Telling: Altars & Artifacts



Tucker woke bright and bubbly. "Mom," calling down the stairs, "Am I 4 Mom?" When I answered yes, he clapped his hands once in delight and triumph, exclaiming, "How bout that" or "what do you know", some extremely adult and slightly out-of-fashion phrase that struck me so by it's essence, that it's particulars clean slip my mind. It put the lie to my assertion of his age at any rate, no way is this boy merely 4. No "mere" to him though, he's been waiting for this forever. To be four. To be no longer three. He carried the lift of it all day. A straight-backed, chin-high day.

There was no school today. Teacher's inservice. So all three boys lounged about while I made my business-like phone calls and the carpenter's saws whined below. I had thought to take us out to the zoo, but I woke up under the cloud of a new cold and couldn't muster the personal drive to herd everyone about. And it was just as well really. The day had it's own easy rhythm. When Watt came home we ate our birthday McDonald's, our grocery store cake with a pumpkin face on it and moved the clean laundry from the bed so we could gather there to open presents.

I've been fighting off depression about this birthday cluster, Jake and Tucker's. Our kitchen should be long finished by now, but it's not. I have a refridgerator and a stove top. I even have a dishwasher now, but no oven, no kitchen sink, no counter that isn't stacked with lumber and a never ending blanket of plasterdust. My traditional halloween birthday cake is one of my favorite acts of motherhood. Marian offered me the use of her kitchen, but I can't rise past the hurdles. All my graveyard cake props are buried deep in the green room, behind the grandfather clock and the highback stuffed chair, the rugs and extra beds, back in the corner between the boxes of books and the pots and pans, back deep in the dead-mouse smell of the green room. That thought alone defeats me. So there is to be no mom-made cake. And no party either. Where would we? The boys have chimed for Chuck-e-cheeses. A kid's pizza place with loud lights and flashing noises, games and tickets and prizes. Under the best of circumstances I can't project myself into that environment with anything that resembles authority or self-control. I'm sorry boys, your mother cannot take you to Chuck-e-cheese. There will be no party this year, no gathering of neighbors, no pinata. Your mother can not conjur the tiniest wisp of party spirit.

And then there's the question of presents. Watt and Gus did the shopping this year. One trip through Toys-r-us and we're done. Watt spread the goods across the bed for me to inspect. It all seemed so dreary to me, so uniform. Superheros and army men. Nothing of me, except the little beaded lizard I bought for Jake last spring in Santa Fe. I made a trip to the bookstore and that was good, but not enough for balance. Watt says I don't get it, I'm not thinking like a boy, and suddenly I feel cast out, a complete outsider, the only girl. Which is exactly the case.

Tucker tore through his newspaper wrapped presents. What had seemed too much proved to be enough for each boy to have something to construct, a spaceship, a superhero's weapons. "Let's go upstairs and play," Tucker said. "You come too, Dad."

"What about Mama?" Watt asked.

"Mom's not into action figures." Jake answered promptly.

So they went. All the new toy adventure, the packaging and wrappings, the birthday boy and his entourage moved upstairs, leaving me in the wake, the quiet behind, curled around a bleak understanding of my position. Not a boy. The gulf between their pleasure and my incomprehension.

A Mother's Journal

field notes from
1997 - 1999