Jen Friday, May 7, 2010

I've migrated over to Wordpress! Look for me here:

Jen Monday, May 3, 2010

This is my mother. Her name is Marti. She's 66 years old, and she has dementia. I usually just tell people she has Alzheimer's because I think that's what she has, and they can't diagnose her until she dies. At this point, her functioning is at stage 6 out of 7 on the Alzheimer's scale (moderately severe/mid-stage).

She and my dad live in a suburb of my city, so we see each other at least once a week. For the past month, however, they were out of town, and they just got back last night. (I have to admit that it was really nice to have them gone for a while.) So I dutifully went over to their house last night to say hi. The three of us sat down in the living room with glasses of juice, and my dad and I chatted about their trip (to their vacation home in Alabama) and what's been going on in the Twin Cities while they were away. My mother, sitting on the couch next to my dad, found a plastic bag in the seat cushions and put it on her foot like a boot, and tied it snug around her ankle. Then she got up and went into the kitchen and came back with a small screwdriver and a packet of envelopes, and she tried to write on the envelopes with the screwdriver. Every once in a while, she'd interrupt my dad and me to say something completely non-sensical. 

"Are there three of them?"

"Uhhhh, yes. There are three pillows on the couch. Here they are. One, two, three."

Sometimes I just look at that long, white forehead of hers and wonder what the hell is going on in there. Is her brain actually shrinking? I imagine it drying up and hardening, like a sponge left on the side of a sink. I use parenting techniques on her now; I squat down to put her shoes on her, I hold her hand or arm in public, I follow her if she starts to wander away. Parenting a toddler is great practice for having a parent with Alzheimer's. If you thought these skills were non-transferrable, you were wrong! 

Jen Saturday, May 1, 2010

First, the (blurry) cute kid picture, and you might have squint to make it out, since these are pictures of my computer screen taken with my iPhone. Two things: Victor's grandparents put up a tent in his room at their house so he could "camp out" when he's there. Second, you'll notice that my son has a tail. His favorite show is this Finnish cartoon about an old man and his cat, and he's the cat. (I'm impressed with how his grandmother got the thing to stick up off his butt. She knows how to make tails.)

So yesterday, I missed Victor. A lot. We've been doing this now for 2.5 years, and in some ways, I'm used to it. When Victor's in Finland, I stay busy, and I stay grateful. Victor's happy and fine, he's got a great family over there, what a fabulous opportunity for a unique childhood experience, etc. But then sometimes I just get sad, obviously. Mostly I miss squeezing that little boy body.
      Last night, it was Friday night. Joe has the kids this weekend, so there were kids running around the house, kids in the neighborhood. Today is Joe's son's Trey's birthday, so at about 7:45 last night, I drove over to Target to pick up a present and a cake (we're going rollerskating today). I was sitting in the parking lot watching parents with their kids trooping in and out of the store, and I just felt really desolate. It's hard to be around parents and kids (weirdly, I can be around just kids without getting too sad, but add in the parents, and the sadness starts.)
     The thought crossed my mind that I could go to a bar and get drunk. See, that's how I used to deal with sadness, or any other remotely challenging emotion. Whoa. Not truly an option. I have 3.5 years of hard-won sobriety, and truly, everything in my life is built on that foundation. I looked at my iPhone. It was 7:55. There were at least seven 12-step meetings within a three-mile radius of that Target (St. Paul is such an amazing place to be sober), and I pulled out of the Target parking lot and made for the nearest one. 
     I walked into that 12-step meeting just a couple minutes after it had started, so when I opened the door, the sound of, "I'm John, I'm an alcoholic," "Hi, John," "I'm Karen, I'm an alcoholic," "Hi, Karen," just washed over me and I immediately felt better. I took my spot on a metal folding chair in that room full of humanity (old, young, rich, poor, gay, straight, etc.) and I was ready to just *be* with the sadness, to accept it and turn to it instead of away from it. 
     This blog, I've realized, is making me look at how I see myself as a mother. Since I got sober when Victor was one, I had a lot of guilt and shame over my drinking when he was an infant. I'm still getting over that. I still look at pictures of myself, like those profile pictures I took yesterday, and I'm not completely "in like" with that woman in those pictures. I love myself now, but I'm still figuring out if I really *like* myself. Yesterday, I sent my friend a really cynical tweet, Jen-as-hardass kind of thing, and I didn't like that. i don't want to be a hardass. I want to be warm and loving to everyone in same way I'm warm and loving to Victor. 
     Today I'm going to Joe's son's rollerskating birthday party. Besides Victor's absence, Joe's ex-wife will be there. It'll be the first time she and I spend any time together. It's time for this to happen. But I'm scared that it'll be a really tough afternoon. I hope there's someone there for me to connect with. I can be sad, though. That's okay. I can even cry if I need to.

Jen Friday, April 30, 2010

(Taking new profile pics, dressed up like a grown-up.) 

One of my BFF's has been encouraging me for years to blog. This particular friend, (who I think should also blog, but she's having her third baby in October and thinks she won't have time, which, whatever, who has time for this) is my tether to the world of pop culture. Her and Vanity Fair magazine. I like to hear about trendy social developments and pop culture second-hand, through trusted filters. I don't own a television because I prefer to sleep and read, so I ask this friend, if there was one show I should download and watch, which one should it be? (She recommended Mad Men, and I still haven't gotten around to it.)  Anyway, she thought I would be good at blogging. 
I don't know. I tried to start a blog nearly one year ago because I thought it would be a catharsis over this weird grieving I'm doing over my son being overseas half the time, and also, my mother (66 years old) has dementia, and she's fading fast. So there's these two quasi-griefs in my life, and it would make sense to write about them, since I'm a writer. But last year, I made this big dramatic entre into the blogosphere with a solemn treatise on Why Mother's Day Sucks For Me As A Mother And A Daughter, and I just couldn't muster another entry after that. I think I forgot to see any humor in the situation, was my problem. It seems like self-deprecating, sardonic humor is a big part of the mommy blogosphere, and in my attempt on M. Day '09 I was taking myself pretty fucking seriously.
I worried to my BFF this week (my first week of blogging) about the whole kid-worship aspect of mommy blogging. I just can't let myself get too into my son. I'm still mostly interested in myself. It feels like a survival mechanism from him being with his dad half the time, and it's also just more natural for me. I love him with all the altruism of a normal member of the human species--I'd definitely cover my body with his against a barrage of bullets, or hoist him out the window of a burning house only to succumb to the flames myself. No problem. But it's weird, I'm still number one in my life, apart from the base protective instinct. And that feels way healthier. For me. 
Anyway, my BFF said my blog should be about me, not about Victor, anyway. The best blogs are, she says. Okay, I'm good at that. I'll give that a try. What am I most interested in? Frankly, sex. Human sexuality. So this might turn into mommy blog-human sexuality information aggregator. 

Jen Thursday, April 29, 2010

First, the good news: Joe installed the new toilet seat without me having to ask him to do it. Could the Wellbutrin be working? Dare we hope? It's a beaut, ain't it? (It's not lost on me that, in the first week of this blog, I've already covered farting, pooping, toilets, and masturbation. Let's get right to it, shall we ladies?) 

Now onto the meat of my angst: a letter from one of the kindergartens Victor might go to in the fall (quick background: Victor's with his dad in Finland until July, and then he'll start kindergarten with me in Minnesota in the fall). Checklist of things to bring with me to the "kindergarten round-up:" 

Your child's social security number: Check

Your child's birth certificate: Check, and also super cool because it's actually a Consular Report of Birth Abroad

Your child's immunization record: Got it. 

Your child: Um. Really? Will a virtual version suffice?

"See," as I explained to the school's secretary, "my son is with his father overseas right now, so he wouldn't be able to make it to the round-up."

"Oh, okay. When will he be back?"


"Oh. My goodness. Where overseas?"


"Oh. Wow. That must be really hard for him."

At this point, I laugh weakly as I always do when people say this, which they do all the time. (In another post, I'll go into all the hurtful things well-meaning people say when I explain our situation, but that's for another day.)

"Yeee-ah. So is it worth it for me to come to this thing, or ..."

"Well, you're certainly welcome to come, or you can bring all the forms in a different time, too."

Let me think about it for a second: Do I want to go alone to an event where every other parent there has an adorable four- or five-year-old pre-K child holding their hand/clinging to their leg/running rampant? Kinda like going alone to the prom. I think I'll skip it. (Plus, this school wasn't even first choice on our list, so there.)

So I'm free next Thursday from 4:30 to 5:30 when every other parent of a pre-K kid in our neighborhood will be at the school. Thank God, there's a yoga class to go to.

Tomorrow: Preparing for my boyfriend's son's birthday party this weekend, the first event attended by both me and his ex-wife. (I guess I do have stuff to blog about.) 

Jen Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mom, this is called a "balloon." ("Ilmapalloa," translates to "air ball," in Finnish)

Dad bought me this pump to help me blow it up. It's kind of cheating, but whatever. It looks like a gun, which makes it cool.

See? And then, when I let the balloon go...

... it flies around the room, making fart sounds. 

I, personally, think that farting/fart sounds/pooping/poop jokes are hilarious. In fact, our whole household--me, boyfriend Joe, his kids Cassidy 10 and Trey 8, (and Victor 4)--can spend whole mealtimes talking about farting and pooping and just generally being rather impolite society. We are not high-class people.  

Jen Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'm not saying I wouldn't take my son 100% of the time if I could. Sometimes I wish his dad was a shitty father so I'd have a reason to think Victor should be with me all the time. Alas, Victor's dad is wonderful, his extended family is involved--latest news from Finland: Victor's grandfather took him orienteering, where they tromp through the woods in rubber boots with a compass and a map on a treasure-hunt of sorts. Like low-tech geo-caching without the prizes. How fun is that.

So I've accepted my place in the ranks of divorced--not single--mothers. There's a difference. Single mothers, to my way of thinking, have their kids most if not all of the time. Dating is complicated, me-time non-existent. Divorced moms with more even custody arrangements, on the other hand, actually get some meaningful adult time away from our kids. So I don't call myself a single mother. I don't have to work that hard. My son's father, as he's always done since the day Victor was born, does half the work. God bless him. Curse him. Bless him. Curse him.

So what do I do with my time when I'm not working two jobs, sleeping, home-owning, going to 12-step meetings, trying to keep up with friends and my boyfriend, and be a somewhat present daughter to my parents, who live in town? I do yoga. Of course. Who doesn't any more? I am one of those chumps the NY Times refers to in its timely piece on the commercialization of yoga, who pays exorbitant monthly fees for spiritual and physical enlightenment. I can afford it when Victor's with his dad--we don't pay each other child support--and I don't need to rush over to any daycare after work these days. So I've been getting my namaste on this spring during Victor's absence, and, yeah, it works. I can do a side-crow now. Need I any more justification than that? Victor will think that's pretty cool when I show it to him. Mom-as-jungle-gym. Love it. Miss that.

Jen Monday, April 26, 2010

So I'm scared to start this blog. I kept a journal from 13 to 30-ish (petered out when I became a mom, hm, that's interesting), and here's what they always looked like:

The purpose was always clear to me: purging and practicing. I was getting all the angst out of my system, and figuring out how to write. Every few months I'd spend an hour reading through my recent entries, and I was always like, "Damn. That's not bad." 

I never was particularly private with my journals. I left them lying around first my parents' house, then apartments shared with roommates, then apartments shared with my ex-husband, my son's father. It was a combination of trusting people not to read them, but also daring them to. I was a journal tease.  Also, I needed to record my life for future generations of literary scholars who would study my novels. Naturally. 

Two things happened: I had a baby, and everyone started blogging. I stopped journaling, because I was too tired and too busy to do it with a baby around, and also because the whole act or art or process of journaling was changing in the world around me. My marble composition books started to look old-school (now I think of them as vintage). Blogs freaked me out. They seemed to require some knowledge of html, whatever that was. You also had to do it everyday, from what I understood. And that marble composition book would be flung open for all the world to read, its blue-lined pages flapping in a cruel, virtual wind. It would be like my worst 8th grade nightmare: someone would steal my journal out of my locker and pass it around the hallways, the pages about masturbation ripped out and taped to the wall in the girls bathroom. 

Well, I'm starting to think most people don't really care about my masturbatory habits, or much of what I think about anything, really. And I'm ready to start journaling again, and maybe sharing some of what I've learned about co-parenting across the Atlantic ocean with my son's father, in case anyone wants to read about it. We have quite a positive thing going on here, despite all our fears to the contrary.

So welcome to my blog. Wish me luck, and faith in my voice. 

Jen Saturday, April 24, 2010

Here's my first post on my new blog: a picture of Victor over Skype. This is how I see him for six months out of the year.