Sarah R. Callender

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Stenographer

In Faith, Parenting, Writing on September 19, 2011 at 6:54 am

Sometimes I think I should run off and join the circus. I hear they’re hiring. In fact, here’s the ad from this Sunday’s Classifieds:

Seeking A Bearded Lady for circus sideshow. Salary negotiable. Hours TBD. Benefits many, including unlimited popcorn and three square meals a day with The Strongman, The Tattooed Baby and The Human Cannonball. Must be willing to endure minimal taunting from audience. Skills on stilts and knowledge of juggling a plus. Send photos as jpg.

Hm. I twiddle the whisker on my chin. Popcorn? Negotiable salary? Only minimal taunting? I already receive maximal taunting from my friend, Stephers, because I still own a flip phone, and therefore it takes me fifteen hours to send a text. Minimal taunting? That would be a walk in the park. A day at the circus.

But then I remember I don’t care for circuses. I don’t care to see animals doing unnatural stunts. Clowns make me feel icky. There’s something a little disconcerting about contortionists and trapeze artists. And I bet the Ringmaster would put The Bearded Lady in charge of the elephant poop.  The new hairy-girl always gets stuck with the chores that involve poop.

Yes. I think for now I’ll just settle in and enjoy my current jobs: Babysitter and Stenographer.

From the get-go of momhood, I knew if I could think of myself as Buddy’s and Sweetie’s Babysitter, rather than as their Mother, I’d stay more sane (in theory). I’d feel less pressure (again, theoretical). Best of all, I wouldn’t have to worry about sending them into therapy. Did Freud ever tell even one of his reclining clients, “Now . . . tell me about your babysitter.”?

No.

So it’s just easier to think of myself as my children’s Babysitter. One who might have responded to this ad in the Sunday Classifieds:

Seeking a Babysitter to care for two children for their whole life. You must make sure they have clean teeth and good manners. Pay attention to their friendships and ensure they are neither bullies or the bullied. Feign interest when they describe every detail in the Mario Bros Wii game they have just played. Feign patience when you are teaching them to tie their shoes or ride a bicycle. Feign energy when you and they all have the stomach flu. Feign more patience when they are still wearing Pull-ups well into elementary school. Prepare them to make good and thoughtful decisions on their own. Teach them that falling seven times is A-OK, as long as they get up eight times. Sing funny songs and speak in funny accents (when appropriate). Teach them the value of music and Shakespeare and the elderly and Faith and both playing sports and watching sports on TV. Teach them how to spread peanut butter on bread and how to fold laundry and how to clean the pee off the toilet and the bathroom floor. Keep reminding them to clean up the pee. Yell only when necessary. You must have high tolerance for mess, noise and fart jokes. You must allow the children to climb trees and ride bikes in the street and use sharp knives safely. You must teach them to swim and look grown-ups in the eye. You must love them so hard that they know they are valued just for being born, YET, you must never allow the children to think they are any more special (or any less special) than any other human on the planet. Most of all you, Babysitter, must never mistake your charges for your masterpieces.

Salary: low-to-nonexistent. Hours: unpredictable and very, very many.

Et voila! As my children’s Babysitter, I would never-ever fall into the trap of thinking that my charges were a reflection of me (in theory). Not once would I be tempted to feel that their successes were mine; nor would I feel like was a failure (again, theoretical) when they acted like dimwits.

Because when a parent absorbs her child’s successes or stumblings, things get hairy. Bearded Lady hairy. Pluck, pluck. Tweeze, tweeze.

So I try to have the same mindset with writing.

See? Doesn’t the Stenographer look peaceful?

And doesn’t the Writer look dazed and overwhelmed and miserable?

Just as it’s less stressful to think of myself as my kids’ deeply flawed (yet well-intentioned) Babysitter, there’s far less pressure when I remind myself that my novel is not my story but the story of the characters. That they have lived the story, and I’m just like that court stenographer who sits in the courtroom, transcribing the various events, verbatim, on my whatsamahoozey machine.

Fortunately, it’s far easier to think of myself as my characters’ Stenographer than it is to think of myself as my children’s Babysitter; I have never felt like I created Lucy, the narrator of my the book. She was real before I came along; I just had to get to know her, and then settle in with my stenotype machine and get to the careful work of listening.

No doubt Lucy and her story will hit some bumps. The book will get all kinds of reviews, some mean and nasty. Her story may sell infinity-million copies; more likely, it will far, far fewer.  BUT, the book is a success because it has been written. Period.

Same goes for my kids. In spite of the buffoonish things they will inevitably do, they are successes simply because they were born. And if they don’t understand that with every bit of their being, then I have failed them as their also-buffoonish, juggling, poop-scooping, Strongman-loving, Bearded Lady Babysitter-Stenographer.

Advertisements

Slugbug

In General, Parenting, Writing on September 6, 2011 at 6:19 am

I am tempted to mosey over to the bumper sticker store and buy this one for the bumper of my minivan: MY KIDS CAN BEAT YOUR KIDS AT SLUGBUG!

Because they can. And I believe in promoting our kids’ natural gifts and talents via the bumper of our motor vehicle.

Not familiar with Slugbug? I have tried three times to write a description that doesn’t put me to sleep, and I can’t do it. So please, just go here so I won’t have to worry that I have put you, lovely reader, to sleep.

You might also remember it by another name: Punchbuggy. That’s what it was called when I played back in the olden days, as Sweetie likes to call my childhood. As in, “Mom? Did you have that chin whisker back in the olden days, too?”

“No, Sweetie,” I say, using my most soothing Soothing Voice. “That’s just something women get when they’re really old.”

And she nods, running her thumb back and forth over the whisker.

My kids, however, have taken Slugbug/Punchbuggy to a whole new level. In fact, my bumper sticker should say: MY KIDS TAKE SLUGBUG TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL!

Because they have. My kids play it with PT Cruisers, Jeeps, Scions and Mini Coopers. And they don’t just call out, “Slugbug!” They feel compelled to get really detailed and holler, “Slugbug blue old-fashioned convertible with the top down and with a rusty bumper!” Or, “Turquoise PT Cruiser with wood paneling and cool hub caps and a big white dog sticking his head out the window!”

Of course, if there are three people in the car, The Spotter must holler that exact thing three times, giving all three a slug in the arm or the shoulder:

Turquoise PT Cruiser with wood paneling and cool hub caps and a dog sticking his head out the window! Turquoise PT Cruiser with wood paneling and cool hub caps and a dog sticking his head out the window! Turquoise PT Cruiser with wood paneling and cool hub caps and a dog sticking his head out the window!

Well. As someone who’s especially sensitive to sudden, repetitive noise (followed by punching) when she’s depressed, Slugbug is not my current game of choice. And while I certainly cannot blame one certain thing or person or car punching game for my summer malaise, I will say that when, a few weeks back, I decided it would feel really good to “check myself in” somewhere, I knew it had to be a place with little-to-no yelling or punching.

But where does one check oneself in to escape such a thing?

At first, I thought this was my only option:

But that seemed like overkill. Kind of. Plus, I don’t recall that Nurse Ratched was able to quell the yelling and punching.

Then I stumbled, (thank you, God) upon The Whidbey Island Writer”s Refuge.


So I picked the latter option and packed a few belongings, and with Husbandio’s and Grandparentios’ and many amigas’ support, I drove up and over to Whidbey Island where I spent five nights in a little cabin in the woods, calling it my Better Than the Psych Ward Week.

My cell phone didn’t work. There was no TV. No one was yelling, “Black Scion with tinted windows and a California license plate and a mattress strapped to the top!” multiple times.

No one was slugging anyone.

No one was crying because of a slugging.

And in the silence, I read and wrote and slept and went for hikes and ate dinners that consisted of tortilla chips and jar-cheese. I finished Round Two of my novel revisions and got those back to my fab agent. I prayed. I dreamed funny dreams about an ex-beau who broke up with me twice (no, not you, Paul). I did yoga wearing weird outfits. I made applesauce and roasted veggies while listening to the Gypsy Kings. I drank Mike’s Hard Black Cherry Lemonade. I wore no make-up. I shaved no legs. I was basically three whiskers (and a bear) shy of becoming a female Grizzly Adams.

It was fabulous. And so quiet.

But then, of course, I started to miss my children.  

But then, of course, I started to get really lonely.

But then, of course, I started talking to things I don’t normally talk to. The tea kettle, for example, was a chatty kathy of sorts, especially when she’d get all snippy and boily. And I wasn’t afraid to let her know it. Oh, simmer down, Sally. I am trying to write. You think I’m at your every beck and call?

Sally would pout for a moment, then realize I was just kidding, that perhaps she didn’t have to take me so seriously, and I’d pour her water over my tea bag and compliment her on her fine boiling abilities, and we would, once again, be the best of friends.

But that wasn’t all. I talked to the spider babies still ensconced in their egg sacs in the rafters of the screened-in porch. 

I talked to the blackberries (before I ate them), the warmest and fattest ones, picked from the brambles that dotted my hiking paths.

I talked to the jar-cheese, Newman’s Own Salsa con Queso, complimenting it on its fabulousness.

I talked to the earnest little nuthatches, so chirpy after the sun elbowed the rain out of the way.

All that talking to kitchen tools, arachnid egg sacs, food and birds, did not happen because I was insane.

Rather, it happened because I was noticing.

It makes me realize how much I don’t notice in my daily life, a tragedy for a writer who relies on her ability to notice things.

When it’s so quiet and there’s no one asking anything of you, when no one’s yelling about cars and then punching you, you have more time and energy to notice things. And when you notice how many perfect and amazing things there are on this planet, spider sacs and jar-cheese to name a few, you want to connect with those perfect things through words. Or in my case, because I was speaking to tea kettles and spider sacs, through monologues.

When I think about it, I’m not surprised that I talked to the tea kettle. Nor that I christened her Sally. After all, fiction writers must animate that which doesn’t exist. We must breathe life into stories and lives and places that exist only in our heads. All this animating and breathing life into things that don’t actually exist requires some dang peace and quiet, so we can notice all the stories that are steaming and boiling right in front of us.

Finally, on the last day, I was ready to come home. 

Finally, on the last day, I started missing my kids.

Finally, on the last day, I felt so saddened by the idea of leaving that I got a little teary and panicky.

To calm myself, I breathed life into this story: I will come back here again. I will come back here again. I will come back here again.

And then I went for one last hike, trying to inhale as much solitude as I could, trying to let nature osmosisize right into my skin pores.

Until, ACK! With so much inhaling and osmosis-ing, I nearly stepped on a big old slug, a plump fellow dilly-dallying with impressive slowness right in the middle of the gravel road. Where he could have been killed or worse, licked.

That’s right.

My former classmates from Sleepy Hollow Elementary might recall Fifth Grade Camp where, on a nature hike, we stumbled upon a banana slug of epic proportions. At which point, we were invited to join the Lick a Slug Club, a teacher-sanctioned club sans hazing.

There we were, all twenty-six of us, lining up to lick the back of this poor sot. I was thrilled to be right behind Drew, my crush du jour, because licking the slug right after Drew was basically like French kissing Drew.

Except, as it turned out, right after Drew licked the slug, the slug must have realized he didn’t have to take this anymore. Apparently, just as I bent down to French kiss Drew via a slug’s back, the dear fellow started secreting some weird numbing agent that made my tongue both slimy and numb.

Served us right. Here he was, probably just out running errands for his wife or maybe training for a triathlon. And then, boy howdy!, out of nowhere there’s this mass of eleven-year-old kids queuing up to lick him. That was probably the weirdest day he had ever had. We deserved to be numbed.

So last week in the woods, when I happened upon this plump fellow, probably a banana slug based on his over-ripe banana peel colored skin, I paused to take the time to notice him.

I squatted over him, marveling at how he was, in fact, making forward progress while not appearing to move a muscle. And I decided it wasn’t good form to monologue with a tea kettle but not monologue with a slug, especially in spite of (or maybe because of) the bad blood between me and whichever ancestor had secreted slime on my tongue circa 1982.

So I got my face real close to his.

“Slugbug banana slug,” I whisper-yelled into his ear. “Slugbug banana-colored banana slug, with big Don Knotts antennae, moving very slowly across the road, dragging a piece of twig along with his slimy underside!”

Then, instead of punching him in the arm, I blew him a little kiss, thinking he’d prefer that to getting licked by a strange woman on a lonely gravel road.

And that’s when I missed my kids a lot just a little. Because it’s not quite as much fun to play Slugbug with a slug. It’s a lot quieter, sure, but I get to have more than just monologues with my children. I can make my kids laugh in a way that I can’t make a spider egg sac laugh. My kids can make me laugh far harder than jar-cheese can.

This week away reminds me of that concept of seasons, that there is a time for everything. A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to tear down and a time to build. A time for enduring loud, punching car games, a time for solitude in the woods. A time to talk to tea kettles and slugs and NOT be accused of insanity because, ha ha!, no one’s around to hear.

If I can have these small slices of quiet and peace amid this much longer, louder, more punchy season of Buddy’s and Sweetie’s childhood, then maybe that’s enough to sustain me. Maybe.

Now that I’m back home, I miss my Better Than the Psych Ward friends a little terribly. I miss my sassy Sally. My wee spider friends, too. The chirpy birds. My slug boyfriend. Of course, I miss the jar-cheese. Jar-cheese really does have a decent sense of humor. I miss the quiet most of all. The peace to notice all the less punchy, less yelly aspects of life.

But I’ll be back when I need another week to recharge, when I feel like I can’t really do my job(s) well anymore. When I feel like I need to remember to notice all the things that are too quiet to garner my attention over the sounds of my children, two creatures whom I love a lot with a love so big it roars in my head and my heart. A lovely sound, Love. So noisy in my heart and my brain and in every breath.