I haven't taken a writing breather for about three years but last week, in a well-lived-in cabin nestled in the Redwoods of Mount Hermon, I give myself permission to slack off. Reading, fortunately, is essential to good writing, or at least my (whatever you think of it) writing. While not writing, I finish two novels and a collection of short stories and bask in a lot of graceful prose and permit myself to feel smug about some that is pretty clunky. I devour Jennifer Egan's sly and subtle Visit from the Goon Squad which nails the 80s and 90s and flows from a free form La Ronde to a dazzlingly effective PowerPoint presentation. A collection of stories, The Empty Family by Irish writer Colm Toibin is harrowing, exquisite and rich with elegant sentences. Toibin is a master at evoking heartbreaking bleakness of loneliness counter-parted by quiet, tender redemption.
Steve Job's sister Mona Simpson's latest novel, My Hollywood has a few trenchant observations about children but is hard to follow as characters appear out of nowhere and then recede abruptly, never having furthered the plot. The novel is praised for Simpson's bold stab at capturing the inner-life of a Filipina nanny but I am consistently aware that a privileged white woman is doing the channeling. The plotting is plodding and it is remarkable that an editor didn't note that two separate episodes of children drowning might make an already iffy plot line even less credible. In interviews Simpson admits that her work is chock-a-block with autobiographical elements and perhaps consequently there is distinct quality of self righteousness, bordering on hubris, in her heroines.
Unlike Himself, I am no book reviewer and there are many astute reviews of these three popular works so I won't go into any more depth about my vacation reading, except to note it, lest you think my time was completely frittered away watching Storage Wars and working crossword puzzles. Which is not to say that I completely abstain from the latter two activities. Were I to fully embrace the avocation of critic I would laud the works of Jennifer Egan and Colm Toibin and further excoriate Mona Simpson but I would also have to give my highest praise to the Herculon recliner from which I do most of my reading, watching and puzzling.
Those familiar with the dynamics of Casamurphy are aware that for the most part, Spuds is the family member who best approximates an actualized human being. I remind readers of this in case anyone is tempted to contact the authorities as I confess that Himself and I head north for over a week, and leave Spuds with his brother home from college only on the weekends, a drawer full of cash, a fridge full of food, a written list of instructions and a bus pass. That we leave for our trip on the morning of Joe College's 19th birthday, having underwhelmingly regaled him with a Groupon dinner the night before, is a further example of parental neglect, approaching malfeasance.
The birthday boy asks if he can host a small soiree in his own honor during our absence and I relent, knowing that, as I will be 400 miles away, my verdict is likely irrelevant. Himself paces and growls on the day of the party. I am asked to make many calls and remind our budding entertainers to insure that the dogs don't escape and that the garage where Himself has secreted our liquor remains closed. Himself logs on to Facebook at the onset off the gala and notices immediately that Spuds has posted a picture of two boys roughhousing in front of the open garage. I am on the phone immediately and that I'd discovered the open door freaks the host out so thoroughly that I break down and disabuse him of the fear that we've engaged professional surveillance.
When we return from the north the house looks OK nevertheless. There are a couple of beer bottles (a brand so cheap that Himself wouldn't consider serving to company he dislikes) in the recycling bin so they are ecologically responsible and never figure out where our own liquor is hidden. I learn later from other parents, arriving to fetch their own progeny, that there is quite a crowd, replete with scantily clad teenage girls slugging Colt 45 stumbling in the street. I am pleased that number one son has inherited his mother's social inclinations but, despite no police presence, irate calls from neighbors nor breakage as of yet discovered, it will be a while before we put our facilities as his disposal again.
Spuds survives a week of parental abandonment, feeds himself, takes care of the pets and attends school and play rehearsals and reports for his tutoring job with a better on-time record than his mother/chauffeur usually attains. Spuds inherits from a college bound friend a position tutoring a set of twins who like him about as much as he likes them. Not very. We never employed tutors until a middle school geometry crisis and both of our boys always completed school assignments without supervision or anyone hovering over them. The fourth graders are tutored daily for two hours in order to keep up on their homework which Spuds says really should require no more than a half hour a day. The twins mother is single and holds an extremely prestigious position at a local university. I have never met her but we have a complicated relationship.
My own development was arrested and it took me longer than many of my contemporaries to transition to true adulthood, the point at which I stopped blaming my parents. This perhaps contributes to my strong desire to think of myself as a particularly good mother and I have always pumped my kids for dirt about their friend's moms, hungry for choice examples of mothering inferior to my own. Having recently, for example, left a sixteen year old essentially alone for over a week and consented to an unsupervised teenage party, the pickins' are usually quite slim. With Spud's employer, my contempt fomented by my jealousy at her professional position, I've hit pay dirt.
Spuds is typically greeted by the boys running away from him as rapidly as they can. I proffer diagnoses. Autism. Aspergers. Dyslexia. Aphasia. Spuds rolls his eyes and says that their resistance to completing homework is attributable only to their hostility for their control freak mother who arrives at their school, where Spuds works with them, and interrogates Spuds fiercely about the completion of every speck of homework. The kids have no video games or television so it seems to Spuds that a little homework might even break the tedium of home but if Twinmom's regular backpack excavation reveals a stray assignment Spuds receives a strongly worded text.
Spuds requests an afternoon off to catch up on his own homework, and offers to put in some extra time the next day. He reads me Twinmom's snippy response stating that the boys have homework due every day but we agree it it might be ill-advised to send the response: “I have homework due every day too. BITCH!” Spud's does go to tutor the boys and stays up late to complete his own work. He knows from listening to his dad gripe and hanging out at mom's office that often in the course of earning a living we have to kowtow to people who in real life we would assiduously avoid. Plus, Spuds has decided that he prefers the garments of Urban Outfitters to the Target store brands and sibling hand-me-downs that his mother provides.
Spuds texts Twinmom that he has to leave for a rehearsal and that one of the boys will need to spend a few minutes on an incomplete assignment when he gets home. Twinmom texts back furiously that this is impossible because after dinner the children have to play with their kitten. Spuds screams at his cell phone and I note that some psychiatrist will probably name a yacht after this family...”but,” I start to add. Spuds interrupts me by holding his palm in “halt” position. He finishes my sentence. “Take the money.”