Sunday, December 17, 2017

Home is where the cats are

"It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed."

We're back from our trip to Texas.

We've been back since Monday but I've had to take some time to process my feelings about it.

Plus, my torch is running quite fine on natural gas. I'm getting happily re-addicted to melting glass.

On the whole, the trip was a mixed bag, but I suppose that's true about most trips, at least most of my trips.

Arrival day was fine. The flight seemed endless but we got an hour back. The weather was gray, drizzly and cold. In other words, perfect.

Perfect as a sign that moving was the right thing and that the grass is a lot browner in reality than memory dictates.

We went to the bank so Neil could close his safe deposit boxes, and then Neil wanted a mocha and I wanted a sweet. We were surrounded by Starbucks but I'm always interested in alternatives, so when Siri offered up a "desserts and drinks" place, we drove in a circle to find it.

"It" was Bambu, a small but growing chain specializing in Chè -- Vietnamese homemade beverages, dessert drinks and puddings. Chè is made with coconut water or coconut milk combined with "exotic, healthy and delicious" ingredients.

It wasn't the cobbler with ice cream, or cupcake or pie or cake, that I was craving, but we were there at my instigation, and I decided, why not. I figured it was only 50/50 that I'd like it. Shave ice is not my favorite thing and on a cold day it was less appealing, but I bravely ordered the Taro Lover, featuring Taro, pandan jelly, and coconut milk. Taro is my favorite color, although I wouldn't have expected pandan jelly to be more like soft, bland, green gummy worms than fruit jam. Neil played it safe with a hot coconut milk mocha.


It was interesting. I liked it enough to eat it. I probably wouldn't rush out to have it again, but I'd not say never.

From there we went to Laurie's house in Fulshear, where we were staying. She'd left a key under the mat for us. Neil's first wife Joann showed up just as we did, toting baby Blake. Blake wasn't interested in letting go of Grandma Joann, even when Luke got home. We had to distract him so she could leave. He was fine after that, and warmed up to us fairly quickly.

Let me skip some of the boring parts. Laurie picked up Italian food on her way home. My order was wrong as is par for the course. Neil was exhausted, we went to bed early.

Thursday was an odd day for me. Everyone was up and out by the time I came up for coffee at 8 am. Neil had a dentist appointment followed by a trip to Lowes and lunch with a friend. I chilled, literally, in the heatless house, reading and amusing myself until he got home. Luke got home next with baby in tow and we had a little Blake time, which Blake used to bang on the coffee table with decorative gourds from a bowl, and to pull every DVD out of the entertainment center.

Blake is just now standing and cruising furniture and crawling like a speed demon and he's all boy, if that means he wants to pound on everything all the time. Neil and I commented that we'd have to do some childproofing before his planned visit next month.

Thursday night was dinner with some of Neil's former workmates. I enjoy seeing them but the conversation went on for a long time about people I didn't know and company gossip that means little to me. On the way home it was snowing, but not sticking. By morning though, we had a couple of inches on the ground. Naturally. I come to Texas and it snows.

Still life with baby in snow. In Texas.
Friday morning we visited our financial advisor then headed for Lake Charles. We stopped at Buccee's, had breakfast at Cracker Barrel (because anything trumps Waffle House for me) and checked in to our hotel. We met up with everyone for hot dogs at Botsky's, everyone being Laurie, Luke, Blake, Joann and her husband Mike, Chris and his Lake Charles housemates Jaime, Amy and Eric. It was still icy cold.

Saturday morning was Chris's graduation ceremony, followed by lunch with the same cast of characters. My calzone came with sausage instead of olives. At least the sun came out and started warming things up. After lunch we helped Chris load up the last of his gear and made the trafficky drive back to Fulshear. Dinner was pizza for some, M&Ms for me.

Sunday was my favorite part of the trip, brunch at Hugo's with my oldest friends in Texas. The weather continued to smile. Neil dropped me back at Laurie's and took off to do more errands. Joann was at the house again with Blake, the adult kids were out for fried chicken. I played with Blake and chatted with Joann. The kids got home and we took a walk with Blake. Neil got back and the next topic was dinner.

Neil and I were still full and we had my replacement calzone in the fridge, but the kids wanted sushi, so we buckled up and went out again. There's a reason I mention all the meals out, and I'll get to that. On Monday we got up at the ass-crack of dawn and headed ... home. I wasn't sad. I was glad to be returning to North Carolina. It turns out that home is where the cats are.

I'd like to say that I've been nothing but happy since we got here. That wouldn't be true but it's not for the reasons you'd think. I'm not homesick for Texas any more. In fact, I have brand new reasons to be happy to be here in NC.

At some point during the trip, Laurie threw out the idea that instead of bringing Blake when they visit us next month, they'd leave him with Joann. This upset Neil a lot.

It boils down to this. Our reactions to Blake's typical baby behavior, i.e., hammering on things and emptying cabinets, made Laurie decide it would be more stressful for everyone if he came.

Now if Laurie is doing this because she wouldn't mind a break from baby-minding and thinks she'd have more fun without Blake, that's one thing. But she couched it more like she wasn't going to bring him because we didn't want him. And we couldn't persuade her otherwise. Because she saw (or Luke told her) how we reacted to Blake being baby Blake, how we made comments about needing to baby proof.

And of course we would baby proof. We'd put breakables away and cover good wood furniture and have plenty of soft toys and dedicate a play space and keep an eagle eye on him in case he got into something we'd rather he left alone.

It's also true that we'd be looking to Laurie and Luke to jump in and stop him from emptying any cabinets or playing drums on anything besides toy drums. We'd deal with the drooling and the runny nose and the food on the floor and the sticky fingers and all the little things that go with one-year-old people.

Honestly, while I'd never considered not having Blake come, having him not come has some appeal. We'd need less paraphernalia certainly, such as car seat, stroller, portacrib, high chair. Neil could pick up everyone from the airport in one car. Activities would open up wide if we weren't working around two naps a day and an early bedtime, nighttime fusses and overtired parents.

Neil's dad is coming at the same time and it's been hard to think of things that are suitable for both the 88-year-old and the one-year-old contingent. The rub there is that this whole visit is the brainchild born of Laurie wanting to have Neil go with her to take the baby to visit his great-grandpa. Neil suggested we convene here instead, since we have the space. If Blake doesn't come, great grandpa Bob won't get to see him.

I suspect that Bob would take the disappointment in stride and Blake won't remember the meeting anyway. Bob did get to see Blake when he was about a month old. It's all still up in the air and at this point I have bigger issues to sort than whether or not Blake comes this time or some other time.

I'm getting to the meat of the story now. But first, a little background.

When Neil and I started dating in 2002, I'd been unmarried for four years, Neil for one year. Laurie took her parents' divorce very hard and their dating even harder. I suppose her mom and her dad dating others was the nail in her bubble, her dream of a reconciliation. But by then, as Neil said, that train had left the station.

Ironically, her mom met her future-husband-to-be exactly one day before Neil and I met.

Laurie refused to meet me for something like an entire year. She behaved hatefully toward me and toward my children, who sincerely wanted to be friends. True, my kids had more time to accept my divorce, to realize even that Jon and I were happier apart than together. Not so Laurie. I suspect to this day she daydreams about getting her nuclear family back together.

Over time she matured enough to behave politely toward me. For a time she even made an effort to be friendly, baking me cookies for my birthday and coming by to meet my parents once. I gave her credit for trying but like my mom used to say, I forgive -- but I don't forget.

Flash forward 15 years, give or take. I know that I've said things that rankled with Laurie. Most were well meant and guileless, only a few were on the line, such as when she was dictating what restaurant she wanted to eat at, and I said, when you make the money, you get to make the decision.

That may be true, and I could have said it to my kids, but discretion being the better part of valour, I should have kept my mouth shut and let Neil handle it with Laurie. Even if that meant going to the restaurant of her choice rather than mine. So I apologized. I can own my mistakes and admit to being wrong when needs must.

But for a while now she has been watching my every move with a stink eye, looking for slights, looking for criticism, looking for judgment. The baby thing has escalated the situation. I can't so much as tell a story about my own kids as babies without her seeing it as a comparison in which she and Blake come out badly. Lord forbid I mention something meant to be helpful, for example, wondering if she knew that putting a baby to bed with a bottle of formula is not a wise thing.

OK, so Blake has only two teeth and he'll be weaned off the bottle soon. And I apologized for saying anything about it. But I can't win. Anything at all that I say will be scrutinized and found judgmental.

Neil agrees, he says, you can't win. He says we can both be ridiculous (like me being mad that she bought us the Christmas decoration and demanded that we display it) but that Laurie is much worse.

He tries to talk her down. He tries to put it in perspective, he tries to tell her that my intentions are good. Really, what I'd prefer he tell her is that he won't discuss me with her. I mean, Jesus, my kids have never said a negative word about Neil to me and if they tried to, I'd push back. But Neil thinks he can do better by playing referee, by trying to reason with her, by working to keep the peace.

Still, as I told Neil, if Laurie has an issue with me, I wish she'd just address it with me.

Another fault that I've been broad-brushed with. I don't play with Blake. Never mind the games of pat-a-cake, never mind the times I carried him around and showed him things, never mind that I sung to him.

It's frustrating. I feel like I felt when I had a review at work that was completely detached from reality, when all my good work was overlooked but I was hammered with some perceived but untrue fault. And when I tried to set the record straight I was told that I was in denial and that if I didn't take the review seriously and mend my wicked ways things would go ill for me.

It's maddening to be unfairly accused, tried and found guilty -- with no just cause.

I can't win, that's a given. And that being a given, I am not going to play. I can't cut Laurie out of my life, she's Neil's daughter and we're stuck with each other. But I can drop the pretense of being friends. I don't have to engage her. If I must talk to her, then I will talk about the weather. Or the food. Because there's always food, way too much food, whenever we are with the kids. But I'll try not to initiate any meaningful dialog. I will respond when spoken to.

I like Blake. I even love Blake because he'd Neil's grandson and I love Neil. But I'm afraid to become too attached. Because under the circumstances, I don't know if I'd ever see Blake again if something happened to Neil. I know that's not a reason to distance myself from the baby, and I won't, but I'm suddenly reluctant to create a personal bond with him.

I'll be nice to him of course, as I am to all babies. I'll take my turn holding him. Maybe when he's older, if he comes to visit us by himself, like Ryland has, I'll have a chance to become friends with him.

But until Laurie grows up and stops looking for reasons to feel slighted or judged or harmed, if she does, I'm keeping my emotional distance.

And truly appreciating our physical distance.


Can you hear them?
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that's no surprise

Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

There's a weapon
That we must use
In our defense
Silence reveals

When you look at them
Look right through them
That's when they'll disappear
That's when we'll be feared

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed

Hush, my darling
Don't you cry
Quiet, angel
Forget their lies

Can you hear them?
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that's no surprise

Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed.


(Jane Wiedlin, Terry Hall)

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz