03 March, 2007

grace under pressure

Well, I have to be childish and admit to a certain frisson of panic today at being properly the only adult in my household. How have I, trained over the past ten years to reconcile myself to John's long work hours, many business trips, my being in charge of every little detail of our at-home lives, become this scaredy-cat? I'll tell you how: the mind-bending comfort, these last several months, of having him home all the time. Well, my wake-up call has buzzed.

John has gone off this morning to spend the next couple of weeks with his parents back in Iowa, so... goodbye early-morning cheerful person who makes taking Avery to school such a daily treat (to be replaced with surly if reliable me, not a morning person). Goodbye person who always seems to know which parking bays are going to be suspended (to be replaced with me, who regularly forgets where I have parked the car at all). Goodbye person who will happily (well, at least willingly) run out to the corner store for whatever last-minute things I have forgotten for the preparation of dinner. I have become so spoiled!

But he is needed back home, so off he went with a suitcase full of silly gifts, including anything we could find made of figs for his mother, who will eat any number of them just plain, so who knows what she'll think of the preposterous comestibles we found at the gorgeous La Fromagerie in Moxon Street, off the Marylebone High Street. What a beautiful shop, with its own Cheese Room attached to which is a very serious sign informing the visitor "Only a certain number of persons may be admitted to the Cheese Room at one time. Please await your turn." Society has really accomplished something when people will queue up to enter a room filled with smelly cheeses. Then I visited Selfridges candy section and acquired something like Avery's weight in vanilla jelly beans for John's dad, who feels about vanilla as Rosemary does about figs.

I also picked up a book for Rosemary called "Roast Figs and Sugar Snow," which looked completely beautiful, although I didn't peruse it long enough to get a sense of the recipes. All this while Avery hung out at her friend Jade's birthday party: the first bowling experience for Avery, and as she tersely reported afterward, the last. "I am really, really, really bad at bowling," was the exact description. Whew, I am relieved not to add another activity to her list of weekly requirements, and equally relieved to know that a hideous pair of bowling shoes will not be residing in her closet. I spend enough time at the Queensway Bowl and Skate Rink as it is! But wait, drum roll please: Level 9 has been achieved! It's been a long time, since there was a pesky backward figure-eight or some such skill that took forever to learn to get past Level 8. And to reward her for Level 9 she gets a badge for me to sew on her bag, in a stunning shade of... black. Seriously! Avery put it just right: "I think they should make the colors for Levels 1 and 2 really beautiful, to encourage the small children, but then reserve some nice color for the high levels! Black??" I will be sure to sew it on her PE bag this afternoon while she's at the barn.

Mostly I'm sitting here thinking about how much I admire people who possess what I would call "grace under pressure." As opposed to I, who possesses a quality whose scientific term is "panic and negativity under almost nothing." I have been so spoiled, not only in having John around so much since he happily quit his job, but also in general in life just sort of happening, with its usual load of responsibilities and tasks, but also punctuated by so much fun and good luck. So when the murkier, less sunny aspects of life rear their ugly heads, I find myself sorely in need of optimistic coping skills. I know, intellectually, that most of the world lives under dark clouds of one kind or another most of the time, and I am incredibly appreciative of all the good things that come my way, but the unfortunate flip side to my blessings is what a Big Whingey Baby I become when circumstances are anything but ideal.

I think that living happily in the real world is an actual skill. Like other skills (skating and bowling) you come into life with a certain capacity to be good at it. But then you can either hone your natural skills, or you can be lazy and just coast by. My father-in-law, for example, is just about the happiest person I know. He approaches each day (whether it's lolling on the beach in St. Barts, or shopping in London, or slaving over some unbelievably complex and unsatisfying work problem) as a day in which to get the maximum amount of happiness out of it. Bad grammar, but you know what I mean. And partly how he approaches life this way is down to his tendency to think first about what the people around him would like, what they need, what would make them happy. And he is the original glass-half-full person. He virtually invented optimism, and nothing can keep him down for long. Of course he is aided and abetted in this by his sidekick, my mother-in-law, whose generous Italian temperament means that she runs on all available cylinders all the time. What a magical combination, actually, her Italian fire and his Irish blarney. No wonder my own husband is such a delight. I would like to learn from all their resilience, their bounce-backedness. Maybe I can.

Last night at dinner the three of us were discussing the notion of love at first sight, and the related notion of soul-mates. John and I just seen the very enjoyable and romantic film "The Illusionist," in which the main premise is the fulfillment of love at first sight. In my typical non-Latin, non-Irish, instead Germanic and Scandinavian approach, I said, "I think a happy marriage is less about love at first sight and more about being willing to stick it out over the long haul." John said, "Well, we're lucky enough to have both." Silence, while we all considered this. Then Avery laughed and said, "Daddy, Daddy, always the diplomat."

I'm going to try hard to be a grown-up in the next couple of weeks, and try to learn the lesson that life is about all those cliches: "taking the rough with the smooth," "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." My goal is to be absolutely cloyingly positive and chirpy, so that no one around me will recognize me and everyone will ask me to go back to my dismal, dark, spoiled persona. I wonder how long it will take?

In the meantime, I want you all to go out and buy my newest musical obsession CD: the new album by Corinne Bailey Rae. She is a British singer, annoyingly young to be so accomplished (she writes, sings, plays guitar, I don't know what all else). Her music was the soundtrack to the completely fabulous film "Venus," and it has a haunting sort of beauty that makes me think of a modern Rickie Lee Jones, she of the albums of our college years (oh, the kissing to the tunes of the Duchess of Coolsville!), a sort of meandering, poetic, style that would appeal to Ella Fitzgerald, if she lived in 2007. Like a much better Edie Brickell, too.

just like a star across my sky
just like an angel on the page
you have appeared to my life
feel like I'll never be the same
just like a song in my heart
just like oil on my hands
honour to love you

We were playing Corinne Bailey Rae, on the evening this week when we received sad news, and Avery said last night, "Oh, that song makes me sad now." I thought how my own emotional development is at times right on a par with that of my 10-year-old child (and often revoltingly far behind hers), so I pulled myself together and said, "Well, that's what memory is all about, and it's not always good, but it's important to listen to this song again, and realise..." "That you can hear it, and then someday feel better," Avery offered. Well done.

Of course two minutes later she was ten again, insisting on eating some noxious blue powdery candy product she had found lurking in the bottom of her treat drawer. "That's just completely disgusting, Avery, look at your lips, your teeth and your tongue," I objected. "Don't look at me, Daddy, I'm all blue," she giggled. So are we all a bit, today. But we're going to rise above it.

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