Friday, August 21, 2009

Nerd Genetics

I was aware when I was in high school that I was a nerd. Really, how many teenagers could give you the hierarchy of all the kings and queens of the entire British Isles? What I didn't realize was that it's not something that you outgrow.

According to Wikipedia a nerd refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obsure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Oh, God, I really didn't need the confirmation, but there it is. While I hope that I have learned to throw a realistic cloak over my social awkwardness, I still find myself drawn to obscure, esoteric pursuits to the exclusion of most normal activities. (That may be one reason that I was hesitant to start blogging--the possibility that I might take it to some bizarre extreme.)

My friends, both then and now, are very sweet and understanding about my peculiar disconnect from reality. They even treat me like a normal person, but despite their kind efforts, I am frequently reminded that I am a nerd. There are those awkward moments when I hear myself making inane conversation because I know the moment calls for conversation but I have no clue what I should say! Then I scurry back to playing my brain games until something or someone forces me out again.

If I thought it was tough being a teenage nerd, I didn't reckon on what it would be like to be a middle-age nerd! I really didn't mind getting caught wearing two different color socks when I was sixteen. Now I have to adopt a whole persona that acts like it's cool to wear mismatched clothing and forget what day of the week it is. I'm aware that I'm not totally dysfunctional, but I have more than my fair share of moments when I'm not completely in touch with what's going on around me. If it weren't for the fact that I was exactly the same as an adolescent, I might think I was slipping into early senility.

Stressful situations, an abundance of which seem to fill my life currently, bring out my nerdy tendencies. It is so much easier to scuttle into my shell and play word games and read books about existential questions regarding consciousness (An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman--great book). Social is hard. Pretending to be normal is hard--pretending being the operative word. Someone pointed out recently that my tote-bag with its side pocket full of pens was exposing my inner nerd--if they only knew!

As if all of these revelations were not disturbing enough, I have had the dismaying realization that nerdiness may be genetic. My eldest son, who has always exhibited too many similarities to his mother, threw a birthday party this week for H.P. Lovecraft, dead sci-fi, horror writer. The party included streamers, partyware, and themed food offerings--including a Cthulhu cake (creepy tentacled monster creation of Lovecraft's). While I was delightfully tickled with his bizarre creativity, I had a thump-your-head-V8 moment when I realized I had given birth to a next generation nerd. Wow, I wonder what kind of karma you accumulate for that!

Empty Nest

The day before yesterday I went to visit an elderly relative who is dying. She is my husband's cousin by marriage. When I married into this family there was a bit of tension seeing as I was not Jewish and not White. Other than that they liked me fine. Several of the older women in the family welcomed me and made me feel as if this was going to be fine. Shirley was one of them. She herself was something of an interloper having been married before and not being Jewish. Even though she was accepting of me, Shirley was never easy to be friends with. She has always been very guarded and sometimes a little paranoid. I told my husband a while back that trying to be her friend is like hugging a porcupine. But I like her just the same. I tend to like difficult people. That's a good thing since my daughter is also extremely difficult in a different way. She is the poster child for oppositional behavior. Said daughter left for college in DC last weekend. She is four hours away. The separation was as full of drama as every transition HRH has ever endured or made us endure. It was not pleasant.

So yesterday I was in Whole Foods and suddenly was overcome by this terrible feeling of loss. I realized that it had to do with Shirley and my daughter. I teared up and this very nice lady asked me if I was OK. I do not do public displays of emotion so I was very embarrassed. When I got to the car, though, I started to laugh. Here I was tearing up over the loss of two of the most exasperating people in my life. I should be happy that my daughter is on her own. I mean raising her has been like riding a wild bull. And Shirley is 84 and having the end of life experience she has always said she wanted -- no fanfare, no heroic efforts. She looked peaceful when my husband and I went to say goodbye. I understand being upset about Shirley -- no one is ever really ready to lose someone they are fond of. But I could not at first understand why I got so emotional about my daughter. Then I realized that I am mourning the fact that I have exhausted all possibility of having that fantasy mothering experience we all want. You know the one where your every move is perfect and you have this magical, mystical bond with your sweet compliant daughter. Ah well.

I remember a boy from Northern Ireland who was my friend in graduate school at Vanderbilt. Mike used to say "You can't pick who you fall for." He was talking about romantic relationships. But I think it goes for parenthood too. We don't pick our children. They come to us and we love them. As soon as someone puts a child in your arms or in your life and says "This one is yours" a switch goes off and you are lost. My daughter is adopted and when they brought her out and we looked at each other, we came to an agreement. She promised to be my child, and in return for the privilege of being a mom, she reached in my chest and took out my heart. And then she proceeded to stomp on it. She didn't mean to. It's just what children do. When they get hurt you bleed, when they get sick you nearly die. When they turn into teenagers and say the things that teenagers say you are devastated. There is a casual cruelty of which only a well loved child is capable. They are so supremely sure of their parents' love that they don't feel the need to guard their words. I realized this the first time I reprimanded my daughter for saying something hurtful to me. She looked confused. Mommies' feelings don't get hurt.

I have never loved another human being with the intensity I feel for my daughter. It is the same love I felt coming from my own mother to me. It is the only way I know to be with a child, and it is the most painful experience I have ever had. I had my daughter out in public when she was about five. We were in an ice cream shop and Chloe was being her usual self. I was constantly having to correct and corral her. This required a delicate balance of firmness and cajoling in order to avoid a scene. There was an older Black couple sitting there and the husband kept looking at me with that smile that made me know he wanted to say something. Finally he said "You need to have another one so you don't love this one so much." I think he might have been right, although at the time I barely had the energy to deal with the one I had.

So she's in DC holding the better part of my heart in her hand. I have a picture of her walking away with her roommate. They walk away from us without any idea that we are frightened and worried and sad. If had known what my mother was really feeling when I left home I would never have been able to go. I think mothers are the strongest people on earth, and the best actresses. We let the most precious thing we have walk away from us to a place where we can't protect them and we smile while we do it. My mother did it more than once. That makes her a super hero. If she were still alive I would call her up and apologize (again) for all the times I must have stomped on her heart. But being Mama she probably wouldn't even acknowledge that it hurt.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Deep Space Anomalies

This week I feel almost as if I have fulfilled a childhood dream of being launched into space, but unfortunately something has gone very, very wrong. Instead of soaring through the stars, I seem to have been propelled into a losing battle with a black hole. School started back, and, despite rumors to the contrary, teachers are just as reticent as students to return. It has been particularly stressful this year since our system is going through a number of substantial changes. Lots of rethinking and replanning, not to mention lots of paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. This week has been crazy busy, and the 175 little darlings that have wandered in and out of my room have merged into a blur of t-shirts with questionable slogans and names like Kaitlin, Katlyn, Katelynn, Catelyn, Caitlin, and . . . well you get the idea. I have spent so many hours at work that I am now making less than minimum wage--an encouraging use of my master's degree! I moved way past exhausted somewhere around 9 am on Monday. I have discovered muscles that I didn't know I had and ways to make them hurt that I didn't think were possible. Who knew that glaring over the top of your glasses could make muscles in your neck seize up? So I find myself tired, in physical and emotional pain, and adrift amidst the darkness of a deep space anomaly. What could be worse? I could have the realization that it's only Wednesday!