For this author, creative endeavors have been sorely tested by motherhood. But also transformed, and in ways she wouldn’t have imagined – couldn’t have, without her life “rewritten” as it has been, by her children. So linger here, to read all things weaverly, writerly and motherly.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Are You a Teeth Clencher?

I was trying to remember when I first started clenching my teeth.


I couldn’t remember. You can’t remember. You only find out at your six-month checkup, when the hygienist – a lovely velvety soft-faced girl, who’d apologized for being late, as she’d used her lunch hour for an acupuncture appointment to treat her migraines – is able to wiggle your two front incisors. Numbers 8 and 9 to be exact.


“Hmm. A little loose.”


Loose?


Panic gripped me as it can these days, even when my six year old goes to pour his own juice from a freshly opened gallon jug into a tiny plastic cup. “What do you mean? What do you mean my teeth are loose?”


“You can discuss it further with Dr. Williams,” she said, sounding a bit annoyed, and I wondered if she felt a migraine coming on. I sensed that her velvety look, no doubt mineral-based foundation, was a mask for deeper-rooted anxieties than my own. All the same, she kept a calm veneer, taking her time to scrape the crap out from between my teeth.


I’m not six or seven, like my children, when it is normal to have wiggly front teeth. And I’m not elderly, like my mother who had a tooth just crumble and fall out, that she put aside in an antique silver salt dish to show her dentist at a later date.


With the spit-suction tube hooked under my tongue, wide-mouthed and wide-eyed, I stared in horror at a watercolor reproduction on the wall, of a tropical paradise of palm trees and lush orange blossoms.


I like my dentist, and was relieve when she finally appeared. Yet, she never seems to remember me, even though I’ve crossed paths with her at our gym, where she plays tennis. I am usually in baggy sweatpants and a T-shirt, heading on or off the treadmill. She is usually with a gaggle of female tennis friends, wearing some sweet white pleated tennis skirt, even though her legs are fiftyish chunky. It’s embarrassing to run into your doctors out of context, the most embarrassing, when I ran into my male gynecologist at a resort; how do you small talk on a lake beach with a bare-chested man in a ball cap and swimming trunks, who has spread open your privates with a speculum?


Dr. Williams confirmed that I had teeth that wiggle.


She also confirmed that they wiggle, are loosening, because I clench my teeth.


I was offended. Not sure why. “I don’t do that.”


“You do, Dear,” she said in her mothering way. Who wouldn’t prefer, yearn for, a dentist who is mothering?


“If you were a grinder, your teeth would be wearing down a bit.” She peered around my mouth with her little mirror. “No, I do believe you’re a clencher.”


In the warmth of this mothering, I was a child, shrinking to the size of my little boys in their pediatric dentist chairs, where Spiderman or Pooh balloons hang from the ceilings. I turned my feet inward, curled my hands in my lap and lamented, “They’re going to fall out….?”


She laughed, twittered really, like a chickadee, surprising somehow, for such a robust woman. “No, Dear. Your teeth aren’t going to fall out. Some of us are clenchers all our lives, but at a certain point it catches up to us.”


A certain point. Middle age. I wanted to ask if she clenched her teeth, but that seemed all too personal.


She went on to explain that most teeth clenching is done in our sleep, so I would have to wear a night guard. I would have to make an appointment to have my mouth filled with something like Play-Doh to make a mold of my teeth. The mold, in turn, would be sent out to some place where they make “soft and flexible” guards, and I pictured a single studio where one little old man sat bent over the mold, using great precision to shape the flexible plastic over my natural ridges and less natural ones, of my molar implant.


She told me not to bite into bagels and to try to reduce my stress levels.


“Stress?”


“Stress is most often a factor in clenching.”


“But I sleep like a rock.” I’m out in ten minutes every night, after the boys’ nightly ritual game of “poisonous pajamas,” when they fight and scratch to “save” themselves from having me force them into their jammies.


She twittered again. Though she didn’t say anything.


This was back last March, and I went home to stress over my stress levels, to examine them up close as I do my children’s splinters. That winter, I had been driving back and forth to my mother’s twice a week through blizzards, as she was recuperating froma fractured pelvis. I’d get home in time to pick up the boys from school, to concoct some tasteless pasta dinner; to insist on homework before I’d play audience to Kenny’s magic tricks of taking off his thumb or vanishing quarters; to pacify Ryan in his latest fixation, usually something he wanted but knew he couldn’t have, like an Ipad or a $200 life-size stuffed dragon. When Daddy finally came home, I’d disappear upstairs to take a Benadryl so that I could sleep like a rock.


Ok, so maybe I was a little stressed. But by March my mother was up and mobile. I was only going out once a week, and at worst, in freezing rain.


“Your teeth are loose?” My husband gasped. We were standing across from each other at the kitchen counter, where he was sorting through the mail, just having come home from work.


I don’t know why I’d chosen to announce my dental news as soon as he walked in the door. Why I hadn’t saved it for an email, an electronic discussion, often more productive than one in the kitchen, with Kenny already having climbed up his back.


“Which ones?” Kenny asked, his arms wrapped around Daddy’s neck. “Is it this one?” he asked, proudly pointing to the space where one of his own front baby teeth had been extracted due to an infection.


Ryan had been opening the freezer for a dessert. Now he looked at me, the freezer door open, cold air wafting out, through the tips of his hair, and he looked as stricken has he had when he realized one day we were all going to actually die. “Are they going to fall out?”


My husband was looking at me, too. Kenny, always the least easily traumatized in the family, looked bored with the whole thing, is head now propped on top of Daddy’s bald one.


“Yes, it is the two front teeth. And yes, they’re a bit wiggly. But they’re not going to fall out.”


Ryan went back to the freezer, standing on tiptoe to pull out a pop. I hadn’t decided yet how I felt about him being old enough to just go in and pick out his own dessert.


Kenny slumped on Daddy’s back, and Daddy went back to sorting through the mail.


I broke the news then, that I was a clencher. And that it could be from stress.


Daddy looked up from the mail. “Stress?”


“What’s stress mean?” Kenny asked, as he’d taken lately to asking the meaning of big words, usually ones he’d ruminate over only days later, while taking a bath.


“You should go for a massage,” my husband said. “Or take back up your yoga. You liked yoga.” This was true generosity of spirit, as my husband himself would make a terrible yogi, unable to even unwind in a lounge chair for longer than ten minutes.


I knew then why I’d told them all. I wanted everyone to worry about me for a change. I wanted to be able to tap them all on the shoulder, interrupt whatever they were doing, be it trying to find ten minutes to enjoy a morning’s coffee, and demand they examine my splinters.


Flash forward to now, six month later: My once pristine night guard is yellowed, and smells like spoiled raw chicken. I was supposed to be cleaning it with peroxide, but I’m no more disciplined at cleaning night guards than I am at cleaning my own house.


Luckily, my dentist’s office has something like a dishwasher but just for night guards!


It never made it as far as the night guard washer.


Dr. Williams held it up to her dental light with a latex-gloved hand. “Looks like we’re ready for a new one. That can happen over a couple of years or so…”


“Years? I only got it in March.”


She looked stymied – she wasn’t remembering me again. She peered at my chart. “March?” She examined the guard more closely now, holding it up to the light like a rare fossil.


She couldn’t contain her shock. “That’s extraordinary.”


Extraordinary?


“I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, forgetting herself. “Holly mackerel,” she said, shedding her professional persona, and I saw her cooling off with her tennis friends over iced teas.


I began to shrink again, to the size of a child in a dentist’s chair that was beginning to feel too big. “Never?”


“Well, not never, I guess” she said, trying to recover herself, placing the guard on a clean cloth, to write some notes. “Though, well, usually the least amount of time to show some wear is a year. But it’s only been what, six months?” She can’t resist referring back to the chart again, “Yes, last March. March indeed. It’s September. Just six months.” She held the guard up to the light again. Her twittery laugh was louder this time. A guffaw, and I re-imagined the ice teas as strong Bloody Marys.




She shook and shook her head. “And by golly, you’ve, well, you’ve actually chewed right through it.” She craned the light toward me so I could see how it shone through actual holes.


I thought of our gerbils. How such incessant gnawing was normal for them. Just put me in a cage with wooden chew toys and toilet paper tubes.


I will be the topic at her next dental annual clenching meeting. You will be able to Google clenched teeth and my name will come up at the top of the page. I will be in the Guinness book of Tooth Records.


As Dr. Williams poked at my teeth, she counted out how many more now had actually loosened, while the migraine-prone hygienist jotted the numbers down in my file: “ 4 and 3, 10, 12, 13, oh, and 15…”


When she withdrew from my mouth, I was free to lament again. “Why? Why is this happening to me?”


“The guard can actually work against you if it wears down this fast…” Her eyes, I saw then, the green of aquariums, sparkled. The rest of her amused face was hidden behind her mask.


But then she gently put a latex hand on my shoulder. “You’re not the only clencher, Dear. Some of us just clench, I suppose…a bit harder than others.”


She couldn’t resist holding the fossil up one last time to the brilliant white light, to turn it this way and that. “We just have to order a new…more durable one. It just won’t be as flexible. A harder plastic one. See how that goes.”


“And what if I chew through that?”


“Then maybe you need a vacation.”


We just got back from one. Cut short by Irene, thank you very much.


They made a new mold. They’ll have a collection of my molds, along with my chewed-through night guards in a dental school display for future dentists to site in their research papers.


So my new guard is a hard, clear sparkling piece of plastic. It’s actually a thing of beauty, could be mistaken for an ice sculpture, just in the shape of teeth rather than a swan:





I still love my dentist. But I no longer want to run into her at the gym; I’m afraid that she actually will remember me, as I am now unforgettable.


On the other hand, I no longer mind running into my gynecologist, as I do now, on weekends, when he seems to have become the family designated shopper at Stop & Shop, with his two near-sighted children in thick glasses fighting over who gets to push their cart. I appreciate that, though he may know me intimately, I am no more memorable than his other intimate examining-room encounters, and we can freely chat about how many Stop & Shop points we have each racked for gasoline discounts at our local Shell station.



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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rosey and Boch

Okay, all you (nonallergic) dog and cat people, what's not to love here? How can you resist such cute rodents? 
 Yup, short on time this week because of my next craft show this weekend, but for those of you who love my life stories, I have a great one in the wings, about clenched teeth.  Until then, current entertainment are two sweet girly gerbils:



Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sandra's Fiberwork's at Hallockville Museum Craft Fair, Riverhead, NY

Great Day! I did really well, great sales -- two great sellers were these:


All in all, great turnout and great reinforcement for Sandra's Fiberworks! I sold so well, I have to whip up some new scarves this week in time for another craft show next weekend.  Let's hope again for cool weather when buyers
 love to finger fiber....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hurricane Momma

Call me Hurricane Momma. Best board up your windows against my cyclonic winds, my raging wrath.

We were walking up the beach by my mother’s house. It was a deceptively crisp clear day, as if irate Irene hadn’t unleashed her own wrath only a couple of days earlier. 

I hadn’t been able to reach my mother after Irene was finally spent. I hadn’t been able to drive out to see her, as the roads were still being cleared. I worried; her evacuation had been voluntary, and understandably, at 92, she hadn’t wanted to leave her cats to go sit in a crowded school gymnasium.

The night before Irene, she had assured me that she had a flashlight and a hurricane oil lamp. An oil lamp.  I imagined her teetering around a pitch black house, balancing a lit lamp of oil, and I imagined the worse. When I asked if she’d stocked up on some canned goods, she said, oh, she hadn’t thought about that, it would be all right, she was tired and hung up.

After Irene had stormed up north, leaving behind 500,000 Long Islanders powerless, even though my mother had a landline, I had trouble getting through to her on my cell phone. I was feeling awful that I hadn’t been able to get out to her before the storm, as we ourselves only got home, cutting our vacation short, in time to secure porch furniture and buy some canned goods and bottled water.

By the time we made crackling phone contact, my mother was frantic. Rightly so, she feared she might drop the oil lamp, and her one flashlight was dying down. I put the boys in the car, stocked up on a new Target shipment of D batteries, grabbed one of our own battery lamps, and headed out on the hour and half drive to her house.

Just as we walked in her door, literally, no really, her power came back on. The Refrigerator woke with a roar, the kitchen lights blared.  She clapped her hands, genuinely relieved, and the boys caught onto her happiness and clapped too. “Gramma has power, she’s so lucky!” (We still didn’t, obviously.)

I was relieved as well – and annoyed. My nerves were frayed, like yarn that can get tangled on the nails of my loom. Frayed from all the little crises that had piled up, my mother falling and landing in the emergency room; digging for her lost pill prescriptions through garbage bins; our vacation cut short by Irene; and food I would have to go home and discard from the refrigerator. I must be frayed, as driving out there, I let the boys lunch on big junk-food bags of potato chips, as they sang along to some loud pop station, “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was HOT like me….”

But no one else standing there in Gramma’s kitchen was frayed. They were rejoicing. “Let’s take a walk on the beach, it’s a perfect day!”  Gramma declared.

A walk. With Gramma and the boys.

These multigenerational walks proved more and more of a challenge, as my mother has slowed down significantly. Once at the beach, we all walked down to the water, where the sand was wet but firm and she had surer footing. Then Ryan took off. Running.

Kenny meandered behind, until I told him to catch up to Ryan to tell him not to run so far ahead.

Kenny caught up with him, but they didn’t slow down. I should have figured out that he would just do as his big brother would.

Too quickly, they were both reduced to specks in the distance, hard to distinguish from the light glinting off the water, as I had to stare directly into the afternoon sun.

What I could distinguish was Ryan zigzagging in and out of the fierce tide, still turbulent from Irene. And far out of the lifeguard’s range.

 “I’m ok. You need to catch up to them…”  my mother said, as she had up at the lake this summer, when Kenny had drifted off oarless in a kayak, and I’d left my mother to lean against a tree.

At least if she fell, it would be on sand.

I walked faster, calling to Ryan.

I called until my throat hurt. I yelled for the whole beach to hear, running now, past rows and rows of sunbathers and Kindle readers who I imagined staring up at this frayed mom.

The more I yelled, the faster Ryan seemed to run. Heedless. As he had been ever since he was two. But then he had been a toddler; toddlers are heedless. Not seven year olds. Hurricane Momma was brewing.

I ran.  I sprinted.

By the time I caught up with them, Hurricane Momma was in full force. She could topple a tree. She could rip one out of a brick sidewalk.

I grabbed Ryan by his arm. “What are you doing. When I call you, you answer me, get it?”

He stood in his sandy tracks. I was yelling in his face. “Damn it, Ryan! You’re not two!”

He had a handful of shells. Big clam ones, broken. Jagged.

I had to look away.

I turned around. I started back toward my mother. Staring wide-eyed down at the sand. Damn it, damn it. Language I would not use around my children under calmer conditions.

My mother now was a tiny speck, but I was grateful for that distance. It was a space I could call my own for a few brewing moments, where I was free to storm in silence. For those few moments, in that breadth between my mother and children, and all their needs and wants, I wanted to revel in some fleeting freedom of not giving a damn at all.

But I did give a damn. I was still seeing Ryan clutching those shells. Looking up at me in utter surprise. At how suddenly I’d stamped out the sheer delight, of just that. Running up a wide-open ocean beach. Heedless.

I looked back once, to be sure the boys were following. They were. Disconsolately. Ryan on tiptoe. Clutching those shells.

“How could they get so far so fast?” My mother asked, as she could marvel at how I could carry grocery bags just because they had become too heavy for herself to carry.

I had no answers today. I gave her my arm for support.

She resisted it. “I’m ok. Really.” She was fully my mom then, knowing her daughter was frayed. Knowing to allow for my lack of words.

Up by the parking lot, we sat on a bench to wait for the boys who had slowed to a turtle’s pace.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have called you. I could have gotten by, I just was afraid, with that lamp….”  She was apologizing as she had in the emergency room, after she had fallen. Then, I had told her she should never be sorry. That she certainly should never not call me.

I wanted to tell her that now. I wanted to tell her how much I cherished her and worried about her. That even when I was annoyed, it was out of relief that again, she was going to be ok.


But I was spent.  At that moment, I truly was wordless. My throat was raw from screaming. I was a hurricane that was downgrading to a tropical storm, but my winds still could whip the tops of trees.

Then Ryan was standing I front of me. With his jagged shells. “Can you hold these?” he asked tentatively.

It felt like an act of forgiveness.

 I was grateful. I turned them over in my hands.

Then Kenny was calling to him. “Ryan!” He had climbed to the top of a wall of sand dredged up to protect beach erosion against Irene.

Thankfully, Ryan forgot about me. Joining his brother at the top, they slid down. Over and over. Laughing. Back to their silly selves.

I was relieved by, and in awe of, how quickly Ryan had rebounded. Although I knew it didn’t necessarily mean that he would forget. But at least forgive.

Still. I wished I could build a wall of sand against erosion from my own hurricanes.



Monday, September 5, 2011

Irene's Wrath on Refrigerators

We had a new rule. No one was allowed to open the refrigerator without calling a family meeting. None of the normal refrigerator gazing, when precious cold air could escape. We’d been without power now for a day, due to Irate Irene. A truly wrathful lady.

I was armed with a pen and sticky pad. I’d already written down what Daddy wanted, a cold ginger ale. If still cold.

“Cheese stick,” Ryan said.           

“How about a yogurt instead?” I said.

“I don’t feel like a yogurt.”

“The cheese sticks will last longer than the yogurt so we want to use those up.”

“Why ask if you’re going to tell us what to eat?” Ryan said.

“Oh, it’s all going to go bad, anyway,” said Daddy. “No one’s going to touch those wires with that tree like that.” He was staring out the window. At the tree, supported only by one wire left intact after, snapping at its base, the fallen trunk ripped out our electrical, cable and even old Verizon wires, along with the meter box. An Apple and internet addict, my husband, suffering from severe Macbook and Yahoo withdrawal, spent a lot of time contemplating that tree, why its sheer weight hadn’t brought down the wires all together:



As Irene had simmered down, and neighbors emerged to inspect the damage, our tree became the biggest lure. One neighbor took a photo on his ipad to send to his son away at college. “He just wants to see the reason we don’t have power yet.” If people didn’t take pictures, they were like my husband, watching and waiting for the tree to fall. They’d tiptoe if going for a stroll, or speed up if driving under it.


The tree continued to dangle precariously evening after evening, when the neighbors seemed to have a lot more leisure time, to do things like take pictures. You’d see the dog walkers coming around the block more than once.

That was back when loss of power was still novel, even to my internet-addict husband, who read a book by a battery lamp. Kenny spent a lot of time beaming his flashlight through his toy test tubes of different mixtures of toothpaste, shampoo and crushed chalk. Ryan pretended he was a ninja and a flashlight was his sword. We ate dinner by actual candlelight.

This novelty began to wear off with the loss of hot water – when I let the boys go dirtier than usual, not wanting to have to lug pots of boiled water upstairs for baths. It was enough that I had to boil those pots for dishes, and then actually hand dry even silverware, the dish drain too quickly filling up. I started to ration clothes, (though my husband refused to wear dirty socks more than once); even though the laundry mat may have power, there would be the same lines as outside the Hallmark Card shop where the manager had set up an electrical power strip for charging phones. It would be as packed as Starbucks, the only place with a Wi-Fi connection. We started to ration the flashlight fun, as we had no spare D batteries. No more science experiments in the dark, and Ryan had to resort to making paper ninja swords in the light of one of our only two precious battery-operated lamps.

And the refrigerator. I obsessed over it. I’d stand in front of it, contemplating the clutter of magnets, a deceptive front for the nastiness building inside the cooling, gradually warming dark:




 I tried to remember what was in there: eggs, milk, butter, yogurt… I imagined the mold starting to sprout on leftover containers of broccoli spears and mashed potatoes. I wondered how long butter could last.  Certainly longer than milk and yogurt?  In the freezer, there was one more package of frozen meat, which probably had thawed and would make for one more meal. I marveled at my stupidity before the storm, at having bought frozen fish sticks – we could light our gas stove with a match, but I wasn’t about to try that with the oven.

That evening of our last meal, a LIPA (for those of you not from Long Island, Long Island Power Authority) contractor knocked on our door. My husband shook his hand too vigorously, as if he were meeting Steve Jobs, his icon.


The tall man in a hard hat and orange vest told us he would send a truck over to cut down the tree the next day. But our joy was dampened with the news that, beyond the tree, LIPA could do nothing until we got an electrician to replace the meter box:




My husband’s face thinned out in disappointment. As if Jobs had turned out to be an imposter, a man in a Mickey Mouse costume.

He warned us that electricians were scarce, our being not the only ones with a downed meter box. Luckily, we have one who likes us so much, he gave us one of his amateur paintings of a sunset, after we made him rich by having him rewire our entire house, stripping out the aluminum fire-prone wiring to replace with copper. He put us first on his list for the following morning.

That same morning, a big truck with a cherry picker came to begin trimming down the tree, starting with the smallest top branches:



Now we know why the weight of the tree hadn’t forced it to crash to the ground. It had no weight. Completely hollowed out, as light as a feather:



Now that the tree was taken care of, and our meter box replaced, we waited for the LIPA men to return.

They didn’t.

Not that day or the next day.

Or the next.

I finally opened the refrigerator. Wide. It didn’t stink as I was expecting it would. But I cleaned it out entirely, clawing around in the dark, pulling out moldy containers, dumping sour milk down the drain. I packed up our laundry and escaped with the boys to my mother’s house an hour and a half away; she at least had her own power restored (good thing, considering she only had one flashlight and an oil lamp).

And cable! Gramma had her electric and cable back, all in one day! So here I am, able to reconnect!

And there, back home, abandoned to the dark, is my husband. But he is smiling: after a warm shower at the gym each night, he has found a great place to connect up, the next best kept secret after Starbucks, the local pizza parlor. A most faithful patron now, they like him so much there, they took his picture:







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