home on the outside, and inside there is a cardboard box with my half of Momma Bean in it. And a death certificate so I can fly with her.
I fly out of Ketchum and she keeps setting off the TSA alarms, they have to open her box and put a metal screen over her, I suppose to make sure I’m not bringing something terrorist-y on the plane. The Idahoan who has to keep scanning her keeps apologizing, he knows. I hear him whisper to the younger guy, “It’s her mom.” I don’t cry. I don’t feel anything really, other than sorry for him because it must be pretty awkward to scan and rescan someone’s Momma. I think about the time Momma gave me a jack-a-loupe at the Boise airport, wrapped in a pink flowery pillowcase and how the TSA guy there also let me fly with it, because “it looked tame to him” and how odd and lovely it is that my inheritance from her is a jack-a-loupe, bones and ashes, and all her sweet small town Idahoness. Her hokeyness. Her non-Los Angeles fabulousness. I wouldn’t trade her for anyone. Not anyone, anyone, even someone with a $500 haircut and a Chanel pantsuit, what she often accused me of wanting in a mother.
She’s on the top shelf in my office next to my AA big book. I sold the jack-a-loupe at a yard sale ten years ago because Claudio couldn’t stand a dead animal in the house. We disagree on the artistry of taxidermy. I ordered a new one yesterday from an online retailer.
I fall asleep in Lily’s bed talking until sleep like she used to do for me when I was little. I wake hours later and pad back into my own bed.
She is obsessed with “bad” words, collects them, and has ever since she learned to spell. Claudio and I used to spell to one another when having a conversation in front of her we didn’t want to hear.
“I think that guy is in P-O-R-N,” I said.
“Porn!” Sofia screamed. She was 4. She has never forgotten it.
In the back of her journal she has a list of all the biggies: The F-word, A-word, S-word. A dude cut me off in traffic the other day. We rarely curse in front of the girls. When C and I met, I had a potty mouth and he said he didn’t like it so I stopped cursing overnight, cold turkey. With an occasional slip.
“What a dick.” I said.
“DICK!” And she wrote it down.
I can’t have her cursing; she’s 8. But when she does try them on for size, they come out all wrong. She has no context for them:
“He’s a dick porn.”
“What a god-damn ass shit fuck.”
I’ve put the kabash on cursing. I’m old fashioned, or maybe a hypocrite.
So, she only had one big hold out. “You don’t know the C-word.”
“Tell me the C!”
“Never. I’ll save your innocence.”
Tonight we were watching clips from Bridesmaids, because she asked me what I’m like when I drink alcohol. I showed her the clip of the girl sneaking into first class. I know, Bridesmaids. But I needed her to know about what I look like drunk, and I couldn’t think up any other great movie moments. (Feel free to comment if you have a goodie.) Then I clicked to the jewelry store scene with the C-bomb. I didn’t see it coming and couldn’t mute in time.
“Cunt! That’s the C-WORD! My list is complete!”
Bridesmaids. Not a teaching tool.
Sofia finished 2nd grade today. She wrapped up math 6 weeks ago and last week she finished history; Grammar was the holdout. Ask her to tell you the list of all prepositions, alphabetized and she will rock you through aboard, about, above, across…all the way to with, within, without. Who knows if it will do her any good in life, but it’ll be fun to scream drunk at a party if she takes after me, and if she doesn’t, still, 2 hours a day and she can name all the parts of speech. I freaking love homeschooling the girls, and if anyone gives me guff about it, I’ll have her scream out all the helping verbs and then drop the C-bomb when the socialization question comes up. How’s that for socialized?
I love reading homeschool blogs. My fave right now is this family from Vancouver who are sailing and homeschooling on the open sea. The Wet Edge inspires me and also makes me feel small. They’re at sea! With kids! But hell, I’m on another world-wide adventure with Claudio. And my love for their blog makes me remember I have a blog! A sad, neglected, sorry-ass blog. So here I am.
Check them out:
Sofia is sitting at her altar now. I hear her banging her meditation bowl and chanting. I did not teach her how to do this. I hoped to get her an altar and to somehow bring reverence into some conversations, but without prodding, she has gathered rocks, fairy statues, buddhas and takes the altar with us on the road. Lily is asleep and hogging my whole bed. I’m in a slice of heaven.
for my father, and the people who almost saved his life
We died of pneumonia in furnished rooms
where they found us three days later
when somebody complained about the smell
we died against bridge abutments
and nobody knew if it was suicide
and we probably didn’t know either
except in the sense that it was always suicide
we died in hospitals
our stomachs huge, distended
and there was nothing they could do
we died in cells
never knowing whether we were guilty or not.
We went to priests
they gave us pledges
they told us to pray
they told us to go and sin no more, but go
we tried and we died
we died of overdoses
we died in bed (but usually not the Big Bed)
we died in straitjackets
in the DTs seeing God knows what
creeping skittering slithering
And you know what the worst thing was?
The worst thing was that
nobody ever believed how hard we tried
We went to doctors and they gave us stuff to take
that would make us sick when we drank
on the principle of so crazy, it just might work, I guess
or maybe they just shook their heads
and sent us places like Dropkick Murphy’s
and when we got out we were hooked on paraldehyde
or maybe we lied to the doctors
and they told us not to drink so much
just drink like me
and we tried
and we died
we drowned in our own vomit
or choked on it
our broken jaws wired shut
we died playing Russian roulette
and people thought we’d lost
but we knew better
we died under the hoofs of horses
under the wheels of vehicles
under the knives and bootheels of our brother drunks
we died in shame
And you know what was even worse?
was that we couldn’t believe it ourselves
that we had tried
we figured we just thought we tried
and we died believing that we hadn’t tried
believing that we didn’t know what it meant to try
When we were desperate enough
or hopeful or deluded or embattled enough to go for help
we went to people with letters after their names
and prayed that they might have read the right books
that had the right words in them
never suspecting the terrifying truth
that the right words, as simple as they were
had not been written yet
We died falling off girders on high buildings
because of course ironworkers drink
of course they do
we died with a shotgun in our mouth
or jumping off a bridge
and everybody knew it was suicide
we died under the Southeast Expressway
with our hands tied behind us
and a bullet in the back of our head
because this time the people that we disappointed
were the wrong people
we died in convulsions, or of “insult to the brain”
we died incontinent, and in disgrace, abandoned
if we were women, we died degraded,
because women have so much more to live up to
we tried and we died and nobody cried
And the very worst thing
was that for every one of us that died
there were another hundred of us, or another thousand
who wished that we could die
who went to sleep praying we would not have to wake up
because what we were enduring was intolerable
and we knew in our hearts
it wasn’t ever gonna change
One day in a hospital room in New York City
one of us had what the books call
a transforming spiritual experience
and he said to himself
I’ve got it
(no you haven’t you’ve only got part of it)
and I have to share it
(now you’ve ALMOST got it)
and he kept trying to give it away
but we couldn’t hear it
the transmission line wasn’t open yet
we tried to hear it
we tried and we died
we died of one last cigarette
the comfort of its glowing in the dark
we passed out and the bed caught fire
they said we suffocated before our body burned
they said we never felt a thing
that was the best way maybe that we died
except sometimes we took our family with us
And the man in New York was so sure he had it
he tried to love us into sobriety
but that didn’t work either, love confuses drunks
and he tried and still we died
one after another we got his hopes up
and we broke his heart
because that’s what we do
And the worst thing was that every time
we thought we knew what the worst thing was
something happened that was worse
Until a day came in a hotel lobby
and it wasn’t in Rome, or Jerusalem, or Mecca
or even Dublin, or South Boston
it was in Akron, Ohio, for Christ’s sake
a day came when the man said I have to find a drunk
because I need him as much as he needs me
you’ve got it)
and the transmission line
after all those years
the transmission line was open
And now we don’t go to priests
and we don’t go to doctors
and people with letters after their names
we come to people who have been there
we come to each other
and we try
and we don’t have to die
And then there’s the story of the man whom God tells to push the rock. He tries over and over, pushing as hard as he can for weeks, months, even years, then finally comes to God and says, “I’ve tried as hard as I can! The rock won’t move.”
“I didn’t tell you to move the rock,” God answers. “Just push it. My job is to move it, but look how strong you have become trying.”
Kelli, look how strong you’ve become, throwing your body on that rock, again and again and again.
It’s so sweet of late. Last nine years have been bliss, upon bliss, upon bliss.
I don’t write, not much. Momma Bean keeps saying, “Write it down. Write it.” I don’t. I’m enjoying it all so much, soaking in it, my marinade life, so rich, so called, so asked for and intended and given to me so freely.
I wake up morning after morning, years of mornings now, and I don’t want to kill myself. All these years after the fact and it still is a shock every morning. I want to live.
I want to pay attention, deep, full-soul attention to this now–our girls, Lily, three, who wakes me up by holding onto my neck as tightly as she can, pushing her face into my face, my cheek, my cuddle spot in the middle of my neck. “I miss Mommy milk,” she says. “Do you?”
I tell her I indeedy do miss giving her milk, and she pats me on the head like a dog. “You good Mommy. You best.”
And Sofia, Sophia, Sofie Sunshine. I stare at her, still hardly believing she is really here. She is bright, so long, limbs for hours and so sparky behind her deep brown eyes. She takes my breath away. “Mom, you’re staring. You’ve got that look.”
I think about how I used to smoke-to-die, drink-to-drown, mope to beat the dead. I think about how I used to drink till the floor was waves, how I’d look at my pretty-skinny body and hate myself. I remember wondering how many days I had left on the earth and how to lessen them, or toss them, or spit them back at so generous my God. I remember this like remembering some former life, some person who may have been me, but doesn’t feel at all like the person I wake up to every morning, 43 years old now, 15 years past my last drink, Claudio’s wife and mother to these girls.
I’m not so important now–not important like I was when I wanted to die, the cycling swirl of my addiction years, Gin-Tonic Times, Tangeray Queen, when oh, I wanted the Merry-go-Round to break down and burn out and flood, music silenced.
I don’t matter so much. I’m not so loud in my brain. My fever broke. I’m no saint, but morning and night, inside my rambling, watery brain, this side of the rock, I say, “Use me, please use me,” and more than that, “Thank you.” I will never say thank you enough for this life. Light me, burn me strong. I will shine the brightest I am able. I really don’t matter so much. And oh, I love my girls. I love them more than I ever considered. I’m everyday in heaven, heaven, heaven and I’m so thankful I did not die.
Written for Momma Bean, wrote it down, Momma. Wrote it. I’m so glad to be 43 today.
Tonight I was putting Sofia to bed and I gave her ten kisses, all over her face, like I used to do every single night. We fell out of the habit once Lily was born. After I gave her the ten kisses I ended with one on her forehead, “for good luck.” Then I said what I always used to say, “I love you to the moon and back, the stars and beyond, and more than that. And more than that, too. And I always, always will.”
She looked at me with a look I’ve never seen on her before. She looked right into my eyes and neither of us spoke.
I said, “What are you thinking about?”
After a moment she said, “I am thinking about how when I am a grown up I will remember everything you ever taught me.”
I’m not a tree hugger, I haven’t worn Birkenstocks for 20 years and I wouldn’t call myself a radical anything. But when Sofia was just a few months old, I started thinking about homeschooling. At first it was because we are a film business family, and I wanted to make sure we kept the family together as much as possible. But then I started to really fall in love with the notion (John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Well Trained Mind, etc.) and pretty early on decided to homeschool. But then it was time to tour Kindergartens and all my mom friends were on the bus. I tagged along. This caused me unnecessary grief and suffering as I doubted my choice. People told me, “I knew homeschoolers. They turned out weird. Like weird-weird.” People looked at me like I was nuts and asked, “Why on earth would you want to be with your kids all day?” Like I was one of those people without a life or a helicopter parent hovering anxiously around the kids, just waiting for them to choke on something. And then Sofia got accepted into some really lovely schools.
I adored school myself. Given just two more hours in the day I would be in a Ph.D program of some sort. Some of the schools Sofia was accepted to made my heart leap because they were the kind of school I would have loved to attend. But I kept feeling a tug, like homeschool would be a fit for her. I have to admit, selfishly, I like having both the girls around. And we travel so much, it allows us to all be together. But I was terrified. I hired consultants, (Tammy Takahashi), I drove my unschooling pals crazy, I asked numerous opinions. Claudio asked that Sofia sign a waiver saying she agreed with us ruining her life. I prayed I wouldn’t be ruining her life. I saw a shrink and I took her to one as well.
My friend Lorraine and my sister and mother all told me I could not go wrong by following my heart and also said, “So what if you fail? Then put her in school for first grade.” I finally calmed down and just committed to it.
The girls and I went to the HSC convention of homeschoolers in Sacramento. Claudio could not be coerced into joining us. He believed Homeschooling would be “Death of Fabulous,” to use his words. I question how much Fabulous we really have to begin with…(See previous post of him counting his chins.) Homeschool in his mind was right up there with a minivan and mom jeans. A bit too parental. The conference was titled “There’s No Place Like Homeschool” and the first night of sleeping in that Sacramento hotel room felt like death of not only fabulous, but anything I had ever imagined for my life.
The next morning I trudged to the keynote speaker’s talk. Linda Dobson’s kids are now all grown and she and her husband were selling their house and sailing around the world. She was an interesting, funny lady and as she spoke of having a calling to this life, (she discovered homeschooling on the Donohue show back in the dark ages) and of her love of being with her kids, of how joyous her life had been during the homeschooling years and her memories, I started to cry. I know! Like a baby. I was surrounded by tie dye, birkenstocks, fairy wings and tree huggers and really lovely, lovely people who were as jazzed and excited by learning as I was, and I stopped feeling weird and just decided to enjoy myself.
There were other women like me there: One woman stood up during the “Is Homeschool Legal” session and announced how much she hated being there, that the noise level and crowds of homeschoooled teens roaming around freaked her out, but that she was so glad to be talking with people who understood her. A New Yorker accosted me in the hotel lobby and grabbed onto my arm and said, “Thank you. Thank you for trying.” I didn’t know what she meant and then she pointed to my glasses and all black garb. “If I see one more piece of tie dye or another braless woman, I may scream. At least you are trying.” (I did not point out that I too was braless, just pert because I was still lactating and due for a feeding.) And I couldn’t really hate her for her judgmental quality as it mirrored my own from just an hour earlier.
I called Claudio and told him of my epiphany, of my feeling of finding kindred spirits and he said, “Are you making hills out of your mashed potatoes, too?”
Still, once home, I offered Sofia school probably about once a week. I’ve even, truth be told, threatened her with it, as in, “Sofia, if you whap your sister one more time you’re going to School! School-School. That’s right. With recess!” We did two months of homeschool in Los Angeles, and then moved to Taichung, Taiwan for Claudio’s latest film, where I would tour a Kindergarten about once a month because the city of Taichung had really no Homeschoolers to speak of, and certainly no one the same age as my girls. I was told if she wasn’t Socialized I would be raising a weirdo, and Taiwan was definitely the social experiment. When I would get nervous, I’d tour another school. It looked like this:
Me: Sofia, look this school has an American teacher, a slide in the classroom named “The Kitty Room” and they have the biggest ball pit in the world! How about this school?
Sofia (age 5): Hmmm. Nah. I don’t want to give up my freedom. Who wants to be at a desk all day? I’m a homeschooler!
Here’s one of the schools I tried to convince her to go to:
Here’s what we did, for the record, as much as I can recall for this year.
My goals for her were to have fun and for her to read fluently by the end of the year. But mostly fun, since it was Kindergarten, after all.
Sofia loved doing workbooks. She did books 1-4 of the Explode the Code phonics books. (Actually 8 books as each one has a 1.5, 2.5, etc.) She would pretty much take these off to a corner and do them by herself, although now that she is in Book 4 it requires some assistance on my part with the phonics rules. “The silent E on the end makes the vowel say its name.”
She did Spelling 180 and is now into 360. (http://www.amazon.com/Target-Spelling-180-Margaret-Scarborough/dp/073989188X) She pretty much did these on her own with me sitting beside her if she got stuck.
She did Singapore math 1a and 1b. We had a tutor in Taichung for awhile, but Sofia seemed to do much better with me. (I came into math class one day with the tutor and Sofia was on her back with her legs in the air, screaming at the top of her lungs and was beaning the tutor with the math manipulatives. She doesn’t do this with me.) We’d do a little every day and when she got bored or wiggly, we’d quit. Fun was our operative word.
I will never forget one night when we stayed up late, and somehow she figured out how to carry the one and she started screaming, “I get it! I finally get it. I can carry the one. I’m a rockstar!” I had been lightly introducing the concept and watching her flail for about a month, so I’d back off, and then one night she just got it. I almost cried and I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
Here is a video of math flashcards. Who says they are boring?
We bought her a hundred pounds of books. (I know because I weighed them when packing to return to the U.S.) and she read like a fiend. There was no library in Taichung, a big handicap, but there were a couple of good English bookstores. The first week we landed back in Los Angeles we went to the library. We have a basket that we like to fill each week. It’s much more cost effective, I must say. She loved books like the Ivy and Bean series and classics like Black Beauty (short form, not original). She is mad for Bearnstein Bears and Lola books. She is currently in the middle of The Secret Garden (original, read mostly aloud by me and occasional paragraphs by her) and she likes to run off with any spare luggage keys she finds in hopes that they’ll open a secret garden door should we stumble upon one.
She loved practicing her penmanship. She wants to “do cursive” next year, so we shall. She loved reading poetry, especially Silverstein.
Science was potions, (Sofia’s invention–salt, water, soap, whatever else she found in the kitchen to “do spearments” with), and cooking. (Scrambled eggs: “I don’t need your help mom. I got it.”) Magic School bus videos and experiments. And she was very into the Monster Inside me series, worms and bed bugs and if I never have to see another one of these videos, I’ll be fine with it, especially the one about the guy who found a worm crawling down his thigh in the dark one night. She is obsessed with head lice, worms, and dandruff. I count all this loveliness as opportunity for science. Here is a photo of what the chickens in Taiwan look like when you thaw them and take them out of the freezer bag. It’s Science!
All of this “schooly” stuff took less than 2-3 hours a day. We would sometimes go together to the hotel or apartment lobby and do some work together, sometimes in the office or at the dining room table. It was amazingly simple and easy and unexpectedly fun. I like a bit of routine, so we’d usually “do school” from 9-11 or so and then I’d find us doing things that would “count” if you were so inclined to keep track of that sort of thing throughout the day. Learning just happens. (All my Unschooling pals told me this over and over and I would roll my eyes at them behind their backs. Sorry ladies: I take it back. You were right.)
She took daily Mandarin private lessons with sweet Leli, a friend and tutor, but kicked and screamed the whole way. I think it was her way of dealing with homesickness, and the fact that many Taiwanese speak English, (or just because Mandarin is so kick-ass hard to learn)so her Chinese is not as strong as I had hoped. We may keep it up in the fall or we may return to Spanish.(I made it through eight months of living in Taiwan knowing only how to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Hello.’ I’m kind of an International Jackass. A.K.A. An American.)
She had thrice weekly violin lessons with a private tutor.
She took a Taekwondo class with a master teacher who was magnificent.
Computer time was for when she woke up earlier than me, when I was fried from being up with Lily all night. Brainpopjr.com and Storytimeforme.com were her favorites.
And the rest of the time we played, went to museums, day trips, hung with her good friend Taiwanese pal Brian or her friend Ingrid, another LOP film family. We made friends with the wait staff at a local pizza joint and had a play date with all of them at our place.
I did not stress about Lily, our two year old. We did not use a curriculum with her learning to walk and talk (I joke….) and she spent her days reading, running around a local park, playing with the occasional Taiwanese kids we encountered at museums or out in the world. There was a joint down the street from our apartment called “Baby Castle” that was good fun. Lily could understand Mandarin pretty well by the time we left and she would even use the Mandarin for “come here” instead of English. This post is mostly about Sofia because no one wants to know how I homeschooled Lily last year. I get questions about the starting of official school–Kindergarten. But I can’t resist: Here is Lily with Chai Ling, our invaluable nanny. She liked to wear panties as hats, and who were we to tell her no?
There were definitely days when I thought, “What am I doing?” There were middle of the night moments when I’d wake up with a thought like, “Sofia can’t tell time yet!” There were days when the girls fought and screamed and I lost my patience and then I’d remember the keynote speaker from the HSC conference who said, (my paraphrase from memory, with hauntings of Claudio), “You will have those days. Days when you question everything, the laundry is miles high, the house is a mess, you haven’t had a wax or haircut in over 6 months, and you feel a definite Death of Fabulous. When that happens, do this. It works. Throw your hands in the air (above your rats-nest un-highlighted hair) and scream FIELD TRIP. And get everyone out of the house.”
I did that a few times.
And then I would treat myself to a massage or facial or a walk around the block by myself near the temple and let the sandalwood incense calm me down and bring myself back to fall in love again with this amazing circus life we chose.
Right before we left Taiwan Sofia and I were taking one last walk to the ice cream store and she turned and looked up at me and said, “Mom, thanks for homeschooling me. I love it.” Cue the sappy music.