Longing for normal

a sign hanging on a tree
Always and everywhere.

I keep longing for normal, like I’m saving up rewards points. Dave says, “Why waste time on normal, what I want is extraordinary.”

He’s probably right, but the normal I long for will feel extraordinary. I know it. I can’t articulate the feeling, but I know it will be tangible and complete.

Maybe it’s what my mom meant when she’d say, “I got nothing to do today, and that’s exactly how I like it.” I used to get angry at her, willfully wasting her life. But maybe she was just looking for normal. Maybe she thought if she got all the actual living stuff out of the way, normal would seep in, like fog across a bridge.

In my mind, here’s what a normal weekend looks like: Friday night is a movie at the neighborhood cinema. Perhaps a bite afterward. Saturday is errands and small home repairs – cute ones, perhaps requiring dungarees or a bandanna. Then it’s a leisurely dinner with friends. Sunday is a walk to the park, reading on the couch, and cooking a big pot of soup for the week. Don’t tell me how Saturdays are the worst traffic days to run errands, and all the pit bulls are loose on Sundays. This is my ideal. Week after week, when I’m in the middle of doing something I absolutely did not plan for, I think, okay, scrap this. Next time will be normal. Must purchase dungarees.

This weekend was going to be It. Our huge freelance project just wrapped, so we didn’t need to work through Saturday to catch up. No house emergencies, no big plans. We were set. Friday I figured we’d either see “The Descendents” or “The Artist” at the Davis. I warned Dave to be ready. But first I had to go to the hospital because the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park is ill. So I went there and had my heart broken by the new set of indignities life is hoisting on this most fragile of survivors. Then I stopped at Harvestime for groceries—the clock was ticking but the store was right on the way.

I got home just in time to meet Louella and give her a quick lesson on how to work the Roku and not lock herself out. She’d come to town on Thursday with her ailing dog Lancelot. The downstate vet said this handsome and debonair creature could go at any minute, he has unspecified heart problems and probable cancer in addition to the stomach ailment that had brought him in. “Be prepared, he doesn’t have much time.” Another friend had invited her to come and stay so Lancelot could say goodbye to all his Chicago friends and so they didn’t have to deal with all the stairs at Lancelot’s castle.

But when I stopped there on Thursday Louella was panicking because Lancelot had peed on the rug and her host was upset. She was steam-cleaning an already clean spot for the fifth time, like Mrs. Macbeth, while Lancelot lay very quiet, with that absent look dogs have when they’re close to the end or just temporarily sick. You never know. When I got home Dave said, “They should come here.” We already had Miss Hepburn’s dog Zoe, but she’s not the bullying type, and Django loves Lancelot, so here they were, setting up on a big waterproof sheet covered by blankets and pillows. Lancelot was looking a little better, and Zoe and Django were gentle with him.

We didn’t get to the Davis in time for the early movie, so we had dinner instead, and gelato at Paciugo. Saturday we ran errands, taking Zoe to the groomer, returning a Christmas present, and letting a Vitamix rep at Merz tell us why we might need a five hundred-dollar blender. We don’t, but I got a free mini-smoothie. Dinner was appropriately leisurely with Xeena and Buck at Fin. Then we all headed back and had drinks with Louella and Lancelot, who was now walking a bit, wagging his tail, and eating small morsels.

After Xeena and Buck went home, I did what I always do at the end of the night: gathered up any random cups and glasses to load in the dishwasher before Dave ran it. I pointed to a small blue glass on the coffee table and asked Louella, “Is that yours?”

“Oh yes,” she quickly grabbed it, “I was just going to put it in the dishwasher like you said.”

“No, no, I didn’t know if you were still using it, or if it was Buck’s…” Too late, she’d already rushed it to the kitchen. I suddenly felt like some maniacal hausfrau who must have everything perfect at all times. I tried to mitigate. “Did you want a new glass?” I offered.

“No thanks, I’m good.”

“That glass is so small for water,” I said lamely. I whispered to Dave, “Do you think she thought I was trying to take her glass away?”

He shrugged, like “Why worry about it?”

“I don’t want her to think…” that I’m abnormal. But I am. Because I have this picture of normal, and it includes everything being back in place at the end of the day, as if the humans were never here. Normal means absent, I realize. Fitting so well into the groove that you can’t be seen or heard. Longing for normal is like starving myself to fit into a fabulous dress I have no occasion to wear. I still long for it, but I’m trying to recover.

I’m not a mom: reason 43

sympathy card
I mean, there is a kid on the cover.

I thought I remembered everything on my shopping trip yesterday. After three years of missing my second cousin’s birthday party for his little girl, I’m determined to make today’s bash, so I added 4-year-old girl to my Christmas list and headed out. Instead of going straight to the small shops of Lincoln Square, where I’d find everything else on my list, I went to a mall, so the gift would be easy to return.

I stood in Carson’s and tried to find something that a four year-old girl I don’t really know would like but not already own. I found a make-your-own-necklace kit, for ages 4 and up. That’s creative and fun, right? Unfortunately, the beads and pendants were dull-colored—timid yellows and maroons and was that beige or tan? I couldn’t imagine a child wanting to wear the one long necklace, two short necklaces, or one short necklace and one bracelet that could be constructed from this box of sadness. But they could return it. The toy store in Lincoln Square surely would have a happier necklace set, but if she didn’t even like necklace sets, it would be a long drive.

On my way to the register I noticed a cute pink purse that said Peace in silver glitter. Little girls like purses, right? Only it didn’t cost enough. But on the same display were glittery newsboy caps, one size fits all. Next to them, the bead set looked positively funereal. I left the beads to scare the remaining glitter caps and took my new choices, holding them together to get the full effect. Happy and fun, but maybe too glittery? Are products like this the gateway drug to kiddie pageants and eye makeup? I’ve been watching Toddlers and Tiaras to prepare for a role in a friend’s upcoming short film, and I’m more suspicious of glitter than I used to be.

Then I saw a pink wool hat with yarn pigtails and heart appliques. It’s whimsical but not grown-up. And it’s got an appropriate return price. But what if it doesn’t fit? I saw a mom shopping nearby and wanted to ask, but she seemed like she was in a hurry. “What are nude tights?” asked her daughter.

“Oh, they’re tights that, you know, they’re tights that look, oh, they don’t even have them. Come on, let’s try the juniors department.”

Still holding my two options, I stood in line and looked for someone else to ask. A lady complaining about how Carson’s isn’t as good as it used to be stood in front of me. Too crabby. The woman behind me looked perfect, but as I smiled my preparatory smile a cashier opened a new register and called to me, “I can take you over here.”

When I got to the counter, still smiling, I said, “So for a four year-old girl, which do you think?”

She scratched her shellacked hair. “Oh, I don’t know…why don’t you ask someone else?”

“I was going to…”

Two Saturdays before Christmas, the line behind me was getting longer. “Oh, that one, I guess.” She pointed to the pink hat. “The other is…” she raised her thin, penciled eyebrows.

“I thought so, too!” I gushed, and bought the hat. I got a gift box, tissue paper, and a discount card for the next time I shop here, which will be never, but still it was a nice gesture.

I drove back to Lincoln Square and finished my shopping. Came home and unloaded everything and felt very pleased to be able to check everything off my list except Dave and a trip to the framing store. Then I realized, I don’t have a birthday card for a four year-old girl. Rats. I dug out my box of cards and found a few birthday cards, but nothing appropriate for a child.

“Take your birthday with a grain of salt, a squeeze of lime, and an ounce of Tequila.”

“Aging is inevitable. Maturing is optional.”

Also, a couple of Spanish-language sympathy cards that I’d bought for a film shoot a few years ago and kept, just in case. With anyone else, a sympathy card would be inappropriate, but I happen to remember that when I got married the first time, this cousin gave us a sympathy card instead of a wedding card. At the time, I assumed it was a joke and made some jokey reply in our thank-you card. But I wasn’t sure exactly whether the joke hinged on the idea that all marriages are fatal, or this one in particular.

Maybe that’s why I still remember it, 20 years later. A random omen, if omens can be random, or just another case of needing to bring a card and not wanting to stop at the store when you’ve already got something that sort of works? After all, it’s just something to put a check in, right?

My second cousin speaks Spanish, and his daughter probably doesn’t read yet, so maybe this would work. Four year-olds don’t care about cards, do they? Would my cousin remember the sympathy card from long ago? Or would he just think the weird, childless cousin whose husband didn’t even come to the birthday party is even weirder than he thought?

I could drop Dave at the theatre before his gig, but I think I’ll have to leave him to the el so I can go to CVS for a card. Children are exhausting. Then again, so are adults.