By: Tanya Ward Goodman
“Midway is halfway between Lexington and Frankfort, that’s why it’s called Midway. You know, mid-way.” The hotel clerk gives me directions for the scenic route. “You’ll see some things – keep a look out for the rock fences.”
It’s my last day in Kentucky and I am driving to Midway to meet a long time friend for brunch. He’s told me to drive on the street and he’ll find me. It’s a town that small.
I’ve known Greg for much of my life. He was my father’s friend first, a real Hollywood screenwriter with the voice of a midnight disc jockey. He’d been married and divorced and lived with a woman he called Paige, though her real name was Leslie. He had daughters my age, but they seemed years ahead in their city clothes and painted nails.
I remember visiting Greg in Los Angeles and staying with him in his apartment in West Hollywood. I remember poinsettias outside his window. These plants were sold only at Christmas in New Mexico and came in foil-covered plastic pots that got tossed out with the wrapping paper. In sunny So-Cal, they grew twelve feet out of the ground and bloomed all year.
I drive for a long time, through rolling hills and board fences that run for miles. The dark bodies of horses dot the hillsides. The famed grass is neither blue nor green at this time of year, but straw colored in the wan winter light. A few snowflakes flicker down from the sky. The last time I saw Greg he was visiting my childhood home and I could tell that everywhere he looked, he saw my dad. We both missed him and that missing seemed to take up the years between us; to make us evenly “adult,” no matter our ages.
In Midway, I pulled into the first spot and looked to my right to see Greg waving from inside a blue Volkswagen bug. He took me to a favorite brunch spot and made sure to hold the door and point out all the original art inside. He walked with a cane and his hair had turned gray. He told me the medicine had changed his face and made him forgetful, but his voice was the same and he still embodied the elegant and graceful soul I remember visiting as a child.
After our meal, he offered a driving tour of the surrounding towns. We passed gigantic estates owned by the very wealthy and fields where prizewinning racehorses grew strong on a diet of Kentucky Blue Grass. The trees were bare of leaves and he wished I could see the country when it was blanketed by green. I come from the land of green, now. The winter landscape rests my eyes. We talked and talked and his company was so easy, so attentive, I wished that we’d had so much more time.
He drove me back to my little red car and we parted quickly, the truth of his illness heavy between us. I am awkward with good-byes. I hate to really say them for good so I said, “I hope I see you again.” And he said, “yes.” And that is how we left it. I drove off to the airport and thought of the rock fences we had seen. Miles and miles of these dry stacked, stone walls were built at first by the Irish and then by slaves and now are maintained by conservation societies. The walls are made of the gray limestone that lies beneath much of Kentucky providing minerals to feed all that grass and filtering the water used to make bourbon. This stone is what makes the grass and the horses and the whiskey great.
If I were to imagine my life as a kind of topographical map, I might imagine Greg as fieldstone. A solid, though, often unseen influence, one who has in some way helped me be great.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
I touched down in Kentucky in the midst of a tornado. The man in the seat behind me was watching the Weather Channel on Direct TV and he couldn’t help but describe the dark clouds, the high wind and sheets of rain. I could have seen those things if I’d looked out my window, but I chose to keep my hands flat on my knees and stare straight ahead. I memorized the pattern of the blue and tan upholstery and focused on the joy my daughter finds in turbulence. I imagined how she would take the jolting and dropping and jerking of our airplane. She would hold her hands up in the air, the way you would on a roller coaster. She would laugh. She would gleefully shout, “That was awesome!”
The man behind me said, “I can’t believe they are taking us in.” He said, “I don’t know what they’re thinking.” He said, “Just look at that front – just a wall of blackness…”
We landed and everyone burst into applause. I turned to look at my seatmate and she nodded her head to the guy behind us and rolled her eyes. “Not much help there,” she said.
On the ground, I got a text from my friend, J.J, “Just came out of the basement…”
“Heading over,” I wrote back. “Brought rain boots, but no ruby slippers.”
When I arrived at her house, I heard, “Is my friend here? Is that my friend?”
Her son, a teenager, shrugged and swung open the screen door and then slunk off down the front steps, not wanting to witness the grown ups and all their hugging and jumping around. It had been his whole lifetime since we’d last seen each other, but it seemed like no time at all.
I spent Friday afternoon and Friday night and most of Saturday morning sitting in a wooden chair at a small table in J.J’s kitchen. She (just as she had in college and after college and in our early twenties) danced around. She’d land for a moment and then she was back up to grab a glass of wine or a jar of the most wonderful pickled beans. She’d be up to rumple her son’s hair, check the temperature of the oven or lean out the back door to take a look at the clearing sky. It was wonderful to be in her presence. It was so familiar and yet, this time, I had company – her husband and children – all of us swimming a little more slowly, but appreciating her speed, her lightness, her energy.
The screen door slammed again and again, opening and closing to admit a neighborhood kid or the sweet dog, Lola, who leaned her wide soft body against me and looked up with the most trusting eyes. The kids asked for money and taquitos and drinks. They ate jelly beans out of a mason jar. There were mussels for dinner and lots of bread to sop up the juice. There was good music and the promise of an all night bourbon-fed conversation and then we suddenly realized that we were no longer twenty and it wasn’t even eleven o’clock, but it was time for bed.
In the morning there were waffles and visiting friends. We ate lots of bacon and drank so much coffee my hands shook as much as my plane on landing. We realized we had chosen the same wedding china, we’d read a lot of the same books and our parenting style – kind and funny and fast and loose – was the same. We became friends when we were still kind of kids and although we didn’t travel all the way to adulthood together, we have shared many of the same paths.
It was with real regret that I got in the car and drove away from her house. I needed more time. With more time, we could organize a walk, where we could talk and move simultaneously, we could cook a meal together. We could pull up a stool at that little bar down the street. I wanted more time with her kind and funny husband. I wanted him to meet my own kind and funny husband. I wanted her kids to meet my kids. And one day I think it will happen. Her teenager, a little less aloof than when I’d arrived, offered his hand when I said good-bye and I took it and promised we would meet again.
I drove off down the narrow streets of J.J.’s hometown. She lives just a few blocks from the friends of her youth. Their kids play with her kids and their stories are one long, continuous strand. I was so grateful to be able to weave myself into her world for a moment; so happy to pick up the thread of our friendship and find it still so strong.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
When you came to interview, you were wearing a perfume that almost kept me from hiring you. I have a thing about scents. For me, an awful lot of things wind up in the “smells bad” column -even things that might hit the “smells good” column for someone else. You smelled floral like my grandmother’s bathroom cabinet. Plus, you seemed shy. And I’m shy. And if we were both shy, how, I wondered, would we ever communicate?
It was important that we communicate because you would be helping me to care for my children. The woman who helped us before you was a super communicator. (Maybe she even over did it from time to time.) She was a big gust of wind and you seemed just a breeze. I thought I would like that, but me, with two kids still in diapers, me with milk leaking out of my breasts, me with the messy kitchen counters and the bare refrigerator, what did I even know?
I hired you because I’m a firm believer in fate. I met your mother-in-law in the Nordstrom shoe department and she seemed nice. She mentioned that she was a nanny and from the way she talked to my daughter, plump and happy in her stroller, I could tell she was a good one. Truthfully, I wanted to hire your mother-in-law, but she was unavailable. So she recommended you and your perfume and timidity were far outweighed by my need for a nap, so we hired you.
My belief in fate was again rewarded because you turned out to be funny and kind and a really good cook. One day you mentioned that you had an aversion to weird smells and I admitted my hesitancy to hire you because of the perfume. You laughed. The perfume had been a gift and you’d worn it only that day before tossing it out.
You were able to get my daughter to take a nap by laying her across your lap and patting her back. My son took to you right away and brought you piles of books to read aloud.
The day that I chopped down the overgrown bushes in our front yard, you said, “Your eyes are so sad. They are like a child’s.” I explained that I was missing my father. That his death, even after more than two years, left a hole. You said that the intensity of my emotions might mean that my father’s spirit was still hanging around. You said he might be missing me, too. You suggested that I leave him a glass of milk. This is what your grandmother believed would comfort the spirits. I thought my dad might find more comfort in a beer, but I took comfort in your kindness.
Your children were beautiful and smart and very, very kind. Your daughters accompanied you when you worked on a rare evening and they showered my children with love. The three of you were so lovely and serene and so filled with love for each other. You brought my kids to your home and cooked them soup, you asked if they could accompany you to the school orchestra concert where your daughter played violin. You and I huddled together, teary eyed, when your oldest girl graduated from eighth grade.
When you told me you would be moving away, I was thrilled for you. Your new house was lovely, the kids would be able to walk to school. But Houston was very far away and that night after you’d gone home, I cried and cried. My husband tried to comfort me. “You’re losing a friend,” he said. And it was true.
Motherhood is lonely and you were great, great company. In those early years, I was uncertain and you had the answers. All the parenting books talk about “modeling” meaning that kids will learn by watching their parents. But who do parents model? You. We should all model you.
When I was sick with bronchitis you brewed this incredibly strong tea composed of honey and lemon and pepper and you told me to drink it while it was still hot. I did as you said and I was flooded with warmth and well-being. I get that same feeling now as I write.
Adapted from a piece on my blog “Dearest You” www.youdearestyou.blogspot.com
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
This year’s award for most enduring bad mood goes to my daughter. She seems determined to sweep the categories for deepest scowl without the employment of a makeup crew, loudest door slam without the assistance of a Foley artist, and most dramatic performance of the phrase, “You are the worst mother ever.”
Oscar night found us with more Sturm und Drang in our house than on the screen all year long.
I’m not sure why it is this way. I’m not sure how to change it. I am feeling a bit defeated and powerless and, above all that, tired to the bone.
It started out fine. (Just as everything was fine when that poor family moved to Amityville.) We worked on a themed menu for dinner: pigs in a blanket in honor of “Moneyball,” brie, pate and baguette in tribute to “The Artist” and “Hugo” (though with all the Brits in Scorsese’s Paris, perhaps we should have gone with tea and scones). We had deviled eggs and pie for those belabored gals in “The Help.” My daughter selected artichokes and made a salad of spinach and strawberries. It was fun. For a minute.
Then it wasn’t.
We didn’t eat the salad fast enough or apparently with the desired amount of excitement. (Though it was very good. Perhaps we need an acting coach to work on our line readings for this very particular director.)
Though we repeated over and over that the ballots were only for fun, feelings were hurt when my kids guessed wrong. (How could they be right all the time when they’d only seen one of the films in the contest? Considering their answer in every category was “Hugo,” they still did pretty well.)
To complicate things, my daughter was awake one minute and the next asleep. It was a lovely and quiet interlude. She looked adorable wrapped in a blanket on the sofa. Her face, relaxed from its perpetual furrowed fury, was angelic.
And then she woke up.
“This is the worst day of my life,” she said. “You kept going without me.”
We did keep going. We had to. We were as determined as Billy Crystal to keep this evening on schedule. Bedtime was at nine and the Academy helped us by ending the glittery doings just a few minutes before the witching hour.
My daughter, like perhaps a starlet or two, slept last night in her clothes. She woke this morning with bleary eyes and turned immediately to the paper. “Who won?” she asked. “What happened?”
I was not exactly sure how to answer.
Interview with Tanya Ward Goodman by TNF
TNF: How has it been blogging for TNF?
I really enjoy blogging for TNF. Writing about things that are happening in my life and in the lives of my children gives me a chance to really absorb them. By turning these events around in my head a bit before I put them on the page, I find I often wind up feeling them more deeply or differently than I expected. I learn a little bit about parenting (or at the very least, a little bit about me as a parent) every time I write a new blog.
TNF: How is your family like every other family and how is it different?
My family is like every family in that we laugh and shout and leave our dirty socks on the floor. I’m not sure we are different.
TNF: Did your family accept you and your lifestyle? If yes, explain and if not explain what you have done to help them to accept your decisions and your lifestyle.
My family always accepted me and my lifestyle. If anything, they were a bit surprised that I was so straightlaced. Once I got fired from my job as a camp counselor for having one sip of beer and I think my folks were actually pleased to see that I had a teeny bit of a dark side.
TNF: How do you juggle the work at home with your jobs?
My job is my work at home. When I’m not blogging for TNF, I’m working on other writing. When I’m not writing, I’m buying groceries, cooking dinner, doing laundry and playing with the kids. There’s still lots of juggling going on, but it’s all happening at home.
TNF: What lessons do you feel are the most important to teach children in this day and age? Are there any lessons they, or perhaps we as parents, should unlearn?
I work hard to teach my children gratitude. I want them to be grateful for stuff, of course, but I also want them to be grateful for less tangible things like time and space and beauty. I try to help them notice things. We go for walks and look for lizards, we find shapes in the clouds, we take a moment to appreciate a full moon or a great sunset or the way grass grows at the bottom of a chain link fence. I want them to understand that there is potential for greatness everywhere. I am grateful for this.
As for unlearning, I think if I could unlearn something, it would be the urge to say “good job.” It pops out of my mouth at the most ridiculous times. You ate all your cereal? Good job! Got a good grade? Good job! Washed your hair? Good job! It’s meaningless and I annoy myself by saying it so often.
TNF: Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?
Slow down. Take more naps. Cook with your kids. Spend as much time outside as possible. Read a lot of books.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Last weekend, I took my first ride on a mule, got my first look at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon, and suffered my first scorpion sting. It was quite a weekend.
The trip was the brainchild of my stepmother Carla (I call her “La”) who is one of the bravest most adventurous people I know. I credit her influence for my attempts at many things that started out scary and ended up thrilling.
Along with La, my sister-in-law with whom I share a fear of heights and a need to test our own boundaries accompanied me. The last time the three of us took on an adventure, we bought an advertising agency. It took two years and a mediation expert to get us out of that one. I hoped the Grand Canyon trip would be less complicated.
Prior to the trip, to suppress my anxiety, I went shopping. I trolled REI and Sports Chalet, where I stocked up on “wicking” layers, waterproof pants, and extra warm socks. I tied strings to my hat, camera, and sunglasses. I kissed my kids and my husband and got on the plane for Phoenix. I was as ready as I would ever be.
Our ride began at 8 in the morning. The temperature at the rim was just under 20 degrees. I wore two Capilene shirts, a fleece jacket, and a down jacket plus fleece long johns, stretchy, windproof pants, two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, a scarf, and a wool cap. I was warm-ish. A cowboy with two missing fingers and a waxed mustache told us that we were about to embark on a grueling ride. He told us we would be riding on the edge of winding, narrow trails. He told us that if we were afraid of heights we should know there would be great heights. He could guarantee drops of at least 3000 feet. He did everything in his power to freak us out and then he asked us to saddle up. And we did. And suddenly, we were on the trail, our mules slipping and stepping down packed snow and ice, the canyon spreading out and opening up all around us. With the first sunlight of the new day illuminating the red rock, the wonderment in my brain squeezed out all the fear. It was amazing. It was all I could do not to break into huge gulping sobs of happiness.
I told this story to my kids. I told them how afraid I was and how amazing the experience was and how if I hadn’t gotten on that mule I would have missed out on a chance to see myself and my world in a different way. I told them about the scorpion and how it hurt and how eventually it stopped hurting and I realized that a scorpion sting is a lot like a bee sting. It’s bad, but if you’re not allergic, it passes and now I have a little less fear of scorpions. And a little less fear of heights. And deep trust for a good mule.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
My daughter asked “Why did you want to have children? Just to boss them around and make them do things for you?” She stomped her foot. “That’s not right.”
It is right. It’s not the only reason I had children, but I think, as a parent, I am well within my rights to ask that my children do things for me. I have this crazy idea that by asking them to do things for me, I am actually helping them to learn to do things for themselves. They may not see it that way today or tomorrow or next year, but some day, when they live in apartments or houses that are not filled to the brim with crusty cereal bowls and dirty socks, they will thank me. And I will humbly accept their thanks.
Recently, I let our gardener go. There were many reasons, among them the sound of the leaf blower, the silliness of continuing to mow a lawn that is basically dirt, and the fact that I have a nine-year-old boy to take my full trash cans down to the curb and bring them back up when they are empty.
It turns out my kids are good at raking leaves and pulling weeds. What’s more, they kind of like to do it. Both of them are learning the difference between the bad grass and the good grass. They are happy to channel what (truthfully) is sometimes extremely destructive energy into uprooting crabgrass.
It is hard work to help our kids understand hard work, but it is necessary work. I want to make sure that my son and daughter will both grow into adulthood knowing how to cook a good meal, wash their own clothes, keep their own houses. I want them to be able to manage their bank accounts and have the patience and energy to stick with a project until the end.
I know how hard a challenge I am setting before them. I know how hard it is to stay focused on a task. I understand the difficulty of finishing one thing before beginning another. My own projects pile up and languish in various stages of completion. I think that I try to teach my children about hard work because I am also always teaching myself. I push them to finish math assignments and spelling sheets, nudge them to return their pajamas to the pajama drawer and all the while, I am nudging myself to finish my book, work on my stories, write, write, write.
More and more I find myself on the same little path as my children. We are, together and separately, finding our way.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Last week was a mess. Rainstorms, early school release four days in a row, lost homework, lost jackets, quick tempers, angry words, no patience, no food in the fridge, workers in the house, strange wiring problems, sleeping problems, plumbing problems. The dog barked incessantly and so did the kids. My husband said, “you seem really angry.” He said this in the soft voice you’d use if you ran into an escaped circus lion at the park.
I was really angry. And tired. And overwhelmed. And so were the kids. And, truthfully, so was my husband despite his ability to still muster a calm voice.
Some weeks are like that. We hunkered down in the dark and the noise and waited.
On Sunday two doors opened.
First the kids found a small door in the closet of their bedroom. It’s a door that leads into the eaves above our living room. If you shine a flashlight, you can see plaster and the beams that support the roof. You can see two squares of daylight at the far end where vents are placed to let air circulate. There is dust in this space and one small bobby pin. That’s what I saw, anyway, when I kneeled down in the back of the closet and peered into the door.
My kids saw little red eyes, they saw evidence of a person living in the attic. They heard ghostly whispers and heavy footsteps. They measured the space and took samples of fibers that may or may not have come from a vampire’s cloak. They spent hours in the closet, thinking, talking, wondering. They wrote notes in a small spiral notebook, they ran screaming from the room when their imaginings grew too big for their young brains to contain.
This same day, in the midst of the detective work and the running and the screaming, I opened our front door to find a man holding a guitar. There was another, taller man with red hair and mirrored sunglasses and he was holding a drum. A nice woman holding a boom mike wondered if they could come into our house and play us a few songs. The kids ran down the stairs and the dog barked and I said, “Why not?”
They were from a webcast called Knock and Rock (www.knockandrock.com) and they set up in our living room amidst the Lego villages and the Lincoln Log settlement and they played two songs.
The kids were rapt. The guitar player had a nice voice and a kind smile. The sunlight streamed in the window and we sat and listened. We were all held in this moment by the music and the sunshine. I felt like it was the first time in a week that I had been still. It was definitely the first time I’d sat still and silent in the company of my children. It was wonderful.
Afterwards, the musicians packed up and said good-bye and we went back to the whirl of our day. My husband and son ran off to the park and I drove my daughter to a birthday party. Later, there were baths and dinner and last minute homework. There was some yelling and some frustration and I wondered if I could call up those musicians and have them return. Do we always need strangers in our midst to be on good behavior?
But this morning, we woke up to find cheerful children who got dressed without a fuss. Because that first moment was easy, the rest of the morning unspooled gently and for the first time in ten days, I did not breathe a sigh of relief when my husband and kids left for school.
Two doors opened this weekend. They changed our point of view, reminded us that no matter how intense or crummy or crazy our life is, there is always a way out.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
We’ve been losing things lately. Nothing huge. Nothing breathing. But it’s discombobulating none the less. We’ve lost the stuffed bunny that accompanied my daughter everywhere. We’ve lost a jacket. And another jacket. One orange fleece and so cozy, the other orange windproof and purchased a little big so we could get two seasons out of it.
Yes, I dress my son like he’s going deer hunting because yes, I like to see his bright orange self dart across the park in the fading light of day. Orange is the best color for a nine-year-old boy to wear. All of his clothing should be day-glo so that I can follow him easily with my eyes while having seemingly calm conversations with the parents of his friends.
We’ve lost a bunny. Bunny, the bunny. I gloss over his loss in the first paragraph, but he deserves another, so deep is the groove of missing he’s left in our household. Bunny had a tuxedo and several collars. He was the manager of a cardboard penthouse that grew by the day (and postal delivery) in my front hall. His waist was slim from being held in the crook of my daughter’s arm. His fur was matted. His eyes scratched to milky cataracts from trips through the washer and dryer. He was beloved.
My son lost a remote control bird on the very day he received it. An early Christmas present (or late Hanukkah gift – we are very flexible). The bird was bright yellow and flew in the most marvelous way. It flapped its wings gracefully around our living room, soared over the sofa and the mismatched chairs. It dive-bombed the mantle and the crowd of Lego figures huddled amidst the candlesticks. It was a wonderful thing.
“Don’t take it outside,” we said. “The wind is blowing very hard.”
The boy took the bird outside.
Less than a minute later, the bird was gone.
Tonight, nearly three weeks later, the tears of loss are shed. My boy realized the bird is not coming back. The bird has been blown into the street or onto a roof. The sun has rotted its fragile wings, faded the bright plastic body. The bird is gone. My boy banishes the remote controller from his room.
“Darned controller,” he says. “It lost the bird.”
Bunny, too will not return. Buses and airplanes and airports have been searched. I try not to think of Bunny on the tarmac, of Bunny in a trashcan. I try to imagine him safe in the arms of another child. I want the Pixar ending.
“Don’t talk about “The B-Word,” my daughter says.
My children are learning of loss and it breaks my heart. I’m taking these lessons hard. I’ve lost friends and beautiful dresses, a great pair of cowboy boots, lovers, an emerald necklace, my first tap shoes. I’ve lost things as insignificant as the back of an earring. I’ve lost my father.
I am trying to see my children through this period of loss. I am trying to see myself through it too. It does not get easier, just more familiar. In the last several years, I have begun to see each loss as the end of a story. What I know and my children are just beginning to learn is that there are always more stories. Different stories. But good stories, still.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
I am multi-tasking. I thought I’d start the New Year without multi-tasking or at the very least without doing it so overtly. But, here it is, Monday night and I’m helping the kids do homework while simultaneously cooking dinner (chicken pot pie), doing laundry (one load in the washer, one in the dryer, one spread all over the dining room in various states of folded-ness.) I am also writing this post. I’ve got an earlier deadline than usual. Sometimes (more than I’d like) I skate in just under the deadline. That deadline was later last year. In this New Year, it’s earlier. By two hours. I’m not prepared. Not that I was really prepared for the old deadline…
At any rate, I’m typing in a smoky kitchen (parchment caught on fire in the oven,) the dryer roars, I offer help with long division, the correct spelling for “especially”, and keep an ear open for the “on my way” phone call from my husband. He’s working extra hard already this year and we feel lucky and grateful that he’s got work, while also wondering if he’ll be home for dinner and whether he’ll be able to get the kids to bed without a huge fight.
Seven days in and this year is already looking a little like last year. But I’m a little more aware. My kids are circling like sharks. They are hungry and tired and loving. They kiss my cheeks and ask how my article is going. They offer to fold the laundry and try to finish their homework. They, too, are a little more aware. And we are already having a happy new year.