More Worms

13-y.-o., on Greenville's weather patterns: "So, it rains, like, ten days a week here?"

"When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families' tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable. (Or worse, convenience-mart hot dogs and latchkey kids.) I consider it the great hoodwink of my generation." (Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)

You know, if you turn the tail on the "q" around when you're writing out your to-do list hazily in the morning, you'll be ordering guilt fabric instead of quilt fabric.  No, no, I think I will not order any of that guilt fabric.

11-y.o. daughter on history's lessons:  "If there's one thing I've learned, it's never trust anybody who isn't in your...well, just never trust anybody."

"The Mayor was a little, fat, breathless, beetle-shaped man, who hastened with difficulty owing to his robe of office being trodden on by the Constable, who ran close behind him in order to finish eating a banana in secret.  He had some more bananas in a paper bag, and his face was one of those feeble faces that make one think of eggs and carrots and feathers, if you take my meaning." (Norman Lindsay, The Magic Pudding)

Newest creation from my husband, the king of apropos portmanteau words: side-trapped.  As in, "I can't come help now, you sent me this link and totally side-trapped me!"

"Don't mistake your child's caution in new situations for an inability to relate to others.  He's recoiling from novelty or overstimulation, not human contact."  (Susan Cain, Quiet...) 

What you say: "Kids, be quiet for a few minutes, please.  Daddy has a business call."  What they hear: "A dull roar is no longer suitable.  Let's peel the roof off this place!"

Is it really necessary to disabuse my children of the notion that those black dots in the middles of our eyes are called "peepholes"?

Was hemming jeans with ruined knees into shorts.  "Broke another needle!" said I, exasperated with that thick side seam.  "Why are you breaking so many needles?" my 12yo asked.  "Ugh.  Jeans." "Why?" he said, "Does your mother break a lot of needles?"

12-year-old, defiant, fist in air, "I will not be subject to the feudal system!"  We like to keep the bar low.

My 10-year-old daughter's three-word review of Duolingo Spanish: "Hard, but fun."

The baby came down the hall, crying.  She was completely backlit, the rays of late-afternoon sun gilding the edges of her buck naked self, everything else dark.  Poor baby, I thought, she thinks she's alone in the house.  I can fix this one, easy.  I swept her up, dispelled her fear, held her close, and discovered...that she was completely covered in potato soup.  And, now, so was I.

Dreamed that I met Martin Scorsese and found out that he'd never been to a Wal-Mart.  Spent the rest of the dream asking him deep, pithy questions like, "You mean, not even for a...a...toothbrush?  Or a can of spray paint?"

Turns out that in Turkish, there are two separate words for "Turkification", depending on whether your Turkification was intentional or not.  This means that accidental Turkification happens often enough for there to be a word for it.  Just to add another worry to your life.


a new holiday

The holidays we have are great.  I'd request less sugar and less buying of clutter if I could, but on the whole they're fun, especially for kids.  As I went through my house and all my belongings prior to moving, though, I've decided we could use a new holiday.  Maybe over in August, when there aren't any other holidays.  Yes, that would be perfect. 

The concept for my holiday is simple.  It's a day for everyone in the family to turn in all his or her tired, sad, used socks and underwear and get new ones instead.  Because I've tried buying people new socks and underwear periodically, but somehow the new things get mixed in with the old ones and the monster in everyone's drawer just keeps growing.  It doesn't seem to matter how many holey underthings I send to the compost bin, I never get to the bottom of the well of tired skivvies.  And always, when we're going somewhere and I ask little people to put on decent socks, the reply is, "But I don't have any."  How is it possible?  

So the premise of our new holiday is this:  If you don't leave all your socks and underwear out for her, the Cotton Fairy will know it, and won't reward you with a thing.  I understand what this means about how the children will be dressed for bed on Underthings Day Eve...or shall we just call it All Whites Day...they won't be.  And so the festivities begin.

First, we'll need a centerpiece for our holiday.  Cotton plants begin to look cotton-y around the end of August, and soon there will be a specialty market for cotton plants groomed as Whites Day trees.  Now we'll need a fairy or a saint, who has a history and a motivation.  Hmm...why would anybody on earth want used-up socks and underwear?  For that matter, why would anybody want fallen-out teeth?  Is the Cotton Fairy in it for completely altruistic reasons, or is she making a business out of it on the side?  Are the old clothes taken apart and rewoven into new ones in order to fill the immense need on All Whites Day?  Does Mother Cotton do this all by herself, or is there an army of helpers?  Maybe she began her days as a laundress in a monastery and noticed the perpetually sad state the monks' underclothes.  Maybe her passion for tidy whites led her to roam the whole earth, providing them for everyone she ever meets.  And it made her immortal, of course.

I know what will happen.  This will start out as an innocent, straightforward exchange of old clothes for new ones, but in some families the holiday will get out of hand.  At first there will be little boxes of those laundry detergent tabs tucked in between the stacks of new briefs.  Just as an extra surprise, you know.  Then, when those have come to be expected, and the surprise has worn off, there will be personal-sized bottles of bleach, and then those little fancy shapes cut out of cedar, and before you know it, parents will dread All Whites Day as being a behemoth holiday with crushing expectations attached.  Children who wantonly disregard the care of their unmentionables might be threatened with, "If you don't stop wearing your socks out in the yard without shoes, the Cotton Fairy might bring you a darning egg and thread instead of replacing them this Whites Day!"

There will have to be a feast on All Whites' Eve, of course.  And poems read and candles lit, and all kinds of individual family traditions built up to support this very important day.  I believe a sock-puppet theater would be just the thing, with the play having themes relating to the immortality and infinite recyclability of socks' souls.  At the end of the evening, each of us will make an offering: All of the loved and used socks and underwear that the Cotton Fairy brought us last year.  Then it's off to bed to dream those dreams where we show up in public wearing nothing else.  

In the morning, beneath the Cotton Tree, each of us will find a nice stack of bright white socks and underwear, just for us!  Maybe this year the Cotton Fairy will have gone a little wild and brought us socks with stripes, or panties with flowers.  Who knows what she'll do?  She's capricious, that one.

And so we'll start another year, out with the old, in with the new, and it all happens on All Whites Day.  When we go out and bump into our friends, we'll know that that little bit of a smile comes from the nice feeling of thick new socks, or of underwear with springy new elastic.  We'll know because we'll be wearing the same smile.  

All Whites Day.  Practical, fun, and actually helpful to parents.  I could get on board with a holiday like that, couldn't you?



just normal life

We were at the beautiful Falls Park in downtown Greenville, to sit on the lawn, eat dinner, and hear the bluegrass concert.  I had just told the children not to play in the fountain because I didn't want to take them home wet.  

And then the heavens tore open and poured water down on us all anyway. 

All the concert-goers ran into this open-windowed brick pavilion (which, upon researching, I find used to be part of a carriage factory) except my rain-starved children, who ran out. 

In seconds they were soaked to the skin.  So much for my not wanting to take them home wet.  The people inside huddled in the center of the floor, since the wild wind was throwing rain in all the empty windows.  They chatted calmly and sipped their drinks while the drops pounded on the metal roof.  And I stood just inside, grinning like an idiot, the spray washing over me, astonished at my luck.  "I just moved from California," I wanted to shout to all of them.  "Do you know how long it'll be before it rains again there?  Do you know how rarely it ever rains like this??" 

But they wouldn't have understood.  Around here, this is just normal life.



ghost roads

A hotel is a difficult place to keep children.  There's only so much bed-jumping and complimentary-breakfast-eating and elevator riding that can be done before things devolve into catatonic television watching or wild running up and down.  

Sunday morning came, and everyone went to church except me and the child who had inexplicably thrown up in the night.  He was fine, the keeping him away was a precaution, so after numerous games of hide and seek (there are only so many places to hide in a hotel room and the two of us found them all) we went out for a walk.

What we found was far more interesting than another elevator ride.  There's a strip of hotels here, newish, with nice landscaping around them, nice sidewalk running down the whole nice street in front.  But step off the sidewalk and you find a whole network of streets-that-were before the hotels came.  They're roads that don't go anywhere, or that connect to roads that dead end in the ground ten feet from the fancy new road.  The hotels are steadfastly ignoring the streets' existence, their manicured lawns giving way abruptly to the wild overgrowth along the edges of the streets.  A stop sign sprouts from the grass behind one hotel.  It's been carefully trimmed around, but otherwise ignored.

There are wild blackberries growing rampant along the edges of the ghost roads.  We picked a handful, being careful not to wade in too deeply lest we bring home chiggers along with our berries.  I remember chiggers too well to want to deal with them again.  There were concrete foundations with no buildings on top near the edge of one of the roads.  Creeper vines shot across their surfaces, weeds grew from every crack.  We probably wandered for an hour, picking berries and eating them, marveling at each new intersection left silent and crumbling, to be taken back by the aggressive, rain-fueled plant growth.

There was, at least for us, an unanswered question here.  What in the world happened that would cause the abandonment of one set of streets and buildings for another set?  And why hadn't the newcomers bothered to clean up?  Of course we spun stories about everything from aliens to nuclear holocaust, knowing that it was probably simply progress and money and shifting neighborhood needs. 

Back in our hotel room, we pulled up Google Earth and looked at past satellite images of this corner.  The first image, taken in 1994, shows our roads intact and in use.  The next, ten years later, shows that the recreation had already begun.  As we pulled the slider up through the years, we could see where the end of the road that connected to the freeway had been cut off, then a Cracker Barrel had been built where it used to connect.  The other end of the road had served as temporary access to a newer, fancier road, with a pretty median and landscaped roundabouts.  We could tell whether the road was still in use at any given time by the cars that dotted it.  But one more click of the slider, and the cars were gone.  The fancy road had come into use, and the cars were gone from our old road.  Now pulling the slider down showed the roads' steady decay into the ghost roads we saw on Sunday morning.

There's sure to still be a story here.  We can see what is, we can see what the satellites saw (which is a major geek-out for me) but now we need somebody to tell us what happened.  

Good thing I live here now.  Maybe I can find someone who knows.



Greenville, SC

The end/beginning of our adventure.  And really, is there ever any beginning or ending of our adventure?  So here's a point in our adventure that seems more significant than some others, is all I can say, I guess.  We crossed the country.  We survived thus far, and really had a very good time doing it.  Never in all my life have I seen such a tolerant, agreeable 3-year-old.  After five days in a carseat, she beamed on us and said, "Are we all done?"  It was such a good idea to keep the little boys in separate cars-the fist fights were considerably fewer than they might have been.  In the night, while we slept, the heavens gently washed the dirt I'd brought with me all the way from California off my tired van.  Symbolic?  Ah, who knows.

Thank you to those of you who've traveled with us, cheering us on, loving us along the way, even when we were getting farther and farther from some of you.  I've appreciated it more than I can say, the feeling that we were held and cared for and watched as we went.  It makes going into the unknown easier, when at least I'm not going there alone.  

I know there are new stories here, new things to show you (you'll have things you'll want to talk about, I...will...too *key change*), more adventure to be had.  There are still a lot of stories to tell from where we've been, of course.  For now, we're so happy to be out of the car, so glad that there's a little rain to greet us, grateful for friends and family who love us, and ready to get on with the search for home.



Meridian, MS


This begins to feel like a board game, of which my car is a game piece-Children napping, advance five spaces.  Migraine, lose a turn.  We draw the Bathroom Trip card over and over and over.  Today, later this evening, I expect to get my Get out of Car Free card.  

It's been funny to me to see the sides of the road go from sagebrush-covered, in San Diego, to Joshua trees and saguaro in Arizona and New Mexico.  Somewhere in Texas there begin to be trees, little short trees at first, but they steadily get taller and taller until here we are driving down highways that feel like tunnels through the soaring pines.  The humidity goes up too, although temperatures aren't what I'd expect for mid-July in the deep South.  I was almost chilly last night when I got out at a gas station and heard the cicadas for the first time in four summers.  You know how sometimes you don't know what you're missing because it's not there?  I didn't long for the drone of cicadas in California, but when I heard it again, it was like the summer soundtrack had been turned back on. 

We're listening to Orson Scott Card's Earth Afire, having listened to the entire book Earth Unaware.  I keep thinking my copilot isn't listening, but when the audio stops for some reason she reaches back over and turns it on.  What will happen to Victor?  Will he get the word out in time?

Gas prices keep dropping, dropping the farther east we go.  We crossed the remainder of Texas yesterday, along with Louisiana and almost all of Mississippi.  Just two states between us and our final destination now.  Strapping in, looking forward to drawing that card...