Monday, September 21, 2009

37 Thousand Socks

People talk about the mysteries of sock disappearance but I’ve never heard any explanations. I need an answer. I’m not kidding. Where do they all go? It’s become more important recently as the nest emptying has brought waves of traumatic flashbacks from the parenting years. It’s also starting to seem like a referendum on my relationship and from this, I’m industriously extrapolating the meaning of it all. It makes me feel like a crappy mother and an inadequate wife when the socks keep getting lost.

It started when my first daughter was an infant and had those adorable, fuzzy pink and white socks that were ever so tiny. Inevitably we would be on an outing and one of the baby socks would be dangling off a tiny toe or completely gone, but I couldn’t give up on the socks. I wanted her little feet to be warm, maybe a bit too warm. When Lucy was a newborn she came down with prickly heat because I was overdressing her. It was the damp, cold of early March in Northern California and our house, a onetime summer cabin, was drafty and chilly with only one source of heat. Lucy wore her socks and a onesie and leggings and a t-shirt and a sweater on top of that. She always wore a knit baby cap - never a bare, bald head for my precious baby. The final layer in the baby bundling was the blanket my great aunt made for her out of leftover fabric scraps from the flannel my grandmother had used to make nightgowns for me and my sisters. These cloth bits were perfectly preserved all though my childhood and when I presented the first grand-child and great grandchild, I was given the blanket made for my new daughter. I could look at the blanket and recognize the pattern from my long ago nighties.

When the heat rash was diagnosed, the doctor explained that I only need dress the baby in one more layer than made me comfortable. Since I tend to be cold, that was still a lot. It’s been decades since I’ve been the proud owner of a baby but I still think I know best about how they should be wrapped. It makes me unsettled when I see a baby out somewhere with it’s head or feet uncovered. All those clothes led to issues of laundry. When changing the diaper explosions the mantra was always, “Save the socks.” Our little cottage had no washer or dryer and all the clothes and blankets AND dirty cloth diapers were washed at the local laundromat which doesn’t seem possible by today’s parenting standards. I sometimes walk by there and see the same rolling laundry carts where I used to put Lucy on her back on the flannel patchwork quilt in the early eighties.

More girls followed and I was still a worrier, but the second baby was born in the warm season (due in late August and born in mid-September) and weighed 9 and one half pounds at birth so keeping her warm wasn’t too much of an issue until she had to spend seven weeks in a body cast. The hip dislocation was diagnosed at the end of February, when Lana was four months old. She could only move her arms and head - nothing else. The cast went from under her armpits to her toes with just a small hole for the diaper and the legs were splayed out to the side. It was a challenge. They sent her home from the hospital with instructions to keep her propped up over a baking tray with Saran wrap shoved up the back of the cast so the poop and pee would just run right down the Saran wrap. For seven weeks? Imagine - this is a child who was breast feeding only, no solid food yet. What about her sister? How was I supposed to get this baby around and drop her sister off at pre-school and go to the store? The first day I was so overwhelmed I just sat on the living room floor and looked at her and the baking tray, her baby throat hoarse from crying when they took her away from me for the surgery. I kept trying to tell myself it could have been worse, it was fixable, but I really couldn’t visualize a workable life. Somehow the follow up calls from Children’s Hospital directed me to Marin General, where the nurse angels of mercy explained that the diaper problem could be solved by putting premie diapers in the cast opening and changing her twice as often as usual. There were threats from the orthopedist that if the cast became soiled the skin would decay and we’d have to replace the cast and start the clock ticking again on the process. Trust me, those little diapers were changed and if there was any residual dampness there was always the hair dryer.

Once I could move from the living room I found a car seat she would fit in and realized I could put her in an umbrella stroller. Life was almost back. The next problem was night time. She had to be moved to a different position every four hours so she wouldn’t develop bedsores. I set my alarm for the middle of the night, every night, for almost two months , but of course, since she couldn’t move and it was the damp, cold of early March in a different Northern California house with one source of heat and too little insulation, she really couldn’t stay very warm. A crib sized down blanket was made for her and she did quite well, all things considered, until they cut her with a saw when the cast was removed the same day her sister came down with chicken pox (with complications) and then came down with chicken pox herself (with even more complications) exactly two weeks later.

Sister number three added to the joy and laundry of the household. It started to get away from me. I couldn’t match up anything. I’d fold the laundry and then have this pile of socks that didn’t go together. In frustration, or possibly because I couldn’t convince myself to care that much, I put all the non-matching socks together in a basket. A big basket that got bigger over the years. We’re talking fifty or sixty socks. Once in a while I’d make an attempt to pair them but it was SO boring I’d give up. Buying new pairs would work for a little while but then they, too, would become separated. When the girls complained that they didn’t have any matching socks I’d just direct them to the basket. Over time, like kidnap victims with Stockholm Syndrome, wearing mis-matched socks became their way of life. Lucy’s never cared that much because her frequent refrain as a toddler was, “No socks. No socks” and to this day she will rarely wear them even when most appropriate. She’d rather have purple feet.

Now that Lana and Allie are nineteen and twenty-three they still don’t normally wear socks that actually go together. In fact, it kind of surprises me when they do. They became one hundred percent acculturated, but the trauma spread to their step-father, my husband, a relative newcomer to the un-matched madness. When we met he had the laundry done by professionals and he claims that it was perfection. Nothing went missing and if I slipped some of my clothes in they came back fresh and beautifully folded. Heaven.
When we began to live together I refused to let him near the washer or dryer. I was afraid bad things would happen. I thought he might be a little too spontaneous to be trusted with my clothes and after I recently discovered him using toilet bowl cleaner to take a spot out if his tennis shorts, that theory was confirmed. He was married before and I don’t want to know how laundry was done in that other household. I might not measure up. I have convinced myself that I have so many wonderful qualities that I shine in comparison and how important is it to be good at laundry, anyway? I’m ok. with laundry. Just very bad with socks.

There were a couple subtle complaints, then some whining, then irreparable damage. Every time the pairs don’t come upstairs two by two, exactly matched and perfect, he begins to get nervous. “Don’t worry,” I say. “It’s around. They’ll get together again.” Sometimes they do. Often they don’t and it’s always the special, favorite ones that are missing - the socks with sentimental significance or the only pair that works with particular trousers. There has to be someone to blame. Eric began to suspect Lana of sock thievery. I couldn’t really see it, but I think having an explanation comforted him. She had taken socks from her sisters and her dad and from me.....Why not? She recently moved out of her childhood bedroom in our house. She wasn’t living here since childhood - there was a failure to launch and she lived in two apartments after leaving home, before rebounding.

What I found when Lana moved out this time was shocking. Socks in every place imaginable. Under the sofa, under the sofa cushions, in the space under the dresser drawers, on the floor, under the bed. Socks belonging to me, her Dad, her old boyfriend and to Eric. Lots of athletic socks. I did a wash and presented Eric with a pile, hoping it would solve some of the mystery. It partly did. He had a few happy reunions, but questions remained and this much is true: none of the girls’ childhood pairs were found in the unearthing. The fuzzy baby ones, the purple Barney toddler pairs, the cute ones with grips on the soles. The pumpkin socks for Halloween and festive Christmas footwear, knee highs for soccer, all are forever gone. The pitter patter of little feet is gone, too, as well as the pitter patter of feet getting bigger by the day. It’s just us pittering and pattering and really, it’s o.k. It’s better than o.k. Now we don’t have to guard our sock drawers or the happily anticipated leftovers or the shaving cream, shampoo and last tampon. It creates a bit of a problem for me, though. When a sock goes missing, there is only me to blame.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lessons Learned from the Garden

Sunflowers make me happy and they are so easy to grow. Just add water. Literally, just add water. Nine feet tall with beaming faces twelve inches across. As they mature the sunflower “face” keeps getting bigger and the petals look smaller until the end result is somehow alien. When the giant heads began to droop we cut them off and left them for the birds who picked them clean of seeds with fierce efficiency.

We don’t really care for yellow squash. Our most abundant crop? Yellow squash. Eric did make a delicious squash au gratin which I couldn’t get enough of, but mostly because it was saturated with cheese and buttered bread crumbs. Yellow squash is not like zucchini which you can just slice and cook. It’s more like a pumpkin or a butternut squash with seeds that need scraping. In other words - labor intensive.

Spinach regenerates. Our first crop of spinach was abundant and within a few weeks we’d eaten the whole row. I yanked the plants out by the roots. Wrong, wrong, wrong I was told by a friend. If you just snip it off at the roots it will grow back again. Oops. We planted another row of spinach. None of the seeds germinated.

Tomatoes do not thrive in fog. Not even a specifically designed, genetically enhanced variety named “San Francisco Fog” could thrive in the summer of 2009. I do not thrive in fog. Fifty nine degrees with a heavy marine layer and bitter wind is not my idea of a good time. For weeks it was so cold I had trouble forcing myself to go out back and water the vegetables, but most of all, I missed the morning light. Once or twice this “summer” it cleared before noon and the light was dazzling.

Gardens are great for gift givers. Eric’s summer birthday has provided the opportunity to indulge his two passions - tennis and cooking. He now owns every cookbook from appetizers to Zuni stew and all the cooking accouterment, tennis shorts, socks and bags one could want. It was time for a change. Bring on the hose nozzles, the seed packs and seedlings. Enter absinthe and artichoke plants. Now all we need is for the sun to come out and we’ll go back to the garden.