Creativity, Poetry

Economy Class

Here’s my kid in his Jack Sparrow
goodwill T-shirt, belly-down
in a spill of hand-me-down legos
pressing flat planes
into airplanes
singing
“I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket.”

What what?

The contraption has train wheels
on the front end and truck tires
backing mismatched engines
but it takes wing
with guns blazing, enemy fighters
crashing in a fiery screech,
no match for the patchwork leviathan
my kid is smoking
like threads
like foes
like the beat he pulls
with a what what
nod
from the hole
in his pocket.

Apologies to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Thrift Shop.

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Happy 100 Days: 80

So hard to find my way
Now that I’m all on my own.

I make the first model for the lego cake myself. With the 8-blocks and the 4-blocks, I show Bug what I can do.
 
“Why don’t you add one more there?” He asks, pointing to a space in between.
 
“Well, a square four-block won’t fit.”
 
“No, I mean, you could do a two-top block.”
 
I look at the little model and consider the slabs of cake in the fridge. “Well, I guess I could cut one of the squares in half and make a two-top.”
 
We work together to make a second model. This one has an extra blue two-top in between. I wonder out loud how I will squeeze a narrow chunk of cake in between. Frosting is a little stickier than plastic, after all.
 
“Let’s try it,” he says.
 
The “us” inferred here is pretty much “Mommy.” I have been working on this cake since 8:30 last night. The real process started two weeks ago when I stumbled across block-shaped candles at the supermarket. The ideas fell like rain and were just as hard to catch. I bought a bag of block candy at the specialty sweet shop, three colors of decorative icing at Joanne’s, and four boxes of backup cake mix during my last run to the grocery store.
 
This whole undertaking is ridiculous. Surely, better options exist. A frosted sheet cake with a little “Happy 6” flourish will do the trick. If we have a hankering for something fancier, everyone assures me that Costco has a fine bakery. Last year, I commissioned a friend at work to make a pirate treasure chest cake for Bug’s party. Candy necklaces, lollipop rings, and chocolate gelt spilled out from under the fondant-coated lid, and the cake itself was delicious. Even with a price tag of nearly $100, the masterpiece was a steal.
 
I can’t afford bargains of that variety anymore. I couldn’t then. Also, “fancy” is not the objective, which begs the question: What is the motivation for this two-week long undertaking? If not expedience, expense, or keeping up with the Mrs. Stay-at-Home-Jones, then what?
 
It’s hard to say. I guess I just like the idea of making things by hand. Even though I never have time and it wears me out to do it, I still try to make the holiday ornaments, invitations, and napkin rings myself. For Bug’s party tomorrow, I coated two giant sheets of cardboard with tempera paint and decorated them with bright letters and patterned duct tape. It would have been a lot less time consuming just to use poster board and markers, or to have spent $2.99 on a pre-cut birthday banner. I just couldn’t help myself. It’s as if my right brain has not bothered to open a paper in a few years and is oblivious to the news that I am now a working single mom. My brown-eyed girl is still out slipping and sliding all along the waterfall, trying to catch a rainbow.
 
She is also the one who is awake here at nearly 11:00pm waiting for the sourdough bread in the oven to finish rising. She thought baking a fresh loaf from scratch while also cobbling together a two-tier lego cake for Bug would be “fun.” Every time I try to explain to her that I am applying for a home loan, too, and that somehow in all of this, I still have to raise this child and earn a living, she just sort of wanders off in the vague direction of the misty morning.

Do you remember when
we used to sing?
Sha-la-la-la-la . . .

Something is undoubtedly going to give (something undoubtedly already has), but today, I am making a lego cake. My only moment of existential doubt arrives when I am trying to frost frozen marshmallow halves and they keep sticking to the fork and spatula, flipping over upside-down and smearing the cake. I look down at the glop of red-beet-dyed pink glop smearing my fingers, the counter, and everything but the marshmallow, and ask, What the hell am I doing? I have already snapped at Bug a half dozen times today and at Giovanni seven more, assembling a neat baker’s dozen of profanities. What I am teaching my son? That celebrations are stressful? That cooking is drudgery? That anger is a suitable sidekick for unchecked perfectionism?
 
I am nearing the point of tears when Bug walks into the kitchen. “What is that, Mommy?”
 
“Hands at your sides, kiddo. No touching.”
 
He steps up onto a stool and considers the multicolored blocks on the counter. With effort, he keeps his hands down. Then his face breaks into a grin. “That’s the cake!”
 
“Yep, it is.”
 
“What are you doing?” He looks at the pepto-bismol pink glop and the dripping skewer in my hand.
 
“Marshmallows.”
 
He thinks for a moment. Then, “Oh! I know! Those are the little knob things that make the legos snap together!” He gazes at the mess, watching me back-flip one circle into place. “Can I help?”
 
“Oh, why not.” So much for perfection. I find a few extra knives and toothpicks. Together, we mangle a few pink marshmallows and then start on the chocolate ones. Bug is diligent, spreading all around the edges and even the bottom to help everything stick together. He looks at the cake now as if seeing it for the first time. “Is that going to be the blue two-top?”
 
“It sure is.”
 
He steps down and finds the two mini models we made, one with the extra blue piece and one without. He holds them up, comparing the two miniatures with the massive cake. “You made it fit!”
 
“Yeah! You said I should try it, so I did. And it worked.”
 
Bug can’t stop ogling this creation. “Wow,” he says. “That is so much cake.” He is really smiling now. He picks up another marshmallow and starts back to work.
 
I see now. I see what he sees (which is what I saw and then promptly forgot). I see the way inspiration can fall like rain. So much, so fast, so free, so very hard to catch. And when it lands in the vicinity of your hands, you don’t wait until you are better rested or better employed or better situated. You open them to it. You follow its lead. You make whatever something is asking to be made.
 

 
Many thanks (and apologies) to Van Morrison for Brown-Eyed Girl
 

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Happy 100 Days: 89

In the car, we talk about the special things a kid can do when he turns six. “You can join little league and play baseball,” I tell him. “Or be in the big kid gymnastics.”
 
“What else?” He asks.
 
“Well, once you turn six, you have to use your own metro card.”
 
He gasps. “I can have my very own metro card? Can we go get it right now?”
 
“We’re on our way to school,” I laugh. “And besides. You’re not six until tomorrow.”
 
“Oh, yeah.”
 
Wheat Bug doesn’t know is that I have already bought him a SmarTrip card and that I am heading to Staples on my lunch break to find a sleeve and a retractable clip just like the one he is always trying to steal out of my purse.
 
“What else can I do when I’m six?”
 
“Well, there are probably new rides you can go on at the amusement park. And I think you can use some of the big-kid high ropes elements at camp.”
 
“When I’m six, can I drink mouthwash?”
 
“Can you what?
 
“I mean,” he says in that exaggerated don’t-be-a-doofus tone kids master far too early, “can I use mouthwash.”
 
“Do you know how to use it?” This whole conversation has taken an unexpected turn. Since so many of ours do, I suppose I should stop being surprised by these detours. On a recent commute, I found us in a very detailed conversation about breast cancer. I had to puzzle out how to explain cell mutation in response to my kid’s increasingly complex questions.
 
We are nearing school now. From the back seat, he says, “Yeah. To use mouthwash, you kind of swish it around and gargle it and then you spit it out.”
 
“That’s a pretty cool thing to do when you’re six, huh?”
 
“Yep,” he says.
 
“Okay. If you want to, you can start using mouthwash.”
 
His grin lights up the rearview mirror. “Yay, yay, yay!”
 
We turn into the Chicken School parking lot, and we are jostling backpacks and kissing goodbye and rushing off to the next thing.
 
Later that night, after we have made the brownies for school, put on jammies, and opened a couple of birthday-eve gifts (including a Nerf football and Lego mining truck that arrived special-delivery at bedtime by Giovanni), we head in to brush teeth. Bug is bouncing out of his skin, hopped up on brownie batter and anticipation. When we are all done, I pick up the blue bottle of mouthwash next to the sink.
 
“You ready to try it?”
 
Bug darkens and backs away. “No.” His expression is grim.
 
“I thought this was a special deal for six-year-olds,” I say.
 
“Yeah, but Mom, my birthday is not until tomorrow.”
 
“Ah.” I set the bottle back down. Bug relaxes. “No reason to rush things, huh?”
 
“Yeah,” he says. He is already out the door.
 
No reason to rush.
 
Right. We’ll keep trying to remember that one.