December 1987 - December 1988
Age 30

"I'm beginning to understand what they mean when they say
'Enjoy them while they're little: it passes so quickly'  ...

Saturday 9 a.m.
December 26, 1987

It is the day after Christmas 1987.

Frozen sunlight streams through the windows of the apartment. Jamie and I are the only ones up so far -- Ray and Kyle are cuddled together in the small bedroom, Kacie is in the crib in my room -- all of them still snoozing peacefully. I'm sitting here on the loveseat with my first cup of coffee sitting beside me; Jay is poking around in the immense pile of toys beneath the Christmas tree, looking for pieces to her Barbie's Rockin' House Party. ("I've gotta find the fruit and the bowl and the cups," I hear her murmuring to herself.) Any moment now the other kids will be up: Kacie will hear "PeeWee's Playhouse" on the TV and will come stumbling down the hallway, her hair a mess, a grumpy look on her face, demanding to know whether Jamie has "had brex-biss yet??" (She gets very upset if her sister gets breakfast before she does.) And then Kyle will burst into the room, wet diaper squishing between his legs, and will come to me with his arms outstretched saying "MA-MA." And then the noise will begin, and the fuss, and the work, and the whole crazy business of mothering  ...  

The apartment is in total disarray - every room, every drawer, every closet - and I plan to spend this entire weekend putting things to rights, sorting through all the junk, finding homes for all the new Christmas stuff. It will be a busy weekend. Perhaps not as busy (nor as tense) as the past couple of days have been. There won't be any long trips in the car, thank goodness. But it'll be busy in a comfortable, low-key way.

But for right now it's just me and Jay. She got up before I did this morning: she slipped out of my bed while I was still sleeping and came out to the living room to watch TV. I was awakened by the sound of one of Kacie's new remote-control cars (she got two of them for Christmas this year) being maneuvered around the living room. So I got up. When Jay saw me, she smiled happily and said she "was afraid she'd only dreamed her new bike!" Ray's parents gave both of the girls a brand-new Huffy this year. The bikes are "parked" right now in a corner of the living room; every couple of minutes, Jamie abandons her Barbie furniture and goes over to sit on hers. It's a 16", I think - white with purple tires, seat and handlebars. Kacie's is smaller, with pink trim instead of purple, and she has training wheels on the back of hers. Ray and I were originally planning on buying bikes for the girls, but we had to give up the idea because we couldn't afford it. So I have mixed emotions about these bikes from the in-laws. On one hand, I'm pleased for the girls, and grateful to Peg and Don Sr. for their generosity; on the other hand, I feel bad that we couldn't afford to do as much for our own kids, and I guess I'm a little resentful. But the girls are happy, and that's all that really matters to me. I'll keep my petty resentments under wraps.

She was afraid she'd "only dreamed" the new bike

Kacie just got up, and it was exactly as I predicted: her hair is such a mess, it looks like she's wearing a FRIGHT WIG. And she's got the world's grumpiest expression on her face. This little daughter of mine is definitely not a morning person ...

It's too soon to tell if I'm going to suffer from my usual post-Christmas "blahs" this year. Frankly, the only thing I'm feeling so far, on this day after Christmas, is relief that it's over. This has been a tough month. I've wanted so badly to relax and enjoy the holidays, but my constant worries about finances and gifts have made that impossible. It's been a nightmare. There's also been the added strain of babysitting three "extra" kids every day. There have been moments when I've felt so inundated by KIDS and DIAPERS and NOISE that I thought I might simply explode. The combination of the two - financial worries and extra kids - have been lethal. I feel old and weary. Or at least I've felt that way for most of this month. (My thirtieth birthday, on the 15th, wasn't much help either!) Maybe now that Christmas is behind us, though, I can get things into perspective and get on with the day-to-day stuff, without lugging this enormous ball and chain of worry around ...

The kids had a nice Christmas, I think, in spite of a few minor "glitches." (Listening to Mommy & Daddy argue in the car on the way home from Great-Grandma's  ...  toys that don't work properly  ...  too much excitement and too little sleep, just to name a few.) Ray and I gave each of the girls a fancy new Barbie and a large Barbie "toy" to go with it - in Jamie's case, the aforementioned "Rockin' House Party, and a remote-controlled Barbie "four-wheel cycle" for Kacie. (I bought it for her, remembering how much she loved riding on the "four-wheeler" when we went camping last summer.) We also got them some "Santa" gifts: a pair of rollerskates, a battery-operated guitar and a Play-Doh set each. I bought both of them pretty much the same things, in order to (hopefully) forestall any arguments over who got "more" or "better" presents. It seems to have worked, too, because I haven't heard many complaints. And of course they were showered with stuff from the rest of the family. I couldn't possibly list it all here. My dad made Jamie a dollhouse; Kacie got a big flashlight from somebody at Grandma St. John's, and she's NUTS about it. Those are a couple of the gifts that really stand out in my memory. And Jamie got a little musical jewelry box with a twirling ballerina inside, and enough junky jewelry to fill it ...

Future Rock Stars?
The girls on Christmas morning 1997

Henry's here now. He toddled into the room a minute ago and is sitting beside me now, pointing to my journal and grinning, saying "I? I?" (his new abbreviated version of the alphabet). He usually wakes up in a good mood, and this morning is no exception. He's wearing his new pajamas - blue and red - and his hair, like Kacie's, is a tangled fright. (Ooops - he just spotted the Christmas tree and the pile of presents. His favorite? Kacie's red remote-control sports car.) Kyle had a good Christmas. He loved all the running around and going bye-bye in the car, although once we reached our destinations - my Dad's, Grandma St. John's, Peg & Don's - he generally stuck pretty close to Ray and I and didn't do a lot of socializing. Everyone thought he was adorable, though. He's at a cute age. Mostly he received clothes this year - pants and shirts, a pair of p.j.'s, socks, a little gray sweatjacket - which thrills me, since he'd outgrown practically all of his old things. He also got some new "friends" to love - a stuffed orange dinosaur
(That was "Rocky"  -- his constant companion for the next year or so), a Glo-Worm, a big soft teddy bear, a squishy stuffed green dragon from his sisters  -  some Matchbox cars - building blocks - even a bright red bobsled from Ray's parents. At first I thought the bobsled was an odd and completely inappropriate gift to give a one and a half year old baby, particularly since we haven't had any snow in two years ... but Kyle LOVES it. It's sitting in the middle of the living room right now, and every once in awhile he'll rush over and plop himself into it.

Kyle with his Christmas bobsled

December 29, 1987

Now it's Tuesday morning. It's been raining steadily since I got up at 8:00, and every once in a while a few fat wet snowflakes mingle with the rain ...

        Kacie: "I hope I die tomorrow."
        Mom (horrified): "Why????"
        Kacie (grinning slyly): "So you can't wash my hair any MORE."

Back to babysitting this morning. Jerome and André have been here for two hours already: Little Terry is due to arrive any minute. (Jerome, sitting next to me, gently fingers the edge of my journal. "What's THIS for?" he asks - his trillionth question of the day so far. "I'm writing about what a pain in the rear you are," I reply, and he giggles uproariously.)  I was kidding (mostly).  Jerome was always one of my favorite babysitting-kids: a sweet, smart little boy with a heart of gold.  

I spent the weekend exactly as I planned - cleaning out closets, throwing out old and broken toys, cleaning, rearranging, organizing - I was busy every minute, and by Sunday evening I felt a sense of accomplishment.

Yesterday I went back on my diet. Over the holidays I managed to put on about eight extra pounds and my Levi's are starting to get tight around my middle. So it's back to Slim Fast, skinless chicken, Diet Pepsi and no beer. I'm 150 lbs. now - I want to get down to 140, maybe 135. New Year's Eve is Thursday night so there will probably be one final "lapse" ... champagne and pizza? ... but then it's back to serious calorie-counting.

Kyle's hair looks awful this morning. He is desperately, DESPERATELY in need of a trip to the barber!!!  Kyle's hair ALWAYS looked awful at this age.  Trying to cut it was such an uphill battle that I usually just gave up and let it grow wild.

Some new things he says at age 20 months:

"No no ni-ni." (No ni-night.)
"Bleh-bleh?" (Splash splash? His way of requesting a bath.)
"Geng-goo." (Thank you.)
"MOH." (More.)
" 'GO!" (Let's GO!)
"Gay-gee." (Jamie.)

Wednesday lunch
December 30, 1987

A day as clear and hard and dazzling as a diamond. Kyle is out on the playground with Ray and the girls: he is bundled up like a fat little Eskimo baby, Jamie's knit cap on his head. I stand at the patio window and watch him. From this distance I can't see the expression on his face, but I can tell from his body language - the bouncy way he walks along in front of his Daddy - that he is deliriously happy to be outside in the sunshine. 

(Now he's riding on his toddler car, holding on for some reason with only one hand. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.)

I've been in a good mood for a couple of days now. Because Christmas is over, perhaps? Oh well - I don't want to analyze it. My good moods have a way of disappearing when I look at them too closely.

The 1987 Christmas Letter.

December 31, 1987

We're taking the tree down today. I made the announcement at breakfast.

"I will help you take down all dose decorations!" Kacie piped up immediately. The idea of no more Christmas tree doesn't appear to bother her in the slightest.  Jamie didn't say anything at all: she woke up this morning with an earache, and she's laying on the loveseat with the heating pad pressed against her head, stoically watching cartoons. Kyle is too little (20 mos.) to form an opinion one way or the other. And Mom? ... well, Mom is feeling her usual mixed sense of sadness and relief at the prospect. I'm itching to have my apartment back to "normal" - but I'm sad to see the tree gone because it was truly lovely this year. The construction paper chains that Jamie and I made, and the new Avon ornaments (still not paid for), and the popcorn strings all added a festive touch. And Ray and the girls picked out a perfect tree - exactly the right height. With "Evangeline" (our new Christmas angel) perched on the top, the tree reached to the ceiling exactly. The living room will seem very empty for a few days.

Where will we be for Christmas 1988? Still in this apartment, for the third Christmas in a row? ... or, the dream of my heart, finally in a real house again ...?

The "Apartment Christmases," as I'm sure I'll refer to them in later years, haven't been bad. They've been Kyle's firsts, for one thing, and that alone makes them special. Plus the girls are still little, and they still believe in all the magic of the holidays. I'd have to be Ebeneezer Scrooge not to appreciate the beauty of Christmas with my children.

This year had its share of special moments: Jamie tiptoeing out of bed before everyone else Christmas morning (thinking I didn't hear her) and finding her new pink roller skates under the tree ... giving my Grandma St. John the special Christmas photo album, and the "grandmother's scrapbook" to my mom ... lovely presents - a warm fuzzy robe from Ray, two pairs of sweats, the massive three ring binder from my stepmom (a gift only *I* could love!), the diary from Grandma V. (which I begin writing in tomorrow) ... all the blank cassette tapes ... Kacie and her new flashlight! ... Kyle getting the hang of opening presents ...

... But I still long for a Christmas like the old ones - like the ones we had in Kirkland. CHRISTMAS IN A HOUSE. I don't know why. Why has "home" always, ALWAYS been so important to me? And why does "home" have to be a house -- not an apartment, not a condo, not a wigwam, but a real, honest-to-goodness house?!? Just my nature, I guess. I want to sit in a living room decorated with all my old familiar decorations, and not hear footsteps over my head (unless it's the sound of my kids, running around in an upstairs bedroom). I want a fire in the fireplace. I want neighbors. I want a yard where the kids can run around with their dog. I want a little room to spread out ... a bedroom of my own, with no baby crib squeezed into the corner ... bedrooms for the kids ... a kitchen with some elbow room. I want us out of this crummy apartment and into a HOUSE by next Christmas. Is there any chance in the world of this happening??

Well. Wherever we end up spending next Christmas, I hope it finds us healthy, happy and together as a family. Merry Christmas!


January 4, 1988
Monday night 6 p.m.

Happy New Year. It's been a few days since my last entry, and my spirits have taken something of a nosedive, I'm afraid ...

(My neighbor) Wacky Wanda just left, and I am still reeling from her visit. She called me at 5:30 and asked if I was "busy."   Who, me? With a living room full of screaming kids, a sinkful of dirty dishes, four baskets of laundry to fold and the worst menstrual cramps this side of Christmas Eve 1971?  Busy?  

"I need to talk to somebody or I'm going to explode," she said mournfully. 

I clenched my teeth and told her to come on over. Mind you - you must understand this, in order to appreciate the magnitude of my generosity - I've had a totally shitty day. I've been in a rotten mood, I feel horrible, the kids are especially intolerable, Ray and I have been picking at each other for days. If anyone is going to "explode" around here, it's me. But I let her come over anyway, and for twenty minutes I listened to her rambling, self-pitying monologue about her problems with her new boyfriend. This is the same boyfriend whose praises she was singing (continuously, and boringly) all month last month. "He's so GENTLE!" she said at Christmas. "He's exactly the perfect man for me!" But tonight the guy is a "rat." I listened to verbatim accounts of their most recent arguments. Once or twice I tried to interject a note of sympathy or advice, or mention something about my own less-than- perfect day, but I could have been invisible for all the attention she paid. Finally I gave up, and I just sat there and picked at the hole in my Levi's until she concluded her monologue and went home. Now I'm sitting here listening to five kids screaming at each other in my living room, feeling strangely better than I have all day. At least I'm not as big a Looney Tune as Wacky Wanda.

January 7, 1988
Thursday morning 9 a.m.

Jamie's ominous warning to Jerome: "Jerome, stop your blubbering or it's gonna be WORSER."  

Had a weird dream last night. I only remember pieces of it. Ray and the kids and I were driving a deserted stretch of road, in Ray's crappy old station wagon. It was winter, and it was dark. All of a sudden the car broke down and we were stuck in these huge snow drifts, with the snow piling up higher and higher all around us. No one seemed concerned about it but me. The kids were delighted, playing in the snow and picnicking in the car, and Ray wasn't doing a thing about getting us out of there. Finally, in exasperation, I picked up a telephone (which just "happened" to be laying there on top of the snow, and which just "happened" to work perfectly) and made a series of phone calls for help.   We're a good ten years away from cell phones at this point, so the idea of finding a telephone in the middle of a snowstorm was pretty unimaginable.

That was the extent of the dream. You figure it out.

Cars are a sore subject with me these days. My own beat-up Chevy has been sitting in the back lot of my brother's transmission shop since MAY ... still not running, still not fixed. And Ray's station wagon is in such crummy shape - there are no brakes to speak of - that I refuse to drive it. I got a quarter of the way to the bank yesterday, driving his car, when the non-brakes spooked me so much that I had to turn around and come home.  I HATE feeling like this: like I have no car, and no way to get out in the world, and that I have to depend on other people for transportation.


Kyle is a filthy, shaggy, noisy, loveable mess this morning! Lately he has begun fighting me when I attempt to dress (or undress) him, but I did manage to at least get a striped pullover on him this morning. No pants, though - just a diaper. His face is still covered with last night's beef stew, and the soles of his bare feet are black from Mama's dirty kitchen floor. And his hair ... his hair defies description. I cringe every time I look at him. He is critically in need of a trip to the barber. If the brakes on Ray's car weren't so fucked up, I would take him today - I've got twenty bucks in my purse. Or if I had a decent pair of scissors, I'd attempt the job myself.

Monday 8:15 a.m.
January 18, 1988

Monday morning - alone - none of the kids are up yet, and Jerome and André still aren't here. Sitting at the kitchen table with coffee, headachey from a morning of frenzied dreaming. (I was desperately trying to get ready for my date with Ben Lonsegrav AND trying to get to my class at Highline College, simultaneously.) 

The apartment is startlingly tidy for a Monday morning  -  I spent nearly every moment of this weekend in a domestic manner, cleaning and cooking and playing June Cleaver to Ray's Couch Potato ... I mean, I even baked CUSTARD, for crying out loud!! ...

Now Jerome and André are here, and much to my dismay André has a wet sloppy cold. That means that by the end of the week we'll ALL have it. With the exception of Jamie, who had a bout of flu last week, we've been remarkably healthy for the past month or so, considering how cooped-up we all are together in this tiny apartment. Guess I'd better break out the Vicks and the thermometers and take stock of whatever cold medicine we've got.

Jamie just came wandering out into the living room. She's wearing a pair of powder-blue sweats (lately we've all taken to sleeping/living/existing in sweatclothes) and carrying the Lego "house" she made last night after dinner. With a mumbled "hi" to me, she has taken a seat in front of the TV and is raptly watching her favorite morning cartoon, "My Little Pony." No acknowledgement of either Jerome or André at all.  

Oops. Negate that. Her first real words to me: "Mama. Jerome's sitting on those THINGS." He's sitting on my makeshift coffeetable - two small brown chests, pushed together. 

"REALLY, Jamie?" I say to her, smiling. "You know, if you hadn't told me that, I would NEVER have KNOWN it." 

She rolls her eyes at my sarcasm, but a minute or two later when I tell Jerome to get his rear end off the coffeetable, she definitely looks vindicated ...

Brilliantly sunny day. It's going to be hard to concentrate today. Ray has legal problems (support enforcement, left over from my welfare days) and they are weighing heavily on my mind. Our financial problems now are nothing compared to what they'll be if we have to start paying the state $600 a month.

A little while later:

"I'm going to take my shower now!" I tell Kyle.

He got up about fifteen minutes ago, sat at the table next to me and slurped through a bowl of Fruit Loops; now he is stomping around the apartment in blue p.j.'s, his hair askew as always. (We trimmed it over the weekend, though, so at least you can see his face again.)

"Bleh-bleh?" he asks, pointing to the bathroom door.  His word for 'shower.'

"Yes, Mama SHOWER," I tell him, and I go into the bathroom. He follows along behind me and fiddles around in the sink while I shower and wash my hair. When I'm done, he leans over the edge of the tub and splashes his hands in the quickly draining bath water, while I towel myself dry and slip into clean clothes. Unfortunately he leans a fraction of an inch too far forward and loses his balance, and the next thing I know he falls with a tremendous SPLASH into the tub, p.j.'s and all.  He gasps in surprise and flounders for a moment or two in the water. Remarkably, he doesn't cry. 

"Whoa! Man overboard!" I say to him cheerfully, then calmly lift him out of the tub and strip off his wet pajamas. Undaunted, he climbs up on the toilet, leans over the sink and points to his toothbrush. I pump a dab of toothpaste onto his toothbrush and hand it to him; he immediately begins to suck the toothpaste noisily, watching himself in the mirror.

When he's finished, I say "Come on - let's go find you some pretty clothes!" and he toddles along behind me, into my bedroom. His clothes are stored in cardboard boxes on the bottom of my closet. I pick out a pair of blue sweatpants and a long-sleeved pullover. He spies his little box of socks. "Ssss! Ssss!" he says happily, and grabs four pair. "You'll only need one," I tell him, and he allows me to put the extras back into the box. I dress him in the living room. He wants his pants rolled up so he can see his socks. When he's dressed, he runs over to Jamie. 

"Gir-gir!" he chirps, modelling his clothes for his sister.

"Oh, pretty Henry!" Jamie says obligingly, and he beams ...  

Tuesday morning
January 19, 1988

Kyle is crawling around beneath the kitchen table, trying to tickle my feet! ("Gicko-gicko-gicko!" he says.) Hard to write while my toes are in peril!!

Now he's out in the living room hitting Kacie on the head with a toy truck, then laughing when she screeches. (Me: "Cut it out, Henry!") For some reason he enjoys picking on Kacie. She rarely hits him back - she just sits there and screams, while he pounds on her and laughs. Sometimes he really hurts her, too.  "Just get up and WALK AWAY FROM HIM when he hits you!!" I've begged her repeatedly. But fifteen minutes later, it's happening all over again - he's whacking her over the head with a wooden mallet, and she's hunched over in misery, crying. Jamie will run away from her brother when he tries the same thing with her, or (even more likely) will clobber him right back - and he knows it. He very rarely launches an attack on Jamie anymore, unless she's got his toy or is taunting him or something. But Kacie, apparently in his mind anyway, is fair and easy prey.

The really bizarre thing about all of this is that Kacie is very aggressive - exceedingly so - with other kids, particularly Jamie. She doesn't hesitate to defend herself against them, and in fact is likely to have been the one to start the altercation in the first place. But with Kyle, she simply folds up. I wonder why??

Kyle has learned to "color." Right now he's sitting next to me at the table - and I mean RIGHT NEXT to me - he's pushed his chair as close to mine as he possibly can - and he is coloring, with one orange crayon, in one of the girls' colorbooks. He sings to himself while he scribbles ... a happy, nonsensical jumble of his favorite words and sentences. "Ni-night, Dah!" he croons. Ni-night, Dah. Ni-night, Dah. Ohh, DAH. Hi. Hi Momma. Hi gir-gir. Me. I. Get. Whoa." He bites his crayon, and it breaks into little pieces. "Uh-oh!" he says, throwing the broken pieces of crayon onto the floor. Jamie scoops them up and puts them into the garbage, and Kyle tells her "Genk-koo." So much for coloring.

Henry's latest no-no's:

  • Breaking plastic sunglasses
  • Taking potatoes out of the bag and biting them, then putting them back INTO the bag
  • Mom's kitchen "junk drawer"
  • Pouring his juice on people
  • Spitting
  • Taking off his diaper

Kacie's latest obsessions:

  • Food
  • Food
  • Riding her bike
  • Food
  • Food

January 22, 1988

Jamie  --  44" tall, 45 lbs.
Kacie  --  40" tall, 40 lbs.
Kyle  --  32" tall, 30 lbs.

Broke  --  thank God I got paid tonight!  (Erin pd. $190 in cash, Terry $50 check).  Finished paying the rest of the January rent tonight, $35.  Nice evening.  Babysat three extra kids for a couple of hrs., made enough to order some Domino's pizza (which was excellent).  Taped the Tyson-Holmes fight on HBO for Ray  --  typed for awhile, working on one of the books I'm writing the kids (memoirs of their babyhoods)  --  drank some beer  --  stayed up late with Jamie, taping videos off MTV.  (Jamie's favorite videos right now are "There's the Girl" by Heart and "Hazy Shade of Winter" by The Bangles; I like "When We Was Fab" by George Harrison, and "On The Turning Away" by Pink Floyd.)

Friday morning
February 5, 1988

We have a "new kid" in our midst ... one-year-old Zaydra from two doors down. I started babysitting her on Tuesday. Her mom, Dee, drops her off in the morning around 7:30 and then picks her up at 6:00 or so in the evening. (We've tentatively agreed on a dollar an hour, although I'm considering asking for more. A dollar an hour seems ridiculous.)  So far it hasn't been all that bad having another one-year-old around the place -- there are three of them now, including Henry and André -- most of my REAL problems are centered around the four-year-olds (Jerome and Kacie) anyway. And god knows we need the money, even if it isn't very much.

February 17, 1988

Schlepping my way through another long, broke, rainy, sick week ... our long streak of good health finally gave out, and we've ALL got crummy chest colds ...

The money situation is bad, bad, bad. Powdered milk and makeshift meals. The rent is paid, but nothing else is. 

("Did you already write about my owie?" Jamie asks, sitting beside me at the kitchen table. She has a huge and painful scrape on her left cheek, acquired this past weekend as she was practicing on her new bike. She wears her wound like an Olympic gold medal, and proudly announces to anyone who asks about it, "I know how to ride a two-wheeler now!") 

Now both of the girls (no Henry yet) are sitting here with me at the table, noisily slurping bowls of oatmeal. ("Kacie used to not like raisins!" Jamie says. "Do too!" Kacie counters, between mouthfuls.) Every thirty seconds or so Kacie gives a quick, polite little cough, between breaths and bites. She and I are both in our third day of this sloppy wet cold. As soon as she's done with breakfast, it'll be Vicks and cough syrup for her, a steamy hot shower (for the decongestant value) and wool socks for me. Jerome and André are already here - banished to the living room and the morning cartoons, while I carve out five minutes alone with my girls - no Zaydra today (she has a doctor's appointment), I don't know about Terry (his mom said today was a "maybe").

My plans for this day: get Jamie to school on time, take care of the rest of the kids, maybe bake some cookies if I've got enough stuff. Nothing spectacularly interesting. Just trying to live the life and keep everybody's spirits up - including my own - during this bleak and boring time of the year.  I was the self-appointed cheerleader of our little family.

March 1, 1988

Spring is in the air. 

Well ... it isn't in the air TODAY. Not yet, anyway: outside it's still gray, misty and cold. But for the past few days, before the yucky weather struck again, I've been feeling occasional brief twinges of that old 'spring feeling' in the air again. This past weekend it was especially strong. There were a million kids on the playground until long past dinnertime, I had the patio door cracked open all day, it stayed light outside until much later than we're used to ... Jamie even asked me if she could wear shorts on Saturday!  And more than once I caught the girls staring longingly at the swimming pool (still covered for the winter). 

I've been like a mole all winter, hiding in this apartment - rarely sticking my head out the door. Not having a car to drive anymore exacerbates the problem. I sit here by the window and watch the world go by. I'm getting heavy again, too, and that just makes my desire to hibernate all that much stronger. At least, I FEEL like I'm getting heavy - I've been stuck at 150 lbs. for months now, and my face looks too puffy to me. A year ago, when I'd lost all that weight and had my new Levi's and everything, I felt on top of the world. I wanted to go out and "show off." This year it's exactly the opposite ... or at least it's been that way for the past couple of months. I haven't wanted the world to see me - I haven't felt like doing much at all, as a matter of fact. But now that there's a little touch of "spring" in the air, I feel something within myself beginning to stir. The fat grumpy old Mama Bear waking up from her long winter's nap, maybe ... ?

Jamie (counting days on the calendar): "... the twenty-ninth, thirtieth, thirty-wunth ... "

Kyle P. is now quite firmly ensconced in The Terribles. No question about it. Everything is "no!", "mine!" and "don't!"   He likes to spit on people. He doesn't like his hair or face washed.  He's into everything, he hates being told what to do, he has started deliberately picking fights with the other kids, and he won't eat anything but toast, Spaghetti-O's and candy.

Yeah, he's cute.  But he's also a MONSTER.

March 11, 1988
Friday morning 9 a.m.

I'm going to try and get some serious 'scribbling' done this weekend. I've got a lot on my mind. Bear with me if it gets kind of patchy - I'm writing in snatches - ten minutes here, ten minutes there ...

("Mine!" Henry announces solemnly, standing in front of me with half an orange gumball in his hand. "GUH.")

Unexpectedly bright, sunny day ... the drapes and blinds are still drawn to shut out the glare, but enough light seeps through to make the apartment bright as midday. The girls wolfed down their Cap'n Crunch, dressed in a rush ("Do I haffa wear leotards wif these pants?" Kacie asked) and flew out the door in a blur. Jamie doesn't have kindergarten today, so they'll probably be out on the playground till dinnertime ... or at least Kacie will ... a lot of the time Jamie prefers indoors to outdoors, even on the sunniest days. She plays Barbies in her room, or sits at the kitchen table and colors, or just talks to me. (Much the same way I was as a child.) Kacie, if we'd let her, would stay out on that playground until nightfall, and then would still have to be dragged inside, kicking and screaming ...

Only one "extra" kid today, little blonde Zaydra. Terry Jr. is in Arizona ... I don't know where the hell Jerome and André are, because they never showed up.

(Kyle: "Ma-ma? Moh? GUH?" Gum is his newest word ... and his newest passion in life. A few minutes ago I caught him pushing my big stool towards the kitchen: when questioned about it, he chirped "I get moh GUH!" - his first real sentence.)

There are two new shows I like to watch on weekday mornings now - "Mothers Day" with Joan Lunden, and "What Every Baby Knows" with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton - oriented towards mother of small children. I don't depend on this kind of stuff as much as I used to (books, TV shows, magazine articles, etc.) to "teach" me how to raise the kids ... at least, not in the manic, desperate way I did when Jay was a baby ... but I still enjoy watching them once in a while, for the entertainment value if nothing else. And once in a while I do learn something new or useful. This morning on "What Every Baby Knows," the topic for discussion was mothers and daughters. Obviously THAT got my attention!  A couple of things were particularly relevant ... the desire of one young mother to simultaneously keep her daughter close and yet allow her to become independent, and the conflict that can create ... and, the almost universal desire that mothers of daughters share, to avoid repeating the mistakes their mothers made. One woman said that she never felt close to her mother while she was growing up, so she was trying to create and maintain a particularly close, loving relationship with her young daughter, to give her something she (the mother) had missed out on. Dr. Brazelton said something at that point that struck a chord in me: he said that by nurturing her daughter in such a loving and responsive way, the mother was also providing herself with the kind of mother/daughter closeness she'd spent her life longing for. So they were both benefitting. That said something to me about the way I'm raising my own daughters. I've been trying to sort through this lately, but it's all muddled. Some days I feel like I'm a good mother, even a better-than-average mother, and other days I'm sure that I've taken these three perfectly wonderful, potential-filled human beings and twisted them beyond repair. I'm so flawed a human being myself. There is so much in me that is unresolved. My judgement is so undeveloped. How in the hell am I supposed to be a role model, a support system, an adequate care provider to these three wonderful children, when I can't even seem to give these things to myself? 

But anyway ... what I seem to be striving for as a parent, above and beyond all else, is the kind of closeness and friendship with my daughters that I never felt between my mother and me. I crave all the intimacy and special maternal bonding that weren't mine as a child. I can't seem to manage these things in friendships with other adult women, so I look for it in my daughters. And lately I've been feeling guilty about that ... fearing that perhaps I was placing too unfair and cumbersome a burden on Jamie and Kacie. They need a mother, not a pal. But then this morning, here's Dr. Brazelton telling me that it's not only OK to try and fill some of the gaps left over from my childhood in this way, it's actually beneficial ... to the girls AND to me. Hmmm. I guess that I agree, as long as it doesn't get out of control. I mean, there is a fine line between being a parent and being a friend. The trick is to walk that line carefully. That's what I'm going to have to watch out for. There are moments when I actually forgetthat I'm their mother. It's kind of the same way that I "forget" that I'm thirty years old. (If I'm thirty, how come I'm still getting zits and listening to Tommy James & The Shondells?) I don't mean that I stop being their mother - I just stop THINKING of myself that way for a second or two, when we're in the middle of doing something silly and sweet and we just seem like three girls having fun, instead of a parent and two children. I love that kind of spontaneous closeness and I wouldn't want to lose it for the world. But I'm going to have to be careful. There will come a time - probably much sooner than I'll like - when Jamie and Kacie won't be all that thrilled with me anymore, and any attempts on my part to make us into "three girls having fun" will be met with resistance. Hopefully it won't last forever, and then once it's over with and they're safely out of puberty we'll go back to being friends. But while it's going on .... oh god, I'm not looking forward to thirteen!! ... it's liable to break my heart, unless I start walking that line right now, and remembering that it wasn't just the fun and the closeness that I missed out on a kid  ...  it was also the mothering, the parenting, the disciplining, ALL of that stuff - the fun and the serious - and it's not going to damage my relationship with the girls if I'm more like a mom sometimes and less of a "friend."

(Maybe that's what I'm afraid of, most of all ... damaging my friendship with them. Am I afraid they won't "like" me if I'm tough with them ... ?)

Kacie on her 5th birthday
March 21, 1988
(She's wearing a dress that belonged to me at this age.)

March 30, 1988

Another new passion of Kyle's ... pockets! He won't wear pants that don't have them. He gets downright indignant about it, as a matter of fact. He especially likes to walk around with one hand stuck in each pocket.

March hasn't been a really great month for me. Maybe that's why I haven't written much. The money worries and the sense of being "stuck" in this apartment - and this lifestyle - have been more intense and debilitating than usual lately. I've been feeling like a failure. Maybe everyone feels this way at some point in their life ... perhaps turning thirty is a catalyst. I don't know. All I do know is that I've been feeling like nothing much more than a lumpy, ambitionless pile of unfulfilled potential. No energy, no goals, no self-discipline. And there is an increasingly dark underside to my life these days. It's nothing I want to write about ... I'll just say that I watch myself doing things and saying things that horrify me.  I was binge-drinking on the weekends again.  I'm spinning out of control.  What's weird is that you probably can't even see it from the outside. Outwardly, I undoubtedly look perfectly normal. A little puffy, maybe, from the binge-eating I haven't been able to get under control (three bowls of Cocoa Puffs last night)  ...  maybe stressed out from long days spent cooped up in this apartment with seven or eight small children. And I'm not especially attractive at the moment: aside from the extra weight, I'm also pale as a mushroom from never going outside anymore - my hair is too long and stringy - and I'm even more broken out than usual. OK, so maybe I don't look completely "normal" after all. But I still don't think that anyone can tell, from looking at me, that all of this poison is swimming just below the surface. I'm acting normally. I bake blueberry muffins for the kids, I disinfect the toilet bowls, I mail the birthday cards. From the outside I'm sure I must look just like your average, normal, busy mother and housewife.

Financially, we are in our usual, predictable hole, due more to weekend excesses and reckless spending than anything else. Another area of my life that is completely out of control.

The kids, anyway - thank god - are OK. As good as I am at presenting a "normal" face to the rest of the world, I am twice as conscientious about it when it comes to my children. I don't mean that I conceal things. I don't. They see me cry and swear when things go wrong - I couldn't hide that even if I wanted to. And I usually tell them if I'm worried about money or I'm tired or I'm sick or I'm just in a bad mood today, so they'll hopefully understand that it's nothing they did. I'm not one to sugarcoat things. On the other hand, I don't dump it ALL on them ... I don't say "Geez. I don't know how we're going to pay the rent this month, do you?" ... I simply let them see that I have certain problems and things to deal with as an adult, and that sometimes it gets tough, but I keep the normal face on as much as possible in order to reassure them that things eventually work out OK. (Which, amazingly - all things considered - is usually the case.) And they seem to be handling these mini-doses of reality fairly well.

Tuesday a.m.
April 19, 1988

I am struggling like hell to be in a good mood this morning. I read somewhere that if you force yourself to smile, even when you're in a rotten mood, just the simply physical act of smiling unleashes all these physiological/biochemical changes inside of you - or some kind of mumbo-jumbo along those lines - and the next thing you know, boom, you really ARE feeling a little happier, in spite of yourself. So I'm walking around smiling a lot this morning. I've fixed cornflakes and apple juice for the kids [smile!]  ...  put on a pot of coffee [smile!]  ...  floated around the kitchen in the morning sunshine, in my powder-blue bathrobe, beaming like some beneficent Madonna [smile! smile! smile!] ... and all the while I've been waiting for the good mood to magically appear. 

So far it isn't working.

Things are at a very low point at the moment. I've been struggling along as best I can, trying to get caught up on stuff and reach the place where I can just breathe a little easier, for a change ... but every few days some new calamity slams me in the face - some new, unforeseen situation is suddenly just THERE in front of us - and I feel the way I feel today, all over again. Flat, sad and hopeless. 

Shit. Doesn't it ever end? Aren't things EVER going to get any better - or at least any easier? - for us ... ?

The latest "slam in the face" came yesterday in the mail ... the IRS gave our entire $1400 tax return to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, as repayment of the money Ray owes for the months the kids and I were on welfare. As much as Ray and I are both trying to convince ourselves, and each other, that it's for the best - at least we won't have this legal crud hanging over our heads anymore - we are still both unspeakably disappointed. There's no point in describing what fourteen hundred dollars could have done for this family right now. It's useless and almost unbearably painful to even think about it.

Our rent is paid for the month (although I'm holding my breath to see if the check bounces), but nothing else is paid. We owe money everywhere. Last night they shut off our cable, so today we don't even have a working television (since you need cable even to watch "regular" TV here). There is plenty of food in the refrigerator, but all three of the kids need new shoes. I have one more month of babysitting Jerome and André before their mom is layed off her job, and one month with Terry before his aunt moves up here from Arizona to take care of him fulltime. So these tiny sources of income are due to end shortly. Ray is trying to get hired on at Allpak - a rival of SeaPak - in hopes of making a dollar or two more an hour. But it's been a month since he was called in for the interview, and there's still no word. Everything seems so fucking bleak, Journal. I don't think the kids can sense my despair - this time, I DON'T want them to - but Ray can. He tries to trivialize it and brush my fears aside with jokes and feeble assurances. Or else he just steers clear of me and doesn't say anything at all. I know that he's just as devastated by this income tax thing as I am, but we don't seem to be able to reach out and comfort each other ... mainly because we both know there is no comfort to be had. We are each of us tightly bound in our own private cocoons of misery.

A little later

You know what really ticks me off about all of this? (Well ... I mean, ONE thing that rankles me: there are a million things I despise about being poor and depressed and worried all the time.)  The thing I refer to now is the way it interferes with my enjoyment of my kids. An example from a moment ago: I'm sitting here in the kitchen, writing and sipping awful black coffee,  feeling melancholy. Kyle comes running up to me and climbs onto my lap, chattering, smiling, wrapping his arms around my neck and giving me a hug ... "Hi Mama!" he says cheerfully ... I return his hug, but it is half-hearted on my part. I am too blue even to respond to my little son. As dearly, as fiercely as I love him, there simply doesn't seem to be any reserves of joy or response in me this day. I am squeezed dry by life.

"If you wait long enough, things are supposed to look better. It's called perspective, the magic of knowing what matters. The problem is how to get it when you need it.

The next time something happens to get you down, try the 'family album trick.' Imagine yourself twenty years from now, sitting in front of the fire reminiscing. Things that were once heartbreakers now seem silly or funny. Problems you never thought you could solve worked out. Grief gradually added depth and quality to your life. Perspective - what made you cry at 6 is unimportant at 26. Add 20 years to your evaluation of problems and chuckle. Remind yourself of what is truly important.

Keep the magic in your life."

~ Jennifer James

Why did I write this down? I don't know. Something about it appealed to me, I suppose ... the suggestion that maybe, just maybe, the biggest problem I have to face at the moment isn't a lack of money ... but a lack of perspective.  

It's nearly twenty years later, as I upload this journal to the Internet, and Jennifer James was right  ... problems that seemed unsolvable, in those dark depressing days of 1988, DID eventually work themselves out.  Not in the ways I might have expected, maybe  --  or wanted  --  but they did work out. And in spite of what I write here about the money worries "interfering" with my enjoyment of The Tots, I always managed to take pleasure in them, even when things were at their worst.  Spending time with them, watching them grow, writing about them, photographing them, caring for them  ...  all of these things gave my life joy and purpose.  It still does.

Friday 9 a.m.
April 22, 1988

Unexpectedly dark and drizzly morning. Kyle is wandering around the kitchen on his little yellow toddler car. He holds a half-eaten Rice Krispy Treat in one hand, making happy little "car noises" ... occasionally he talks to himself ("I DID! ... "OW!" ... "Hi, Do-Do"). Suddenly he sees a cat outside on the porch, and he rushes to the patio door, trying to pull it open. Unfortunately the door is securely locked, and he loses his footing and falls over. Enraged, he leaps to his feet and shouts "DON'T!" at the offending patio door, pummeling it with his fists. When that doesn't ease his frustration, he rushes out to the living room, where his sisters are watching a "My Little Pony" cartoon, and attempts to engage them in a wrestling match. They completely ignore him. Frustrated by their lack of attention, he runs over to my side and begins punching me in the thigh, as hard as he can. (When all else fails, beat up on your Mom  ...  ?)

Tuesday afternoon
May 3, 1988

You know what I do all the time these days? I walk around and plan journal entries in my head. Just little snippets of things, usually - little trivial things that happen around the apartment, things about the kids or money or whatever. It hits at all hours of the day or night. I'll be slipping frozen hot dogs into a pot of boiling water for the kids' supper, and all of a sudden there's this stream of words running across the front of my mind, like teletype ... Kyle is going through this amazing developmental phase right now ... Jamie said something rather startling this morning ... Is it my imagination, or has Kacie outgrown her new birthday clothes already? ... and I think to myself, I COMMAND myself, to run that very moment and grab and pen and WRITE IT DOWN, for crying out loud, before it evaporates from my overtaxed (yet understimulated: an ironic combo) brain! ... but of course I rarely do ... and thus it is that 99% of the journal entries for Spring 1988 never even leave the interior of my head ...  Sort of the same problem I have with *FootNotes* these days.

It is the afternoon before Kyle's second birthday. The apartment is unusually quiet today: no Jerome and André this week (maybe next week), Little Terry's gone home already, Zaydra is zonked out on the sofa. Jamie is kneeling in front of the TV, praying quietly before the altar of "Hollywood Squares." My daughter, the game-show junkie. Kacie has vanished into the nether regions of the back bedroom. (I peek at her through the door - she is absorbed in an elaborate Tinker Toy creation.) Ray is at work. The apartment smells of boiled hot dogs, Clorox bleach (from the training pants soaking in the bathroom), old coffee, recent thunderstorms, wet tennis shoes. I'm unexpectedly at peace today. It's not a very deep thing - the problems are still right there, just a fraction of an inch from the surface - but I've managed to remain more or less level for two days running, and it's as close to that "deep breath" as I ever get.

And then there's Kyle. In seven and a half hours (seven hours and eleven minutes, actually), I will have an official two-year-old on my hands. Again. Maybe/probably for the last time. My baby, TWO YEARS OLD. Imagine the incredible impossible fact of that! There's the usual wistful, happy/sad pull on my heart this afternoon ... a feeling I've come to know very well over the course of the past six and a half years. I'm elated as always that my child has reached another birthday healthy, happy and in one piece. I'm proud of all the latest developments and accomplishments. I'm filled with love. The flip side is that I'm beginning to understand what they mean when they say Enjoy them while they're little: it passes so quickly. I mean REALLY understand it, feel it in my bones, watch it happening. The birthdays are the tangible proof of how quickly it's all passing, and so they can't help but be occasions of remarkably mixed emotions.

                    Kacie: "Jamie said 'shit'."
                    Jamie: "Nuh-uh."
                    Kacie: "Did so! You said SHIT."
                    Jamie: "Liar liar pants on fire."

                   This one STILL makes me laugh, every time I read it.

Now Zaydra has gone home (Dee came and picked her up an hour earlier than usual), and the kids are milling around the kitchen, waiting for dinner. Kyle is standing on the arm of the couch, looking out the window at the kids on the playground. Lately he has taken to wearing Jamie's boots. Of course they're miles too big for him - on him they're hip-boots, practically, whereas they hit Jamie mid-calf - but he clomps around the apartment in them ALL THE TIME. He wears them at mealtime and at naptime. If I'd let him, I have a feeling he'd wear them in the tub. "My boots!" he announces happily, putting his feet up on the table and leaning back in his highchair, like some demented midget Park Avenue executive ...

... Jamie has had to pretty much resign herself to bootlessness, I'm afraid.

Kyle wearing his sister's boots and cradling "Rocky"

Kyle also has a new special friend - a stuffed orange dinosaur named "Rocky." He got Rocky for Christmas last year (I don't recall who gave it to him: Aunt Ann, maybe?) but he didn't become emotionally attached to it until about two weeks ago. Now Rocky is a constant and much-loved companion. "My Wock-ee!" Kyle says tenderly, cradling the dinosaur in his arms and peering closely at his face, as though some private telepathic interchange is passing between the two of them.

New Kyle words and phrases:

"Gee-gee" (hard "g") - Kacie
"Byah-Byah" - Zaydra
"Do-Do" - Jo Jo (the little boy upstairs)
"yum-yum" - food or meal
"cue-cue" - thank you
"Ni-night" - pillow
"my more" - second helping of something
"dat?" - what's that?
"Baby" - himself
"Baby back!" - Baby is back
"gum-gum" - no translation necessary
"don't" (ditto)
"uh oh, bloh-blohs" - Uh oh, Spaghetti-O's
"tsee? tsee, Mom?" - see? see, Mom?

He's such a little character, this son of mine ... so funny and noisy and busy and ridiculously full of himself ... so completely convinced that the world revolves around him ... "More ba-ba!" he shouts imperiously, thrusting the empty Donald Duck ba-ba into my face. When I try to coax some courtesy from him ("What do you say?"), he smiles sweetly and says "Peeeeeeeeeee." I'm up in a flash, headed for the fridge to get him more juice ...

Kyle's second birthday
May 1988

Thursday 7:30 a.m.
May 5, 1988

Early morning. I'm alone, temporarily. The kids are all still sleeping. I've poured myself a cup of coffee and have nestled into one corner of the sofa with an old Sandra Dee movie on the tube. The furnace is rumbling, and there's an annoying drip in the kitchen sink, but aside from that, and the low hum of the TV, the apartment is hushed and still.

I woke up with a headache again. Lately this has been happening a lot and I don't know why, although I had a series of long, involved deams all night again, and the headaches always seem worst when I've been dreaming hard. I took an aspirin a few minutes ago ... it seems to be helping. So does the coffee. 

I still remember a little bit of the dream. I was a teenager again, at some kind of church camp with a lot of other teens, and there was a cute boy there that I was interested in. We were enjoying a flirty, innocent romance, and I was feeling very confident and attractive, as though I could have any boy at camp. (That smug feeling of invincibility that I actually remember feeling occasionally at that age.) Anyway, the dream was just going along, kinda nice, kinda sweet ... nothing overtly sexual, but definitely interesting ... and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this other teenage girl appears. She's cute but nothing special, I'm thinking, but nonetheless the boy I like is going off with HER and I'm left standing alone, feeling hurt and confused ... and it's then that I look down at myself and realize that I'm not a teenager at all, I'm a blubberly thirty-year-old in baggy sweatpants and scraggly hair, and who the hell could ever be interested in ME? ...   I still have this dream, only now when I 'look down at myself' I'm a blubberly FIFTY-year-old in baggy sweatpants and scraggly hair.  The good news is that I wake up laying next to someone I'm madly in love with  ...  which means that the reality is actually BETTER than the dream.


Now it's afternoon (5:20 p.m.) and I've just woken up again, this time time from a forty-minute nap on the sofa. No headache this time, but I'm back to drinking coffee again in an effort to wake up and cook dinner for everybody. Why am I so sluggish today?? I've accomplished very little ... one crossword puzzle (my new "hobby"), one chapter of an extremely dull book ("Heartsounds"), three soap operas, a little putzing around in the kitchen, some light babysitting (Zaydra and Terry). I don't merely feel sluggish physically - it's also a mental and emotional lethargy. I've experienced (and whined in my journal about) this kind of stuff a zillion times before, so I'll not waste what precious energy resources I DO have in reserve, writing about the same-old same-old. My bloblike state of being is very old news.

Friday morning
May 6, 1988

Another goddamned kick in the teeth this morning  --  Ray's paycheck is being withheld (something about CSE trying to garnish his wages). I don't know what it's all about, but he's just left to go down to SeaPak to try and figure it out. (Plus it was a very short paycheck to begin with, plus our rent is now two days overdue and there was a "pay or get out" notice on my door this morning. Shit.)

The kids are sitting at the kitchen table coloring. I'm trying so hard not to cry, but it's not working ... I can barely see this page I'm writing on through my tears. Jamie is the only one who senses that something is wrong. She hasn't said anything to me directly, but she casts me a worried look from time to time when she thinks I don't see her, and she's now taken Kacie out to the living room where they are quietly watching Wheel of Fortune. (I walk out to where she's sitting, kiss her on the top of the head and murmur "Thanks." She looks at me knowingly, lovingly. God, how I love my kids.)

The rent. The goddamned fucking RENT. Two months' worth of overdue utilities. Groceries. Fingerhut. All of this legal crap. I am so, SO tired of worrying about all of this stuff, night and day. I'm getting so old, so fast.

Saturday morning
May 7, 1988

It's probably gonna take me a minute or two to find the courage (not to mention the stomach) to write about yesterday ... give me a second ...

May 10, 1988

Whoops. That "second" turned into three DAYS ... sorry! And an incredibly tense, roller-coaster three days they've been, too.

It's early-early ... no one is up yet but me, and I've already (miracle of miracles) showered, dressed and made coffee. I'm supposed to have a full house today, babysitting-wise: Jerome and André, Jo Jo from upstairs, Little Terry and maybe Zaydra. They are all due to descend momentarily. Also, Ray's mom is going to stop by this morning and pick up Kacie for an overnighter. I guess I got up early so I could pick up the place before she gets here ... instead, here I sit, scribbling in my journal ...

Anyway, back to what happened the other day. It turns out that CSE had - without notifying us - had Ray's check withheld and garnished 25% of it, with the intent of further garnishing all future paychecks in the same outrageous amount until our debt (some $4,000) was paid off. Twenty five percent. That was over a hundred dollars out of every paycheck. Ray came home from SeaPak that morning with the paper in his hand, and there was that same look of hopeless defeat on his face I'd seen when they appropriated our income tax refund. We looked at each other and said That's it - we're fucked. The System continues to dump on this family, and there ain't a blessed thing we can do about it. I alternated all afternoon between blind nauseated panic and absolute fury. Ray sat on the couch all weekend drinking beer and saying "I should just quit my job and put you and the kids back on welfare. That's what they seem to want." And in a way, that's the truth: it almost seems as though we're being penalized for wanting to get off the welfare merry-go-round. It's incredible. It makes me wonder why I even bothered trying to be honest with them last fall, when I requested termination from assistance. I could have just stayed on their payroll until the cows come home, illegally receiving aid and also getting Ray's paychecks, and no one would have been any the wiser (and we certainly would have been richer). According to many of the people around this apartment complex, this kind of thing goes on all the time. Welfare cheating is as common as shoplifting - only a lot easier to get away with. But no ... I decide to play it straight with them, extricate myself completely from public assistance, duly report that my husband and I have reconciled, etc. etc. etc. ... and what do they do? They come after us with the big guns and threaten to throw our family's existence to smithereens. Like using a bazooka when all you need is a flyswatter. TWENTY FIVE PERCENT. Jee-zus ...

... Well. To shorten the story a bit. It's not exactly a "happy" ending, but I spent the afternoon on the phone, making one impassioned plea after another to one coldhearted bureaucratic asshole after another, and after one of the tensest afternoons of my whole life I finally managed to arrange a more liveable payment schedule with CSE. Would you believe -- $25 a month??


Time of the day: Early morning, before anyone else is up.

Day of the week: Saturday!

Leisure activities: Making cassette tapes of favorite music; decorating the apartment with odds and ends; reading magazines and newspapers; writing; crossword puzzles; watching TV.

TV shows: Kate & Allie, Designing Women, Head of the Class, Hooperman, All My Children, Cheers, L.A. Law, The Wonder Years, The Days & Nights of Molly Dodd, Roseanne, Murphy Brown.

Food/Drink: Pepsi (not Coke!), coffee, sloppy joes, turkey sandwiches with cranberries & mayo, Big Macs, potatoes, chocolate chip and walnut cookies.

Color: Blue, turquoise, teal, silver, gray, white.

Clothing styles: Levi's 501's, sweats, men's shirts.

Reading material: Parents, Redbook, The Seattle Times, celebrity autobiographies, mail-order catalogs.

Stress-reducers: Food, watching the goldfish, peeling off nail polish, housecleaning.

Guilty pleasures: "A Current Affair" (6:30 weeknights, Channel 13); sleeping with my son; reading the daily horoscope; gossiping with Lori next door; big breakfasts; that late-afternoon pot of coffee.

Biggest gripes: The kids using my best pens without asking; cleaning the fish bowl; Sunday afternoon football.

Favorite Celebrities in 1988: Cher, Dennis Quaid, Roseanne Barr, Gary Shandling.

Least-favorite jobs: Changing poopy diapers, cleaning Jamie & Kacie's bedroom, making salad, putting laundry away.

Worst habits: Forgetting to return library books, sleeping with my makeup on.

Favorite songs in 1988: "I Hate Myself For Loving You," Joan Jett; "Beds Are Burning," Midnight Oil; "Tall Cool One," Robert Plant; "Brilliant Disguise," Bruce Springsteen.

Thursday, almost 9 a.m.
June 9, 1988

Jamie's "half birthday" today ... while she stood in the kitchen eating her cinnamon toast I serenaded her with:

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!

(That's half of "Happy Birthday.")

Half-crazy morning all the way around, actually ... the living room is swarming with kids ... Jerome & André; Zaydra; a little girl named Diana, who spent the night last night (she hates us, and she hates being here, and she's made no secret of either fact); Jamie and Kacie; and last but not least - Henry the Horrible. Arrgh. I don't know if I'm going to survive his Terrible Twos, I honestly don't. At the very least I'm going to wind up completely gray by the time I'm thirty-one ...

Already this morning he has:

  • Woken the entire household (not to mention our next-door neighbors) at 6 a.m. with his screaming, which as prompted by: A.) My refusal to let him take my blanket, B.) My refusal to put more milk in his bottle (we only have about half a cup left) - he had to settle for sugar water

  • Jumped on Kacie's sunburned back

  • Run stark-naked onto the playground; Jerome had to carry him back, kicking and screaming all the way
  • Rubbed Surfin' Berry Punch Kool-Aid in Zaydra's blonde hair

  • Gotten into fights with Jamie over opening the refrigerator door ("BABY GET IT!") and changing the channel on the TV ("BABY GET IT!")

  • Peed on the living room floor
  • Spit on everybody, including me

And the day is only four hours old!!! ...

I guess it's been about a month since I've written, so it's time to do some catching up. Summer has pretty much arrived. They opened the pool Memorial Day weekend - Kacie has her first sunburn of the season (long sleeves and a sun-hat today) - Jamie is counting down the remaining days of school - the new next-door neighbors (John and Lori) are barbecuing every single night now. I'm starting to worry about my lack of summer clothes. Everything on TV is re-runs, the refrigerator is full of fruit, the doors and windows are open all the time. Yep ... summer is here. Whoopee.

You know what's strange? Spring has come and gone, and I never felt so much as a twinge of my usual spring fever.

Kyle (walking into the apartment with tightly clenched fist): "Hey! I got BEE! I gotta BEE!" (opens fist to reveal squished ant)

My Girls
Summer 1988

Saturday morning
June 12, 1988

Woke up at 8:30 this morning to find my bedroom flooded with sunlight ... and the kids gone!  We'd all stayed up till midnight last night, watching horror movies on HBO ("The Gate" & "Cujo"), and then we slept together in my room - Jamie and Kacie squished into the crib together for fun, Kyle in my bed next to me. But when I woke up, they all seem to have vanished. I laid in bed and listened for the usual Saturday morning noises - cartoons on TV, cereal bowls clattering, the girls arguing - but could hear nothing. What the heck was going on? Had they broken a cardinal rule and snuck out onto the playground before Mom was out of bed? Or were they all piled in my closet, waiting to jump out and scare the living daylights out of poor old pre-caffeine Mommy (the price I pay for letting them watch monster movies) ... ?? The calm and the quiet were delightful, admittedly, and I would have loved to have just rolled over in bed and relished it a while longer ... but I am after all a MOTHER, and as such am immediately suspicious of such oddities as unsolicited quiet on Saturday morning. Generally in these situations it's a matter of where there's smoke, there's fire ... or at least that's the way it's been in the past. (The memory of two yr. old Jamie getting up and "making waffles" still raises the hair on the back of my neck.) As long as they're screaming and arguing and killing each other, I know everything is OK ... but the minute that a calm descends and I can't hear any noise from the next room, my trouble-seeking radar goes into action and I'm instantly right there, looking for the open book of matches or the broken heirloom vase ...

... it's difficult for me to remember, sometimes, how much they're growing up ...

I double-checked the crib then and discovered that Kacie actually was still laying there, hidden beneath an enormous pile of blankets, snoring softly. One sweet baby chick accounted for. But where were the other two? I tiptoed down the hallway and finally heard the television set, turned very low to The Muppet Babies. Jamie and Kyle were sitting side by side on the floor in front of the TV. Jamie was wearing a blue nightgown, Kyle was in a diaper and white T-shirt, their hair identically mussed. They looked so sweet, sitting there next to each other watching cartoons - Kyle was holding a plastic race car in his hand, making those infernal vrroom vrroom noises of his - that I had to stop right there in the hallway, where they couldn't see me, and just watch them for a couple of minutes unobserved. It was one of those rare unguarded moments in my life where, just for a minute or two, everything in the universe is completely as it should be. The force of love in me was as intense as anything I've ever felt, or am likely to feel again, and for that instant everything was as close to perfection as it gets.  I live with these kids 24 hours a day. I see them at their most unappealing. There are times when I want to hang them from their HEELS, they can be so exasperating. I've changed their crappy diapers and mopped their barf off the bathroom floor and stuck thermometers up their rear ends; I've gone without sleep and privacy and new shoes for myself; I've listened to 4.5 billion hours' worth of pointless sibling squabbles; I've stopped them from killing each other an average of 20 times a day for almost six years. There are times when the whining, the muddy feet, the Band-Aid consumption, the tattling, the toys on the living room floor, the mismatched socks, the stupid "My Little Pony" theme song are enough to drive me straight up the wall and through the ceiling and halfway to the moon ...

... and yet there I am, standing in the hallway watching two of my children in the morning sunlight, grinning like a fool, feeling as overwhelmed by love as a new mother in the delivery room. 

Will this ever be old hat? I hope not. I hope it's always this way.

Kyle saw me first. "Hi Mama!" he chirped, and came racing down the hallway and into my arms. Moments later and Jamie were slurping bowls of Cocoa Puffs, and soon afterward Kacie shuffled out to the living room to join us. Now it's nearly noon, and they're all three dressed and out on the playground. The day has resumed its usual Saturday orbit ... Kyle and Kacie have fought over a sun hat, Jamie has tattled twice and been caught in a lie once, Kyle has wet his pants, Kacie has asked for food twice since breakfast ... life per usual in Polenville U.S.A.

June 16, 1988

Jamie has just left for her last day of kindergarten. (A vision in pink in my old party dress, her pink and white "varsity" jacket, Kacie's pink striped crew socks.) She'll be home in an hour, since this is an abbreviated school day. I told her that when she gets home, she'll be an "official first-grader." ("If you pass kindergarten, that is," I teased her.) I don't know if this is much in the way of comfort. I sense that she is VERY sad about kindergarten ending and saying goodbye to her beloved Mr. Gallagher.  She was uncharacteristically solemn (even for her) this morning while she was getting dressed; even helping Mom cook breakfast didn't seem to cheer her up much. Her sadness is weighing on me. I'm remembering the way I felt at the end of the school year, and I share her pain. My poor little baby.

June 21, 1988

Jamie's OK. That wonderful resilliency in her has taken over, and she appears to be surviving the end of kindergarten. She's already brown as toast, by the way ... it's positively sickening! I am downright envious of her! She tans so beautifully.

Oh, by the way - she lost her first "upper" tooth last week.

Major sources of stress in my life this summer:

  • That asshole neighbor of mine upstairs who plays his stereo day and night, at such a volume that we literally can't hear ourselves think. He seems to be especially fond of Vanessa Williams and Percy Sledge.  I still think of him every time I hear "When A Man Loves A Woman."
  • The blonde in the hot-pink bikini who lounges around the pool (directly in front of my apartment) all day.
  • The mildew smell in the kitchen.
  • Tiffany.
  • George Bush.

Wednesday morning
June 22, 1988

Unexpectedly raining and cool this morning ... a treat for me, of course, after days of pre-summer swelter. The kids are clustered around the TV watching "Labyrinth" on HBO, munching on toast ... all except Henry, who is in the highchair next to me, here in the kitchen. He's wearing no diaper, has both feet planted on the table, and has already managed to smear plum preserves all over his face and in his hair. "No pee!" he says solemnly, echoing Mom's stern warning regarding going "pants-less" at the table - then grins broadly at me and gives a happy little roar.

Jamie's suitcase sits open on the table in front of me, packed for her trip to her Grandma & Grandpa P.'s house. Peg called yesterday and invited Jay to stay for a few days: they'll pick her up today before lunch. I felt the usual twinge of panic ... separation anxiety, I guess they call it. How will I get along without my Puss? How will she get along without ME? What if something happens to her while she's gone, and I never see her again? Or what if something happens to US while she's gone? I hate thinking in such a morbid vein, but it's nothing I can control. The best I can do is try not to let on to Jay that I feel this way. It would spoil her good time, and in spite of my uncontrollably gloomy thoughts, I really do want her to have a good time. She was so excited last night. She ran back and forth to her bedroom, grabbing shirts and clean underwear and Barbie stuff to pack in her suitcase, chattering a mile a minute about all the things she'll probably be doing at Grandma's. ("I bet they rent a movie!" ... "I'll prob'ly be sleeping with Aunt Barbara - she has a TV in her ROOM!" ... "Maybe I'll see (cousins) Billy and Nathan" ... )

Oh well. The next few days may be a bit lonely without her - I'll miss having someone else around who is on the same wavelength I am - but I'm glad she's been singled out for this special pleasure.

More later.

Friday morning
June 24, 1988

Geez, I sound like such a big crybaby, don't I ... ?

Jamie's been gone for a couple of days and we're all getting along just fine, me included. She called Wednesday and Thursday nights, and it sounds like she's having the time of her life. She said they've taken her to McDonald's, rented movies, bought her a ton of summer clothes and a new pair of tennis shoes, gone to the beach, eaten Chinese food. I know it's good for her to be the center of attention once in a while. Here at home, she's just one of the (many) kids. I also know that it's good for her to be away from ME. Our relationship is so intense that we both need a breather once in awhile. I dump so many responsibilities and expectations on her ... she needs some time to be pampered and carefree and "on vacation" just as much as anybody.

I've been too busy the past couple of days to dwell on her absence much, anyway. (No weeping over little red tricycles in the rain, this time around.) I'm dieting again, for one thing - the less said about it, the better, since I jinx myself when I overanalyze these things - and that's been at the forefront of my mind this week. Babysitting has been real light this week, mostly just Zaydra, so I've been putting more of my energies into cleaning the apartment. The past couple of months I let everything slide - my home, my appearance, my writing projects, EVERYTHING - because I couldn't seem to shrug off the heavy mantle of worry and depression I'd been walking around with all winter. I was so obsessively worried about money and "making ends meet" that I didn't have room for anything else. The apartment grew dark and dusty and smelly, with huge piles of damp laundry cluttering the hallway and a lingering odor of mildew everywhere; I got fat and sluggish again; I was trying to make everything seem "normal," but one look at the apartment (and at my bloated face) and I'm sure the world could immediately discern the true state of my head. 

Well ... things are changing now. Even though it's summer, usually my most unmotivated season of the year, I've been feeling inspired to whip my life back into shape. This is what I've been trying to write about for the past few days - actually, for the past two WEEKS - but I've always gotten distracted somewhere along the line. Things are finally getting better for us. I don't mean we're out pricing Cadillacs or anything, but financially we seem to be a lot closer to that "deep breath" I've been longing for. Again, I don't want to jinx myself by getting too excited or too cocky, but I'll just say that Ray's paychecks have gotten more substantial, and we've been able to take some steps toward catching up. Our rent for June was actually paid in full and ON TIME - no late charges! And the utilities are taken care of, at least partially. We've had plenty of food in the apartment, I've ordered a couple of new bras (paid for in advance), and we've gotten new swimsuits, flip-flops and swim toys for the kids. It's been weeks since we've had to scrape together loose change for a half gallon of milk. (And there has still been enough left over for Ray and I to "play" a little on the weekends. Amazing.) My babysitting has been fairly regular, too - mostly Jerome and André and Zaydra, with occasional drop-ins from around the apartment complex - and that has helped. Mostly it pays for groceries and "extras" for the kids. I've accepted the fact that fluctuation comes with the territory, but it seems that whenever one babysitting arrangement ends, another one comes along to replace it. So it all comes out in the wash. We've been pleased enough with our newfound "financial breathing room" that we've actually begun to think about houses again. That's something I'd all but given up on, but now it's seeming like a possibility once more. Last weekend we even made a call on one place. Nothing came of it, but the point is that we're THINKING about it again.

July 6, 1988

A couple of weeks later. We've added another kid to our babysitting "group" - seven year old Christopher, who will be here from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until the end of the summer. He and his mother live in an apartment directly across the complex from mine. I watched them moving in a couple of months ago, and I remember thinking that Maryanne looked "nice" ... like someone I might want to be friends with. Now that I've actually met her, I'm not so sure - she has this disconcerting way of just standing there, not saying a word, while I clumsily attempt to end our conversations politely - but at least it's a little extra money. Christopher pretty much looks after himself and he's no problem at all to get along with.

Christopher was Jamie's first boyfriend.

Jamie and I are clashing a lot this summer. She is moody, mean-mouthed and reluctant to help out in any way. Asking her to do something helpful - fetching a clean diaper for Kyle, picking up her toys, whatever - is maddening. She rolls her eyes, sneers, makes this awful "tcch" noise and immediately begins to whine ... "MOMMMMMMM!" It drives me crazy!! 

Then there's this other thing she does that sends me up a wall  ...  I call it "The Mutter." I'll be out of the room, perhaps in the kitchen making dinner, and Jamie and Kacie will be out in the living room watching TV.  That's when I'll hear it - a low, steady, barely-audible stream of muttering, Jamie to Kacie. I'll peek around the corner at the two of them and there they'll be, sitting side by side on the sofa,  Jamie talking softly and steadily, with an angelic look on her face, while poor Kacie will be looking increasingly agitated. The few times I've actually been able to hear what's being said, I've been horrified. It's almost always some incredibly convoluted version of something I've said to the girls. An example: I announced once, half-jokingly, that I was going to start charging the girls 10 cents each time I have to close their bedroom door. But in Jamie's twisted, "muttered" version, I'm going to take away their allowances completely! ("Every time you forget to shut the door," I heard her mutter, "Mom is going to take away one of your dollars.") No wonder Kacie looks agitated! Lord knows what other atrocities and half-truths Jamie has been feeding her, just for fun!

She has also become this master Tattle-Tale. It's an art with her. Naturally, SHE is never ever to blame for anything, it's always somebody else's fault, and as a matter of fact nine times out of ten SHE is the hapless victim. (Isn't that interesting?!) I've made it clear to her that tattling is one of my least favorite kid-habits - it rates right up there with nose-picking and playing with matches - but this hasn't deterred her in the slightest.

"Jamie and I are clashing a lot this summer."

July 7, 1988

All this stuff I SHOULD be doing, but I can't seem to get myself going ... gotta call the gas company and find out why our bill is all fouled up, gotta write to my brother and BEG him to fix my car (it's only been a year now), gotta get Kacie and Jerome registered for kindergarten ... gotta figure out how to pay the remaining eighty bucks we owe on our rent by this weekend ... gotta clean the girls' room, fix lunch for seven kids, keep the apartment cool during a heatwave ... and frankly all I really feel like doing is crawling under some cool, dark rock and hiding. Why? What's happened to my energy, my optimism? Is it because our weeks of lovely wet weather have finally given way, today, to the damned hot stuff? Is it because my period is sneaking up on me?

9:35 a.m.

Jamie: "Kacie was playing with GLASS." (Kacie's explanation: "We was tryin' to frow it AWAY.")

10 a.m.

Jamie: "Kyle broke Daddy's iced tea."

10:40 a.m.

Jamie: "Christopher's playing in MUD."

Summer 1998:

Wild Cherry Splash California Cooler ... Hickory Farms Sweet-Hot Mustard ... "Tall Cool One" ... Kyle: "Ya ya, boo boo!" ... sweats and men's dress shirts ... "Ladies Only" tape ... "The Love Connection," "A Current Affair," "Blue Skies" ... corn on the cob ... Chubby Checker & The Fat Boys, "The Twist" ... little purple plums ... blue Kool-Aid ...

Jamie: "I hate it when you call me 'Pussy.' "

Kacie: "See ya later, crocodile!"

Kyle: "Phone! Phone!" (whenever Ray calls from work in the evenings)

Friday ("Yahoo Day")
July 8, 1988

Well, guess what? Out of all that "stuff" I was supposed to do yesterday, the only thing that actually got done was "fix lunch for seven kids."

... And now here it is the next morning, and here I sit again at the kitchen table drinking coffee, just like yesterday, feeling inundated by "shoulds" and "oughtas" and "have-to's" ...

Kyle got up a couple of minutes ago. I was kneeling beside the stereo sorting through albums when he suddenly burst into the living room, his empty bottle in one hand and his beloved toy gun in the other hand. "Ha-LO," he said in the new deep voice he's been cultivating lately - I call it "The Big Voice" - and waved genially at Zaydra, Jerome and Jamie. Then he ran to me for his good morning hug. This is one of my favorite moments of the day - Kyle's first morning hug. His love for his mama is pure and unrestrained. He literally LEAPS into my arms and hugs me tight, with his entire little body.

Thursday (almost "Yahoo Day")
July 14, 1988

Still worrying about the rent - only now we owe $160 instead of just $80, since Ray cashed all the checks we had stashed away - but otherwise I've managed to get quite a lot done this week. Called the gas company and wrote to my brother, anyway. And I even cleaned the girls' room - that took four hours - and scrubbed the kitchen floor.

Thursday again
July 21, 1988

A week later. Not quite as productive this week, I'm afraid  --  temperatures have been in the mid-nineties, my energy level has been in the sub-zeroes   --  basically this has been a week of laying in front of the fan, drinking Pepsi after Pepsi ...

The girls spent the night at Peg & Don's last night. Peg picked them up around lunchtime yesterday and will bring them home sometime this afternoon. Kyle and I thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening alone together last night: we sat on the floor in front of the TV and ate dinner together, I gave him a nice cool bath, and then we snuggled into my big bed at 9:30 and went to sleep. He is speaking in complete (although still somewhat halting) sentences now. Last night he said "I play Jo-Jo a'minute." One of his longest sentences to date. He's also started noticing the noise of airplanes passing overhead (hard to miss, considering that the airport is practically in our backyard). "PANE! PANE!" he'll shout, whenever he hears the rumble in the sky above us, or even if he spies an airplane on TV.

Right now (9:30 a.m.) he is outside playing with "the big boys" - Jerome, Christopher and Jeffrey. He gave me this funny look when he was walking out the door: almost as though he were saying "Is this OK, Mom? Am I a big boy now, too?" And then when I assured him that yes, it was OK for him to go outside - Jerome and Christopher had promised to keep an eye on him - the look on his face was PURE JOY. I can see him now, out on the newly-fenced playground, in his red shorts and his yellow Spiderman tank top and his new blue high-top sneakers. His hair is much too long, as always - he has to tip his head back, a little, to see out from under his heavy bangs - but in the morning sunlight it glistens like new pennies. Next to the older boys, he looks very dear and little to me. (Jerome and Chris just went strolling past my window, and right behind them - skipping a bit and shouting "C'MON!" - was my little man.)

I almost wish that I could freeze Kyle at this precise age and moment. In spite of the fact that he's a pain in the neck 75% of the time - the TERRIBLE Twos - he is nonetheless as cute, as personable and as fascinating to watch as he's ever been. Every day he does something new and wonderful. (Of course, every day he ALSO does twenty or thirty not-so-wonderful things. But still.) Right now the major day-to-day developments are mostly language-related. His verbal skills have really taken off since his second birthday, nearly three months ago. I'm amazed at how quickly and adeptly he has begun picking up new words and sentences. "Bat-mam!" he shouts merrily, when the Batman theme music comes on in the morning. "I busy!" he says crossly, when I ask him to fetch me a clean diaper. "Daddy be wight BACK?" he inquires sweetly, when Ray runs to 7-11. He parrots virtually everything I say to him. ("I'm almost done," I say as I'm tying his shoes. "'Most done?" he echoes.) He has also - unavoidably, I guess - begun to parrot the four-letter words he hears Mom use. The kids he plays with all day have taught him to say "I tell on you!", "Dud-up!" and "Cry-baby!" And then there's the stuff he's made up all on his own. He has this funny little thing he says when he's feeling especially frisky - "Na na, boo boo!"  --  I have absolutely no idea where that came from, but now the whole family says it. I guess it just kind of means "Ha ha, look at me, aren't I the funniest thing ... ?"

He has discovered a handful of TV shows (and characters) that he really likes, and I mean "likes" to the point of delirium when they come on - "PeeWee's Playhouse" on Saturday mornings, "ALF" on Monday nights, and now "Sesame Street" every day. (His favorites on Sesame Street are Oscar the Grouch and Bert & Ernie.) These are KYLE'S SHOWS, and he loves them feverishly.

August 18, 1988

Nearly a month later. Sorry 'bout that. Summer has been zipping by. I mean it - each week seems to pass more quickly than the last. One minute it's Monday morning, and I'm snarling at everyone, feeling depressed and guilty and overwhelmed - I loathe Mondays - and the next minute, boom, it's the end of the week again. This has made Summer 1988 pass in the blink of an eye. In some ways this has been great, summer being my least-favorite time of year and all, but then again who wants life to run at 78 rpm? Especially when you've got young children who are growing up too fast as it is ... ??

It's a cloudy Thursday morning, and I'm sitting here waiting for Dee to drop Zaydra off so I can hop into the shower and get my day officially started. There are already six kids sitting around my living room watching cartoons, and the ridiculous part is that only ONE of them (Jamie) is mine! (Kacie and Kyle are still a'snooze in the back room.) Today we've got all the regulars, plus four yr. old Nicole and two yr. old Nicki. And Zaydra, when she gets here. I'm anxiously scanning the gloomy skies, praying for once that it DOESN'T rain ... can you imagine being stuck in a dinky apartment with nine kids, including (o god) FOUR two yr. olds??

I've got a lot on my mind today. The girls start school in a couple of weeks, and I'm preoccupied with thoughts of getting Kacie registered, buying school clothes (how? when? with what money??), juggling schedules, arranging transportation, etc. etc. etc. etc. Last weekend my mom and I took them to Pay 'N Save to buy school supplies. Kacie got a two-pocket folder, pencils, erasers, a little bottle of white glue and a new box of crayons. Jamie got a three-ring binder (with pictures of jelly beans on it), paper, crayons, pencils, erasers, a plastic carrying case for her pencils, and -- the piece de resistance! -- her very first lunchbox and Thermos! Oh boy! It's pink plastic with pictures of Barbie all over it. Sunday evening she just sat on the sofa and held her new lunchbox in her arms, sighing. "I wish school was TOMORROW!" she said, over and over again. It made me smile because I remember that feeling so clearly! Kacie is slightly less anxious for school to start, at least outwardly, but I'm sure that's mostly because she doesn't know what to expect, the way Jamie does. "School" doesn't mean much to her yet, although I fully expect her to enjoy kindergarten once she starts. But right now Jamie is growing more wiggly and impatient and excited by the hour.

The kids have had a fairly good summer, although it's been exceptionally low-key. With the exception of a sleepover at Peg & Don's and a "Bambi" date with Grandma Beeson, plus a few trips to the store, they've stuck pretty close to home all summer. I guess there's nothing wrong with that, given how little they are and all. But I do miss having a car and being able to take them places, and I do feel guilty about how home-bound they are. They've gotten to swim in the big pool a lot this summer, though, and there have been millions of other kids to play with. These have been a couple of the advantages of life in an apartment complex. We may be isolated from the 'real world' - the world beyond the Shannon South Apartments - but then again this complex is kind of like a small world unto itself, and there is never a shortage of playmates. Both of the girls - and Kyle too, to some extent - have run gloriously free and unfettered all summer, with very few demands placed on them beyond just being young and having fun and enjoying the pleasures of childhood ... popsicles, bare feet, sleepovers, Barbies, eating meals outside at the picnic table, spooky movies on cable, Daddy barbecuing, long Sunday afternoons in the pool ... they are all three tanned, hair bleached from hours in the sun, beautiful, strong, healthy ... Jamie is as long-legged as a newborn colt, Kacie as freckled as a strawberry, Kyle (in his new SHORT "big boy" haircut) as loud and busy and independent as a bumblebee ...


It's a couple of hours later now. Zaydra is here, the four yr. old (Nicole) has gone home, the sky has miraculously cleared and the older kids are playing outside. The two yr. olds are clustered around the Fisher-Price house and zoo toys, playing with the miniature people and cars. Kyle is in the thick of it, of course. He woke up smiling, about an hour ago, and is in an aggressive, mischevious mood  --  bopping Zaydra over the head with a toy motorcycle, climbing on top of André and pinning him to the floor (both of them giggling wildly), maneuvering his toddler car around the kitchen at breakneck speed (and flying to my side moments later saying "Owee-owee-owee my weg! Owee my weg! Need ban-mee!") His new word today is "Ko-Lay" ... his way of saying Kool-Aid. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am utterly astonished by the way he has EXPLODED into talking this summer. All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, he is speaking in clear, complex sentences, expressing everything - questions, opinions, demands - with a clarity that totally knocks me out. I don't mean that he's any kind of prodigy or anything ... it's just that it happened so fast. Like everything else this particular summer. One minute it was "Ma-ma" and "ba-ba" and "ni-night," the next minute it's "I not spit my Ko-Lay outside now, Mom" ...

Financially, we're kind of coasting along - a little better than usual, nothing to shout about, but OK - the rent is paid, some of the other bills are too, there's plenty of food in the fridge. Ray's been doing extra yardwork for both of my grandmothers (today, as a matter of fact, he's over at Grandma St. John's pruning hedges and repairing her front porch) and my babysitting has been steady. Plus Ray got a 75 cent per hour "raise" at work.

And this past week a rather unexpected opportunity has dropped into our laps. To tell you the truth, I don't know what the hell to make of it. I'm not even sure I'm ready to write about it  --  I'm simultaneously fearful of jinxing a golden opportunity and/or committing to something too big to handle. I don't want to get too excited about it, in case it falls flat, but on the other hand it's a decision requiring careful thought. What do I do?? What a dumbhead I am sometimes. Honestly. Here I've been yammering on and on for months about how I want to get us out of this apartment and into a house, and then when opportunity actually knocks on my door, I run scared. Terry W. (Little Terry's dad) called me a few nights ago and said that the house next door to theirs  --  which, incidentally, is right across the street from Grandma St. John's  --  is going to be for rent soon. He gave me the owner's name and phone number. Right off the bat I was kind of excited, and had this "feeling" that this might be a chance of a lifetime, but even so for some reason I procrastinated about calling until last night. For the two days before that, I kept looking at the number and trying to scrape up the nerve to call, but I just couldn't seem to make myself do it. I mentioned the house to Ray, even though I hadn't called on it yet, and right away HE was excited. Far more excited than me, strangely enough. I mean, it's ironic that I've been the one all along who has been longing for a house, and now when we really might have a chance at getting into one, I'm pulling back and Ray is the one who's already talking about packing! What gives?? 

Well, anyway, last night I finally took the plunge and called (fortified by a couple of beers). The owner wasn't home, but I left a message, and a little while later he called me back and we had a long conversation. What it all boils down to is this: I am to call him back next Wednesday morning, and he'll let me know then whether he'll rent the place to us or not. At the moment he's making repairs around the house and yard, so it won't even be ready to move into for a couple of weeks. He didn't come right out and promise the house to me, but he did say he would give us "first consideration." I was using my best 'professional voice'  --  the sincere, smart, articulate voice I use when I'm selling myself   --  I assured Mr. Drynden (who sounded all of about 20 years old) that we are a nice, responsible, clean-cut, All-American family, that I was sure we could meet his terms, whatever they might turn out to be, that I would "appreciate it" if he would keep us in mind when he's ready to rent, etc. etc. etc. He sounded moderately convinced, but of course you can't really judge that sort of thing over the phone. Maybe I came off sounding as phony as a Velveeta sandwich. I certainly felt that way. If I were renting a house, I'm not entirely sure I'd want to rent to us!  We have no credit history to speak of, no bank accounts, no credit cards, not even any valid I.D., either one of us. Our rental history looks OK on paper  --  six years in the Kirkland house, nearly two years here  --  and Ray is steadily employed. There's even my marginal "income" to take into account. But I still feel like we fall outside  --  WAYYY outside  --  of the societal mainstream, and anyone who did even the slightest bit of checking up on us would undoubtedly find out that Ray was fired from his job a couple of years ago, that I was on welfare for a year, that our credit stinks, and so on and so on, and we'd be discovered as the frauds we are. So I felt not just a little uncomfortable trying to convince this guy that we would be the ideal tenants. Whether or not he picked up on my discomfort, who's to say?

At any rate, Ray's all excited about it, my mom and both of my grandmothers are excited, Jamie knows about it and says it's "OK" if she doesn't return to Bow Lake Elementary this year  --  living across the street from Great-Grandma somehow seems to make up for a change in schools  --  everybody is excited. Except me.

August 23, 1988

Five days later. Where was I? Oh yes, my lack of enthusiasm about the house. Honest to god, I don't know why I'm the only one who could care less about the whole thing. Is it the house itself? We haven't even seen it. I do know, however, that it's really tiny. It is ALSO right next door to Tammy & Terry, and while they're nice enough and we've always gotten along OK with them and all, I'm just not sure about living next door to them. It's as though we'd be stuck with each other ... after a long day of babysitting their kids, they'd still be right there, a mere stone's throw away ... no separation between "work" and "friendship." Does that make sense, or am I sounding incredibly anti-social here? Well. I can't help it. I value my privacy and (where I can find them) my rare moments of solitude, and I just don't see many of them happening with us stuck like glue next door to my babysitting clients. I may be totally off-base, but who knows?

Or it could be the actual physical process of moving that I'm reluctant to face. Moving into this apartment two years ago wasn't all that tough, mainly because I had next-to-no furniture and very few personal belongings. Moving OUT of here, on the other hand, will be a complete and utter bitch. The wooden bookcases alone weigh a ton, and then there's all the living room furniture I've accumulated since I moved in ... not to mention the tedious process of packing, packing, packing ...

... Or, I guess it could be financial. It will be costly to move. Not only that, I'll undoubtedly be taking a cut in my babysitting money. Would Tammy & Terry be willing to pay me enough (for watching Little Terry and the baby they're expecting this week) to compensate for the jobs I'll lose if we move?

Wednesday 3:30 p.m.
August 24, 1988

Well, naturally I haven't called the guy about the house yet. The Queen of Procrastination strikes again. (Why put off until tomorrow what you can put off until a week from Thursday??) I've got two cans of Rainier chilling in the freezer, and I figure I'll chug them in a little while and then make the call.

5 p.m.

Oh shit! Terry W. just called with a message from the house's owner - he wants me to give him a call "sometime before seven." Terry thinks we're getting the house! My heart is pounding like a jackhammer, and I'm fighting this sudden panicky need to vacuum, to make my bed, to dust the stereo speakers, to alphabetize the encyclopedias ... ANYTHING except making the call ...

Mom: "Y'know what?"
Kyle: "WHAT?"
Mom: "I love you, Kyle!"
Kyle: " 'Know what?"
Mom: "What?"
Kyle: "I yuh yoo, too!"

Wednesday 8 a.m.
September 7, 1988

Two weeks have passed, and all that needless fuss and worry about the house proved to be just that  --  needless. At this point it's all water under the bridge. We finally went to see the place, and it turned out to be narrow and tiny and dilapidated, justifying my initial instincts. Although the owner was perfectly willing to rent to us, we were the ones who turned it down. So there's no sense of "rejection." What it all boiled down to, I guess, is that I simply wasn't ready to move ... especially to a house that presented as many problems as this one did. Tammy & Terry were disappointed, and they'll probably find another babysitter now (Tammy had a baby girl on the 31st, by the way), but I suppose that's for the best.

So - we stay put. For now.

More importantly this week, the kids have gone back to school! Yesterday was the first day, and a crazy, hectic, lopsided, thoroughly memorable day it was ...

Jamie is in first grade now, Room 1, Mrs. R.  I walked her to her classroom yesterday morning, shook hands with her teacher  --  a formidable older woman, quite a change from young handsome Mr. Gallagher!  --  and showed Jamie where her desk was (it was labelled "Jamie P.," right next to "James B.") Right away she put her notebook inside her desk and walked over to the coat closet to hang up her sweater, then posed patiently for one quick snapshot before I kissed her goodbye. She suddenly looked very little and vulnerable to me, sitting there at this desk in this great big first-grade classroom  --  she was trying hard to look brave and at ease, but her wide eyes and tightly clenched hands told another story  --  and I had to battle the impulse to pick her up and run with her out of that classroom and down the street and all the way back to Kirkland, back to 1982, when she was my baby and it was just her and me all day and school seemed millions and millions of years in the future ...

First day of first grade

... but of course she was just fine, and when she got home in the afternoon she was happy and full of stories and perfectly pleased with first grade so far. She didn't have a lot to say about her new teacher (except that Mrs. R. had "salad and milk" for lunch), but I think it's just going to take a little while to adjust to having a teacher so different from the one she had previously. Mr. Gallagher is a tough act to follow! Some of the same kids who were in her kindergarten class last year are in her first grade class, which pleased her. I'm hoping she won't have any trouble making friends. Naturally I think she's a fabulous kid, the greatest, but objectively speaking I do know that she can be terribly bossy - just like her mother! - and I hope it doesn't interfere with her making some new friends. There is so much good in her. Yesterday at lunch she gave 15 cents of her own money to a little girl who'd forgotten her milk money. And she has a natural enthusiasm for learning that should help make first grade special for her. She'll learn to read and write this year! Magic time! All things considered, this should be a memorable year for Jamie.

And then there is Kacie P. ... brand new kindergartener! She strode into her classroom with confidence and eagerness. While other, more timid children clung to their mothers, my Kacie ran ahead of me with barely a backward glance, found herself a desk and immediately began coloring and pasting. I was pleased and relieved, but not especially surprised ... that's just the way Kacie is. Absolutely fearless!  

First day of kindergarten, September 1988
L-to-R: Tracy, Kacie, Jerome

September 10, 1988

Saturday morning, nearly 10 a.m.; waiting for Ray's folks to come and pick up the girls for the weekend. The apartment is a mess but I don't give a shit ... I'll spend the day cleaning after the kids are gone. I woke up with a crummy cold and my period. Piles of dirty laundry have the hallway completely blocked off. Fat lethargic flies are buzzing around two bulging, smelly boxes of garbage in the kitchen. Three days' worth of dirty dishes are strewn across the countertops. I'm still in my bathrobe, and my chin is covered in enormous watery pimples, and Ray is still laying in bed like a lump, and I've got CRAMPS again ...

... So why, then, in the face of all this chaos and physical discomfort - the makings of a truly fucked-up Saturday are all in place - why am I feeling, if not exactly on top of the world, then at least somewhat GOOD? Why aren't I hiding in my bedroom closet with a box of Kleenex, a pound of M&M's and a fifth of vodka??? ...

Because it's SATURDAY, that's why! Beautiful, glorious, devil-may-care Saturday. Work all day, play all night!!

September 12, 1988

Unfortunately, "devil-may-care Saturdays" have an annoyingly inevitable way of turning into Monday mornings ...

5:45 p.m.

The girls are out in the kitchen making salad for their dinner ... a steady stream of argument and discussion is drowning out Stevie Nicks on the stereo ... warm, stuffy, sleepy late-afternoon. I have a killer cold, and the combination of antihistamines floating around in my system have had me knocked off my feet for most of the day. I've been bitchy and awful to everyone today: Wendy, Lori, Ray, Shannon, Dee, Maryann, Erin, all the little guys.

September 29, 1988

Two weeks later. Ray mentioned something yesterday about how "fast" time seems to be passing these days. So it's not just me. I thought maybe I was the only one living in perpetual Fast Forward, but apparently others are feeling it, too.

Here it is, nearly the end of September, and autumn has pretty much arrived.

Monday morning 9 a.m.
October 10, 1988

Shit! I'm having one hell of a time getting anything written lately ...

It's a foggy October morning: I've been up for about an hour. Jamie woke me around 8:00 with a frantic, whispered "MOM! You've got to fix me a lunch - it's FISHSTICKS today!" As a matter of fact it isn't fishsticks today, it's chicken nuggets, but I got up anyway and supervised her quick bowl of cereal, helped her get dressed (green corduroy skirt and vest, flowered blouse, white knee highs and boots), and then saw her off at 8:40. Everyone else slept late - Ray is still in bed now - so it's been quiet around here all morning. Jerome, Kacie and Kyle are sitting at the kitchen table with bowls of oatmeal, watching "Sesame Street." They won't leave for school for another two and a half hours. André is asleep on the sofa. I've got my coffee by my side and relatively few demands on my day, and I feel pretty good. (For a Monday ...)

Let's see, what's been going on around here lately? The girls have been in school for about a month now, and they're both doing pretty well. Jamie had a tough time in the beginning, learning to like Mrs. R. She came right out and said that she didn't like her new teacher, and that she didn't feel Mrs. R. cared for her very much, either, and that she didn't want to go to school anymore because of it. I was very upset by this. She was so enthusiastic about kindergarten last year, so in love with the whole idea of school, and then suddenly this year she seemed so let-down. It hurt to see it. I never went so far as to try and have Jamie transferred to another teacher, but I did call my mom (she works for the school district) and talked it over with her. We both agreed that the best thing to do would be to just give the situation time to resolve itself, and to hope for the best. After a couple of weeks, happily, Jamie seemed to settle in with her new teacher and got used to the differences, and gradually the complaints lessened. At one point she even said "I like Teacher now." That's another thing - she always refers to Mrs. R. as "Teacher" - she never calls her by name. A far cry from last year's "Mr. Gallagher this" and "Mr. Gallagher that"!  But anyway, she does seem to like a lot of things about being in first grade: recess, assemblies, learning to read and write ("I wish I had some homework," she said wistfully last weekend), going to the school library and bringing home a new book every week, and eating her lunch at school every day. We qualified for reduced price lunches, so on the days she "buys" it only costs forty cents; other days, she carries her lunch in her hot-pink Barbie lunchbox.

Kacie never really comes right out and talks about school - you have to pry the information out of her - which is not to say that she doesn't like kindergarten, because she does. It's just not a big deal to her. Changes never seem to faze her much, and the fact that one minute she was here and the next minute a schoolkid, well, that's just the way it is, and what's all the fuss, anyway?? I'm just glad that we've got a way now to channel some of that energy and curiousity of hers. She was literally bouncing off the walls this summer. Kindergarten couldn't have come at a better time for Kacie. She needs some fun and some direction and some time away from home (and from me, just like Jamie did last year), and she needs someone patient and kind and motivated like Mr. Gallagher, who can help her learn to listen and share and concentrate a little. Her best friend Tracy (who lives next door) is in her class with her, by the way. This is the first real "best friend" Kacie has ever had, and it's fun to watch the two of them together: they're like two little freckled peas in a pod. (Jerome started the year in the same class with Kacie and Tracy, but a week later they transferred him to Olympic Elementary, a few blocks away, for the purposes of evening-out class sizes at both schools.)

We have a new car, by the way. Grandma Vert bought Ray and I a 1977 Chevy Caprice last week for $2,000. Ray has been doing yardwork for her for months now, and they've managed to strike up a rather unlikely friendship. (Grandma affectionately calls him "That boy.") Grandma made a deal with Ray that if he went and got his Drivers License - it had expired a few years back, just like mine - that she would buy us a car. The station wagon was on its last legs, and my brother never did fix my Malibu, so it was an offer we couldn't refuse!

October 19, 1988

The next week. Gloomy, wet morning ... it's been cold enough lately to necessitate turning on the thermostat and plugging in the electric blanket at night ... to put hats on the girls when they leave for school ... to slip into a sweater in the afternoon while I'm doing my housework ...

Dee was evicted from her apartment last week, so I'm not babysitting Zaydra anymore. It's more an emotional loss than a monetary one: Dee had become a friend these past couple of months. The night she moved out, she came over to say goodbye and give me a hug. Afterwards, I said to Ray, "Another one bites the dust." He thought I meant another collapsed babysitting arrangement, but I was referring to the end of another female friendship. They never seem to last around here. I know I'll be seeing Dee from time to time - she still owes me money for babysitting, for one thing - but I don't expect us to ever be particularly close again. Ray said something about how it's "these apartments" - that making friendships in "these apartments" is a futile thing to do, because sooner or later one of you moves away and the other is left behind.  So why bother even trying to make friends here anyway? And I have to agree with that, in part. We've been here for two years now, and in that time it's been a steady stream of hellos and goodbyes: Stephanie, Tammy & Terry, Kelly, Wanda, Michele, Dee ... all have come and gone. On the other hand, I have to place some of the blame on myself - on my social awkwardness, my aloofness, my desire for privacy and solitude. Making friends is so hard for me.

Today we've got a one year old boy named Justin here until 11:00. He and Kyle are running at full throttle around the apartment. Kyle looks so BIG next to Justin! When the big kids are here, Kyle seems like the little one ... the baby in the group ... but right now, standing next to one-year-old Justin, Kyle seems amazingly more mature and verbal and socially developed. Not a baby at ALL.

(Whoops. Just as I finished writing that last sentence, he came up to me and asked for his "ba-ba" - probably because Justin is drinking one - and I reluctantly complied. "Wouldn't you rather have your big boy cup?" I asked him, but he was very firm about it. "No, I want BA-BA," he said. Maybe there's a little bit of baby left in him, after all!)

Kacie: "Mommy, how many days 'till Halloween?"
Mom: "47,293."
Kacie (look of exasperation)

Kyle: "YES me can!"

Monday morning
October 24, 1988

Yes, folks ... it's MONDAY MORNING again.  Yippee.

Actually, I got up a couple of hours ago feeling typically Monday-morning-gloomy, but then I got a couple of things done that I'd been putting off (calling the phone and cable companies and buying us some more time to pay our bills), and now I feel remarkably better. As usual, we blew most of our money this weekend, but at least the rent and utilities are paid and there is food in the apartment. The kids even have their Halloween costumes already - Ray took them to Fred Meyer on Saturday afternoon. Jamie is Raggedy Ann, Kacie is Scooby Doo, and Kyle is a devil for the second year in a row. (Appropriately enough.) It's the usual mix of good news/bad news, financially speaking. We don't seem to be making any progress, but on the other hand we're not moving backwards, either. That familiar old treadmill.


The only trouble is that I didn't CONTINUE to feel "remarkably better" throughout the entire day ... by mid-afternoon it had all deteriorated into the usual Monday gloom. All kinds of goofball things kept going haywire on me  ... everything from the apartment manager finding Kyle wandering alone out in the parking lot, to the kids not getting picked up at school (John & Lori seem to have vanished from the face of the earth).

Saturday morning
October 29, 1988

Saturday or Monday, Monday or Saturday ... it's always one or the other, isn't it?

1. Ray.

Ray is laying in our big bed, watching "PeeWee's Playhouse" on a portable black & white we've borrowed from John and Lori next door. I just carried a cup of coffee in to him. "You can't dink around for too long," I said sternly. He is supposed to do some yardwork this morning for a neighbor of Grandma Vert's, and we need the money.

"I can't drink my gulag?" he repeats, confusedly.

"You CAN'T DINK AROUND FOR TOO LONG!" I say again, louder this time, and he finally gives a little "grmpf" of comprehension.

2. The world.

It's 9:30 a.m. now, and showing every indication of being a fine, beautiful autumn day. Crisp, clear and cold - just the way I love it.

3. Norman.

There is a gigantic pumpkin sitting on the floor a few feet away from me, uncarved at the moment, bearing a handwritten name-tag: NORMAN. The girls and I were going to carve Norman last night, but I had a sore throat and fever and simply wasn't up to disembowelling pumpkins. But we'll probably get around to it today: I'm feeling better, it's a nice Saturday, and besides, Halloween (as Kacie reminded me this morning in bed) is TWO DAYS AWAY.

4. Jamie.

Jamie has joined me here at the kitchen table, and is working now on a crayon drawing of Gumby. "You'd better not write about me dumping a bunch of fish food in the fish bowl this morning!" she warns.

OK, Jay. I won't.

5. The apartment.

Unmentionable. As they say: I've got my work cut out for me today.

Jamie, age almost-seven
Halloween 1988

Kacie, age 5-1/2
Halloween 1988 

Kyle, age 2-1/2
Halloween 1988


November 2, 1988

RAIN. Buckets and buckets of it: cold, soggy and gloomy. If there weren't so darned many kids squeezed into my apartment this morning - and if I hadn't woken up with the first rotten chest cold of the season - I might actually be enjoying the rain. As it is, I'm wondering how in the heck I'm going to get through this day in one piece.

We have a new kid today, two yr. old Michael. He and his mother moved into the complex this weekend. I'll be watching him on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8 to 4, for $1.25 an hour. Michael and Kyle are sort of 'getting acquainted' this morning, which amounts to running around the living room with handsful of Matchbox cars and growling like monsters. Kyle seems pleased to have a new friend, but he's acting more aggressively and territorially (and NOISILY) than is normal even for him. I guess he's just excited. Michael is quiet, blond, taller than Henry by two inches (although younger by three months), and - so far - relatively unruffled by Kyle's aggression. But it's only been an hour. I'm sure that by the end of the week his true colors will emerge, and I'll know for sure whether I have another angel or another monster on my hands.

Speaking of monsters: Kyle is driving me crazy. The other day Ray and I were watching him pitch a fit about something or other - his zillionth temper tantrum of the day - and we just looked at each other and sighed.  ("This is it: the last two year old.")  I honestly don't know if I could survive another Terrible Two. The girls were bad enough (although I must admit that the details of their toddler years have already gone soft and fuzzy around the edges of my memory). But Kyle is the worst, the absolute, rock-bottom worst. He actually believes that everything revolves around him, and if everything, I mean EVERYTHING, isn't done precisely the way he wants, there is hell to pay. NO one else in this family is allowed to turn the TV off or on, open or shut doors, flush the toilet, bring in the evening newspaper or feed the goldfish. ONLY KYLE. I can't pick out his clothes or throw his wet diaper away  - HE has to do it -  and when I fix him an occasional bottle, only HE can get the milk out of the fridge. (And then I have to put the regular milk into the ba-ba BEFORE the chocolate milk, never afterwards, or else we have to dump it out and start all over again.) No one is allowed to ride his yellow toddler car or his rocking horse. He might let you play with his Matchbox collection once in awhile, for a minute or two, but when he decides he wants them back you'd better be prepared to surrender them willingly ... or lose some hair. He hits, kicks and throws things at us constantly. Just now he came up to me and announced that he wanted "chockit" (chocolate milk). When I said "no," he first tried to tear this page out of my journal, then pinched me HARD on one arm. He yells about EVERYTHING, and he calls us every obscene word he's ever heard on the playground: last week he called me a "fuck bitch." I get so tired of the sound of him yelling that I have to leave the apartment a couple of times every day and just go out and walk around, or sit on the steps outside our apartment for a minute, just until my brain stops rattling around inside my skull. He is infuriating, tyrannical, destructive, mean, selfish and generally very unpleasant to be around 50% of the time.

And there's the problem. 

The other 50% of the time he is our wonderful, affectionate, beloved angel ... the little son that Ray and I both adore so completely. The changeling disappears, the horrid, mean-spirited monster, and in his place is this sweet-faced, tender, funny, charming little boy. He climbs up onto my lap, grinning, and says "Know what? I yuv eyoo!", and I think "This little boy is NOT the same little boy who spit on me five minutes ago" ... 

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Kyle

Note the next morning:

Kyle and I were laying in my big bed last night watching "The Wonder Years" when he suddenly initiated his familiar "Know what?" game. "Know what, Mom?" he said merrily. "What?" I replied, expecting the usual "I yuh yoo" punchline. But this time he surprised me. "You're CUTE!" he said, instead, and I burst into laughter, much to his delight. Where on earth does he get these things?? Who taught him to say the word "cute"? Why does he do something so outrageously adorable the very day his mother wrote three pages in her journal all aboutg what a little DEMON he is .. ???

Autumn 1988 is:

Dark rainy afternoons ... KNBQ, "Golden Oldies" ... warm eggnog and rum ... Lori and John next door, our new best friends ... Parent/Teacher Conferences ... "Roseanne," "Murphy Brown," "Ramona" (on PBS) ...

Friday morning
November 4, 1988

Hacking cough, kept me awake long into the night last night. Heavy coffee seems to be the only solution this morning. Jamie and Christopher just left for the rainy walk to school - Jay was pouting because I made her wear a heavy coat and a scarf. ("But I can't play on the BARS in this coat!" she whined.) Now I've "only" got Kacie, Jerome, André, Michael, and (of course) The Boss! (Actually, Kyle seems to be in a better mood than usual today ... he and Michael are sitting on the living room floor, filling aluminum pie tins with Matchbox cars and then spearing them with forks. "Pie!" Kyle says happily. Michael looks at me and grins.)

Had a strange, fleeting stab or longing for the Kirkland house this morning. It took me by surprise, because most of the time I hardly think about the place anymore ... and when I do, it's usually with affection or nostalgia. But this morning what I felt was an accute stab of longing, regret, loneliness for the place. It occurs to me that I may always have these feelings at this time of the year, for the rest of my life. I'll probably always think of the years we spent there on days like this.

Wednesday morning
November 16, 1988

MORE rain, twelve days later. We've had a clear day or two, here and there, in between downpours. But mostly it's been just like this.

Jamie looked cute when she and Chris left for school this morning - jeans tucked into white boots, Kacie's blue jacket, a "Little Red R ing Hood" scarf on her head and a pink vinyl purse slung over one shoulder.

December 2, 1988
Friday morning

(December? How on earth can it be DECEMBER already??!?)

This may be my final entry in this journal. It hadn't actually occurred to me, until now, that this journal is nearly a year old. Most of 1988, encapsulated in one notebook! I wish I could have written more consistently, but I guess that these little bits and pieces of 1988 will have to do. Tomorrow I'll buy a new notebook and start all over again. 

For the moment, however, one last "word portrait" of Polenville in December 1988 ...

Rainy morning. (Yes, we're back to rain again.) Our hearts are lighter than usual, though - it's Friday, it's a payday, Ray has the day off, AND it's December! Kacie is sitting here at the kitchen table, singing "Then He Kissed Me" under her breath, contemplating the remains of her chocolate doughnut. Her face is smeared with chocolate and her hair is in its usual birds-nest condition. She scoops some chocolate icing off the top of her doughnut and sucks it absentmindedly off her finger. "Did you know I'm at Table One now?" she asks suddenly, and then she offers me a bite of her doughnut, smiling happily. Life is good for Kacie P. right now. She loves kindergarten, she loves Mr. Gallagher, she loves her best friend Tracy. The world is an interesting, friendly place filled with doughnuts, Christmas cartoons and endless possibilities. 

"What are you going to be when you grow up?" I ask her, and without a moment's hesitation - her enormous, denim-blue eyes unblinking in their resolve - she says "A singer." She pronounces the word with a hard "g." There is still a trace of the old Kacie-baby-talk in her speech these days. "I'm gonna be a sing-GER. Is that okay?" (She and Jamie both harbor this same ambition. I think they plan to grow up to be the Ann & Nancy Wilson the 21st century.) I smile at her and say yes of course, she can be anything she wants to be - your standard enlightened-Mom-of-the-80's kind of answer - but actually I'm smiling more at her nose than at her career ambitions. I love Kacie's nose. I remember when she was first born, she looked so much like Ray that IK was afraid she'd also inherited his formidable schnozz. It looks fine on him, handsome even, but on a little girl ... ??? But luckily she wound up with something infinitely more feminine and delicate; one of those sweetly upturned noses you see on Dutch dolls, made all the sweeter by the sprinkling of caramel-colored freckles. With her beautiful blue eyes and her cute little nose and her peaches and cream complexion, Kacie is a wonderfully lovely little girl. It's not a ruffles-and-ringlets type of loveliness - there's not a prissy bone in her body - her hair is always a mess, and there's always food or Kool-Aid stains on her mouth and her clothes, and she's usually got her shoes on the wrong feet or her sweater on backwards or her coat on inside-out. 

"There's not a prissy bone in her body."

Jamie's 7th Birthday
December 1988

Sunday 7 a.m.
December 11, 1988

Well, then, THIS will be the final entry ... !

I can't believe I'm up this early on a Sunday, of all days. But I am. (And the coffee is sitting next to me to prove it.) I woke up around six, after a restless and uncomfortable night here on the couch, and I simply felt like staying up. Ray and the kids remain solidly zonked. I went in a minute ago and checked on "the boys" - Ray and Kyle, both snuggled into my bed - and "the girls." Everyone is snoring peacefully.

A new Fleetwood Mac album?? (New song on VH-1 right now ... "As Long As You Follow.")

December 14, 1988
Wednesday morning

(Note: This is from a scrap of paper, tucked into the back of the notebook)

A little boy in red "choo-choo train" overalls is standing in front of me at the moment, trying desperately to get my attention:

"You gonna buy me POPcorn, Mom?"
"You need you' colors, Mom?"
"Dat HURT you, Mom?" (pinching my knee)
"Gettin' ready a' GO?" (to the laundry room)
"Dese my socks, Mommy?" (no, they're Kacie's)
"What's DAT, Mom?"
"Dat HURT you, Mom?" (standing on my foot)

It's a clear, cold, sunny December morning. I've been up for an hour and a half, trundling baskets of laundry to and from the laundry room. I'm not accustomed to being outside this early in the morning, and it's exhilerating. At the moment I feel like I could climb mountains. I'm charged, energized. Mountains of laundry to fold and iron, mountains of dirty dishes to wash, mountains of unfinished Christmas cards to finish writing ... I'm ready.

Look out mountains - here I come.

List Your Assets
(from someone else's perspective, someone who knows and likes you and has a good intuitive sense of your character)

  • Abilities: Creative, resourceful
  • Achievements: Three beautiful children; seven year marriage; got myself and kids out of mess in 1986, then off welfare in 1987
  • The way you treat other people: Forgiving, tolerant, generous, courteous, loyal
  • Attitudes about people and life in general: Apreciation of the things that count, deep love of home and family
  • Special talents: Writing, artistic talents, excellent typist, facility for language
  • Inner thoughts & feelings: Spiritual, proud of the good things I do, proud of my talents
  • Dreams, aspirations, goals:
  • Physical appearance & characteristics: Pretty face (when properly maintained), pretty hair (ditto)
  • Interests and activities: Preserving family lore (through photos, journals, scrapbooks, etc.), collecting music (through cassette tape compilations), personal scrapbooks, reading
  • Family, education, relevant background data: Happy childhood, supportive family, solid religious foundation to fall back on
  • Other personality traits:

I would like myself much better if I were more:

  • At ease around other people
  • Self-disciplined (about food, work, parenting, substance use)
  • Ambitious - or at least if I had some actual goals
  • Patient with my kids
  • Energetic

I would like myself much better if I were less:

  • Self-conscious
  • Obsessed with order (and bothered by my life's lack of it)
  • Acid-tongued around the kids
  • Apologetic when it isn't called for
  • Determined to have my own way all the time

Songs I Liked During This Journal:

Henry Lee Summer, "I Wish I Had A Girl"
Natalie Cole, "Pink Cadillac"
Midnight Oil, "Beds Are Burning"
Joan Jett, "I Hate Myself For Loving You"
Robert Plant, "Tall Cool One"
Pat Benatar, "All Fired Up"
Toni Childs, "Don't Walk Away"
The Cure, "Just Like Heaven"
Pink Floyd, "On The Turning Away"
Bruce Springsteen, "Brilliant Disguise"


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