Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Real Story, So Far

No, the real story is not about this leg of the journey. Funny how the iPod vending machine -- you know, a screen-like entity that pops out Product -- caught Stryker's eye. Long term. Good thing we got there early AND the flight was delayed so we had a leisurely three hours in the Minneapolis airport. A fine use of time.

Nor is the real story about this, although this is lovely:

This is the view, up, near Century 21, the stampede-like low-brow department store near Wall Street. Can you say elbow to elbow, consumer herd?

Yes! The Matron and Stryker spent the day Downtown, in the financial district. While those acquainted with the Matron's understanding of, and interest in, Finance, might be surprised, she was visiting her brother who works for the Federal Reserve Bank.

Actually, he is an Officer of said Staid and Important Institution. As an Officer, he is allowed to bring guests deep into the bowels of the Bank vault for a private, high security tour.

The Matron? Those hands held a solid gold brick worth $400,000.

Stryker had a hard time letting go of the brick, even though it weighed 50 pounds! He staggered and clung. He actually took fingernail to surface, trying to see if he could scrape off some bling.


They stood thirty feet below the subway, listening to the rumble and roar, surrounded by 200 billion dollars. Stryker got to turn the wheel of a 270 ton vault door and made the behemoth move.

Later, they lunched with the Matron's brother, in an Executive Dining Room which featured a nice table saying "reserved for Mr. X," which would be the Matron's VIP brother. She is glowing with pride--and also knows this same grown man as the shock-blond skinny mop of a child who named his blanket, Baby Blue.

Here is Stryker on his experience eating in the well-staffed Executive Dining Room: "Every time I put down my fork, somebody takes it."

Reader, so much transpired! Still, we are not at the real story. Not yet.

We saw a lot of this:

And dodged some of this:

We stood at Ground Zero. Lots of trucks and working and rebuilding in place. From VIP Baby Brother's spectacular window, we saw the gaping hole in the middle of the city.

The Matron flashed back to 9-11, the horror and fear and mayhem. She remembered the anthrax plague followed and those uncertain weeks. The lives lost and new fears harbored.

That's an important story, but it's not this one.

Lots of New Yorkers, hustling through all that construction:

Stryker pulled up his hood and blended, like he'd been there a lifetime.

Nor is this the story about the cousins-- how wonderful it was to see the boys and the whole family! Stryker and the Matron were given the warmest of welcomes. Lots of love and happiness and familial reunion.

That might be the most important part of the journey. But the story?

The story is about this 50 lb Play Station 2 game--Rock Band-- that Stryker purchased at Broadway and Park Row, in the famous slice of electronic paradise called J & R Electronics. Yes, Stryker had spending money, New York money, unusual stash of cash (thanks Grandma Mary and VIP Brother). So, the Matron, she couldn't deny his good fortune and fondest desire.

Remember that Matron? Wild-eyed and blind-sided in the big city? She didn't saunter, all hot and saucy through the city. No. She didn't window shop and turn the fifty-year old male eye.

Instead, she carried that box (which felt like the brick of gold) through several busy long city blocks, down the subway stairs, through the turnstile, onto the lurching crowded subway, through Penn Station (where she shot the photo), onto a train and into New Jersey.

Remember her angst about the leather boots and hip look? Nobody noticed. All anybody saw was the box.

And she was sweating.

That's the real story, so far.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Only the Matron Can Pontificate On Vacation

Hip is a slang term, an adjective meaning "fashionably current", referring to someone who is conversant with or deeply involved in a particular trend or subject. "Hip", like "cool", does not refer to one particular quality. What is hip is in constant change. ... (slang)

The Matron pondered words like 'hip' and 'chic' as she assembled her New York wardrobe. She spent some time frowning at herself in the full-length mirror.

Hmmm. Brown leather knee-high boots and skinny jeans? Green suede jacket? Or do we go black leather, vintage? Forget the fanny pack; she turned to the Lucky brand black leather purse (thrift store! $7.49!).

You see, the Matron? She did not want to look, well like a middle-aged mother of three from Minnesota, blind-sided and wide-eyed in the Big City. All of which, of course, she totally is.

These musings returned our intrepid life traveler to the phrase 'hip mama.'

The Matron once penned these words in (one of her favorite published pieces) a book review:

The past few years have seen an outpouring of books that deconstruct, describe, and frequently denounce contemporary maternity. Recent celebrated titles reveal much of the genre’s slant: Faulkner Fox’s Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life: Or How I Learned to Love the House, the Man, the Child and the ever-quotable The Bitch in The House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage. These books involve serious self-scrutiny; each author agonizes over minutia and pounds her fists against Ideals, asking how (and why) she fell down this rabbit hole in the first place. Lighter versions include Confessions of a Slacker Mom by Muffy Mead-Ferro and the cottage industry of “hip mama” books by Ariel Gore. No agonizing here. Motherhood rocks, with an “I’m so cool I barely notice I’m breastfeeding” edge. These books offer lots of witty repartee (even between toddlers!) and thoughtful indifference to expectations that other memoirists deconstruct.


The Matronly profile would indicate that she has given this hip mama stance some studied consideration.

First, she encountered literature. She enjoyed every last bit! Things like Ariel Gore's Hip Mama Corporation and the sweet book, The Big Rumpus. There are the Park Slope moms who write and are written about, with their Bugaboo strollers bearing babes in Hanna Anderson.

But as she read, she came to a profound realization. A turning point, of sorts.

Hip mama-hood is artifice.

Artifice. ruse: a deceptive maneuver (especially to avoid capture)

Please, do not misunderstand the Matron! She tried to be a Hip Mama. She embraced the concept, the ruse, the dream. Remember, this is the woman who took her first newborn to his inauguratory well-baby appointment dressed nearly head to toe in black leather.

Yet she does not own a motorcycle. Or ride on them.

What the Matron discovered was this: hip mamahood was work and hip cost money. Hip mamahood meant careful consideration of wardrobe, both mother and child. Organic hemp diapers? Sounds hip. Casual, just tossed-together lunches (protein, fruit, wheat-free cookie, rice milk) spontaneously by the lake, with children flapping about in hand-made cotton caps? That seemed hip. But for the Matron, casual and without thought translated into: studied.

She finally realized that Hip Mama did not mean casual. Hip was contemplative. One needed to be up to date on trends in (or the revolt against), pacifiers, clothing (mother and babe), diet and accessory. Hip seemed, well, sort of like simple consumption.

On the other hand, artifice meant more than clothing as cover. Cover. Ruse. A deceptive maneuver? Perhaps there was something in the Hip Mama stance that appealed because it made Mama separate from child. The ruse was that the Hip Mama was unimpeded by motherhood. Saucy, tapped in, tuned in, chic--yet unassuming. For those of us (Matron too), swamped by maternity, this individuation seemed not only appealing, but life-affirming.

But the problem for the Matron was that Hip + Mama configuration. There is no Hip Mama without the Mama. Motherhood. Being the mother.

And the Matron? She worries. She ponders these three creatures who started leaving her the day they were born. Who are they? What are their gifts, their fears, their dreams? Their lives will be wild and unknown to her. This oceanic interior that the Matron feels in herself? Theirs will be entirely different. So, the Matron gets these few years of their long, textured lives -- this tiniest bit. And it matters to her.

So she is in New York. Waxing philosophical. She strutted her stuff in the skinny jeans, leather boots and vintage green suede jacket. Hip? She hopes so. Hip Mama?

Looks good on someone else, but not her style.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Matron and Her Xanax

Tuesday, the Matron tested half a xanax in order to determine it's impact on her nervous system.

She felt nothing.

Not one blip, not a bling, not a soothing moment.

So today, she plans to pop an entire pill, maybe two, as she flies with Stryker to New York City.

If she were telling you the truth, she'd say that she's visiting her brother and his family, who live in New Jersey. She is. She's very much looking forward to seeing them, especially her adorable nephews.

But that Matron? She is going to NYC, as much as possible! This is the type of place she loves. Put her on a hilltop or ask her to take a stroll?

Ugh. The Matron is not actually fond of 'nature.' (yes, she likes her clean air and environment but let hers be urban)

She will stroll, shop and dine with her firstborn, the smart kid with the wicked wit.

And! She is bringing her camera and laptop. There will be blogging. See you in the city. . . .

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bonus Post, Inspired By Love

Dear Congresswoman Michele Bachmann,

Today, I read in the newspaper that you have introduced this very important bill: "Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act."

What an inspirational title!

Just last night, I tossed and turned, full of fear that I might not be able to enjoy my God-given right to purchase the light bulb of my desires. Thank you for leading this fight. Our liberty is at stake, after all.

Only you would have the acumen, grit and foresight to prevent the government from phasing out conventional light bulbs in favor of energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights.

How dare that selfish Big Brother government attempt to eliminate household items that use much less coal, thus lowering greenhouse gases and mercury. After all, my individual right to have a good old-fashioned coal-guzzling light bulb illuminating my bath mat is more important than breathing.

The audacity! I blame that big old Al Gore for stirring up all this trouble. He should just move to Tibet and hunker in with the Dalai Lama. China can take care of them both.

Thank you for having the courage to say that human contribution to global warming is "voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax." My children and I sleep easier, knowing you are making key decisions regarding our well-being and safety.

I will definitely be joining your fan club.

Would you please do me a great big favor, pretty please? We need someone like you to take her perky little self up to Antarctica, where an ice slab seven times larger than Manhattan just collapsed.

All those ridiculous scientists and scholars (you know, those who can't do, teach) claim this is linked to global warming and they blame us! They're blaming us decent, gas-guzzling, McMansion-maintaining Americans. I could weep.

Thank you for your time! I hope you got your Presidential hug and kiss today, honey. I'm off to run every appliance in my household before driving two blocks to buy the bananas that came from Guatemala.


The Matron

The Five-Year Old Truant

This is Merrick's version of events: "My teachers were missing. Nobody wanted to go to school. We were supposed to look for the teachers."

This is the adult version, patched together by all the players.

Merrick gets dropped off at about 8:45. His brother and sister walk him into the building but he trots off on his own to his classroom.

Usually, Holly the gym teacher is monitoring hallway activity. Yesterday, Holly was gone.

Turns out, so were both of Merrick's teachers--the classroom teacher and the aide. Not there.

When that five-year old peeked into his classroom, he did not see certified substitute teachers, district background checks in hand. He saw strangers.

So he bolted.

At approximately 9:40, a mother (not the Matron) walking up to JJ Hill Montessori Elementary noticed a five-year old boy standing outside of the building. She knew his name because she knows his mother.

Mother: "Merrick! What are you doing out here?"

Merrick: "Nothing."

Because when you're five, articulating your deep fear of strangers, confusion, and general reluctance to attend school anyway is just, difficult.

So the Mother brings Merrick into the building but he refuses to allow her to walk him back to the classroom. So she lets him trot off down the hallway, only to discover -- a few minutes later--that he has returned to his post outside of the building.

The Mother hauls that child back in and brings him to the office. One of the regular aides, a kindly older woman whom Merrick knows well, offers to go into the classroom with him for awhile.

So Merrick finishes out the day with his own personal security guard.

When the Matron came to school to pick up her offspring, the Mother saw her and gave her the scoop. So did the office staff. Even as the Matron sees the humor, she now fully appreciates the high-tech, foolproof security system her children's school offers: other parents.

The Matron admits to getting a little choked up, thinking of her child, outside and unmonitored and unnoticed. She felt inordinately grateful to her friend, the Mother. In fact, she nearly wept at her feet.

The Matron and the Mother were standing together when Merrick appeared. He gave the Matron a hug. He gave the Mother a Look that would turn Medusa to stone. A Look so dark, so knowing, so suspicious, and so ferocious that the Matron and the Mother were compelled to later take note, together, of the Look.

Today, Merrick's classroom teacher will be gone again. Thankfully, Miss Debbie the aide has returned.

The Matron? She plans to telephone the school at about 9:15 to check on her son's status. Or quit her job and stand guard at the front door.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Girls! Who Raised You?

I think I would use the word 'heartbreaking' to describe Meagan Daum's article, "Raunch is Rebranded as Confidence."

There are other adjectives. Disgusting, discouraging, or even perhaps, unsurprising or no big deal.

Read the article.

And as I read it, I wondered about the mothers of those daughters who train for Spring Break, who work out, wax up, and even save up for pre-break surgery: breast implants.

What were their parents telling them before they went?

"Focus on raising your alcohol tolerance, Sydney!"

"Isn't this about time for the nose job?"

"Sweetie, you'll do better during break about ten pounds slimmer. Forget studying. You should really go to the gym."

Spring break isn't something that just happens, that pops out of nowhere. These young women live in a culture (micro of family and friends and macro where we can snicker at Hilary's thighs and pass by porn dozens of times, daily) where hyper-sexualization can be a real achievement.

Me? Dr. Feminist Studies will be discussing this ritual and all others like it with all of her children, male and female.

Even at 9, Scarlett doesn't understand peers who "dress too teenager, with their tummy showing." She is not allowed to wear things that say "princess" or "hottie" on the bottom (or anywhere else). Better yet? She hasn't shown the slightest interest. In fact, I wish she would wash that sweatshirt she's worn for a week now.

And if 12% of these partying teenage girls felt pressured or coerced into having sex, as God-Buddha-Allah and Cher are my witnesses, my sons will be the young men stopping their peers if they see trouble. It's okay, Stryker. You can hit him.

Just a tiny bit worked up.

Even the U.S. Government Hates Scruffy

The Matron answered the front door to find her friendly postal carrier there with a package (a book, of course).

As she was thanking him the harmless deaf-blind geriatric dog stood at her side and barked non-stop. Satan's Familiar went immediately for the man's feet. Did the Matron mention that one of the things Scruffy routinely destroys are shoes? It doesn't matter if you're wearing them, either.

Because Scruffy is barely bigger than an ant and this postal carrier of considerable height and apparently no dog fear, he just gave his foot a little shake and said: "Is that the dog who bites the mail when it's coming through the door slot?"

Matron: "Oh! You can tell. Yes, he always grabs the mail. Big highlight of his day."

Postal carrier: "Yup. He bites my hands too. Here you go. I have a warning card for you."

He handed the Matron a postcard that said this, and was on his way.

Dear Resident,

Your dog has been biting at mail as it comes through the slot. This is dangerous both for the preservation of your mail and for the physical safety of your mail carrier.

When your mail carrier comes to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door, in another room or on a leash. Don't allow your dog to bark, jump up against the door, or bite the mail as it comes through the mail slot. Not only is this dangerous for the mail carrier, it will only encourage your dog to attack the letter carrier if met outside or in a yard.

Even Scruffy's single talent spells trouble.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Guess Who's Side of the Family Does Not Know About the Blog

Merrick's best friend and probable future husband, Lachlan, has been in Costa Rica for a week.

Merrick pined.

The Matron left several messages on the Cotner family answering machine. She selected a perky, upbeat tone that did not reveal her desperation: "Hi Cotners! Hey, this is Mary. We can't remember how long you're gone? Was it a whole week? Wow. So. Merrick is hoping that the minute Lachlan's little feet touch St. Paul soil, the two can talk or somehow convene."

While Merrick wailed: it's a message again!

Lachlan loves him right back. He called from Chicago O'Hare on Saturday night and the two conveniently arranged a play date for the very first time they could see one another: Easter Sunday.

Even though we're practicing Buddhists, the Easter Bunny visits. So does Santa. Yes, the Matron is a complete hypocrite.

Scarlett: "Mom, what is Easter, anyway?"

The rushed Matronly reply was too theologically funky to repeat. Suffice it to say that when she was finished, Scarlett said: "That's creepy."

The Matron vows to do a better job next time.

So after Merrick ingested large amounts of chocolate bunnies, John dropped him and a large bag of weapons off at Lachlan's for the day.

Because the Matron and her husband come from long lines of Roman Catholics, the extended family offers feasts and celebrations, which the Matron (in her role as hypocrite) enjoys.

As for her in-laws? She likes them to varying degrees. Some more than others. Some decidedly less. She is inordinately fond of her mother-in-law, even though they once had this conversation.

Matron: "How about that war in Iraq, Sophie?"

Grandma Sophie: "I have no problem with that war. It's going just fine."

The Matron had no reply.

So the remaining family heads off to Grandma Sophie's for feast and conversation. In the van, John says: "Let's not tell them Merrick's not with us. I bet nobody will notice. "

Two of John's three siblings were to attend, with a total of 8 children, counting Merrick. Great big bunch of chaos.

Stryker: "If anyone asks, say Merrick's in the game room!"

John: "Wherever you are, Merick is somewhere else. If you're up and they ask, he's down. He'll just be lost in the chaos."

Scarlett: "Oh! We should have brought his shoes to put by the front door!"

Stryker: "Wait! He left a sweatshirt in the van. I'll bring that in and hang it casually on a chair!"

Matron: "I'm impressed. Nobody lies like this family."

We plotted entrance, exit, dinner.

When we arrived, why that Merrick? He fairly shot downstairs! Go, Merrick!

Uncle Jim: "Hey, where's Merrick?"

Matron: "Oh, he's around here somewhere."

Aunt Judy: "Where's that little guy?"

Scarlett: "Basement."

The youngest cousin, Nicole, went searching: "Merrick! Merrick!"

Scarlett: "Nicole, I'll play cards with you."

Nicole kept wondering why she just couldn't find Merrick. But the Matron's family was sharp. They identified the weak link and got right on it. Scarlett stuck to Nicole's side, glue and distraction.

In the midst of this trick, the Matron attempted the art of conversation.

One of the things that she loves best about her mother-in-law is that when Grandma Sophie was in her late fifties, she enrolled in a community college and earned a degree at sixty.

This two-year community college degree makes Grandma Sophie the only other degreed person in the room. The first would be the Matron, with her big ole honking and glowing P H D.

In addition, the Matron would bet her bottom dollar (which she may some day be able to see if the real estate market doesn't improve) that she and John are the only people in the room who have:

recently read a book
ever attempted chopsticks
tasted tofu
ever voted Democratic, let alone Green (ack! Uncle Jim is fainting!)
not once been visited by a paid stripper
listened to jazz
can tell you how many U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq (4,000)

The in-laws? These are not the Matron's people. But, oddly, they are. They're family.

The family moans over the general state of the world. For sure, Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton would destroy civilization as we know it. Those gay people should just die--they're that bothersome on every level. By God, my gun is my best friend and no senator is going to take that away.

Remember Saturday's post? Being both pro and sociologist, the Matron was unabashedly observing.

Clang, clang! Grandma Sophie gets everyone's attention, fork to glass.

"I'll tell you what's destroying this country! It's one thing and I know it!"

She has everyone's complete attention.

"Premarital sex! You can trace every single problem in the country to premarital sex. Everything! Premarital sex!"

Then that room full of people debated this theory. Chewed on it from different angles, trying to see if had staying power, legs. The Matron had to pinch herself, just to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

And then that room full of people sat down to a sit-down dinner, all those 7 bright smiling child-faces glistening with ham grease and gravy.

Nobody asked about Merrick. Not one word.

There was a lot of this: "Mark! Did you eat a bite of that potato? Put some gravy on that and eat half before you get up."

"Scott! You cannot move until you have taken corn."

"Bennett! Where is your fruit salad? You can't stop eating until you've had fruit salad."

The Matron's children? Stryker took nothing but seven slices of Polish sausage, which he heartily enjoyed. Scarlett had mashed potatoes without gravy (two servings), one buttered roll and some fruit. The Matron and John had absolutely no comment on what their children ingested.

Grandma Sophie: "My goodness, I'll be glad when these kids learn to eat."

And when they were leaving --- four hours later -- Grandma Sophie said, "Where's that Merrick! I need to give him a hug."

"He's in the van," shot Stryker. "Just ran out."

And Grandma rolled her eyes, kissed the other two and made note that Merrick owed her a hug.