Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Cupboard of My Own

I had a "discussion" with my husband the other night over my need to have a room to call my own. No, I don't mean in the Virginia Woolf sense. I'm not looking for a space where I can sit and lock out the world and create paragraphs and stanzas that will set the masses a-swooning. I just mean a space where I make all the decisions--where I decide the color of paint on the walls, the kind of furniture to tuck into the corner, the books to arrange on the shelves, the hangings on the wall. And then I don't want anyone touching anything or making complaints or suggestions or rearranging or saying, "Hmm.... I was thinking maybe . . ." No. I just want something that's mine all mine all mine.

The "problem" is that this isn't my house. It's our house. And I have a husband who has opinions--often very strong ones. And I can't say, "Well, that's just too bad. Just close your eyes when you come in here from now on."

I was telling my mother about this, and she said she completely understood. And she also understood how it's an "and never the twain shall meet" sort of situation.

When my oldest son was little, he once asked me, "Why is everything in Grandpa's house brown?" I looked around and realized he was right. My parents' house was decorated in shades of brown thanks to my father's collection of antiques--most of which my mother gave away or sold after he died. It wasn't that she was trying to erase all memories of him. It was that those had been his things, his idea of home decorations. Hers? The delicate little cups and saucers she'd accumulated from various antique shows over the years. Only you didn't see those cups and saucers because the butter molds and trenchers and hog scrapers overshadowed them. Mom knows what it's like to have one spouse fill the house while the other sits by and shrugs and says, "Fine, whatever."

"That's what my purse has always been to me," Mom said.

And I finally got it.

When I was a kid, my mom would go ballistic on any of us kids who dared open her purse for so much as a mint. "That's mine," she would growl.

Just last week, I did the same to one of my kids. "I just wanted to see if you have any mints," he said. "Then ask me," I told him. "That purse is mine."

I also have this cupboard. I've told all of my kids there is no reason ever why they should feel the need to open it.

And it's mine all mine all mine. I have my Jolly Ranchers on the top shelf. (I hardly ever eat them, but when I want one, I want one right at that very moment.) I have my candied ginger on the middle shelf--two containers, in fact. I have a few work folders (more organized that it may look to you). I have my index cards, my index file, Christmas receipts from last year, my mini Boggle game, my incense sticks, school calendars.

Okay, so it's not a room of my own. But I do own what's in there . . . just like my purse. And as long as I'm sharing a house with someone--five someones, and I'm grateful for every one of them and wouldn't trade a mansion of my own for the absence of any of them--a cupboard and a purse will do just fine.

Do you have a space of your own? If not, how do you manage without one? If so, what is that space?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Truth or Consequences

When I was a kid and my friends and I would play Truth or Dare, I always chose Truth. In part, I was a chicken . . . afraid to embarrass myself in a dare. But I also didn't have anything to hide. Never have. I'm the proverbial open book. If you know me, there isn't much you don't know about me.

Which means I'm nothing like my mother. Sure, I look like her. Our senior pictures are eerily similar. Of her four daughters, I'm the only one that ended up with her green eyes. We're built alike. We have the same voice, both singing and speaking. And as I've gotten older, I only look more like her.

But my mom is a private person. She doesn't like talking about emotional issues. She doesn't like confrontation. Heck, when my husband and I have an argument (and I mean over something as benign as which TV show to watch), she hurries from the room like she might get dragged into having to choose sides if she sticks around. She's never offered me parenting advice--even when I've asked for it. She's never suggested I lose weight, gain it, wear something different, change my hairstyle, or try less blush next time. She figures my life is my business and hers is hers. Frankly, I find it all rather . . . quaint. Cute, even. She makes me laugh.

Sometimes, though, her tendency to keep everything quiet brings me up short.

A number of Christmases ago, I was telling her I hadn't gotten a card from my Aunt Ruth, who had been sending me a card every year for as long as I'd been married. Mom said, "Oh . . . didn't I tell you? She died." Months earlier.

Then just a few years ago, we were talking about twins, and she said, "Y'know, you started out as a twin." What?!?! "Yes," she went on. "But then the next time I went in for an appointment with the doctor, it was gone." Yep: two heartbeats one visit; just one--mine--the next. Apparently, either Mom or I reabsorbed the twin after it died, and I went on to be just fine.

I wonder a lot about that twin. How would my life be different? Would we have gotten along? Would my parents still have had my younger brother and sister if he/she had survived? It's not something I obsess over or that upsets me. It's not as if I feel part of me is missing. I just wonder, y'know? Same as I wonder where different paths in my life could have taken me.

I also wonder what else my mom hasn't told me--not because she's hiding things but because she just hadn't thought to tell me already.

As for me? My kids probably wish I told them a little less. A happy median may have been nice. I bet that would've been my twin.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


My family and I went on a four-day cruise to Mexico this past spring. I loved visiting the Mayan ruins and I admit the food on the ship was pretty darn wonderful at times. But otherwise? I'm just not a cruiser. My in-laws love cruises. We have neighbors here who love cruises. My husband's close friend from high school feels it's the best money spent on a family vacation. Most of the time, I just felt like I was in a redneck bar on the waves--not that I have anything against rednecks, having grown up in southern Virginia and having been labeled a redneck a time or two (or twelve) in my life. Still, it wasn't my cup of herbal tea or near beer or whatever. I felt claustrophobic most of the time, and I think seeing a literal boatload of inebriated people in their swimsuits (and entirely too many of those were Speedos!) for the better part of the day is just, well, less than appealing.

Obviously, I'm not a commercial for Carnival.

So when the news broke this week that a Carnival ship was stranded off the coast of California, I felt a little for the passengers. A little. Not a lot. And then when the reports came in about the people having to eat Spam and Pop-Tarts . . . ? I have to say my sympathy pangs dropped off completely.

Look, I hate the stench of a backed-up toilet as much as the next person. So, yeah, that aspect of the cruise-gone-bad surely sucked. Then again, I grew up about half an hour from a paper mill. Ever smelled one of those? Even the thought of it can still make me sick to my stomach.

As for Spam and Pop-Tarts? Heck, some college kids live off those things. My brother, bless his earnest soul, ate hotdog buns with ketchup for dinner many a night when he was putting himself through college. He worked at a convenience store, and that was as nutritious a 10-cents meal as he could come up with. And I've eaten a tin or two of Spam in my day (see the above paragraph about my roots) not because my family loved the taste but because it was cheap. And Pop-Tarts? We couldn't afford them. When we did eat something approximating them, it was the cardboard store brand. Even then, who's complaining? Not me. It was still a treat. I also had my share of Velveeta and Miracle Whip and cube steak (I challenge you to find a cheaper cut of red meat)--none of which you'll ever find on a cruise ship.

Cruises are for privileged people, whether it's an economy cruise on Carnival or a first-class cruise on Crystal. I know that. Redneck or not, that bar I was on was on the ocean, for crying out loud. And someone else was making me my meals and cleaning my room and even babysitting my kids a few hours a day. I may not pay for all of that again, but it wasn't exactly the worst experience of my life. To utter any kind of complaint, really, is the equivalent of saying the seat-warmer in my make-believe leather-interior luxury car is a tad too warm on my equally make-believe well-toned, personal-trainer-trained gluteus maximus.

And had I ended up stranded for a couple of days, without air conditioning, and with only Spam and Pop-Tarts to eat? Well, I'm pretty sure it still wouldn't have been the worst experience of my life.

Look, we all have reasons to complain. And we all have reasons not to. I'm just saying perspective is a lot healthier than getting drunk off free alcohol and then complaining the beer wasn't cold.