Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Matron Hates Nature

Sure, she likes clean air and all, but make hers urban. Green space? That would be the tidy city park, surrounded by asphalt and chaos.

Hike? Where ARE we going and what's the point? Okay, she knows it's all about the journey, but she is a destination and purpose kinda gal.

Deer? Seen one. Been there, done that.

So the Matron and thsi bad attitude have been transported to Lake Itasca national park. Thank GOD there is wireless internet and an espresso machine in the University of Minnesota-owned house in which she is staying. She loves her hosts!

But just cannot force the Matronly toe into the leech-infested swimming hole. Or pretend the 'Bear' signs don't make her knees go weak.

Bring on those cement structures! Forty-eight hours and she's back in the city again, sucking in all those bus fumes. And she'll be happy.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The First Annual Matronly Holiday Lecture

Is there a song? Sick of myself? The Matron thinks so, but she's so tired and self-involved she cannot remember it. Lord of the Flies, Day 3, was yesterday.

But even as she toiled and hauled, the Matron was bothered yesterday--bothered by a book.

She just finished If I am Murdered or Dead by Janine Latus. The Matron picked up this book in the offhand, spur of the moment, need-a-beach-read sort of way, the way one grabs a People magazine. The book had a New York Times Bestseller banner on the cover and a simple Google search revealed the book once reached the rank of #27. How bad could it be?

Number 27! Oh My God! She is stomping her exhausted foot, it is that bad!!!

The pedestrian prose isn't the main problem (although let's just say the modest Matronly way with words outshines).

No, what bothers the Matron is that this book simply struts out abuse and self-abasement, prances these sad character traits about and shines them up for everybody to see -- sort of like reality TV. Just like Jerry Springer-- hey! Watch blind Egyptian lesbian with one limb amputated fight over the ex-girlfriend. Just like that.

Latus describes how her father defined his daughters purely in sexualized terms: somebody else's fresh meat for the future. And she saw herself that way, turning over her body like a calling card and entering a marriage in which her husband coerced her into having breast enhancement surgery and then demanded (and got) sex, post-op, in the hospital room. Yup. Emergency appendectomy? Probably a good time for loving, about 10 minutes off the table (because he was that worried about you and you're lucky he loves you so much, even if having sex is pretty much the full-time job you don't like that much).

There's more. Looooooooooooooots more.

And that's what bothers the Matron about contemporary memoir. Mostly, the disease or distress is reproduced in an entirely voyeuristic way and then boom -- the writer is sober or gets divorced or stops shooting up. The reader gets endless debasement and self-abuse. Guess what? We all know that story and, well, it's sort of boring after a few rounds.

But a detailed narrative of reinvention? Self-construction? How someone consciously, carefully recreates their own psyche and self into something stronger? Sorry! Not a lot out there. Alice Koller's classic, An Unknown Woman, might just be the best of the slim bunch. Striking analysis of self and reconstruction which is probably about 20 years old now.

Our cultural disinterest in the mechanics -- just how does somebody change?--strikes the Matron as odd, given our national narrative of reinvention and success. On this Fourth of July, she considers that one of the grand themes of America has been an unflagging optimism regarding personal success. Anything is possible! You can pull yourself out of the grimmest plight, reinvent yourself, start over -- anything goes in America! There's nothing we like more than a rags to riches story.

But. How do you pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you don't have any boots? She'd like to know that trick? How do you go from abuse to divorce in one chapter? From the bottle to AA expert? Hmmm? Details, people!

Without those details of hard word and self-recovery, these transformation seem sort of magical, easy or just the natural progression.

There's another danger to leaving out the real story, the work, a danger which hints at a darker side to the glorious narrative of self-reinvention and success. Those ideals are so deeply wrapped in our cultural psyche that (she thinks, you can disagree) that a sense of entitlement is the flip side, the barnacle clinging to the boat. If you live in a land where anyone can be President and opportunities are endless, don't you want a piece of that pie? If you don't get it, how do you feel? Cheated? Shorted? Or not as good as you should be, really. So entitlement, anger and despair might be the underbelly of the American dream. She's seen those qualities in action and has participated in them, as well.

All this, from one little memoir! That Matron. She really should be an English professor.

Happy fourth of July, readers.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Lord of the Flies, Day Two

So the Matron hauled her fine ass out of bed at 5:46 am and by 6:20 was in a caffeine-fueled frenzy at the rental property.

Clang, clang, clang go the Digression Bells!

Friends, yesterday's blog post brought in about 100 readers more than she usually gets! Unless somebody else is pimping her blog, she's thinkin' that some search engine liked the post's title, all that loving of women and such. Hmmmm.

Hey, if you're still there, not only is she NOT writing this naked, she is wearing mud-caked pants, a twenty year old t-shirt and an earthy personal aroma. Breasts? She used those up.

Back to the Land Baron Narrative.

Over the past three days, the Matron has cleaned for about 300 hours, making up for all that time nobody else did. She touched things she decidedly did not want to touch! You can shudder. She sure did.

John joined her around 8 am.

Because this house is one block away, periodically our children just showed up. First, Scarlett came and she brought a friend .

Scarlett: "Mom? Don't you remember that today is my American Girl Overnight party? Ellie, Lia, and Maddie are getting dropped off early and you're taking us to the movie? And they're spending the night?"

Indeed, the Matron would have conveniently repressed that fact. So not only were her own children on their own for day number 2, she added 3 more of other people's to the mix! Plus, she was reminded how keen her family's communications skills had become. Wouldn't such an event warrant at least one conversation?

Soon, Stryker and Merrick made an appearance, the latter in his new uniform of the Matron's latest thrift store steals: army pants, army shirt (even says 'US army), big bulky boots and a dead cell phone.

Stryker: "Mom, Merrick's my new minion. Minion! Get me that branch from the sidewalk!"

Merrick: "Pwease don't fire me any mowe, Strwker. I like being a minion."

You see, if Merrick missteps, he gets fired from his minionship. Then he cries. Then the Matron has to put down the tremendous piece of plaster she's falling under and actually tend to her children. She does not have the time for that!

In the midst of this, she had to clean up and scurry out to College X to interview people who want to take over the adjunct job she swapped for the full-time gig.

During his interview, Candidate Q made eye contact with the Dean. And then never turned that channel! There were four other people around that table and the Matron radiated ESP toward that man: over here! Look at me! Make a room scan! She extended positive, encouraging body language and facial expression to no avail. Mostly, she felt sorry for the Dean who was limpid after her 45 minute individual eye-lock.

Upon her return home, she donned the disgusting clothes and took one terrified look through her thoroughly trounced house. Yes, the children are rehearsing their worst college dorms scenes while she's away.

After dinner (ha! cheese and wheat-free crackers) she took five girls to see the new American Girl Movie and hates to admit (well, she's admitting to many so 'hate' might be hyperbole) that she cried, many many many many times. And laughed. So did those American girl-world citizens she brought along.

And earlier today, when the toothless 50-something woman who lived in the apartment building behind the new rental, came over and said: "I need $17.21. I can clean, haul garbage, sew, do small handy jobs. Do you have $17.21 of work for me?"

The contractor scowled and walked away. The Matron looked at the mess and chaos around her and picked a distinct cleaning job (windows, doors) and the end result? Outstanding! Gleam and shine. The $20 the Matron handed that woman? Reminded her how many people can't take a bus or buy a prescription or can of coke without serious consideration and stress.

So she's been up since daybreak. She has a big house and one to boot. And never ever any end of blog posts because each day seems to hold a story.

But really, soon the one about siblings and tired old personal narratives! The Matron might just be Sigmund Freud incarnate and she has Analysis, ahead.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why the Matron Loves Women (especially but not limited to, mamas)

Today, the Matron left her children to the wolves.

She and John were out of the house at 7 am and said to Stryker: "Good luck." To complicate matters, Stryker and Scarlett both were having friends over, leaving Stryker as King of the Flock of five.

The Matron did this today. When Stryker called and said, "We're hungry" she said, "If you can't cook something, open a bag."

Why? The Matron is married to a realtor. Thank you. She just felt your stab of pain and prayer. Thankfully, John had a record year in 2007 (she thinks it's because he's a leftie tree-hugger Buddhist realtor and somebody has to serve that crowd!) and an ace in his back pocket: the Matron. So when the market ground to a halt, she was able to step up and earn a paycheck.

But in his real estate travels, John stumbled across a mini-miracle! A house in (sadly for one family) foreclosure, with gleaming woodwork and built-in cabinets, bling and two sweet bedrooms -- for $50,000! The house is also one block down from theirs!

So he bought it. Just like that. Given the tax value is like $180,000. And it cost $50,000. You do the math.

Now, the Matron is accustomed to being poor folk. She is the under-achiever in her family (more on that soon and it will be good). Financial security? Ha! Retirement fund? Can you define that?

But tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. when the very fine tenant moves in, she will be a landlord.

Aside! The Matron has never understood the second-hand status of renters. She and John rented their first house on Stryker Avenue for for five years and were always reminded by neighbors that they were, ahem, renting. That attitude continues to bother the Matron. So the guy renting this house? She owes HIM.

Back to today. The landed gentry - meaning the Matron -- needed to help John and the contracting crew prepare the house. By prepare the Matron basically means rebuild.

Because this is an adorable steal of a house that hasn't been cleaned or updated in about, oh, 200 years.

Earlier today, Stryker visited and said: "You'd think the major appliances would be in by now, don't you, Mom?"

She does! She is actually in a full throttle panic. She will be back at the new house at 5 am tomorrow morning, once again leaving Stryker in charge.

The Matron knows women who can bake a pie and wield a power tool. She is not one of them. But when you're cleaning two feet of dust and gunk from drawers and the harried contractor says, "drop that and paint this wall," you do.

And when the plumber tells you how he knows some neighborhoods are good because they are WHITE and others are bad because they are NOT, you say this and SOOO enjoy yourself:

"This actually isn't a white neighborhood because I'm Black. I'm mixing it up. I know I don't look like I'm African-American, but my father is Black and my mother is white. I got her genes but his soul! Do you want to listen to some hip-hop? Rap?"

(the Matron is entirely Scottish and pale but that made for one awkward, honest to God learning moment!)

So while the Matron was having all this fun, her children were entirely alone. She got some screaming phone calls and knew things were falling apart when nobody had lunch. Then Stryker called at 3 pm.

"Mom. Merrick is totally crazy. All he's eating today is candy and gum. He just hurled himself on me and head-butted Scarlett. I don't know what to do."

The Matron hung up and called a dear, sweet Mama friend and asked this woman to drive over to her house, drive her children to her house, feed and mother them and keep them till bedtime.

And she said, "I'll be right there."

That's why the Matron loves women.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Road Trip

See that cow? This would be the convenient Bonegue Creamery, located smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Creamery would indicate ice cream, milk, butter. Yup. But there was also plenty of this fine fare:

But wait! She digresses. Back to the cow. Notice the dark clouds developing?

Now, the Matron has weather credentials, friends. She has survived one tornado, a lightening strike and a 15 ton, 100 foot disaster that gave real meaning to the word 'tree house.' Hers was.

Friday's trip to Marshall offered just one more chance for weather to finally kill the Matron!

Does that look like a tornado, bearing down upon the Matron? It sure did to her. The Matron was driving her children through the vast open spaces of farmland when a terrible, dark storm appeared on the horizon into which they were headed.

Scarlett screamed.

The Matron did not mess around with instant black sky and ominous feeling. No, she turned the van and went back half a mile to the tiny little piece of humanity she had spotted, the creamery.

As she gathered the children, she knew that inside she would find the Bonegue Creamery proprietors. She imagined them warm people, Lake Woebegone-ish and somewhere in their 50's or 60's. Experienced with tornadoes, violent storms, nervous mothers and such.

So when she walked in and said hello to the two giggly 15-year olds behind the counter ("oh! is there a storm coming?! cool!") she realized that if a tornado were indeed to hit, she would be all alone, saving the lives of five children, instead of just her three. All in a day's work, isn't it, Mamas?

The tornado didn't materialize but a damn fine thunderstorm with 60 mile an hour winds and hail, did. Enough to keep them in the creamery for nearly 40 minutes. Just enough time to get Merrick real sugared up.

Now, a dear friend had given the Matron blessed salt to sprinkle in her van as protection and prayer for their travels. Now, the Matron is a big big believer in protection and prayer but she had never heard of blessed salt and couldn't quite remember the instructions about what to do with it.

So before they left, she had sprinkled liberally throughout the van and then brought along the whole can to ride shot gun, just in case!

As they waited out the storm, Stryker said: "So much for that salt, I guess."

The Matron: "I'd say it's working perfectly. Here we sit, eating ice cream, safe."

Thanks, Stephanie!

Once the weather cleared, there was plenty of bright blue sky and small town. That would be a smiley face on the water tower for a teeeny tiny town called Sacred Heart.

Stryker: "Mom? Did you know that half the towns here have less people in them than my new junior high school?"

That gave the Matron pause, both about the magnitude of a junior high with over 700 students and the flavor of life in a town with even fewer. And they have to find their way through long winters, just like she does, but with fewer options.

Once in Marshall, the children had a wonderful time with their New Jersey cousins! See how easy it is to take perfect pictures of five children?

The Matron did not exactly turn into a toddler on meth while around her mother but there are a couple of stories, coming later.

Throughout the short trip, her brother's sons each wore nice, clean pants and shirts that matched. Her children did not. That's a stripe and camouflage theme Merrick has going.

The five inch hole in Scarlett's shirt isn't visible here (but it was to the Matron).

Matron: "Scarlett? Do you have any clothes that are dirty or torn?"

Scarlett: "Why? Should I?"

The Matron likes to be sure someone holds up the low-brow end of the family and she guesses that job is left to the offspring she's producing.

Uncle Dean has power tools and knows how to use them. Merrick pretty much never left his side or wiped that adoring look from his adorable face.

After one full day of fun and family, they got back into this and drove home. Safely.

But the question of the day is why the Matron found a jar of BBs -- as in BB gun -- in Merrick's room?

Merrick: "I found them."

Matron: "Where?"

Merrick (with big smirk on face): "I don't knee-member."

The likelihood of not remembering where one found something as unusual and precious (to a five year old) as BBs would be about zero. Although the Third Child Syndrome persists, at least it did not fell Merrick -- or the Matron -- in front of her family.