Thursday, June 16

broken hallelujahs

I am delighted to announce that for this week's post we welcome guest blogger Mañana Mama, who also happens to be my friend Rachel from childhood. Shortly after OneArmGirl was launched last year, Rachel started blogging her adventures in motherhood, and has since far surpassed OAG in her following. I am addicted to her wit and playful word use. And she makes me believe I, too, could be a mom. That we both grew up in the same high desert neighborhood, studied the same subject in college, and later both worked in print media before pursuing more personal projects, causes one to wonder if there wasn't something in the water––if there'd been any water in the high desert, that is. As evidenced by our play in dry river beds, there wasn't much.

You'll notice it doesn't sound like MM and I grew up a mere 1/4 mile apart. Some years back, she was kidnapped by the British, brainwashed, and forced to speak 'proper' English––an obvious act of retaliation on a former colony for having 'butchered' their native tongue. Yes, we did it on purpose just to piss you, take the piss out of you?


Crooked Arroyos

Like most lapsed Lutherans, I spend far too much time eating soup and mulling over regrets. One of my regrets is that I didn't arm myself better for the steep, treacherous descent into motherhood by asking OneArmGirl a few more questions. I'll explain.

Mom without arms
Just like my favourite English Major, OAG and I grew up in a sort of Arroyo Wobagon, where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average. There were arroyos anyway.

OAG and I met at the age of six, when her family arrived on the juniper block, and our moms bumped into each other one day while checking their mailboxes. In Arroyo Wobagon, your mailbox is a half-mile drive from your house via a bumpy dirt road. Exciting things and chance meetings happen at the mailbox hub – like one time, a postcard got nicked for instance. Our moms got to chatting, realized they had similarly-aged daughters, and the rest is obscurity.

Growing up, we spent a gazillion golden afternoons playing in arroyo dirt. There wasn't much else to do. OAG taught me about being Pennsylvania Dutch. My early research suggested that it was mostly to do with butter and jam, fried in butter. I taught her about being a granola hippy, or the bits of the trade that I knew and could be bothered to get out of the hammock to demonstrate.

Trick-or-treating featured prominently on the Arroyo Wobagon social calendar. During the rest of the year we imagined we were pioneers and cowered from the Baskerville-like hound that stalked the road between our houses. Deep in daydreams, we played round upon round of a memory card game called 'Authors'. When that got old we took entrepreneurial inspiration from OAG's dad and collected old bricks out of the arroyo for a buck each. In the end, everything returned to the arroyo.

Wobagon road
As you might imagine, OAG was always a pretty sharp tack, and she was also unusually conscientious for a kid (remember, 'kid' is the personality type featured prominently in Lord of the Flies). She once begged me to forgive her for accidentally tipping over my plastic horse and breaking off one of his hooves at the shin.

OAG may have forgotten to mention that, when not occupied with arroyo dirt, she spent her youth winning short story contests. And there was that one time when she put on a silly black cape and casually gave the class valedictorian speech. Due to modesty or shame, she has also failed thus far to blog about the neighborhood newspaper that we jointly published – twice - on a printing press of A4 paper and crayola markers. It was every bit as naff as you'd imagine, but we were too innocent to realize it - our dreams hadn't yet been whittled down to dust by the grown-up world.

Occupied arms
After high school OAG went east and I went west. After a few years we traded and she went west and I went east. My itchy feet took me to London by way of the Inland Empire (where the sun always sets), and through a series of unlikely events, this became my home. As so many have before me, I decided that living in London was pretty spiffy, then promptly had children and was economically exiled from both spiffiness and London.

But just before I became a mother, when I still lived in a grown-up neighborhood and had free time, OAG asked me to take a picture and send it to her. She wanted a photo of a beautiful, naked, heavily pregnant woman atop a plinth in Trafalgar Square – a statue by a sculptor called Marc Quinn whose chosen subject, Alison Lapper, was born with a different set of limbs to most people due to a condition called phocomelia.

Of course, my picture didn't do the statue justice. And as I snapped it, a thought flickered across my mind that I had been a slightly oblivious childhood friend. This gut feeling reasserted itself when I read Joey's Theory, not for the reasons outlined in the theory, but more to do with familiarity - I'd just always known OAG, and she seemed perfectly complete to me the way she was. So as a kid, I never thought much about her limbs.

One arm guy
Kids have an amazing ability to take things in stride. In Arroyo Wobagon, team OAG-Finneas kept up with and often exceeded whatever hair-brained thing it was that the kids were doing at the moment––A level of capability maintained into adulthood, as evidenced by those horsenastics photos.
Which brings me round to my regret (you thought I forgot, eh, eh?) as introduced ages ago in the first paragraph of this boring meander. I regret not studying Team OAG-Finnaes a heckava lot more as a kid. Because now I have kids and suddenly - BAM – like bad voodoo - I have no arms. NONE. Ever.

Having been both lazy and heavily-armed in the past, I'm pretty useless at managing armless industriousness. And I only have two kids, so I have to wonder what happens to parents of three or four. Do they lose their legs? And their minds? I still have a mind?

Niña in a bottle
But even more than practicalities, it is the subtleties to do with fitting in and being understood that make me wish I'd paid more attention. You see, 'fitting in' is not the first phrase that springs to mind when I am careening a massive double-buggy around London public transport like some kind of mad circus act with a pair of poorly-trained clowns and no exit strategy. In these moments I feel like a square peg in a landscape of round holes (fix that badly-injured metaphor as you see fit). I suspect that in a very different manifestation, OAG knows this feeling very well.

Adversity and capability often go hand in hand. Just like trees, people grow around complications and learn from them. My kids both learned to walk by falling over onto their heads and plonking into furniture. As I watched them, I used to think of that William Blake quote: 'Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without improvement, are roads of genius.'

Blake certainly never fit in - he saw angels in the treetops for cryin' out loud - a most unusual form of far-sightedness. Blake lived in Marylebone with his wife Catherine, where they enjoyed pastimes like nude sunbathing in the back garden. In addition to having a crooked genius (not a euphemism) one has to admire such confidence under English skies. Of course, naked prophets and seraphim can no longer afford Marylebone, unless you count a pub called the Angel in the Fields.

Needless to say, these days I am researching juggling techniques like a mad woman and totally open to suggestion. So should you, Team OAG-Finnaes, have any horsenastics tips for navigating the London underground with two clowns in tow and all marbles in tact, I am all ears. Consider this a plea for help and spare hands.

I found myself on Trafalgar Square recently under the shadow of a rain-cloud. The gleaming white marble woman is long gone. Lord Nelson, who lost an arm in battle, is still standing there atop his column with a pigeon still sat down on his head. Some things never change. In Alison Lapper's place there is a ship in a bottle, poised and waiting for fortunate winds, a high tide, and some ingeniously crooked way out of the flippin' bottle.

There was a busker singing under the ship that day. While my youngest daughter soaked her socks in rain puddles, he sang that old Leonard Cohen song about broken hallelujahs.

~Rachel Faith