Monday, May 22, 2006

Welcome to the Desert of the Real


Lo, these past few days I have had a canker sore, and great and terrible has been my annoyance. I have tried a couple of home remedies -- swishing with warm salt water, putting soy sauce directly on it, and eating salty potato chips -- but the damn thing will not be cowed. Last night it was throbbing in a dastardly way as I was trying to sleep, and thus, this morning I went to Target and bought Orajel Protective Mouth Sore Discs. The package says it "relieves pain immediately on application," which it should, since the active ingredient is benzocaine. But it also says that the discs form a dissolvable oral bandage to block irritation for hours so the sore can heal. What it doesn't say is that this dissolvable bandage takes far, far too long to dissolve, so even fifteen minutes later you're left looking like you've got a lipful of snuff or something. I am so sexy right now, I know you wish you were me.


"Wouldn't it be great if I had a baby and you had a baby and we could take care of them together and then our babies would have TWO MOMMIES?!"


Two of Viva's cousins -- let's call them simply C and T* -- were here over the weekend. By this, I mean that they came to visit their grandparents, my in-laws, who live just two doors down from us in the same apartment building. You can see what comes next, can't you? Every time they visit, they make a beeline for our door to play with Viva and enjoy the Land of Enchantment that is her room.

This is fine, because they are pretty well-behaved little girls, for the most part, and if we aren't doing anything anyway, I can just sit around and read while they play. It's win-win, because Viva is In Heaven the entire time they are here. T is 6, and C is 10, and the 10-year-old bosses the younger two around and keeps them in line. But inevitably they arrive without warning, play for an hour or so, and then tell me that they're hungry. Since I have no warning, and since this generally happens on a Saturday after we have gone through all of our food for the week, I generally don't have a lot to offer. This time, we went through all the fruit I had on hand, along with all the cheese, crackers, and juice boxes, while waiting for Papa (their grandpa) to bring some pizza. Ultimately, despite pleading from both of them to sleep over (!!), they went back to their grandparents' in the evening, and then -- you guessed it -- called us at about 10 Sunday morning. I invited them back over, but this time I had ulterior motives: free babysitting while we did some spring cleaning of our balcony.

I washed the sliding glass doors, Sweet William cleaned the patio furniture and washed the floor, and I brought in all the random crap that's been sitting out there all winter and cleaned it off. While we worked: (a) eventually, C got tired of hanging with the little kids and decided to read a book on the couch, meaning that (b) Viva and cousin T were left to feed on each other's hyperactivity, leading to (c) a huge amount of shrieking laughter, playing of kazoos, tambourines and harmonicas, hitting each other with punch balls, and just general mayhem, and (d) T came across Viva's camera, picked it up and asked if she could take pictures with it. I told her there wasn't any film in it, which was a little white lie because there was still film in it but you can only take pictures with it outside because it doesn't have a flash and I didn't want to have them all stampede out onto the balcony while we were still cleaning it. And THEN! T opened up the back of the camera! Thus exposing all the film! So all the pictures I had taken (mainly of Viva and friends on the school playground) are gone forever!

Sweet William said I looked like I was ready to kill her. Don't get me wrong, I love them and all, but after two days of having them over, my patience was wearing thin. I really enjoyed C this visit, but T was working my nerves, because she is a little button-pusher. She demands a lot of attention. (This, from the mother of a three-year-old!) But Viva loves her cousins so much that she bursts into tears when they leave, screaming and crying like her heart is breaking. Then they start getting weepy, and it's all a big mess. Lawd, help me, Jesus, it is operatic in scale. Once they left, I put Viva down for a late nap, and sat luxuriating in the silence.

Their visits are almost always followed by a discussion between Sweet William and myself about how relatively well-off we are. I grew up with not a lot of money in a family in which mostly everybody was better off than we were. I remember visiting cousins and being awed by how much stuff they had, how big their rooms were, how clean their homes looked. I was at various points jealous and contemptuous of them, depending on my mood, and it wasn't until I grew older that I got more philosophical about it. Now, I understand that what your family makes (or doesn't) does not reflect on you and your worth as a human being, but back then, I remember feeling shamed and small when confronted with the sometimes huge disparities between our lives and those of our cousins.

I mention this because C and T's mom (Sweet William's stepsister) is a single mom, head of household, who doesn't work. They live in a one-bedroom apartment and neither of the girls' fathers is involved in their lives. Money is tight. Their mom can't get them everything she wants to. Things are stressful. At one point, a few years ago, C and T's mom left the girls with her aunt, ostensibly just to babysit for a few hours, and took off for a week without anyone knowing where she had gone. At that point, Sweet William's sister, Diva, and I began discussing what to do about the children. We didn't want to break them up, but Diva already has two teenaged boys, and we were living in the same apartment we do now, so we didn't think we had enough space for two kids. Sweet William and I were still newlyweds who ultimately wanted to have kids of our own. We talked about each of us taking one of the girls and raising them ourselves. Ultimately, of course, their mom came back, but I think now about how different our lives would be, all of us.

Right now, we see the girls every month or so. When they are here, they always exclaim over everything in Viva's room. They're amazed that she has her own room (their mom sleeps in their living room), not to mention her own bathroom. They pull out every toy and game she owns and play with everything. They are eager to please and very well-mannered, and every single time they come over, C asks to borrow something, sometimes indirectly, sometimes not. This time, she wanted to borrow the Winnie the Pooh books that I've had since I was about 3 or 4. They are old paperbacks that cost 95 cents each, and they are yellowed, and some of the pages are a bit raggedy. Some of my most cherished memories are of my mom reading the stories to me and my sister as we all snuggled together in a big chair after bathtime, drinking what my mom called "Winnie the Pooh" drink.** I couldn't do it. I'd saved these books for years, long after other childhood favorites got sorted through and given away.

"How come Viva has these?" C asked me. "They're chapter books, she can't read them."

"They used to be mine when I was a little girl," I said. "I've been saving them for her for a long time. You can read them if you want."

"Can I take them home with me?" C asked.

"Oh, sweetie, they're so old," I said. "They're kind of falling apart already, I don't know how well they'd do in a book bag or something. Can you just read them here when you come?"

"Okay," said C, but I know if it were me and I were 10 and my little 3-year-old cousin seemed to have everything, I'd be pissed off or at least hurt that my auntie wouldn't let me borrow something the 3-year-old can't even use.

So of course, I'm guilt-ridden and thinking about buying her copies of the books for herself, which leads me to think about other books I liked at that age, and how much she would like them, and wondering if that is enough. I am glad she likes books so much, and I'd like to encourage her, and I don't want her to feel bad when she comes over. I can see so much of myself in her these days.


Hey, if you, like me, grew up listening to a lot of soul and R&B, and if you haven't discovered this site already, check out one of my latest obsessions: Soul Sides. Very cool blog wherein DJ O-Dub posts his discoveries in soul, funk, jazz, and hip-hop, sometimes posting several versions of the same song, or hipping you to old school stuff you may have missed. Also check out his blog roll -- I could spend hours there.
* I tried, oh how I tried, to find pseudonyms for them that were sort of similar to their real names (because otherwise I am sure I would mix them up), but I kept coming up with names like Chinara and Tanisha -- and even in fictional Internetland, I just couldn't do that to them. And before you get all like, "What makes Viva's name any better? You all so bougie, you need to check yourself," let me just say that, in case you haven't figured it out, Viva is a pseudonym based on her own early mispronunciation of her name, so if you're judging me, you're judging me on the wrong damn name, anyway.

** Which seems to me, as much as I can approximate it in my memory, to be warm milk with honey and cinnamon in it.

*** Shout out to The Matrix!

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