Category Archives: domesticity

The power of stuff to undo us

The Weight of Things, Part I

Look at the lovely Rosenthal platter — that flourish along the scalloped edge; delicate blue flowers draping off the rim. I have service for eight plus another smaller platter, a casserole, a tea pot (squat and round) and coffee pot (tall and slender), plus matching sugar and creamer, candlesticks.

They were a wedding gift from my mother.

Recall this: Mother is back from a trip to Germany with her second husband. They are seeing the world! While on the continent she buys an entire set of china for her daughter who, at the age of 33, is at last engaged to be married.

When Mother hands Daughter the crumpled brochure, Daughter doesn’t bother to hide her dismay. Are the dishes too feminine? Is she inclined toward blue these days? Such a fraught exchange!

They’ve been here before. A history of thwarted choices gives Daughter an unhealthy sense that she’s entitled to sour incivility. So many items ticked off! How much did Mother spend, exactly?

There will be a cost to Daughter’s wounding response and she knows it. It’s no longer a gift-giving occasion. It’s all about Mother’s hurt feelings. Daughter’s cooing and back peddling will be accomplished with a combination of guilt, annoyance, and compulsive, middle-child diplomacy. Of course the dishes will be beautiful! It took a second, is all! Of course, it was a generous gesture!

They’ve been here before, too.

Does it matter that I love the dishes now? That as I wash off the residue from last night’s dinner, I do so with care, knowing how inconsolable I’d be if the platter broke — my mother dead and gone these 22 years past. Stuff has the power to undo us sometimes.

The Weight of Things, Part II

We’ve purchased a shed in the sorry acknowledgement that our belongings have outpaced our capacity for sorting, disposal, or storage. The garage is packed: sports equipment, gardening tools, lumber, Christmas decorations, craft booth panels, two table saws, bikes and chairs. There’s beer brewing equipment, scuba gear, coolers, kayak paddles and beach chairs. At least three complete socket wrench sets, possibly more.

img_3262Now picture Son moving to Parts West with two suitcases. His entire apartment is boxed up in the garage, too. Now what? Most is too heavy to ship.

Too heavy indeed! Here are the pots and knives Mother purchased in such industrious cheer — the dish towels and extension cords, an array of spices! He’ll make curry and roast chickens! He’ll eat on Mexican dishes while looking at the spectacular skyline. Oh that view, Mother exclaimed, that view!

And then there was the dreadful pick up eight months later. Utter disarray.

Seeing these things makes for uneasy recollection. For some reason it is the contrast between the early optimism and the later despair that gets to me the most. I don’t know why. The hard questions arise, prime among them — how could I have missed so much?

I know how — because I wasn’t even looking.

It’s a little better now — maybe you can build up an immunity to memory by repeated exposure to triggering belongings. Things have resumed their status as objects. They are once again problems to be solved — sell? donate? keep?

The iron skillet is coming in the house, but — anybody want a waffle iron?

 


Did I create a monster 

When we invited Finn into our lives, I wanted to raise him to be unafraid of the vacuum.  With all that shedding black fur, I knew I’d be vacuuming A LOT.

And so, for months I made sure that I never startled him with the cord, or bumped into him with the canister, or acted anything but super casual-cool about the noise. It worked! Look — there’s a dog relaxing on the couch while his human runs the vacuum — I was so proud.



But then one day he tossed the star toy down next to the canister and fool that I am, I flung it across the room.

You can guess the rest. Now every single time I start up the vacuum, he thinks it’s time for a game. It. Just. Took. One. Time.

(Noticing the speed of conditioning makes me fearful about how I dismiss a few less than exemplary moments of parenting (once? It just took once?)). But never mind. I can’t go there today. It’s sunny and 80 degrees out and I have the afternoon to myself.

Don’t you just hate posts about blogging?

Posts about blogging often have a Catholic air of contrition about them: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned — I have not posted in six days.” Ach, indulge me as I cast before you a post about blogging!

img_2353Earlier this week, I published a few paragraphs about K traveling to a city in China very close to North Korea. It was freaking me out, etc. I thought maybe I could institute a practice of sharing his absence in real time because of our barky friend, Finn — but then thought the better of it. Why advertise vulnerability? (Since K’s now en route from Beijing to Newark, it’s public again).

[By the way, I don’t need my husband to be within Seoul’s radiation range to care about nuclear escalation — (in fact two others in my indivisible group and I have an appointment to speak with Representative Joe Kennedy about this next week). Let’s just say that the possibility of immediate personal harm amplifies concern].

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Then I started a post about housekeeping. Part nod to the need for discrete tasks with tangible results in a world spinning out of control and part nostalgic lament. (And yes, I really am picking detritus out from between the floor boards with a fowl pin!)

The house is tidier than ever. The raking more thorough. It’s hard not to wonder: what was so impossible about keeping a neat house while the boys were growing up?

Not wanting a question so fundamentally unfair to myself to linger unanswered, I considered an exercise in prescriptive memoir. Let’s document the positive!

I have a terrible memory, but this warping of recollection in the direction of personal failing is something else. It hurts.

But then it all felt incredibly disingenuous and anyway, in the process of rereading journals to “build my case,” I kept finding stuff that highlighted my missteps. Whoops! I got jammed. Really jammed.

I consulted my dear Byron Katie and got a little unstuck.

I’m tired of taking sides.

And anyway, wouldn’t a disordered lament make me more vulnerable and therefore be more interesting than some tidy, upbeat chirp of a post, which corrective or not, is ultimately self-congratulatory?

Messy then. Less messy now. So what.

I’ll leave you with a few of the pictures I scared up. I’ve made no attempt to span the years or to be thorough in any way (you know me better than that!)

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End of day

We are both zonked: Finn from playing with his buddies and dog-walker Rafi; me from chopping rock hard snow and revamping two chapters.

Just made a few more machine-pieced components for the Pale Village quilt. It’s time to iron for a while and watch comedy — maybe I’ll finish watching Mike Birbiglia’s “Thank God for Jokes” on Netflix. In this show there’s a hilarious riff about the schism between “on time people” and “late people” (‘How do on time people feel about late people? Well, we hate you is all’).