Triticum Turgidum

Lying Dormant and Waiting to Bloom Since 2005

My Photo
Location: The Prairie, Illinois, United States

I am a beauty-loving ambidextrous higher-order primate who learned transcendental meditation at 7, statistical analysis at 23, tap dancing at 30, and piano at 35. I tolerate gluten, lactose, and differences of opinion, but not abuse. Or beets.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Baby's First Xmas: A Photo Essay

Of course it was meaningless to her--as, well, frankly, it still is to me, bar the presents--but it was fun nonetheless to break out the digital Leica and capture the following moments:

We had just arrived at Fia's grandmother's house, fresh from a 6.5 hour drive. Someone was bowled over by the sight of a tree in the house.

Fia got to play with her equally weirdly named cousin, Siri (short for Sigrid). They were born 13 days apart. You could almost say they're identical cousins. Fia's the polite one with the faux Irish brogue.

Siri's the boisterous one who looks like she's on her third drink.

There were plenty of presents but none held the enchantment of seeing a cat for the first time.

Or of--okay, I was trying to come up with something funny but I couldn't think of anything that wouldn't sound syrupy in conjunction with this picture. I just wanted to post it because I like it. It's totally cheesy madonna-child imagery crap but--I like it. Anyway, I hope you and yours had a good Xmas-slash-Hanukkah-slash-Solstice-slash-whatever you celebrated (even if it was only a few days off work).

Thursday, December 21, 2006


We all have a personal life journey. Mine seems to be a continual struggle toward integrity. I don't mean integrity in the casual sense of respectability or righteousness; I mean it in the literal sense of being integrated, not fragmented into different personae for different audiences. Genuine integrity requires authenticity, the willingness to be honest about one's feelings or one's position on a particular issue. Don't get me wrong; I'm not celebrating the willingness to convey one's moment-to-moment state of mind with no effort to rein in its expression--in other words, I don't advocate smashing dishes (or people) to "authentically" convey one's anger. I support the use of situationally appropriate words and actions to convey inner states that may be much more intense than the words and actions let on. But to use words and actions that are the opposite of what one is feeling--well, that's the path to pathology. Smiling brightly and saying with a brittle voice, "Oh, nothing, honey, nothing at all!" when asked what's wrong is not a display of integrity. To say, "I'm upset, but not ready to talk about it yet," or "Yes, I'm angry about ____," or "I'm feeling a mix of things and need to sort them out," or even, "Yes, dammit, I'm angry!" is far preferable, integrity-wise.

Now, I realize this all seems like a condemnation of people who are not willing to be honest about their feelings. I don't mean it to be. Some people grow up thinking they cannot be honest because it's not safe. Honesty has gotten them into hot water. I learned this lesson early, hence my adult trek toward integrity. As a child I was not allowed to convey anger, indeed, to feel anger. It was unseemly, unfeminine, and worst of all, it was hurtful. My anger was actually interpreted as an assault, even if I did nothing with it. It's taken years and several therapists to convince me that feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are. It's what you do with them that counts. My mother, with whom I've experienced much conflict over many years, had it even worse than I did. She was profoundly abused and grew up with the crazymaking notion that she had to put on a different face for different people, and even different faces for the same person, just to survive. She brought that lesson to my childhood, and now I'm trying to find a way to override it.

Which is what brings me to the biggest emotional challenge I've experienced so far: keeping up what I call my Mommy Game Face. If an adult wakes me up four times in the night, I can express my anger and frustration in an appropriate way. But what do I do with a baby who's just being a baby? The desire to provide my daughter with a loving environment has led me to adopt this perpetually upbeat, validating game face that departs quite markedly (and frequently) from what I'm actually feeling. Moreover, I think this is the way it should be. I believe that parenting a very small child is one of the few life tasks that require occasional (okay, constant) inauthenticity, for the sake of the child. Nothing creepy and malicious like saying "You woke me up again, didn't you, Shithead?" with a syrupy voice and a big grin, just sighing and saying, "It's okay, everything's alright," when everything is most certainly not alright. Every kid knows how terrifying it is to see a parent sobbing or petrified with fear; it's like the whole world is falling apart. We need to believe that our parents are able to tap into a bottomless well of optimism and courage, especially when we're very little, and sad, and afraid. So I'm trying to create the impression that I have such a well, when the reality is, I don't. And let me tell you, even this minor league inauthenticity grows tiresome. It's like there's a tradeoff between my own neurosis and my daughter's: to preserve my sanity, I need to be authentic; to preserve hers, I need to be inauthentic. I feel as if I'm backsliding some days, like all this progress toward integrity is being undone by the requirement that I put on my Comedy mask when the Tragedy mask seems to fit much better.

As parents, when do we get to be ourselves again? When they're 10? 20? 30? And how do we model integrity for our children if we have to hide so much of who we are from them?

Monday, December 18, 2006

No Place Like (Away from) Home for the Holidays

I wanted to write something funny and uplifting in the 5 minutes I have until my daughter wakes up from her morning nap, but I just don't have it in me.

Too tired. Too sad. Too torn.

Remember those report cards that had a picture of a tree on the front with the words, "As the twig is bent...?" So the tree is formed. One tiny deviation early on becomes a huge malformation years later.

My family is such a mess I don't even know how to process it. The roots of our collective pathology were there when my brothers and I were kids, crying as our mom (let's call her M) packed her bags and announced triumphantly, "I'm leaving this family!"--only to return 2 days later and do it all again in a month while our dad (let's call him D) watched impotently. My big brothers J and T fought constantly. T was bigger so J would take his humiliation out on me. I did well in school because school was safer than home.

Fast forward many years. J and T are in their 40s and still relying on M and D's support. T is addicted to booze and cocaine. He brags about being 5'10" and 135 lbs. He claims his trust-fund boyfriend has so much money that they have 250 boxes (not a typo) of baby clothes in their basement. They bought it all for the son-to-be of a friend, but tragically she miscarried, so he doesn't know what to do with the clothes. I suggested he donate them. He said, "WHAT?! Ralph Lauren clothes donated to some SHELTER? I don't think so." This is the narcissistic Uncle T who has yet to see his own niece and hasn't sent a thing, not even a card. Sadder still, when he told me all this, he seemed perfectly oblivious to that fact. J, on the other hand, calls me at 6am, drunk, to lament whatever drama occurred the preceding night. He's addicted to food, booze, and whatever else he can get his hands on. J's ex-girlfriend worked for my mom and stole $60,000 from her business, then attempted suicide in J's house. (This is the charmer who posted on my blog, causing me to change the site so M and her cronies could no longer oversee my posts.) Anyway, back to J -- the other night some guy pulled a knife on him; luckily he had his .45 (thanks to my home state's decision to repeal their concealed weapons law, and D's ridiculously unwise decision to support J's application for a firearm by signing a form saying, falsely, that J had never received treatment for a mental disorder). J is 6'5" and 400 lbs. He just found out that his liver is failing. His words to me yesterday morning: "I welcome death like it's my birthday."

M disowned me 5 years ago and derives great satisfaction from defamation. The extended family won't talk to me. I committed the worst possible crime: I set boundaries. I literally said, "If you say/do XXX again, I will hang up the phone or leave the room." I also moved away from them in an attempt to save my sanity, my marriage, and to preserve the safety of any children I might have.

So--I've got a child now. And I haven't taken her back home because I don't feel safe there. How can I take her where I don't feel safe? I talk to D frequently; he's the sanest one of the bunch. But he's at the center of the drama and can't see things from a distance. They use him like a pack mule. He's 65, and an old 65 at that.

Every single day I have to remind myself not to relax my standards. There's too much at stake. But D pleads with me on the phone to "fix" things with M, even though he knows I can't do it without her consent. And the hard thing to admit is, I almost don't want to, because I don't trust her and know I never can. And I've already mourned her departure from my life. Do I need to do it again? D is telling me that M is spinning out of control, and his only recourse may be divorce. I suppose that was supposed to motivate me to contact her, but instead I'm thinking, Be my guest.

It's so f***ing lonely being the "healthy" one. The tension is unbearable. Every day I ask myself, whose funeral will I attend first?

Sorry to be such a downer. I don't tell people about this blog because I couldn't care less how many people know it exists, but the people who DO know it exists have demonstrated themselves to be humane and thoughtful. Thus I feel a bit guilty loading them (you) up with this crap. I just had to vent. I've been living with this for years and keeping pretty much silent about it. But it's just so hard watching people self-destruct and knowing there's nothing you can do about it but try to protect yourself from the shrapnel. The sickness is so extensive I don't even know how to describe it; the above is only a glimpse. Watch Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Mommie Dearest, Crumb, and Capturing the Friedmans back-to-back and you'll be touching the surface of it. I do know this: I'm not going to let my daughter be sucked down into it. Regardless of what happens, I'm going to keep her safe.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Most Requested Recipe

'Tis the season for get-togethers and gifts. Need to bring something more interesting than a poinsettia or a bottle of wine? Here's a ridiculously delicious cookie. Don't tell people what the flavor is; it's fun to hear them guess.

I adapted it from a Nigella Lawson recipe. The addition of whole-wheat flour ups the wholesome-rustic factor without compromising texture. Don't substitute regular flour for the self-rising; the cookie will be a stodgy flop (I know from experience). If all you have is dark brown sugar, mix it half-and-half with white sugar. And do I need to tell you that maple syrup is not a suitable substitute for maple extract? And that margarine is never a suitable substitute for butter?

Maple Shortbread

2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon maple extract
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Cream the softened butter and sugar until there are no sugar lumps. Blend in the maple extract. Add the flours a bit at a time until you have a stiff dough. Roll into walnut-sized balls and flatten a bit with your hands. Dredge in white sugar to give them a nice sandy texture. Bake for 15 minutes on 2 cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Makes 30-40, just enough to pack into one of those holiday tins and bring to a friend's house.

People go nuts for these, which just goes to show you that the basic human diet is butter, flour, and sugar. That's why I've made these cookies so healthy: No trans fats! Whole-wheat flour! If that isn't healthy enough for you, take a multivitamin.

Enjoy the holidays!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Report Card

We had our first parent-teacher conference today. Isn't that a hoot? Fi goes to the early child development lab school at the university where I work, and they have parent-teacher conferences even in the infant program.

She has three teachers so G and I sat in her classroom facing all three of them while her primary caregiver (my favorite of the three) led us through her evaluation.

There's not much you can say about a 9-month-old academically, so they were stuck rattling off observations about her motor and emotional development.

Highlights: She loves playing with the crackly laminating paper and pulling velcroed things apart. She likes exploring textures (e.g., cornmeal, the other infants' hair and nostrils -- not such a good idea) and shapes. One day when the other babies were using markers to scribble on a huge sheet of paper, Fi spent the entire time exploring the details and textures of the hollow end of the marker where the cap is usually jammed. (It was a visual arts exercise but she preferred to do performance art, you see.) If you try to feed her baby food with a spoon, she'll clamp her lips and deflect the spoon with her forearms, ninja-style; she prefers finger foods, and feeding herself. She can get absorbed in a single activity for quite some time. She sleeps for exactly 1/2 hour every afternoon. She's very serious and sensitive and has a low pain tolerance (just how do they test that?).

Basically, she's just like I was as a baby. The teachers were surprised when I revealed this because they thought G and I were jovial, lighthearted people and figured Fi would be too. I wanted to say, "It's all a performance. I smile on the outside but I'm crying inside," but I feared they wouldn't catch the sarcasm.

As challenging as it's been to have a daughter who's more Strindberg than Helium, in a strange way I'm proud. Still waters run deep, and all that. We live in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so I know that Fi is going to run into many of the same challenges I've experienced as a natural introvert. But I think the world needs our special gifts. While the extroverts are scribbling all over the paper, we're quietly figuring out how to design a better pen.

Friday, December 01, 2006

My Beautiful Girl

Sometimes you just gotta say thanks for what life has blessed you with. Yes, I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition. I don't care. I tend to focus so much on the ways I'm falling short of perfection (hence the semi-apologetic observation of imperfect grammar) that I fail to take note of the miracles in my life. I know so many people who've gone through hell trying to have a child. What did I do to deserve this? Nothing. That's why I'm grateful.