Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You Don't Have To Be So Fancy All the Time

If you have never experienced a cultural gap between yourself and a child, I venture to say you have never been a stepmother. Perhaps I am mistaken, but this is what I suspect.

For example, prior to venturing into A World of Children I Met Well After Their Births, I believed that I was casual and easygoing. I have recently learned that I am a crazy person, one who swoops in to pick up every peanut and every pre-chewed corn kernel that has landed on what used to be a kitchen floor but now more closely resembles an oversized Rice Krispies Treat.

I have learned that I am not as friendly as once, in my innocence, I believed myself to be, but instead am a person who strongly prefers that the front door of the house not be left hanging open all night ("Welcome, raccoon and possum!" my better self would have said).

I have discovered that I am a person who makes the mistake of reading the writing on tee-shirts, and that sometimes I do not like what the tee-shirts have to say. Perhaps I do not understand the tee-shirt jokes.

I do not like to find anyone's girlfriend's bra in the couch cushions.

I could go on.

But most of all, I have learned that I am "fancy" and that fancy is kind of weird.

"Fancy" is a person who says "don't bite your dinner plate, please" and "did you use your toothbrush today?" Fancy has never longed for a pickup truck, much less chosen a model and color.

Fancy reads books! And likes it! "Books," as one of the children informed me, "don't do anything. They just sit there."

This is true. They do. And when Fancy gets really, really tired, she just sits there, too.

©2014 Michelle van Schouwen, Longmeadow, MA
All rights reserved. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Test of My Emergency Broadcast System

This blog is only a test. No, that's not true. In fact, this blog is a joyous attempt to put to use some of the many stories, untrue and a-little-bit true, that jump up and down in my head.

In my real life, in addition to fishing lost objects from between the seat and the center console of the car and scraping old pizza off the living room carpet, I run a successful business. The business, while challenging in the conventional sense, is a breeze compared to the personal water-treading that seems to be the heart of life.

Intellectual, analytical and financial matters - for me, at least, that's the easy stuff. Relationships, love, aging, bikinis - that is where challenges and emotional ravines await. Not to mention diets and exercise programs.

Too, this blog is written in tribute to all the women of generations past who had big ideas, including both my paternal and maternal grandmothers.

My paternal grandmother, who, with ten or more children in the house at any given time and no formal art training whatsoever, would sit and paint beautiful, primitive watercolors for hours while the water boiled dry in the potato pot. "When you smelled that burning odor," my father told me, "You knew dinner was ready."

My maternal grandmother was widowed young and raised her three children on her own. When I asked her why she had never accepted any of the half-dozen marriage proposals she had received post-widowhood, she said, "I wasn't going to have anybody else bossing me around." One entire wall of her living room illustrated a terrible storm at sea, a mural she painted (again, no formal art training) after talking with my parents about sailing.

Here's to all of us with ideas, passion and potatoes. Including Grace Paley.

©2013 Michelle van Schouwen, Longmeadow, MA
All rights reserved.

Cranky Season


Middle age

Photo copyright 2006 van Schouwen Associates, LLC
It's really only middle age if you are going to live to twice your current number of years, am I correct? I'm up to 110 now; that is, I will need to get that far if I am to avoid contemplating (right now, at 55) being what-comes-next, that thing after middle age.

Maybe that is part of what makes me cranky this summer. After all, summer is supposed to be my favorite season, and the things that are bothering me have the ring of being just a little too similar to the things that bother, shall we say, a person just BEYOND middle age, a person who is just sick and tired of… whatever.

Children

Children at the pool, putting their legs in the water during the Adult Swim ("I'm not swimming, am I?") or smartly shouting to one another, "I'm going to bang your mother!" 

These are kids whose heads are not even full-grown. As you may have guessed, they are also boys.

Auto exhaust

I mean REALLY. Can't they see what is coming out of the back of their cars?

Other

I could go on. Dust. Green beans that go liquid. Having to pee.

But it's not about the green beans, is it? Cranky Season is about the blindingly fast pace of days wasted, days squandered on being grumpy, on working, on driving vast miles in the car. 

It's a season I can flip the page on, and maybe I will. Maybe. 

Just don't push me.

©2013 Michelle van Schouwen, Longmeadow, MA
All rights reserved.

Summer

Illustration copyright 2006 van Schouwen Associates, LLC

My husband looks forward to having his kids at the house. Fresh from their mother’s, his ex-wife’s, arms and passionate goodbyes, they arrive. The youngest, a boy, age nine, is particularly revved up.

“Why don’t you have air conditioning?” he begins.

“We do.”

Central air, which we have, apparently doesn’t qualify.

“You need a BOX. Window air conditioning is better. You can cool one room,” he sniffs.

The same goes for the food (too healthy) the club pool (nothing to do but swim) and the house (not a mansion).

“Has my mother been to your house?”

“No,” I say uncertainly. Has she? Have the bigger kids let her in when she last sailed through town?

“Hmmm,” says the child.

It has been five years now and I haven’t made a dent, haven’t left a trace of myself or my step-motherly value in their sturdy little hearts. Reports of no-ice-cream-five-minutes-before-dinner are texted home to Mom to become fodder for a protracted tween-rant about unsated appetite, and their school-assigned summer reading becomes a suggestion so vile that it could have come only from, well, me. The volume on the video game system creeps up as August approaches.

Finally, I begin to claim the territory of scorn. So now there will be only whole wheat bread. Educational movies. Does anyone recognize that I have planted my flag in the quinoa?

©2013 Michelle van Schouwen, Longmeadow, MA
All rights reserved.

You Like Sailing


"You said you liked sailing," he reminded me. 

The boat was in fact not sailing, but moored, if you could call it that. We were going around in circles at the mooring, with occasional variations in movement just to keep it fresh.

North wind in Vermont during what the rest of the country calls "early September" feels as though it could carry Santa effortlessly with it, frost gleaming from his beard. I wished I had a beard, which would be warmer than my bare skin. I wished I had fur.

The New Wife generally tries to be pleasant and amiable, so as not to appear too much like the Old Wife. I was having trouble doing so today. I was very cold and the boat lacked toilet paper. Since I was the only woman on board, this appeared to matter more to me than to anyone else. I tried eating for comfort, but a diet of corn chips and cheese does not agree with me. Still morning, it seemed a little early for wine and I was dizzy anyway. 

I had indeed stated that I liked sailing. But I should have been more specific, numerically speaking. I like sailing when the wind blows no more than eight (8) miles per hour, when the temperature is between 75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I like to sail for as little as one and as much as four hours, and to be off the sailboat by 8 pm. If necessary to stay on the boat for an extended period of time (24-plus hours), I like there to be no less than one (1) roll of toilet tissue available. 1/8 roll is not acceptable.

Accuracy and precision are important tools in communication. As a New Wife, I will take that under advisement in future declarations about Things I Like.

©2013 Michelle van Schouwen, Longmeadow, MA
All rights reserved.

Yugoslavia


"I'd like to wear a bikini. I mean, I wish I could," I say. That was my first mistake.

George glanced at the passing parade of pinks and yellows and impossible suntans and navel rings three feet in front of our sensible camp chairs. It was as crowded as Coney Island. It was as crowded as Mumbai.

Finally he said, “You could go to Yugoslavia.” Then, because this seemed unclear, he added, “They don’t care what they look like there. You should see…”

He trailed off. Perhaps because another floral tattoo on Amazonian hips has sashayed by on its woman, the woman dipping her silver-ringed toes into the foamy water near shore. Her toes missed the floating Kleenex by inches. In any case, George seemed distracted.

“I could wear a bikini,” I resumed stubbornly. “But I think you should look great in it if you’re going to wear it,” and here I sucked my stomach in discreetly, “not just okay.”

Then, slowly, I realized. “Fine,” I said nastily, “I’ll go to Yugoslavia.”

“That’s not what I meant. Is there another sandwich?”

My point is, it is nice to be a man. Generally speaking, a man does not shave his legs. His bathing suit does not send squashed wads of flesh blopping out from its armholes or crotch.

He looks great. He is certain of it.

He does not consider going to Yugoslavia.

©2013 Michelle van Schouwen, Longmeadow, MA
All rights reserved.