Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cluck Ol' Hen

The technology, people. It's an amazing thing.

A few months back - let's say six or so - I got a message from my past in the form of a MySpace email from my former junior and high school classmate, Josh. He'd apparently been breezing through the alumni listing and saw my page, then also happened to notice that I was doing artist booking. In an intriguing coincidence, Josh was now part of an old-time country duo, The Get Up Johns (not what I'd have predicted when he was rocking out to Christian rap after Physics lab, but still somewhat fitting). And, unlike most of the musicians who contact me through MySpace, they were really, really good. You have no idea what a relief it is to have a friend say, "Hey, would you mind listening to this?" and having it actually be something worth listening to. And that's coming from someone who, quite frankly, does not have the world's keenest aural sense (I'm really just here to pimp the songwriters, my acoustically enhanced literary brethren and sistren).

So, over the next few months, we kept in touch and managed to forge together a 5-date tour of the southeast, an area of the U.S. that these country die-hards had not yet explored (at least as a touring act - Josh's partner Jake is a native of Morgantown, WV). As you might expect, it was quite possibly my easiest booking run ever. An old-time country duo? In the South? Almost embarrassingly easy. After making sure they had a good anchor show in Memphis, I got them shows in Opelika, AL; Knoxville, TN; Atlanta and Savannah, GA. Through their own MySpace hustling, they also got a Nashville show with Kathy Louvin, daughter of one of their idols, Ira Louvin.

And then, I'm embarrassed to admit, I sort of forgot all about it. I got them all their show specs and tried to help their publicist get the press info she needed, but then it sort of dropped off my radar. Until I got an email from Josh, sent on Tuesday morning, saying that they were going to drive in from Chicago that night and could I suggest someplace for them to park their mobile lodgings (which I assumed to be a van, but which turned out to be a Jetta wagon with a homespun plywood bunk across the way-back). Since I didn't get that email until 10pm Tuesday night, they were left to their own midwestern devices, which led them to the Elvis Presley RV park, within spitting distance of Graceland. (Listen as the Memphis locals release a sigh of pity/gasp of fear as they picture two country singers in a VW station wagon, sleeping innocently behind a used car lot on EP Blvd.) Thankfully, they survived the night and were up and at 'em on Wednesday in time for their live appearance on Bashful Bob's "Sho' Nuff Country" show on WEVL.

And now, a brief moment to express how much I love Bashful Bob. Oh, how I love him.

Ahem. Anyway, the on-air went fabulously (I listened to it online, another modern wonder) and they gamely followed my instructions to lunch at Gus's Fried Chicken. After a mandatory tour of Sun Studio, they headed to the P&H to check out the bar and enjoy their free wi-fi. When I and the rest of the crowd started arriving around 7:45, the boys were showered, shaved and dressed in their customary suits. It soon became clear that this wasn't going to be a typical night at the P&H, not just because the musicians weren't wearing faded Big Star t-shirts but because the median age was about 62. Turns out, there was a large contingent from Arkansas sitting right up next to the stage who had caught the boys on Midwest Country, a Minnesota-produced Opry-style show that airs on this obscure satellite channel called RFD. Apparently Bashful Bob had seen that appearance as well, and it was part of the reason he'd come all the way up from Tupelo to have the guys on his show. Bob and his Mississippi crew were anchoring another table near the bar.

Between those two groups, the Get Up Johns had a faithful following all night long, but they also grabbed the attention of the hipsters slouching in the booths. The show was fantastic, with Josh and Jake proving that the seamless harmonies and adroit picking heard on their CD is not some sort of production trick. These boys can really play. Even Stacey and RJA, not generally considered the biggest country fans in Memphis, had to admit that they sounded really good. It was a great evening, and it was in large part due to the wonders of MySpace, streaming radio, and Dish TV. And a whole bunch of songs written when my grandparents were in elementary school.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Baby, It's You

Parenting is full of surprises. Just three years in and I've already become deeply familiar with that fact. Pretty much everything that happens from bedtime to bedtime is an unknown. (I was going to say from wake-up to bedtime, but that leaves out the night hours that can bring anything from bad dreams to bed-wetting to unconscious shouts of "Give me my cookie!")

So when there's a chance to make things just a little less astonishing, I'm happy to take advantage. This is why I'm all for learning the baby's gender as soon as possible. During our first pregnancy, however, The Admiral disagreed. He wanted the big, cinematic "It's a ..." moment. And so, being the ever-courteous wife that I am, I acquiesced to his wishes. He didn't find out.

But I did.

As I've told anyone willing to stand still for 18 seconds, we had the sonographer write down the baby's gender and put it in an envelope. And then the envelope went away. The Admiral not only didn't know what was in it, he didn't know if I'd even opened it. We were afraid that if he knew that I knew, I'd be subject to intense scrutiny every time I picked up a Hanna Andersson catalog. So I kept both secrets for over four months (not counting that one tiny little slip-up in front of Stacey and Kristy).

And that was ... hard. Even for a stoic specimen like myself, keeping that information to myself was a challenge. And it wasn't just about keeping a secret; I had to keep up an act, lobbying equally hard for my picks on both genders' names, keeping every new nursery item completely gender-neutral, and continuing my vehement argument against circumcision even though I knew it was pointless. Because I knew we were having a girl. If I even doubted it, the exclamation point on the sonographer's note removed all question. My daughter was on her way.

So now, halfway though my second pregnancy, the question rose again. Would we find out or wouldn't we? I actually hesitated at first, thinking that maybe it would be fun to try it the other way, to have the big suspenseful moment after delivery. But then I thought ... naaah. The suspense is just as good in that little dark room with the goop all over my belly. The Admiral, however, still wasn't convinced. While willing, as always, to respect his wishes, I did mention what a challenge it was to keep quiet for 20 weeks. And how much easier it would be if we could plan out things like room arrangements, wardrobe needs, etc. And how nice it would be to prepare Miss M for the exact sibling she'd be getting, instead of constantly saying "little brother or sister" (especially since she'd been convinced from the start that I was having a girl). And about 17 other logical reasons why it really would make more sense for us both to find out.

Up until the day of the ultrasound, he still hadn't decided what to do, but at some point between the exam room and the sonogram suite, he went with Find Out. Thanks to a scheduling snafu, Miss M was actually in attendance as well, so we were looking forward to all finding out together, which was an unlikely scenario at the actual delivery.

Those of you who have ever spent ten minutes with a three-year-old, and my three-year-old in particular, can already see where this is heading. Miss M got bored after about 15 minutes of staring at barely recognizable body parts on a black and white screen. The Admiral did the best he could to entertain - and ultimately restrain - her, but there was just no getting around it. We could keep her locked in there and let the sonographer try to complete a fetal survey over the screams of "I want to play OUTSIDE!" or he could take her out and let the scan finish in peace. He bowed out gracefully and sacrificed The Moment for the greater good.

The sweet little sonographer held out as long as she could, hoping they'd be able to return, but I'd already snuck into a latecomer's appointment time and she couldn't wait any longer. She stopped measuring the skull and diaphragm and kidneys and went right for the up-kilt shot. She asked if Miss M had a feeling about what it was, and I said she was sure it was a girl. "Well," she said, "sometimes children have a good sense about these things." My eyebrows lodged an inch above their natural position as I waited for confirmation. "But this time she's wrong. See?"

And I did. There he was. My boy.

I didn't realize until that second how much I'd been hoping for a son. I'd always admitted to wanting a boy, mostly because of my lifelong fear of adolescent girls, but during this pregnancy, I'd gotten comfortable with the idea of having two daughters (i.e., I had and currently have no plans to be pregnant again). I love the heck out of Miss M, and having her got me way past the idea that gender would have any influence on how I felt about the next child. But still ... a boy. My boy. I felt like I'd just met someone I'd been waiting my whole life to meet. I wondered how I was going to get the ridiculous grin off my face before I got back to The Admiral, but when I saw how disappointed he was to miss the big reveal, and how demonic Miss M was acting, we decided to just stay mum about it until a more family-friendly moment.

Fortunately, I only had to hold it in for three hours instead of four months. When I got home from work, I showed The Admiral the take-home pictures from the ultrasound, including a very immodest shot labeled "It's a boy!" as if there could possibly be a doubt. And then I got to gloat about my amazing psychic powers, the ones that have enabled me to dream the correct gender of my babies twice in a row. The Admiral took the news in stride (especially considering that he was sure it was a girl, based on our 14-week mini-ultrasound), confirming my suspicion that the result wasn't nearly as important to him as the process of finding out.

So now we know, all three of us. The Admiral is a little nervous, because it feels even more like starting all over. Miss M, of course, still insists she's waiting on a little sister. And me, I'm just happy to be able to utter pronouns out loud. I'm all for surprises, but when it comes to the human growing inside my body, I feel that I'm entitled to any advance information I can get.

Friday, January 12, 2007

True Confessions

I don't know if guilt is hereditary, but Miss M seems to be channeling the previous generations of Mormon and Catholic repentance. The last thing she does before falling asleep at night, after the two books and one story and two songs, after the lights go off and her mother growls "Lie down, be still, close your eyes" for the 48th time, she confesses something. She goes through her mental summary of the day and finds something that she needs to apologize for. Last night, it was a fairly recent one: "Mama, I'm sorry for knocking over all the books" (which she'd done by kicking them off her nightstand about ten minutes earlier). The night before last, she went further back into the day and recalled an unfortunate potty-related incident that I never held her accountable for in the first place: "Mama, I'm sorry I fell in the toilet." Then she asks the most important question in her world: "Are you my best friend?" Mama stops growling after that.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Drink The Water, Drink It Down

I was trying to come up with something agenty to talk about, since I've been discussing much more family stuff than work stuff lately, but after the appointment with my midwives this morning, I'm having a hard time thinking about anything but the sweet potato in my belly. I wasn't really thinking of it as a sweet potato until I got my weekly BabyCenter email, which always describes the growing baby in terms of something edible. Which is sort of weird, really. Isn't there another comparison we could be using? Like: this week your baby is the size of a Bose speaker, next month it will be the size of a medium Mag-Lite flashlight. Or better yet, using something living. Month Four: fruit bat, Month Five: Cloud Forest Pygmy Owl.

The appointment went well, with me demonstrating ideal blood pressure and textbook weight gain. I was feeling like the perfect little patient, and reliving my high school days of people-pleasing geekdom, until they pointed out that my water intake is abysmal. I'm not sure exactly what "specific gravity" measures and why my pee would have anything to do with quantum physics, but apparently mine measured off the charts. Which means I'm only slightly more hydrated than, say, an actual Mag-Lite. I knew they'd get me on that; I've never been much of a water drinker. Or an anything drinker, really. I generally find fluids to be an inconvenience, what with their leaving rings on the coffee table, taking up armrest space at the movies and making my uncles act ridiculous on major holidays. But I read the handout, and I realize that I'm in the process of growing a human being who, for the next 22 weeks, will be living in its own personal waterworld. It's just always been easier for me to abstain from something fun than to push myself into something that's not even all that unpleasant. I've got no problem dropping alcohol and caffeine, but come on, let's not expect me to drink water or eat an orange. I'm not a robot!

But I may, however, be a flashlight.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Father, Hear Me If You Can

I talked to my dad the other night, which is a fairly infrequent occurrence. Despite weekly calls to or from the homeland, my parental contact is usually with my mom. She's the news anchor, on-call counselor and human resources manager of the family. Much like my sister, Mom knows what's going on with everyone, or knows the secret ways to find out what she doesn't. My mom and sister, they're The Talkers.

But Dad and I, we work differently. There's no need to drag my mom onto Springer for a paternity test, because I'm a blondish clone of the big guy. Not just the melon of a skull he gave me, but what clunks around inside of it, too. If we didn't have these women to draw us out, we'd probably sit quietly for days. In fact, we got a good start on that when we took a 7-hour drive together and passed perhaps 23 words the entire time. It sounds awkward and painfully boring, but it was really quite pleasant. We operate on a similar wavelength and we know that silence doesn't have to be uncomfortable.
We don't talk, but we dance.
Of course, I was probably uncomfortable during that Christmas tree hunt when I used all the strength in my 18" legs to keep up with Dad's pace in the knee-high (to me, anyway) snow. At some point, I stepped right out of my boots, but I kept trudging along in my socks, not saying a word about it. When my dad realized what happened, he just smiled, picked me up, and followed our tracks back to my abandoned footgear.

That's us. That's who we are. Blame our Nordic heritage or our Midwestern upbringing or our impossibly youthful skin (okay, that's not really relevant, but I feel bad about calling out our melonheads), but we're quiet people. That's why it's been so unsettling to have my fortress of reserve fired upon by a teeny sniper in footie pajamas. I wasn't prepared for the way having an outgoing, highly reactive child would expose my own emotions. When we spend any length of time together (i.e., daily), I feel like my chest has been sandpapered open, leaving every fear, hope, sorrow, joy and insecurity visible to the world. It makes me want to curl up in a ball and cover myself with a chainmail quilt. But I can't. I have to stand up straight, take her hand, and carefully explain, for the fourteenth time, why she doesn't get to pick up the cat by the ears even though she "really, really loves to."

I don't begrudge Miss M her feelings, and I often envy how quickly and easily she can get over her injuries and resentments. Frankly, I'd probably be a much healthier person if I could admit when my feelings are hurt as freely as she does, although I hope I'd do it more tactfully than by yelling, "You're not my best friend anymore!" But I have to admit that part of me is hoping that this next child will bear at least a few of the Norse genes. It would be a nice break to have as effortless a relationship as my father and I have, to understand each other without having to parse every detail. Just the lower noise level would be a pleasant change. It's not an anti-social wish that Baby Dos won't want to talk to me. It's just a quiet hope that s/he may not always have to.

*Footnote/Contradictory anecdote: for the entire run of the series Northern Exposure, my father and I would dance to the theme song. Not some dignified two-step or anything, but this crazy, spazzy, freeform interpretive dance that often left my mother afraid that we were going to knock down the entire home-made entertainment center. As soon as the drums started up and the moose began wandering the streets of Cicely, we were on our feet. Which, considering all that stuff above, is bizarre enough, but ponder for a moment that I was also in my mid-teens. It was our weekly release from the restraints of Norseness and the all-encompassing indifference of adolescence. No one else was invited to dance with us, because no one else could have understood.

Monday, January 01, 2007

When The Bells All Ring And The Horns All Blow

I admit to being sentimental, but I'm not much of a traditionalist. If someone else is going to the bother of doing the same thing year after year, I'm happy to participate. Especially if it's not too much of a hassle. If, say, a 7-foot Balsam fir were to magically appear in my living room and all of the carefully wrapped ornaments were to unpack themselves, then sure, I'd be all over decorating the Christmas tree. But as it is, the nuisance of maintaining traditions generally overpowers my desire for consistency. Hence the 2-foot fake tree aglow in our living room right now.

That's why it's all the more surprising that, come each January 1st, I freely and enthusiastically invite everyone in our address book to come over and spend the first day of the year in our home, nursing their hangovers on a non-stop conveyor belt of homemade food. It's not even my tradition to perpetuate - The Admiral's been hosting New Year's Day feasts since his college dorm days - but it's one I've gotten very attached to. In the past, I've usually spent the day chasing down dirty dishes, refilling wine glasses, and keeping the CD player spinning. But this year, I fired up the iPod playlist and spent all that extra non-dj-ing time breaking into the sacred realm of the kitchen. I stuck with my old stand-bys like sundried tomato-and-artichoke dip, plus the perpetually crowd-pleasing gouda ball. But then I also decided to branch out and try one of our traditional family recipes for the very first time. And, well, that was an error. I so wanted the stromboli to work out, since it's one of my favorites from my own childhood holidays, but it just didn't quite come together. Literally. The damn things exploded on me, and I panicked and took them out before the bread dough was fully cooked and ended up serving our guests some pretty sad, gooey versions of my mother's prize recipe.

But oh well. I think the artichoke dip and gouda ball and parmesan toast and crab dip and black-eyed pea soup and clams and beef tenderloin and homemade ice cream made up for it. And even if they didn't, the edibles are just accessories. The real point of the day is to pull all these people together, all the friends who have shared the last year with us and with whom we plan to spend many days to come, and to show them, in our own quiet Midwestern food-forcing way, how much they mean to us. It's a chance for us (okay, me) to come out of our shells a teence and show appreciation for the support and kindness that have been shown to us all year long. It's an excuse for me to hug my friends. So even with the undercooked stromboli and the mid-party conversion from iPod audio to a kid-friendly movie selection, it was still a roaring success, because every person in our house was someone we love. And hopefully, they all left knowing that. Or at least feeling very, very full. Which, to my people, is the same thing.