itchy triggers

Trashed my playlists when we moved. They were years outdated, stale, deadwood.

I’d started building a new one and rather enjoying the process. Riding trams and trains by myself on the weekends and any-days once the boys were in school (oh, how the boys used to be in school) gave me ample time to audition new music, see what old stuff still fit.

Over here, phone calls are expensive but data is cheap, and streaming music on my phone is “free,” and I took full advantage of the opportunity. [“Free” because I’m sure they’re selling my information to whatever companies want to use it for whatever nefarious commercial purposes. Good luck with that. My shotgun taste is as good at confusing algorithms as it is genders.]

And then the world ended. The restrictions started. The noose tightened. The walls closed in.

And I was drawn quickly back to some of the same stuff I listened to in high school. With the added benefit of having the internet around this time, and using it to springboard to other stuff I missed the first time around, as easily as “OK Google, play a Counting Crows station.”

It took me another week to figure out why. I’m not nostalgic. Those were not good old days. The music wasn’t awesome, but they wrote about being sad a lot, which I needed then. And now.

This quarantine has me living triggered 24/7.

When I was a kid, my parents’ demons ruled all our lives. Wrapped in their own dysfunctional blood feud, substance abuse, mood disorders, etc, they vacillated between ignoring me (mostly Dad) or screaming firehoses of criticism and threats (mostly Mom, or between Dad and Mom). I could do no right, but not for lack of trying.

5 or 6 years old

If you’re familiar with the archetypes: I was the classic firstborn parentified perfect kid. Teachers adored me. My friend’s parents begged to have me over to play, to stretch one sleepover night to two or three, I was such a good influence! So mature, so polite, so helpful, so pleasant, so kind. Straight-As, 99% percentile, shirt-always-tucked-in, raises her hand, never interrupts, never breaks the rules, never tattles on others, always knows the right answers but gives others a chance to go first. Such a joy.

And: I had my first panic attacks in first grade, afraid my dad would come back to the house and kill my mom and baby sister during the day while I was away at school, since he hadn’t been able to finish the job the night before when he’d come home raging after last call.

Because obviously, if I were at home, I’d magically be able to prevent manslaughter.

Six-year-old logic. I already knew they wouldn’t change, but I still thought I should help.

That year was also the first time my mom said, on the ride to school one morning, “I want you to know I’ve been talking to a lawyer about divorcing your daddy.”

And I said, “Good.”

And she was horrified! “Why would you say that?!”

And I thought, haven’t you been here, too, all these days and nights? When he’s punched holes in the walls of our rented houses? When he’s ripped the phone out of the wall so we couldn’t call for help? When you bundled us into the car in the middle of the night to try to drive to a friend’s house, and he ran out and ripped some handful of wiring from under the hood so we couldn’t? So we had to walk to the neighbor’s house and ask to use their phone? All those times we woke up in somebody else’s house in the morning and ate their breakfast cereal and watched their cartoons? And the horrible stories you’ve told me (that you should never have told me) of before I was born, of when he actually hit you, he a foot taller, you the size of a 10-year-kid, of when you should have already left? What thinking person wouldn’t say ‘good’?

So I just shrugged. Knowing the right answers doesn’t mean shit when you don’t have the power to put them to work. And I knew I had no power outside of school, so I carried my permanent stomachache to class and cried silently when all I could think about was broken hinges and bloody sheets and broken necks.

So polite, never interrupts, a joy forever.

In case you were wondering how that turned out, the parents “celebrated” their 46th anniversary last week. And I still don’t make noise when I cry.

Tant pis.

To the outside observer, this quarantine situation doesn’t have anything in common with back then. Neither of my 6-year-olds has a cocaine habit or a drinking problem. I’m 30-plus years older with average adult levels of autonomy.

But in the same way a certain scent can evoke a memory, my brain can read the dynamics of a situation and instantly find its match in the archives.

And that’s what’s happening here.

I  am trapped in an unhappy home led by two strong and volatile personalities, frequently warring, even more frequently screaming, never satisfied. I am somehow responsible for their happiness and yet completely incapable of making it happen, despite trying so hard my eyes want to bleed. I am cut off from resources that might help support me, if any such even existed in the first place.  My needs and desires must be subjugated to the functioning of the household and the needs and desires of the Big 2. Every day is a repeat of the days before and a preview of the days to come. The is no defined endpoint, no way to measure success, so no way to succeed. There will be no real freedom until somebody turns 18, or somebody dies.

In a lot of ways, school is still my safe space — even now, when I’m not the one attending. My 2019 ended and 2020 began with a 7-week school “vacation” while we waited for school spots for the boys to open up, and it was HARD. Getting dunked into the shit again after barely 2 months in has been brutal.

We’ll find out sometime next week what the next steps of the school closure will look like. Ours is originally scheduled to run through 4/20 lolsob but I don’t see any way they could lift it yet, so I fully expect it to be extended. Our school year runs through 7/3, so my hope is that they could go back for some amount of in-class time before getting out for 6 weeks of summer vacation. “Vacation.”

In the meantime, I wait, for authorities with more power than I to decide the direction of my life. I try not to suffocate. I wear headphones a LOT, with their musical heartbeat, where changing tracks can substitute for making progress in a life stalled and sinking.

She is trapped inside a month of gray And they take a little every day She is a victim of her own responses Shackled to a heart that wants to settle And then runs away It’s a sin to be fading endlessly
you’re exactly the same as you used to be
When I say out loud I want to get out of this I wonder is there anything I’m going to miss I wonder how it’s going to be

One of those self-pity kind of days

It didn’t start out that way. It never does! I’m not wired for that.

Please.

I’m just trying so hard at everything all the time here, with super-this-human levels of busting-ass and endurance and determination. I guess trying to make up for all I’m missing here, which is…pretty much everything. No friends, no job, no language, no skills, no reputation, no power. No reason for existing.

That vaunted immigrant work ethic? Turns out it’s just vulnerability, flipped around and razor sharpened.

And all I want is for some of this trying to work out sometimes, in exchange for all the goddamn effort I’m overextending every fucking endless day. And it just really almost never does. And I can only say, “Whelp, maybe tomorrow” so many tomorrows in a row before I land on a day like this one.

Today I tried to find, and mostly failed, to find a cleaner who would agree to wash a 30lb pillowcase full of bedlinens for our new apartment.

Before I started, I thought I was being resourceful, savvy. Have someone with a washing machine (I don’t, yet) do this bit of apartment prep while I assemble furniture, commute across town between apartments, cook meals, wrangle children, etc. (aka tasks collectively known as Things I Can’t Very Well Do At A Laundromat).

Also, German washing machines and dryers are verrry slow compared to US ones; a wash cycle is often 2 hours, and drying can easily take that long and still not be totally dry.

Outsourcing sounds smart, right?

Yeah, right.

First the Amazon delivery dude calls me from the new apartment because I wasn’t answering the door. I am not an idiot so I do not answer the phone the first time he calls, but when he calls back about 30 seconds later, I answer in case something terrible has happened (I answered the phone from an unknown number in a foreign country, it doesn’t get much worse, Quod Erat Demonstrandum).

I told him I’d be there in 30 minutes and he said begrudgingly that he’d swing back by. I hadn’t planned to start the day over there, but ok. Atlas can hold up the heavens AND bend over backwards, right? Onward!

The sitter had just arrived for the first time to stay with the boys for a few blessed hours, so I headed straightaway to the new apartment: bus to the end of the line, walk to the tram, wait 10 minutes, tram to the end of the line, walk 7 minutes, home sweet home. And I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

While I wait, I open all the new linens that I would eventually take to the cleaners: sheets, pillowcases, duvets. With each piece, I thanked god that an uncle gave us a mass of ready towels for xmas so we didn’t also have to buy, and wash and dry, those as well.

Finally, after about an hour and half, I gave up on Amazon guy, figuring that he had chosen to stand me up in revenge for my not being “home” earlier, and I left to go get something for lunch, carrying a giant gaily colored pillowcase full of some lump the size of an average preschooler.

Picture this pillowcase, but 4 times bigger and square, crammed 2/3 full of cargo, and twisted shut, being hauled down the street by a frowning crippled stranger in black, past all the piles of discarded christmas trees on the curb. It makes Krampus jealous.

Totally normal.

Five meters outside the building, I almost passed a man carrying 3 cardboard boxes, but I slowed down and said the only international thing I could think of, which was, ” Justice ? ? “

And he said, ” Y e s .”

This is where I digress to point out that every conversation I have here is straight out of some terrible literary fiction novel I’ve never read, or some slow-ass arty movie I’ve never finished. Every exchange is slowed down and blown up and padded with extra white space and longing and sideways eye contact and unspoken unknowables — and that’s when it’s going well.

It’s excruciating.

” Thank you so much for coming back ,” I said as I put down my pillowcase and dug out my keys to open the building door that had closed behind me just seconds earlier. “We’re just moving in so we’re not here all the time yet, and –“

” I understand ,” he breathed, then said nothing more but looked like he might be considering it. Or maybe my microwave was heavy. Probably both.

“You can just drop those here uhhh in the elevator. I’ll get them to the apartment. Thanks again…. ”

” I’ll do it, ” he said quietly.

So we went up to my apartment together. Hmh.

I dug my keys out again to open the door. “Right here inside the door is great, thanks so much.”

” I’ll wait for you . ” and he held the elevator door with his foot while I relocked the door and we rode back downstairs together.

In silence.

For

f

o

u

r

floors.

He’s really nice? I’m a total asshole? That’s the boilerplate takeaway I get from every interaction here. It’s exhausting. I fail and fail and fail and I’m not even sure how, but it’s clockwork.

More wait, more tram, 15 minutes of walking, 30lbs of clean dirty laundry

Cleaner #1: When do you want these back?

Me: Uh, this week?

Cleaner: Well…[looks inside the bag]…no. NO. She does these on Tuesday and Thursday. NO. Try the other place up by the tram stop and the hotel, 5 minutes walk.

Me, thinking: You mean a place I probably walked past 10 minutes ago and never saw? No thanks.

So I took my bulky bindle to the food court of the nearby mall to finally get some lunch. Accidentally ate an egg! It was between the burger patties — sneaky, and delicious.

Decided to take a shortcut by taking the Ubahn back through another main station on the way back to the old apartment, thinking surely there must be a cleaners near there.

And there was! And it only took 25 minutes of walking and googling and texting a friend for help and blind slogging-a-preschooler-in-a-pillowcase-making-my-hand-numb-luck to finally find them inside the station. I know prepositions are advanced and open to interpretation and stuff, but there’s a difference between “at” and “in.” If you are located IN the station, you should say you are IN the station and not AT the station. Ahem.

Cleaner 2, breaking off a conversation with somebody already there: Hallo.

Me: Entschuldigung, *pant* ich spreche kein deutsch. *pant* Sprechen Sie englisch? *pant*

Cleaner: Yes.

Me. OH THANK GOD! Can you please wash these for us? We’re moving in and don’t have a washing machine yet.

Cleaner: When do you need them?

Me: I know this riddle. Sometime this week would be best.

Cleaner: Monday?

Me: Perfect!

Cleaner: Ok, take this ticket and we’ll settle when you come back on Monday.

Which means I have NO IDEA how much they’re going to charge me and it does not matter. Anything less than the cost of new sheets/pillowcases/duvets was reasonable at that point, because for hours and miles and 7 kilometers of trudging, I was ready to drop that shit in the nearest trash can and set it on fire.

Like, really really ready.

DELEGATION: 1, NEGOTIATION: 0.

Before I left, I took a few orientation pictures so I can find them again, faster, on Monday. Because ultimately, there is nothing to do but get up and do it all again, and try to do better. Or at least get different results.

But in the meantime, I go home and cook a minimal-effort dinner and let my kids think they’re getting away with stolen tablet time, and then I go hide in my room in the dark, because lying down in the cool there is better than sitting on the fake couch in the fake living room and pretending that I’m only fake dying.

And I can cry some. Have to, or I think my eyeballs might just shoot out of my head from all the pressure they’re under, like a Pekingese with a triple espresso and a deadline.

All those sidelong glances and pregnant pauses don’t just evaporate at the end of the day, you know. They’re cumulative. All the wrong things, said and the weight of things unsaid, and how many people thought I was running away from home today, with just my clown ekg pillowcase full of stuff? My face didn’t look fancy and free.

I feel so lonely. My wife speaks the language and has use of a bike and so nimbly avoids 80% or more of the problems I run into on a daily basis. She has other problems, I know — I’m one of them, and I hear there are others — but they’re different.

Everybody here dresses so nice all the time; I don’t just look like a country mouse, I look like I might have escaped from some kind of supervised community living situation. I’m about to need a haircut, and I can’t shop for clothes with kids, and even if I didn’t have them with me, I’d still be fat and dumpy and shoulderless and weird-looking. I don’t have any angles, just slump and slumpier.

I thought there was supposed to be a honeymoon period.

The listing realtor comes tonight to see the house and, I hope, give a much-needed motivation injection by telling us the pig’s lipstick looks quite sellable, actually.

Because right now — after at least 6 weeks of concerted purging, boxing, and clearing — it still feels like 80% of my preparation has been…buying a can of Febreeze.

People like Febreeze, right?

The more I want to be gone, the more impossible it seems.

Has anybody ever actually sold a house they were still living in? With two children? Under age 2? And a disability that makes tidying up a monumental effort?

 

toddler looking uncerrtain
Felix isnt sure, either.
 

Do stay-at-home moms need annual leave, too

The average American worker is entitled to sixteen days of paid leave per year. If being a stay-at-home mom is tantamount to a full-time job, isn’t this a benefit we deserve as well? The obvious answer is yes. The reality is far murkier, both because of the nature of the “work” of parenthood and the extent to which it is valued by society.

“Murkier.” Yes, that’s one way to put it.

via Stay at home moms need annual leave, too – The Washington Post.

I did a thing! Toddler art gallery

For months and months, I’ve been looking for a way to display artwork at the boys’ eye-level.

Unfortunately, “eye-level” means it would also be within their arms’ reach. Which means anything left unattended would very shortly end up in their mouths and on the floor. Likely in many sharp little pieces.

No deal. The Van Goghs and Rembrandts and Monets would have to wait.

But wait!

Serendipitously, I got lost in Target, one day scanning aisle after aisle for trash cans. (How can you hide a bunch of trash cans? They’re as big as…well.)

In my search, I found this nifty little undermarketed artwork holder that showed promise.

I forgot to take a picture of the package and Target's own website doesn't who it. Found this one on ebay.
I forgot to take a picture of the package. Found this one on ebay.

No glass, no hard plastic even, and it’d be easy to switch out images every so often, without having to take it off the wall. And only $10!

Did I mention “undermarketed”? Check out Target’s own web presence:

Targetscreengrab
Nothing says “celebrating the colorful creativity of childhood” like this paen to bleakest minimalism.

I promptly bought it, brought it home, and lost it for 2 months.

Getting warmer

The recent playroom expansion gave us more wall space and the perfect excuse to find and install the artwork holder.

For the first fill, I found a cat calendar at Goodwill for $1, and a puppy one at Target’s dollar spot for $3ish. Cut some of the cutest down to fit the pockets and hung the whole thing up with some Command poster strips. Et voila!

playroomartFramers
Hoity, meet toity.

 

But what did the critics think?

playroomartFJrx
Felix approved of the way the display validated photography’s long-acknowledged power to mirror both the face of the world and of the most important things in the world: dogs.

 

playroomartEJrs
Emerson noted that the gallery was by turns euphoric and despairing, prey to utopian optimism or deep spiritual disarray, depending on whether you were a dog person or a cat person.

And finally, here’s an overly-long video of them worshiping at the quadruped shrine.

Verdict: I did a thing!

Have you done anything lately? Tell us about it!

Recipe: Super Baked Oatmeal

For starters, it’s not the most photogenic food.

baked oatmeal in a glass baking dish

But I’m not going to apologize, because this super baked oatmeal is KK’s new favorite breakfast.

She likes it because it’s healthful and keeps her full until lunch time.

I like it because:

  • I can make our breakfasts for the week in about 15 minutes.
  • It’s gluten free (when you use gf oats, etc)
  • It’s customizable enough that I can change the flavor profile and not feel like we’re eating the same thing week after week.
  • It’s forgiving enough that I only actually measure out the oats and the milk. Everything else gets eyeballed.
  • It’s got all the goodness of oatmeal, without the pot or bowls to sandblast clean every day.

Super Baked Oatmeal

Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light
Yields: 10 generous servings, enough for 2 people to enjoy every weekday

Ingredients

4 cups uncooked gluten-free oats (old-fashioned and quick cooking work equally well)
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
1/2 cup coconut flakes (sweetened or not)
2 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups milk
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
optional: 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, OR apple pie spice

Preheat oven to 375º. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes.

To serve warm: Top it with butter, margarine, heavy cream, cream cheese, greek yogurt, maple syrup, or honey.

To serve later: It’s easier to slice after it’s been in the refrigerator. Reheat individual servings in the microwave for 60 to 90 seconds.

To customize:

  • Make a 4 or 5 serving size by halving all the ingredients and cook it in an 8×8 pan (or an 8- or 9-inch cake pan — like I said, it’s forgiving) for about 35 minutes
  • Instead of raisins, try any dried fruits, like cranberries, dates, currants, or berries.
  • Instead of dried fruits, try fresh blueberries or chopped bananas.
  • And while I personally don’t like chocolate chips with oats, I won’t tell the breakfast police if you throw some in there.
  • Instead of walnuts, try pecans, cashews, or mixed nuts. Or go no-nuts, and just add extra fruit or your favorite seeds.
  • Instead of milk, try substituting your favorite milk-alternative — I bet it would work fine.

You can probably also sub out the sugar, oil, and eggs, too. Let us know in the comments if you try something else that works!