Death by Book

MS

NY

As I approach the finish line of this new memoir, my response to the question How are you? has lately been, This book is killing me, or (in the style of the Wicked Witch), I’m melting! MEEEELTING! And other cheery and not-at-all dramatic stuff like that.

Then, right before Halloween, my best friend Julie in upstate NY called to tell me her husband just had emergency heart surgery. If they hadn’t caught the blockages, he would have been dead within the year.

After I hung up the phone, I vowed to slow down, to be in the moment, to be present for the miracle that is my life. Forever more. The end.

And then I used that vow to flagellate myself for the next few days because, as usual, I was unable to accomplish this goal in any significant way. Until I finally just said forget it and tossed the vow out of the window of my car, while texting at red lights, blasting The Shins, crying and eating an emergency taco on my way to therapy.

When I got home from therapy, I (not at all slowly or mindfully) stuck T in front of Phineas and Ferb, while I packed two suitcases for NY. In the morning we left to meet Scott and see an Everything Will Be Alright in the End show. The next few days were a maelstrom of activities and meetings and rock shows and no sleep. By the time we were in a rented car heading over The George Washington Bridge to go upstate and visit Julie and her family, I had been running nonstop for so many days that my whole body was vibrating.

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When we got there the air was crisp and smelled like rain, the grass phosphorescent against the grey sky. The last of the fiery foliage still clung to the trees. I began to breathe as we wound through the country roads that I recognize in my very bones, from having spent every summer of my childhood there. I hurried us all into our half-assed costumes (Frankenstein, the Mummy And a fortune teller, fyi), then met Julie, her sister and their kids in the hippie haven of Woodstock. It was adorable night, with exuberant trick-or-treating punctuated by lots of old school drum circles. Without even trying, there it was in front of me: the wonder of my days.

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When we got back to their house after the candy carnage, Julie’s husband was resting on the couch, waiting for us.

Scott asked him, “How are you feeling about all this, Man? Are you anxious?”

He replied, “I’ve never been calmer. Nothing matters to me anymore except this.”

The “this” he was pointing at included six children racing through the living room on plasma cars, screaming with laughter and leaving chocolate fingerprints on every available surface. The youngest of them toddled behind, yelling “Tarikoosh! Tarikoosh!”

Ah yes. This.

Writing is hard. Mothering is hard. Sometimes keeping both balls in the air does indeed feel like it’s killing me. But it’s not. Ultimately, it’s nourishing me. My family and my work both give me much more than they ever take out of me.

The book is called Everything You Ever Wanted. It’s a motherhood memoir for the slightly less traditional moms among us, about going from being a member of a harem to a member of the PTA, and it comes out in May. It is almost finished. So close. I can’t wait to share it with you. I am wicked stressed, but it is not killing me. Not at all.

Fear of the Dark

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us halloween

The neighbors on our street all decorate for Halloween and hand out absurd amounts of candy to sugar-crazed zombie hoards. We always throw a big party and it’s a blast. We let Tariku pick the family costume theme and then I get crazy with the glue gun and next thing you know, we’ve created a mutual fantasy world into which we all can escape for one chaotic night. This year, we were an octopus, a mermaid and Neptune.

Our culture demands that mothers be perfectly wholesome, that children embody the very essence of angelic innocence. Any deviation will bring down the wrath of the haters, both online and on the playground. I love that Halloween offers us a chance to give a public voice to our darker side. Costumes are a great way of letting our fantasy or shadow selves, heroes or monsters, spiral outward into the world.

Tariku stands in front of the skeletons and ghosts hanging from the trees on our street and faces them down, saying, “I’m not afraid of you. You’re not real.” Which, of course, is both true and not true. The skeleton masks are just cheap, novelty store rubber, but the specter of death is looming over us all, just over our shoulder, all our lives.

I have always been afraid of the dark. As a child, I woke regularly from terrible nightmares, frozen with fear, imagining the darkness to be alive and swimming with menace.

This irrational terror lasted into my adulthood, until at one point a therapist suggested that I walk into dark rooms and then just stand there and lean into the feeling of fear, letting it move through me until it transformed into something new. It is embarrassing to admit that the first few times I tried it, I couldn’t do it. I would stand there rigid until a wave of fear washed over me and I ran from the room with my heart pounding. But slowly, with practice, I learned to stand quietly in the dark. Now, when I wake in the middle of the night, I sometimes intentionally walk through the house without turning on the light. My reward has been that I get to walk through patches of moonlight spilling onto my kitchen floor, that I get to experience the peace that can come from being alone in the velvety darkness.

To me, Halloween is symbolic of the potential for growth that lies in engaging with the shadow side of life rather than denying it. It’s a chance to bring your fears out into the light and dance with them, rather than running away.

It is also ridiculously fun to watch the kids explode with joy at the prospect of putting on a mask and having permission to eat a peanut butter cup or two.

I love it all. And I particularly love that Tariku thinks this octopus costume is “really, really scary.”

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Wild Things

Halloween is our thing around here. I start thinking about next year’s costumes by about Christmas. I sometimes get impatient and put us in costumes for our Christmas pictures. But this year I have to tell you, I was tempted to call it off. I actually suggested putting an “abducted by aliens” sign on the door and going to hide out in Joshua Tree or something.

All the travel lately has me generally fatigued. I feel like I’m doing my best to just keep from getting too horribly behind on my work, while the laundry piles up and the to-do list grows and the house falls down around me. I know you hear me, moms. Sometimes holidays can seem like more of a chore than a celebration.

BUT when I saw T in his Max from Where the Wild Things Are costume, I pretty much said- well, let the house fall down. It’s worth it.

I think my favorite moment was the very beginning of the night, when T and I went to the neighbor’s house, where his friend Presley was dressed as Sandra Dee. Presley’s parents were blasting the Grease soundtrack and we all had a big dance party.

It was one of those moments that I wished I could have frozen in amber and put in my pocket. So I can put my hand around it every time I’m driven to the very edge of my patience and tempted to say, “BECAUSE I SAID SO THAT’S WHY” (or some profanity-laden version of that). So I can pull it out and look at it and remember that this is all I ever wanted- it really is.

Scott and I were Wild Things, of course. T went trick or treating with his BFF Bedelu and they were pretty polite and awesome. After a few houses, I even stood at the curb and watched him go. I only intervened when he started trying to eat all the candy at once, wrappers and all.

Friends came by. We got over 800 trick-or-treaters this year. We ran out of candy and started giving out change from our coin jar.

Best costume went to our genius friend Sharon McGunigle (aka Venus DeMille– for you burlesque fans out there). She was in a motion capture suit- complete with green screen.

Los Muertos of Mount Royal

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Halloween in our neighborhood is a cross between a Tim Burton tribute party and a Disney princess death match. Most of the residents of Mount Royal get in the spooky spirit, decorating their yards and dressing up and trying to one-up each other with who has the best candy. Suzanne always wins on the candy, but we are absolutely the only house with a live Theremin on the porch, courtesy of our friend Steve-the-real-rocket-scientist. This year we had over seven hundred kids come to the house. Only two of them left crying.

Our party had a Dia Des Los Muertos theme. See our altar for our favorite dead relatives above, as well as a picture of me with the divine Venus DeMille. I went psycho-skeleton Martha Stewart this year and stayed up until the wee hours baking cookies.
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