Ritual Confessions

March 21, 2008

Mitch the mechanic

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 5:06 am

Mitch has been our mechanic since we moved to Portland. He specializes in Volvos. When we were about to buy our first Volvo, we drove it over to his shop and asked his hourly rate ($70). Since the guy selling us the car was, of course, a used car salesman, we didn’t believe that his assessment of the vehicle necessarily corresponded with the truth. So we were thinking of having an impartial expert give us a list of what was really wrong with it. Of course, if the list was too daunting and we decided against buying, we’d be out $70 (since he estimated that an inspection of this sort would take him about an hour). But, we reasoned, better to be out $70 than to be out thousands on an untenable car.

So we left the car with Mitch, and when we came back later that day, he basically told us the car would be a fine investment. When we tried to pay him for his time, he waved our money away. “Welcome to Portland,” he said.

So first and foremost, there is no one nicer than Mitch. For another, there’s no one more reasonable. Jim Fisher Volvo might charge, say, $1700 for what Mitch would do for around a third of that price. And finally, he is excellent at what he does. The man knows his Volvos. He’s competent and efficient and his work has been consistently first-rate.

There is just one problem with Mitch, and that is a lack of communication that borders on the pathological. The man will not pick up his telephone. We have never succeeded in actually speaking to him no matter how many times we’ve tried to call. We have left countless messages; he never returns them. I doubt he even listens to them. If you want to make an appointment with him or even just ask him a question, you literally need to drive to his shop. This was aggravating enough when we lived in Portland. It’s crazy-making from Vancouver.

This morning, we had an appointment — which I’d driven there weeks ago to set — for Nick’s car. So before dawn, we drove in separate cars to the shop, left Nick’s car there, and then continued together in my car to Nick’s workplace where I dropped him off. I then drove with the baby back to Vancouver just in time for school. Because there was a seminar at Montessori this evening (starting at 6:00) that both Nick and I wanted to attend, I drove straight back to his office right after picking Charlotte up (arriving there at about 4:00) so we could do the drill in reverse: we rode together to the shop, then Nick and I drove separately back to Vancouver. All told, for me, this involved about four hours of driving (it was rush hour traffic both times) and four gallons’ worth of gas. Only after we’d arrived at the seminar did Nick inform me that Mitch had been out sick today. His car hadn’t been touched. No one had bothered to let us know.

The last time I saw Mitch, I told him, “If you weren’t so good at what you do, coming to you would be unbearable.” I don’t know anymore whether it is bearable. We like the guy; we like his work; we like his price. But today was an infuriating and needless waste of a lot of time and money.  Charlotte spent four hours in her car seat because there was no reasonable alternative. The worst part isn’t even that we did all that for no purpose; the worst part is that, if we want the car’s issues to be addressed, we will need to do it all again sometime very soon. At what point will going to Mitch no longer be worth it? I don’t know the answer.

March 20, 2008

Trying day

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 4:38 am

Getting Charlotte dressed in the morning is one of the more considerable chores of the day. Each dressing session is like a gentle little wrestling match, where she’s squirming and trying to escape, and I’m trying to thread her limbs through several layers of clothing: usually stockings, pants, shirt, cardigan, and finally shoes. No sooner had I accomplished said task this morning than she needed a change. So the entire lower half of the ensemble needed to come off, only to be tugged back on again. But it was one of her cuter outfits and at least she looked like a little doll. Then downstairs, in her high chair, protective bib notwithstanding, she poured an entire glass of chocolate milk all over herself. Soaking and staining every stitch she had on. So this is how it’s going to be, I thought, today.

And the day made good on its threat. I won’t list all the whiny, petty details… just describe the highlight of the afternoon, which was a shrieking fight with Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield over the phone about whether someone insured under their umbrella through Oregon Medical Insurance Pool, who has since moved to Vancouver and necessarily needed to migrate to a Washington branch of the plan, is considered to have a pre-existing condition coming into the new plan if she became pregnant during the interim. When they told me the answer was yes, and that there would be a nine month waiting period before the new plan would become effective, I became wild with rage. I have never heard of anything so unfair… don’t you see how unfair this is? How can you even consider screwing me this way? This is sheer evil…

I don’t know whether I was particularly convincing, whether I drove them to double-check their own policy, or whether — as with so many monolithic bureaucracies — you merely get what you fight for more than 95% of the time, but after a while, they retracted their stance, and I crawled to my spot on the floor for a catnap, wrung out like a rag.

March 19, 2008

Night; day

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 5:21 am


Two nights ago, falling asleep on the floor of my study, I was full of self-pity: oh, poor me, I’m sick myself and I ache all over, and I have to sleep on the hard floor instead of in my soft and familiar bed. It really seemed I could not get comfortable. My husband had all the fluffiest pillows, and my favorite white duvet. He also had the cat.

Last night as I was drifting off on the self-same floor, I thought, this is the most glorious sensation of perfect luxury. I can’t begin to imagine what accounted for this, but there it was. The floor felt divine beneath my back. The bedding I’d dragged from the guest room now seemed to provide the perfect weight and warmth. The night air seeping through the crack in the window was like a benediction. Macaroon had migrated to my new digs and I was entwined with him spoon-style. I actually felt drunk with pleasure as I surrendered to sleep.

Either I’m very adaptable or the cat has the power to make or break my sleeping arrangements.


Nick will return to work tomorrow, but in the meantime, he stayed home from work Monday and today. He barely got out of bed yesterday, but by this afternoon, he felt well enough to get up, shower, accompany me to Montessori to learn the drill, and eat three cheeseburgers to make up for 48 hours without food. Though Charlotte’s pre-school is less than two miles away, he had no idea how to get there. I realized that I’ll envy him the privilege of picking her up starting next Wednesday. Every day at 3:00, when I enter that classroom, she breaks into the most heart-wrenching grin and rushes across the classroom to me. I’m truly happy about re-entering the work force, but nothing there could ever compete with moments like that.

March 18, 2008

Bad news and good news

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 4:35 am

The bad news is, someone — and it had to’ve been Nick — allowed a ballpoint pen to join the clothes in the dryer. The result was disastrous. Everything in there was ruined, unless the ink stains will come out in the wash (I’m not optimistic). The saving grace is, not much in that particular collection of clothing was worth mourning. My black jeans weren’t visibly affected, and there were a lot of undershirts and boxers. But there was one decent sweater and a few cute things of Charlotte’s. Plus, now the entire drum of the dryer is streaked with blue and purple, and my fear is that it will keep staining subsequent loads of laundry. Does anyone know what to do about this? I imagine rubbing alcohol might help clean the drum — but will that create a fire hazard?

The good news is that the job I was interviewing for in January — the one I really, really wanted — has finally been offered to me. They had contacted me after the interview telling me they’d liked me a lot, but were more comfortable hiring someone with agency experience, which I don’t have. This was disappointing but understandable. However, their chosen hire didn’t work out. Employers are always telling you, when giving you the kiss-off, that they’ll keep your resume on file. I’ve never before known that to be true. Talking to them this afternoon was nerve-wracking, because they offered me a lower compensation rate than I’d hoped for — let’s call it x. I said I would love to work with them, but would accept no lower than y. They said they’d have to get back to me. During the next 45 minutes or so, I sat around biting my nails and berating myself. What if I’d compromised the offer? Shouldn’t I just have agreed to do whatever it took to get some agency experience, to accumulate some portfolio pieces? To my overwhelming relief, they called back and agreed to pay me what I’d asked. I feel so excited, happy and grateful. I think that working in Portland will provide the perfect balance to living in Vancouver. Whenever I’ve driven back to the city, I’ve felt so happy to be there. It is much more beautiful than Vancouver. Nick will shift his hours at his job so that he’s working from 7:00 to 3:00, and he’ll pick Charlotte up from Montessori. I’ll come home a few hours later and take over — which will be a complete role reversal. But she’ll only need to be there for 8 hours a day, which is just one hour more than she’s there now. And nearly any job, anywhere, calls for an 8 hour day, so it’s not as if she’d have been better off if we hadn’t moved. We’ll each be spending two-and-a-half hours with her each weekday, and of course, we’ll be with her all day Saturday and Sunday. It will definitely be a major lifestyle change, but one I feel ready to make.

March 17, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 5:21 am

Nick is as ill as I’ve ever seen him. I almost called 911 because he was barely making sense. I feel so sorry for him. It seems he has a norovirus, which means that he essentially needs to be quarantined from me and the baby. Noroviruses are highly contagious and somehow I feel that if I become as ill as he is right now, the pregnancy could be compromised. As it is, I feel so unwell myself, in all the ways I described yesterday, but because his situation is so much worse, he obviously can’t help take care of Charlotte or pick up any of the household responsibilities. I’ve been making him tea and driving out to the store to get him his favorite seltzer and bringing him whatever he needs. Beyond that, I’ll be sleeping on the floor in my office because it would hardly be smart to share the bed with him. I don’t know what else this season can throw at us.

Tomorrow morning I have a dentist appointment to investigate the pain in my jaw. Apparently, pregnancy intensifies tooth discomfort. The pain is very strange: it’s been moving around and changing in nature. On Friday, I thought it was the kind of pain that beset one after a night of grinding one’s teeth. By Saturday morning, I thought it was probably a cavity; it seemed to be radiating from one particular upper tooth in the back of my mouth. Today it’s pervading the whole upper and lower jaw on the left side, and I’d characterize it as an ache in the gums. The dentist was very nice. Although I’m not an established patient in his practice, and indeed, he’d never spoken to me before, he called me back during the weekend and agreed to fit me in first thing tomorrow.

Right now, I’m having a hard time deciding whether I actually, legitimately feel nauseous, or if I’m so afraid of coming down with what Nick has that I’m imagining it or conjuring it into being. We had sex this morning, so in all likelihood I’m fucked (literally and figuratively). I’m going to sign off now and set up some makeshift sleeping arrangement on the floor. 

March 16, 2008

Send in the specialists

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 6:11 am

I didn’t want to believe I’d have to bring Charlotte back to the feeding clinic we attended last summer. After all, back then she had an aversion to even letting solid food touch her lips and, as I’ve mentioned in recent posts, that certainly isn’t the case anymore. But I’m still at wit’s end. Today she ate nothing at all. She drank half a bottle of Pediasure this morning and that was it. She nursed throughout the day but wouldn’t consume anything solid. The few bits of food she put into her mouth — a few Cheerios, a few bites of bread, a little of this sugary confection Nick’s mother sent from Russia — she actually spit back out after chewing. I just can’t imagine what this is all about. But it’s reached the point where I have to admit to myself that we’re at an unequivocal impasse. When I caress her body, her rib cage and spine feel too prominent to me. Her little limbs seem so thin. This just can’t go on any longer.

I think I was lulled into complacency early last week, in a conversation with one of Charlotte’s Montessori teachers. I’d asked her to be very persistent with attempting to feed Charlotte during the day. I could tell she was uncomfortable with this request. After some back and forth, she admitted that if Charlotte refused her food two or three times, she “would have a hard time not respecting that.” (At Montessori, respecting the child is paramount, which I generally think is fantastic. However, if I “respected” Charlotte to the extent of giving up after she refused something two or three times, she would never have made it to Montessori in the first place, as she went through a long phase of strenuously resisting her car seat. For that matter, she went through a couple of weeks of not wanting me to leave when I dropped her off in the morning.) But anyway, the teacher followed this statement by saying that yes, Charlotte is little, but she seems perfectly healthy. She ticked off all the characteristics I keep repeating to reassure myself: she’s active, she’s happy, her color is good, she’s developmentally on target… she might be underweight, but she doesn’t seem at all malnourished. I left the school feeling temporarily comforted. But now I’m in a stone cold sweat.

I just left the clinic a message. I hope they can help us.

Good news and its attendant minor inconveniences (yesterday’s post)

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 5:22 am

It’s too early to announce this or to talk about it; nonetheless, it’s informing my every waking hour and so it’s hard to skirt around it here. Moreover, if something compromises it and I’m sad and disappointed, I can’t imagine that I won’t want to write about that as well. So I’ll spill the good news: I’m pregnant again! Only five weeks along. Anything could happen. But in the meantime, I’m feeling tentatively joyful and grateful and excited.

Physically, I’m not quite as chipper. For at least four different reasons. They are:

1) This flu season has been evil. Everyone in Charlotte’s class has been sick. I’ve had a cold for weeks. The present one came on just as the last was leaving, with no respite in between. I feel worn down by this, and now I’ve had to kiss my Advil, Nyquil, Dayquil, and various nasal sprays goodbye.

2) There’s the famous first trimester fatigue going on. According to that bible of pregnancy, What To Expect When You’re Expecting: “In some ways, your pregnant body is working harder even when you’re resting that a non-pregnant body is when mountain-climbing; you’re just not aware of the exertion. But it’s there. For one thing, your body is manufacturing your baby’s life support system…”

3) So, now more than ever, it would seem a generous dose of caffeine would be in order. But caffeine consumption is discouraged during pregnancy, and so I’m doing without that as well. Which not only contributes to my dragging-ass state, but offers me withdrawal symptoms to contend with… like severe headaches which — again — can’t be treated with Advil or anything else that would help.

4) Finally, I’ve been having this strange, awful tooth/jaw pain. I’ve woken up with this sensation before, presumably from grinding my teeth in my sleep, and it’s hard to know whether this feels so different because I’m not taking anything for it. My body is very responsive to Advil. My discomfort while on the rag can be severe enough to bring me to tears. Four Advils, however, make it so that I don’t even feel it. Therefore, it’s hard to know whether this is anything to worry about. On a regular day, I’d pop some pills and forget about it. If I wait a few days, it might be gone. Then again, if I wait a few days, it might be excruciating.

I wouldn’t trade the circumstances for physical relief. Not for a second. But I’ll be grateful when flu season’s over, and when I’ve adjusted to the decaffeinated life.

March 14, 2008

Tagged! (And no longer a “tag” virgin)

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 3:56 am

Two days ago, in my comment section, there was one word from Shawn: tag. I’m so new to blogging that I had no idea what that meant. It wasn’t until I visited her site last night, to read her latest post, that I understood that I was finally being involved in one of these chain-mail-type writing assignments that pervade the blogosphere. I found this very exciting, as I’d never been tagged before but have envied others who are tagged routinely — as it seems the easiest solution to my nightly quandary of what the hell do I write about now?

So: here are the rules. I have to post five links to previous entries.

The first one must be about family. The following is a link to a post about my mother:


The second must be about friends. This is a link to a post about my friend Jen — aptly titled My friend Jen:


The third is supposed to be about me. I guess my first post was meant to be somewhat introductory. Besides, it’s brief, and if anyone’s actually reading these, it seems only courteous to keep them minimal. So I’ll cite that one:


The fourth link has to be about something I love. My Valentine’s Day post comes immediately to mind; it’s almost an apologia for the holiday:


The fifth can be anything I want. For some reason, I feel like making it a post about my husband, depicting two scenes I found humorous:


Now, according to the second set of rules, I have to tag five other people, two of whom are new acquaintances so that we may get to know each other better.

My first new acquaintance will be Corina (http://corinajoyc.wordpress.com/) who is as interesting as she is kind.

My second new acquaintance is Square1 (http://fancifulmuse.blogspot.com/), who was introduced to me by David Rochester just last night. She left some wonderfully astute and thoughtful comments for me this morning, and I very much look forward to reading her blog in more depth.

Now, for old friends. I don’t have many old friends in the blogosphere. Basically, David (http://davidrochester.wordpress.com/) is the only one, and if I know him at all, he will spit in my eye when he receives this tag. And probably won’t play. Oh well.

Due to the above-mentioned shortage of old friends, I’m forced to choose folks who regularly comment on David’s blog. Modesty Press (http://modestypress.wordpress.com/) comments with such regularity and often at such length that he feels like an old friend. Plus, he’s fun.

Finally, another favorite from the Quotidian Vicissitudes site is Smiler (http://fromsmilerwithlove.blogspot.com/), even though I’ve never formally introduced myself to her. Smiler, I like what you’ve had to say at QV, and I hope you won’t mind being tagged.

March 13, 2008

Thank you, K

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 2:49 am

My 20-year high school reunion was held last November, and one of the most gratifying aspects of my experience of it was seeing — probably for the first time since graduation — a woman I’ll call K. I hadn’t known K. very well, but she was an absolutely lovely and very gifted girl. Because of the nature of what she told me at the reunion, I’m afraid to give specific details about her. But although we weren’t close back then (she was always very shy and quiet), I admired her a great deal.

Her presence at the reunion was a surprise and in fact, she hadn’t planned to come. But a classmate tracked her down at the last moment and because she was going to be in the city anyway, she agreed to drop in at one of the weekend’s activities. Twenty years later, she was literally even more beautiful than she had been then. Somehow we found ourselves talking in unexpected depth. Again, without giving identifying details, she had been a great artist and is now no longer practicing within her artistic medium. Her experience of it had broken her heart, and I could relate to that very well.

Probably most artists experience their creative practice as a spiritual experience on some level. Maybe that is why our conversation turned to spirituality. At any rate, she told me that she had found a new spiritual outlet, but she wasn’t comfortable saying more about that. I don’t know why she changed her mind, but after a while, she told me she would disclose the details to me if I promised never to tell anyone else about it. Of course I agreed, and she told me that she has embraced Islam as her religion. She was afraid for people to know about it because she and her husband both work in an academic setting, and she feared that the stigma attached to Islam in this country could threaten their standing in the university and the community. I found it heartbreaking that she felt frightened talking about her spiritual path.

Today I received a mass “chain” e-mail from another former classmate. I was one of well over a hundred recipients and the message ended with a directive to forward it on to as many people as possible, with the goal of reaching 40,000,000. The e-mail was urging everyone to outrage because, it stated, “This week, the University of Kentucky removed the Holocaust from their school curriculum because it ‘offended’ the Muslim population, which claimed it never occurred.”

This report did not ring true to me and it only took about a minute of internet research to find out that the story is false. I sent this reply to everyone on the list:

“The Holocaust happened, but this incident didn’t. And e-mails like this create inflammatory feelings between Jews and Muslims. Let’s check our information before adding fuel to this fire.”

There is no question that K’s confidences in November helped me to think about this e-mail differently. I believe that six months ago, I might have unthinkingly passed it on or just ignored it. I have to admit that even sending the reply that I did gave me a moment of pause; I wondered if the people on the list (many of whom had been in my class) would resent me for writing it. (So far, only one person has answered, and it was to agree with what I wrote.)

Anyway, I feel grateful that K. trusted me enough to tell me about her spiritual orientation. I feel that our conversation left me with an awareness of this issue, and a way of thinking about e-mails like this one, that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have had. And the motivation, also, to speak out about it when circumstances like these arise.

March 12, 2008

What are the odds?

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 3:20 am

My cousin from New York was in Portland today. I hadn’t seen him in over a year, and he’d never met Charlotte. He had no means of transportation, so I picked him up, brought him back to Vancouver, and took him with me to Montessori when it was time to get Lottie. We all spent the later part of the afternoon together at a child-friendly cafe, and then I dropped him back off in Portland. It was about 5:30 when I was finally heading home along 205 North. On the bridge to Vancouver, I happened to glance in my rearview mirror, and directly behind me was a male driver who appeared quite physically similar to my husband.

Damn, but that guy looks like Nick, I thought. I slowed so that he would come closer. The resemblance was even more striking. But there’s no way. No way it actually  is Nick. No… fucking… way… but yes. It is. It’s Nick.

I lifted my hand and signaled to him, watching his response in my rearview. He nodded and waved. Apparently he’d realized before I had.

This was rush hour traffic. There were thousands of cars on the road. We hadn’t spoken since the morning, hadn’t coordinated our trips back to Vancouver in any way. It was surreal. It hardly seemed possible. It was incredibly sexy.

Near our house, he got stopped at a red light and I went on ahead, reaching our driveway about a minute ahead of him. I pulled up to the end of it and parked, then thought better of it. Hadn’t he spent the weekend rigging up the garage doors to open at the touch of a button? I re-started the car, backed up, and pulled into the patch of dirt beside the pavement. I didn’t want to ruin his fun. Sure enough, his visible delight at pulling into the driveway, opening the garage by remote control, and moving seamlessly through the open doors was priceless. It occurred to me that, one small gesture at a time, I’m becoming a better wife.

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