the coffee bean
Once upon a time, when Meredith was about nine years old, she was at the grocery store with her father. Wondering what it would smell like, she picked up a whole coffee bean and sniffed, very hard. The bean went up her nostril. When she tried to pull it out, it went up farther and got very, very stuck. Her dad tried to get it out, her sister tried to get it out. The harder they tried, the stucker it got. They ended up in the emergency room. The doctor had to use very, very long tweezers to get out the coffee bean. Meredith really, REALLY hates this story to this very day, and I am in a lot of trouble for telling it.
Once upon a time, when Zachary Jacob was about five years old, we were having a spaghetti dinner. Jacob Zachary was not known for chewing his food very well at that time. He was taking a drink of milk when Kate said something that tickled his funny bone. He laughed so hard, trying not to spit out his milk, that a piece of spaghetti about five inches long came out his nose. We all stared at it, lying there on the plate, and then broke up laughing. I’m surprised there weren’t more pieces of spaghetti produced! For some reason, this continues to be a very funny story for us – we laugh hysterically at just the memory. Oh well, we are easily amused.
kate the crooner
When she was two years old, Kate decided that she would not take naps anymore. This was not a good decision from her parents’ perspective — arsenic hour was born. So her mother instituted “rest hour” – she had to stay in her bed “resting” for one hour. In the beginning, her mother spent a lot of time putting her back into bed, and finally, holding the bedroom door shut. Once Kate realized this was not going to end, she began entertaining herself by singing. Very loudly and with great verve (think Ethel Merman crossed with Edith Piaf). She would croon her favorites: I’ve Been Working on the Railroad and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Only problem was, she had no Rs, so it was “I’ve Been Wookin’ on the WailWoad” and “Wudolf the Wed-Nosed Reindeewuh.” Very, very hard to ignore; she became indignant if anyone laughed.
Once upon a time, when Meredith was about three years old, her mother was in the bathtub, trying to take a long, relaxing bath. Her father was in his study, working on an article. Meredith decided she wanted to get dressed all by herself. She picked out a pink and green striped tee shirt with yellow and red polka-dot shorts. She struggled and struggled, but got them on right side out and with all body parts through the correct holes. She came into the bathroom to show off to her mother, who said, “Sweetie, you need either the top or the bottom to be solid; otherwise you won’t match.” Meredith sighed and marched back to her room. Next, she tried a navy blue and green plaid shirt and purple and green striped shorts. When she showed her father, he said, “Mimi, you need to have either the top or the bottom to be solid, or you won’t match.” Meredith sighed even harder and went back to her closet. This time, she got a red and white checked shirt and a pair of orange paisley shorts. Back in the bathroom, her mother repeated her earlier comment, “Sweetie, I’m very proud of you, but you still need either the top or the bottom to be solid to match.” At the end of her rope, Meredith bellowed pitifully, “What color is solid??????”
Kate went to a very progressive preschool, staffed mainly by PhD students in early childhood education and child psychology, where the clinical terms for behavior and learning assessment were the norm. Thus, the gymnasium was called the “Gross Motor Room,” etc. Kate’s arms and legs between ages two and three were disproportionately short for her torso (not to mention her enormously large head). This meant that her weakest area of performance was in Gross Motor Skills, otherwise known as climbing and riding a tricycle. When she climbed the stairs, she went up on her hands and knees, afraid that she would lose her balance if she walked. She insisted that her mother follow her up the stairs, saying “Mama, Mama, hind me be! Hind me be!”
Kate’s other weak area at preschool was table manners — she couldn’t grasp the reason for a fork, when her hand was right there, ready to dive in. She would complain to her mother that the preschool staff was starving her, not allowing her to have seconds. In fact, they drew the line at fourths.
Jacob Zachary’s Kindergarten teacher was a lovely veteran of 22 years of five-year-olds. She had a great sense of humor, and she appreciated the same in others. The “Draw a Man” test is (was) a common tool for measuring intellectual development in small children. The child is asked to draw a man with as much detail as possible. The more body parts (e.g., neck, fingers, round body rather than a stick figure) that are included, the higher the level of development is measured. When his teacher was reviewing Jacob Zachary’s test with him, she noted that it was a very nice drawing, but that the man had all his fingers and toes, but no ears. Jacob Zachary, without missing a beat, said, “I know, isn’t it sad? He was born that way.”
Meredith’s note: For the record, the coffee bean story is the ONLY childhood story that still mortifies me and the only story I forbade my mother from telling. In the spirit of not censoring her, I’ve left it in, but she’s in very big trouble. Also? My brother’s wit and table manners remain the same, and while my sister’s head is still ginormous, her table manners have gotten much, much better.
When I was eight and my parents divorced, both my mother and I saw a woman named Camilla, whose occupation, as a therapist, was something it’d take me years to realize. I simply saw her, weekly, as Camilla.
She was beautiful, always in flowy dresses or skirts, with dangly jewelry – but not jangly, never jangly – all soft edges and sweet smiles in my memory.
Camilla’s office was in a home with great windows throughout and a claw-foot tub in the bathroom. Everything had a pattern or some sort of decorative touch, from beads to feathers to flowers. Everything had a texture, a feel, and I was forever fascinated.
Despite my shoddy memory and the haze I see over most of my childhood, I have a few distinct memories of Camilla that are as clear to me as the paint on my nails. One such memory, in fact, speaks, I think, to my deepest, strongest desire: to build and create my home.
I’ve had a love affair with Crayola my entire life. From my first pack of 16 to the 64 pack with built-in sharpener, I have swooned with waxy love. The day they retired Raw Umber, I bowed my head in grief.
In this memory, Camilla brought out a healthy stack of bright white paper and a full 120-count set of crayons, complete with the Multicultural and Color Wonder sets.
(Of course I fucking know the names of the crayon debuts. ‘Love affair,’ remember?)
My home had recently been ripped asunder, with an angry, almost-teenager sister and a crying little brother. With Daddy in a little apartment with a neighbor named Pebbles. With Mama sad, but head held forcefully high.
Camilla handed me those treasured jewels at the same time she asked how my Barbie Dream House was faring in these troubled times.
A slightly shocking dichotomy – after all, Ken didn’t leave the Dream House, and Barbie wasn’t sad.
But she certainly caught my attention, shared though it was with those shiny, waxy riches.
And so picture it I did, with its many floors, rooms, backdrops, furniture and elevator – which was obviously the height of luxury.
She asked me to imagine – one of my favorite eight-year-old activities – if I could build my own dream house, to fit me, what it look like? What would those details be? How would I feel in this room or that?
My first question, of course, was whether or not I could have a Barbie Dream House in the Meredith Dream House. I’ve always been concerned with practicalities.
My young mind was opened in a new way when she said I could have – and feel – anything I wanted.
I’m sure I had some wonderfully complex little-girly desires, from princess beds for the dogs to a dungeon in which I might punish my torturous sister. No doubt everything sparkled, glowed or tinkled a pretty tune.
But what I remember from this exercise is, I hope, exactly what Camilla intended for me to hold – in every room, I was happy.
We drew pages upon pages of rooms, taping the sheets together, adding haphazard staircases and ladders, even a fireman’s pole, though I was far too terrified to try one.
There was a freedom in that day, that exercise, that I’m not sure I’ve felt since.
I know I’m not alone in the uncertainty I’ve felt thus far into my adult life, and I know it isn’t leaving any time soon.
I know, too, I have an opportunity, an outlet, in which to build that home again.
Granted, without drywall or rebar, windows or joists, but no less real than those drawings were, 20 years ago.
And oh so real they were – indeed, I think I’ve decorated as I drew those rooms in each place I’ve lived – from the yellow sheets in my dorm room to the red cabinets in my old kitchen, from the pink, gold and maroon curtains in that living room to the green and pewter great room I want now.
But now I have this chance – one of many, no doubt – to write my home. To build with words this place in which I am happy, safe and, frankly, in control.
Adjectives are my building blocks, verbs my mortar.
And you, filling the hearth with fire, the frames with pictures, the table with laughter.
Welcome, you, to this dream house. I’m so very glad you’re here.
By which I mean, hey, world, here I am.
I’ve started writing this 87 mazillion times. Sometimes I’m funnier, more irreverent. Sometimes I’m annoyingly earnest and far too forthcoming. Always I’m an oversharer and indignant. No surprise there, people.
And this isn’t exactly a proclamation of existence, because all that crying I did for the first 3 days 18 months 26 years was a pretty good announcement.
But I digress even before I get to the point. (Skillz right there.)
It’s hard to do this Start A Blog thing. I have, of course, thought about it for months, envied and loved on all those people who do this seemingly effortlessly, cried in frustration and wiggled with excitement. Which means I’ve over-pressured myself like whoa, because that’s how that works.
I mean, this is not the livejournal I had at 15 when I was so very angsty and really had it goin’ on . Aaand it’s not my Facebook, which, I might add, is hysterical. And it’s not my Twitter feed, which is really fucking amazing. #justsaying.
Also: you get to read it. Which is new. But only if you want to. Because forcing you would just be cruel. Or maybe the best thing to ever happen to you? Don’t know. Not my call.
I would know what I was to do — you know, how. to. start. — if I had some goal, some executable objective, but mostly, I’ve just fallen in love with a number of really effing excellent blogs recently — and I wanna BEEEEEEEE them.
But no, that’s not it either.
I’ve always written. Essays and short stories and excellently angsty poetry. (Seriously, y’all, there’s this poem I wrote in, like, 3rd grade about water in a stream flowing over pebbles CAN’T YOU JUST SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING that my daddy still talks about today because it was so excellently ANGSTY.) No, but really.
Also, WordPress, wtf do you MEAN “angsty” isn’t a word? Eff you and your little dog spell check, too.
Aaaaaand it’s also for (bear with me) serious things. Like posterity. Which I still think should mean something to do with your bum.
But it’s true: I want to finally write down those childhood memories before my brain really does delete them altogether. I want my mother to get to read the touching stories I write in my head and can never tell without the hiccuping, can’t-breathe, teary recitation she gets. I want, someday, to tell my babies about how funny I was before I had them and became the evil creature I will be someday. Someday, of course.
And then there’s you: Whomever you are. You terrifying creatures. Full of judgment and mirth in a bad way at me. I know you’re out there.
I just hope you’re as snarky as I am.