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LJI Week 5: Waffling

This is my entry for Week 5 of LJ Idol, Friends and Rivals (therealljidol).

"Fruits and vegetables that are grown without chemicals are called organic," I call to my 5-year-old son, nicknamed Kung Fu Panda, relaxing in his car seat. We are driving to the vet for our cat's annual check-up, talking over his plaintive mewing. "I worked at an organic farm for two weeks once, before I married my first husband."

Then, I realize that I've never told KFP that I was married to someone before his father. "We only stayed together a year," I tell him. "We wanted different things in life. That was long before I met your daddy."

Silence, as KFP processes this new information. I wait for him to ask me a question, but he has none.

"What does the word 'organic' remind you of?" I ask him.

"Lightning McQueen uses organic fuel," he says. "He gets it from the van, who sells fuel." A retelling of the second half of "Cars" follows.

Recently, we finally persuaded KFP to watch the movie, after assuring him many times that it would not be scary. A sensitive child, he rarely sits through any movie without tears. We considered it a victory that he enjoyed "Cars" so much that he wants to see it again. I am delighted that now he knows the origin of the characters that decorate his pajamas, cars, backpack, coloring book and more.

I don't tell him that our experience at the farm turned out odd. We stayed there for two weeks in exchange for helping to work the farm, during the time period between our State College lease ending and our wedding in my hometown. Why didn't we just stay with my Mom or my Dad? In those days my Mom was dating someone who made it clear we weren't welcome to just "mooch off" my Mom for long periods of time, and my Dad was years away from putting together a real guest room at his apartment over his doctor's office.

Plus, I worried that spending that much time around my parents would make it harder to hide the signs of mental illness in my future husband, The Seeker, which ranged from endearing, such as compulsively singing our names to the stars each night, to embarrassing, such as engaging in abrupt, reflexive behavior -- like tossing a hat out a moving car window.

At the farm, they gave us a mattress in the attic, but the first night, a cloud of white fog stomped up the steps, made a loud slamming sound like someone dropping a pile of books, and then growled like an angry animal. The Seeker steeled himself and ran the few steps to the only light, a bare bulb in the middle of the room. Nothing was at the top of the stairs. Not even a pile of knocked-over books. We took our stuff downstairs, got some sage and smudged the door to the attic steps, and spent the rest of our time there sleeping in the living room. I had waking dreams of figures in hooded black robes creeping by the house, looking in the windows.

I loved their children, though. The boy had long blonde hair and a very bohemian name: Arrow. The daughter, a chubby toddler, barely made a sound, like her painfully shy mother. While I was there, we played with magnetic letters on the refrigerator. The little girl repeated the letter sounds back to me. The mother gave me a disapproving frown.

Nothing we did was good enough. We spent a day just going back over the same plot of tomatoes, as the farmer directed us to add more mulch to plants we'd already mulched. When we finally drifted away, two weeks later, I was as grateful to leave as I imagine they were to see us (and our bad juju?) go.

"OK, what about void?" I say to KFP. "A void is the absence of things. Like the part of space that has no stars or planets. We call it the void of space. Does that make you think of anything?"

After a brief moment, he says, "No."

"Are you devoid of ideas?" I joke. He laughs.

I don't tell him about another meaning for void. That some people think of death that way. When my mother died just before Thanksgiving, I told KFP that many people believe that after death we go to a place called Heaven. "Where God lives?" he asked. I nodded. I told him we don't really know what happens, but that maybe that's where Grandma had gone. I didn't say that some people think that everything just ends. Nothing. Blackness. Void.

Lately, I've been watching the second season of "Torchwood," just because of the occasional cross-overs with "Dr. Who." In the "Torchwood" universe, more than one character makes it clear that nothing exists after death but blackness.

But my mom appears in my dreams, painting. Once, she popped into a store while I was dress shopping. "I'm just visiting," she told me. Another time, she described a new garden she was working on, with bright flowers in triangular planters. "It will be beautiful."

Today, to make room for my son's Winter Gala concert tomorrow afternoon, I erased three years' worth of videos from my video camera. First, though, I downloaded all the videos onto my computer, so that I can go through them later to determine which ones I've already copied onto storage disks. I spot-checked each one, many of them videos from Christmases. My Mom, smiling and singing, and reading to KFP one of his favorite books, a compendium of construction trucks. Digital impressions from the past, little dots of light. A pointillistic portrait. She lives on.

"Hmm. The next one is interesting," I tell KFP. "Pupa. Do you know what that means?" At his silence, I tell him, "It's the life stage of an insect. Can you think of any insect that goes through a pupal stage?"

He thought and then exclaimed. "A butterfly!"

"That's right," I said, and explained that the caterpillar is the larval stage, the cocoon is the pupal stage, and the butterfly is the adult stage.

KFP knows butterflies. He has been fascinated with them since we walked through a butterfly garden at the Baltimore Aquarium when he was just a toddler. We borrowed library books about the butterfly's life cycle, and he asked me to read them again and again. Those books first introduced the idea of transitioning from birth to adulthood to death, all leading to a purpose, all looping back upon itself so that a new egg begins the cycle again.

One day he came home from preschool with a question. One of his classmates had touched a caterpillar too hard on the playground, and his teacher told them it was dead. "What does 'dead' mean?" he asked.

I'd explained that death was the natural end of life and that every living being would one day die. "When you're dead, you can't move or breathe or feel anything," I told him. "You can't come back to life."

For days, he gave me updates on the dead caterpillar -- still not moving -- until one day he couldn't find it any more. I told him it would go back to the earth. The frank discussion came in handy later that year, when my sister's dog died. And of course, now.

"You could also think of a pupal stage when it comes to ideas," I posit to KFP. "You learn information, and that's like a larval stage, and then you make sense of that information in something like a pupal stage. Maybe I could do something like that."

"I'd write about butterflies," he says.

"Mm-hmm. I know you would. Well, the final word is... waffles!"

KFP giggles. "I like waffles," he says.

"I used to like them, too." Of course, I can no longer eat them, having developed a gluten intolerance while pregnant with KFP. It makes life more challenging, but I honestly would rather not eat waffles than to have swollen fingers, a bloated belly, and a fuzzy brain.

"Daddy makes waffles," KFP tells me, and I think about the gluten-free waffles my loving husband, The Gryphon, made me about a year ago. He was dissatisfied with the texture, but I found them light, crispy and delicious.

I continue: "Waffles have another meaning. If you waffle about a decision, it means you can't decide what you want to do."

The Seeker suffered from a pathological form of indecision. More than once, we had been seated at a restaurant when he insisted he no longer wanted to eat there. A month before our wedding, he wanted to call it off. We spent a day apart thinking about it, and when we reconvened, he told me that he'd prayed to the gods and would go through the wedding after all. I wasn't really surprised when he reversed his decision a year later, just after we'd shared our stale, freezer-burned wedding cake. Just after I'd had a biopsy for an abnormal pap smear which would turn out to be nothing. However, by the time I had those comforting results, he was long gone.

I don't tell my son, either, about the time I sat in a Waffle House in Memphis with the guy I dated after my marriage broke up, the guy I eventually dubbed The Luser. We got together because we both liked David Bowie, and he reminded me of a guy I'd once crushed on, who was also a Bowie fan. But The Luser was like Spike on "Buffy," but without any of the good qualities: a soul-sucking low-life street punk who would steal from his own mother (and did, in fact, steal a video camera from her, which he then told me she'd given him as a gift).

That day, we were sweaty and exhausted, heading back to Pennsylvania after a fruitless effort for him to reconnect with his father. Upon arrival, The Luser had introduced me as his "friend." His father cleaned fish in the yard while The Luser talked to him, and I made small talk with his stepmother in a cream-colored room with framed butterflies on the walls. Then, The Luser stormed in. "We're leaving," he said, and his stepmother gave me a sympathetic look as we climbed back into my rusting red Ford Ranger, dubbed Red Arrow.

The Waffle House waitress, perhaps making note of my blousy blue shirt, my overweight bloat, asked me when I was due. I snorted.

Not knowing any of this, KFP says, "You should write about waffles."

I wait for the ideas to finish crawling their way into their cocoon. "Maybe I will."


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 16th, 2016 02:45 am (UTC)
I loved how you fit all the topics into one post!
Jan. 16th, 2016 09:52 am (UTC)
Thank you! I rarely am faced with a selection of different topics where a clear favorite doesn't emerge, so I thought I'd try to do something a little different.
Jan. 16th, 2016 02:47 am (UTC)
Did our whole team write blog style this week? We might have! I'm enjoying getting to know our team a bit more.
Jan. 16th, 2016 09:53 am (UTC)
Maybe. I swear that, over the past two weeks, no one would believe us if we told them that we didn't consult each other before writing our entries! I'm thinking that maybe last week's adventures into nonfiction made us all realize that we had some personal things to say.
Jan. 16th, 2016 04:57 am (UTC)
Nice set of memories.
Jan. 16th, 2016 09:54 am (UTC)
Thank you! I wasn't sure that any one of them deserved the spotlight over the others, which is why I chose to write about them like this.
Jan. 16th, 2016 04:42 pm (UTC)
I think it's great that you talk to your five year-old like an adult, and use words like "devoid" in regular conversation. It makes me wonder what he'll be or do when he is an adult. :)
Jan. 18th, 2016 01:00 pm (UTC)
At this point, he tells me he'll either be a writer, an engineer or a clown. Perhaps he will find a way to be all three!
Jan. 18th, 2016 02:06 pm (UTC)
I've been a clown. :) He's got a cute little nose for it. :)
Jan. 16th, 2016 05:27 pm (UTC)
You packed so much into this entry! I especially enjoyed the parts with your son.
Jan. 16th, 2016 08:34 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is beautiful. I love the banter between mother and son, the little glimpses into his life, their life together. I love the reflections that arise from their discussion of each prompt.

I just love this!
Jan. 17th, 2016 12:33 am (UTC)
This was endearing. I love the fact you're so honest with KFP. Your experiences with your mother since her passing, brought a tear. This was a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing. Peace~~~D
Jan. 18th, 2016 01:55 am (UTC)
I loved this mother-son conversation, and how much goes behind the words said. Very nice! (and Cars is one of my favorite movies as well!)
Jan. 18th, 2016 04:11 am (UTC)
THis is such a great piece. Lots of takeaways.... the smart mother-son conbersations around all 4 topics this week, How you shared your memories of past futile relationship , the glimpses for the beauty of the current one ( he actually makes you gluten free waffles !!! ) , how you were able to bring in David Bowie this week...

I really enjoyed this one. Well done.
Jan. 18th, 2016 08:08 am (UTC)
I still can't believe KFP is five now. He's such a smart little boy.

Your time with your first husband must have been very difficult. It was a blessing he wanted to end the marriage, though. It would have been impossible for you to tether him to reality, no matter what you did... but I think you would have kept trying for a long time. I'm sorry things turned out as they did for him.
Jan. 18th, 2016 08:41 am (UTC)
A rich and meaningful story
Jan. 18th, 2016 10:04 am (UTC)
Hahaha. I'm glad you wrote about waffles, too, for your Kung Fu Panda's sake! He has some excellent ideas for creating prompts. You should have him work the green room sometime.

I'm actually not kidding - I overthink things and his responses are so honest and perfect

Since you mentioned David Bowie (as if I need an excuse), this is the song that's been breaking my heart today:

Jan. 18th, 2016 11:25 am (UTC)
Neat to get more of your background - thematically, too, it was interesting to see the threads weaving through and tying together the different men in your life.
Jan. 18th, 2016 12:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks. As we were having this conversation, I was having difficulty removing one part of that background from the rest, because as you said, they all did interweave to form the person I am now. That's when I hit upon this format, to try to show that.
Jan. 18th, 2016 01:48 pm (UTC)
Ah! I enjoyed reading this..especially your conversation with KFP..A good loving bond that you share with him does show through..:)
'I wait for the ideas to finish crawling their way into their cocoon' -loved this line.

Edited at 2016-01-18 01:49 pm (UTC)
Jan. 18th, 2016 09:13 pm (UTC)
So much here!! You really have done a great job tying all these prompts together in a way that makes for a truly engaged reading. I loved each aside, each internal musing which seemed to always circle back to relationship.

I heard this poem this weekend at a poetry workshop -

She wrote me a letter
after her death
and I remember
a kind of happy light
falling on the envelope
as I sat by the rose tree
on her old bench
at the back door,
so surprised by its arrival
wondering what she would say,
looking up before I could open it
and laughing to myself
in silent expectation.

Dear son, it is time
for me to leave you.
I am afraid that the words
you are used to hearing
are no longer mine to give,
they are gone and mingled
back in the world
where it is no longer
in my power
to be their first
original author
not their last loving bearer.
You can hear
words of affection now
only from your own mouth
and only
when you speak them
to those
who stand
before you.

As for me I must forsake
and be bound gladly
to a new childhood.
You must understand
this apprenticeship
demands of me
an elemental innocence
from everything
I ever held in my hands.

I know your generous soul
is well able to let me go
you will in the end
be happy to know
my God was true
and I find myself
after loving you all so long,
in the wide,
infinite mercy
of being mothered myself.

P.S. All your intuitions are true.

~ David Whyte

Jan. 18th, 2016 09:24 pm (UTC)
This was just really wonderful. I wish I had something more inventive or creative to state, but I'm sure you know I don't praise unless I actually enjoyed something, so that in itself is something.
Jan. 18th, 2016 09:45 pm (UTC)
I liked the ebb and flow of the story, and how the memories were called back by the present day discussion :)
Jan. 18th, 2016 09:58 pm (UTC)
Very sweet!
Jan. 19th, 2016 12:05 am (UTC)
Great way to tie in all the topics! After reading your ART OF LIFE book, I really get this on a better level! Thanks!

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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