This Old Dag

Digging up the past, for your viewing pleasure

20 notes

Food Fight

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Last night, we bickered. The argument, like most we have, transcended the real reason of the fight. The real reason, wasn’t the fact that I don’t cook meals for my family, that I eschewed family dinners. The argument became a revelation, a confession; my relationship with food is a terrible one. I have feelings, tawdry, strange, ingrained feelings about eating and what I eat and when and how.

What did you cook for dinner, he asked, shoulders down, hang dog expression. It was joke with no punchline because we all know I don’t cook anything. I laughed and then felt really really badly about it. I sent out a funny tweet about the exchange, but then it stopped feeling funny.

He wants dinners around the table, the four of us, eating and talking and asking for more green beans, and passing the ketchup and bringing empty dishes back to the sink, satisfied, grateful, happy. This is what he did, growing up, every night, a ritual. Here’s what I did.

I ate in bed. I ate at night. I grazed all day long. We ate alone, home cooked meals, that my mother scraped together. She fried fries and potato pancakes. She made biscuit and cream cheese cake, a recipe off the back of some cardboard box. She made pomidorówka and veal cutlets. Runny scrambled eggs we sopped up with thick slices of butterd rye bread. Stuff like that. But she found no pleasure it, my mother, as far as I could tell. It was a task, a chore. We lined up in the kitchen with our bowls, and helped ourselves. We sat in front of the TV, or at the table by ourselves or with a book. There was no dinner time. There was no time to eat together. It seemed silly. My father experimented with fish and soups and ground bloody sausage. He liked onions and salt and pepper on everything. He ate like we all did; quickly, sloppy, with our hands if need be. There was nothing precious about food. There was no room for opinions. Food was a neccesity and not an event. 

Favorite thing; in bed, with a bowl of watermelon or potato chips, while reading. That was peace. That was a solitary means of survival and happiness. Reating, I called it, and I do it to this day.

I hid my food. I never wanted anyone to see me eat. Even now, I will sit in front the computer after the kids have gone to bed, (fed, fed, till they’ve had their full) and nibble pretzels and Cheetos. And then a cookie, or two. At eleven pm, when no one else is watching. I fall asleep with a book in my hand and a piece of fruit by my side, unpeeled, but just to have it. My husband asks me - what’s that orange doing here? Oh that, that’s nothing.

I want to cook. I envision me, in an apron, why not,  nourishing, nurturing the beloved mouths and bellies of my sons and husband. I am crap at it. During the first pregnancy, I cooked, I tried. I baked, Everything turned out mealy and congealed and too salty or bland. Everything burned and fell and went to waste. I don’t have it in my bones, was my excuse.

I love eating out. I love restaurants. It feels special, then. Eating. I eat slowly, then, indulging, chewing slowly, sitting back, feeding my younger son. We never went out to eat as a family, when I was a kid. Maybe once or twice, when we’d drive to Greenpoint to buy kiełbasa. But even then, it was from a self serve counter, no talking, swallowing quickly, because it was so, so good but let’s not milk it.

In college; coffee, cigarettes, a cup of rice. Me, falling down with seizures because I was starving myself. Food was the enemy because I loved it so much, too much. Food was dangerous. It turned me upside down, left me wanting. It brought too much comfort.

What did you cook tonight?

Nothing.

I’m sorry. I fed the kids, chicken nuggets and mashed potaoes from a microwave and corn, that yes, I actually boiled and drained because you told me how. I’m sorry. I will try. 

He cooks for us. He grills and flavors and takes things like salmon fillets out of the oven. We sit at the table, joking, laughing, sit down sit down, son. We savor his food because we savor his love. This is another reason, that my husband is the fucking best.

I don’t cook. I write about not cooking in a blog. 

But here are some things I never did till a few years ago - drive, write books, give birth. So there is hope for me. I can learn. I can become friends with food, with making it and serving it for my beautiful family - heaping, warm, on a pretty plate, with love.

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Filed under food dinnertime family cooking

27 notes

Forget Her Not

Her name is Krystyna. She is losing time. She is lost in time. She is my grandmother and the television confuses her now. It seems everyone is speaking Russian now. She’s put down her pencils and closed the crossword puzzle books, that once were her daily ritual, on top of her daily rosary. She can’t find her black felt hat, goddamnit. She never had a black felt hat. She can’t find the right words. She is lost in her own thoughts. She yells at my cousin. She quietly asks him if she ever drank coffee in her life. She drank coffee every single day. She doesn’t leave the house. She stares at the walls and cries when her headaches get unbearable. 

My grandmother, my babcia, was once upon a time, my everything. In a world where people toiled and crumbled and complained and weakened, she prevailed, she stopped to smell the roses and she’d then describe the roses to me, in detail, her voice like a lullaby. She always found time to tell me a story, or sing me a song, or teach me the words to some melancholic ballad. She knew lyrics by heart, and soliloquies. Her memory was untouchable. Her memory was writ in stone. She touched my hands, and looked at me with unending patience. She made pierogi from scratch and I sat at the kitchen counter, watching her roll the dough on a crisp white towel, watching her dust flour here and there, watching her drizzle fried onion bits on butter, and watching her was like watching a painting come to life. My babcia was beautiful. She did things her own way. She sat with me and we looked at old photographs and we grew silent at the vision of her youthful, delicate face. 

She took me to the attic where I helped her hang the laundry to dry. She called me perełko, pearl. She called me córeczko, daughter. She’s in my book, almost all of her, almost just the way she was, during those summers.

We don’t know if it’s Alzheimer’s. We will know, when my aunt takes her to doctor this week. All we know is that she cuts up dish rags into bits and pieces and strews them around the apartment. That she wears her nightgown over her skirt. That she couldn’t recognize her cousins at a family funeral. 

She has good days. She has really bad days. Her memory is going going gone and this makes me so fucking mad and so deeply sad that I don’t know what to do. I am an ocean away, I am in New Jersey and I am celebrating the paperback launch of my book and I am reading memoirs and I am doing interviews and I picking up my two little boys from school and I am eating Chinese take-out in with my husband, I am watching movies. This is what I am doing. What I am not doing is calling her, because I am afraid. What I am not doing is getting on a plane and running to her to see if she has already forgotten me.

My babcia believed in me, told me the only thing she wanted to be buried with one day was a copy of my book. A book she won’t be able to read,  won’t be able to understand now. A book that will simply confuse her. 

Krystyna was a beauty. She was proud and somewhat stern but had a raunchy sense of humor. Krystyna married the most handsome man in town. She had three daughters, when she was quite young. She got a divorce, when she was still quite young. She looked like Vivian Leigh. She looked like a movie star. She would have been one, too, in another world or time, or place. She loved to sing. She sang loudly. 

There’s so much I don’t know. I know the war stories, I know why she left my grandfather. I know what she loved about me, what she nurtured in  me. My dreams were something big and bold, and she held my little dreams in her soothing hands like kindling, till they lit up, till they sparked and their flames grew higher and higher and hotter and hotter. She believed in me. 

I want to ask her so many things. I want to ask her why she never remarried, what she regrets, what she secretly longed for.

We go through life skirting the issue and fearing to delve deeper, and we go through life making fucking small talk. We fill up on hints and subtext. I wish I could have asked her the hard questions, I wish I would have spent more time with her. I grew and in my way, I almost forgot her. She will never see my house, the house of my dreams. The last time babcia came to America was when I got married. She danced at my wedding, and she blessed the rye bread and she blessed my husband and me. She led the conga line and was the life of the pary till she fell and hurt her knee and had to be driven off in a golf cart, waving to everyone happily. 

I miss her. She is still alive. I can still get on a plane. I can still hold her hands. I can still give her my book. I can read it to to her in little bits and see what she thinks. I still can. 

Or can I?

I don’t know how to say goodbye. 

I won’t know how to say goodbye.

So what does that mean…

On the eve of my departure, my grandmother wrote me a farewell note in a little book. I was six and a half years old. She tucked me in, on my last night in her apartment, on my last night in Poland. I don’t remember the next morning, or our last embrace, or me getting on the plane. Later, my grandmother told me I don’t remember because some things are too hard to remember. Some things, we just have to let go.

you are a Polish girl, kind Dagmarka.

don’t forget about your country, no matter where you are.

you will surely return here.

my little one, I will be waiting for you.

- babcia

Filed under grandmothers memory old age Poland dementia

5 notes

kolorowy-swiat asked: The second I flipped through the first pages and saw the Budka Suflera lyrics, it hit me that I was finally getting the chance to read a novel about a real, relatable Polish experience… not just someone's vision of what Poland was like…or should be like. Needless to say, I was stuck living in the world of the book for about three days after finishing it. Your writing style is genuine, bold, and captivating. I truly admire your work--you rock! (cont.)

thank you. dziękuje. :) the book is a slice a version of my own deeply seeded memories and you r right, it won’t fit into most people’s idea of what Poland is or was or should be. not that many americans even HAVE their own idea of Polska ;). your words mean a lot to me, truly. 

1 note

kamidoolittle asked: I don't remember how I was directed to blog/site through the bread crumb trail of links on the internet, but I stumbled (tumbled?) upon it and your writing made me laugh, tear up, and was very touching. For two hours i kept scrolling, despite my husband gently reminding me how tired i was going to be today. I think the hallmark of an excellent writer is your readers feel like your friend, even though you've only met through words on a page.

well. that’s a really nice thing to read on a blistery cold day. cuz it warmed me right up. thank you so much for reading, for finding some sort of connection…

2 notes

onlykenwright asked: Not a question simply this; you write about the joyful, excruciating role of being mam ( mom I think in America ), so beautifully I have to remind myself to take a breath.

hi. thanks thanks :) i have to remind myself to take a breath many times a day. it’s in the breathing that we don’t crack :)

2 notes

cafetelae84 asked: I know this is not a question, but I wanted to say "thank you" for being so candid about your struggle with body issues. I have admired your work-most recently in Higher Ground(so good!) and your post about your son's emotional quest to find love reminded me so much of my own son's sensitivity. It's a relief to know that a beautiful movie star (married to her own handsome Prince Charming) is willing to share her own journey so candidly. You're my hero! Stay honest and be blessed!

thank YOU, for reading, and for taking the time to reach out. if only we reached out like this - in a positive, kind way, then the world would be a bit of a gentler place. 

2 notes

dts-streetmedia asked: Little Bit of Love is extraordinary... thank you for sharing this gift. We have not met yet--I am a childhood friend of Patrick's and his family from St. Pete. I truly enjoy your writing. All the best --Daphne Street

thank you. thank you for reading. and enjoy your Florida. we could use a bit of Florida right now. winter won’t end this year. 

33 notes

Speechless

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I remember everything even though I don’t remember much. I don’t remember our flight number, or the color of our suitcases. I don’t remember who picked us up at JFK, but I remember the musty smell of the carpet in our hotel room at the Breslin. I don’t remember if I cried that first night, or if the jet lag hit with a fury and we simply passed out. I don’t remember if my parents held my sister and me in their arms, or if they barely glanced our way. It was February 17th, 1983, and we had landed in America. I was almost seven years old. It was probably very, very cold, but perhaps not as cold as it had been in Poland that winter.

I remember the graffiti on the subway cars, but I mostly remember them from photographs. Our faces seemed cautious, like we were were wearing invisible wide-brimmed hats, peeking out warily, with a tinge of excitement. We were anonymous and extra special all at once. We were political refugees and we were Polacks. We were jetsam, driftwood, hopeful, but most of all, we were speechless. 

We were speechless not because we had nothing to say but because we had no words, because we couldn’t translate them. I went to school and first grade ESL classes provided me with verbs and vocabulary words, and I whispered pronouns and learned about the American flag, as I bit my nails down to the cuticles. We visited the Statue of Liberty, we climbed into the crown and looked out in something endless and too huge to grasp. We were tired, and poor, and yearning to breathe free, but it wasn’t so fucking easy. My parents crashed down onto the landscape like skydivers, parachuting down onto the crowded Manhattan streets, and they couldn’t ask for help when they fell with a resounding, anxious thud.

I no speak English.

I learned. Slowly. But back then, this loss of language was crippling, it was stunning, paralysis and a spurning on all at once. Do you know what it means to stand in a store, a school, a library, a Radio Shack and not understand and have to point and shrug and shake your head, but this isn’t a vacation, this is your daily life? To this day, when I hear learn to speak English! when I hear go back to where you came from! when I hear this is America goddamnit! my heart starts pounding, my fingers curl into my palms. Well, maybe they’d love to go to college, or take a night course, or fill up on movies and teach themseves, and teach their children, and their mothers. But someone has to make that dollar to make that rent and fortunately, unfortunately, you really don’t need too many words to scrub and wash, and stack, and clean, and sweep, and fill out a cab driver application. You know what your hands can do, and your hands can do plenty, they know how to turn right, and fold down a sheet, and sort the recycling. Language is a call to arms, a race, and you’re off, and sometimes it speeds by you, and you run and you run and you never quite catch up, 

You lose at language, and you lose a bit of yourself.

One day, you find it, one day your fingers sail across the keyboard and you know more words and better words in this new-old tongue than you do in your native one. You maneuver through the sentences like an expert, you write easily, and the victory of this is satisfying beyond belief. And one day, you start dreaming in English. One day, you bite your lip, trying to remember the Polish word for maneuver or satisfying. One day, you look at your children, your mostly American children and before you read a them a goodnight story, you tell them one, in English.

Today is a special day. Do you know why? Thirty one years ago, my boys, your mama was little, and she arrived in this country and she didn’t know how to talk. She was scared. But she was brave. And this country gave her a chance, and she fought for her place here. She fought for a new home.

And she found it.

Filed under immigrant language Poland

70 notes

little bit of love

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My son is seven years old and he dreams of love. He wants to get married. He wants to get married to Angie, who flips her blonde mane in his face, oblivious that she breaks his little heart daily by ignoring him at lunch. He wants to get married to Mary, who used to be mean to him, but who now tells him he’s her best friend. He wants to know when is old enough to kiss? Third grade? Fourth? He tells the girls they are pretty, all the time. He asks me what he should do if a girl asks to marry him but he won’t want to, and how to answer no without hurting her feelings?

My son is seven years old and he has emotions. Emotions he wrestles with, at bedtime, usually, or right when he hops off the school bus. Laura doesn’t think I’m handsome. My son is seven years old and already questions his worth because ‘nobody’ has a crush on him. 

Last night, after his four year old brother won the affection of a five year old girl, during a playdate at our house, my older son climbed onto his top bunk with a heavy, despairing heart. His eyes filled with tears and he pushed his curled fists under the pillow and turned away from us.

So I told him a story about me. I’m gonna tell you a story that might make you feel better, ok? A story about love and redemption. He didn’t ask what redemption meant but he peeked out from under the covers, curious and wary.

I told him when I was his age, I too wanted to find true love. I pined for boys. I had buck teeth and a funny name and I didn’t speak English and a boy named Ronnie told me I was ugly, and I cried. For a long, long long time every boy I set my sights on let me down. Love evaded me. I had many friends and kids liked me. But they didn’t like me ‘like that.’ I was spurned and sad and despondent. I was eight and ten and thirteen.

And then one day, after many adventures, and my many heartaches, and hope rising and hope falling, I walked into a bar - which is like a restaurant that serves beer - and way in the back I saw a boy. And I walked up to him, son, and I tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned around. And we stared at each other, and my heart thumped with love. It felt like my heart was waking up for the first time ever. Please let this boy like me, I thought. Please, please let him love me. The boy asked me on a date. He kissed me. And do you know what that boy’s name was? His name was Patrick Wilson.

My son’s smile spread across his face like a bright sunburst. He liked that story. That story gave him hope. I told him to hold on. I told him most kids his age don’t fuss with feelings, or have crushes, or want to hold hands, or get married. But one day, one day, Angie would like him. And if she didn’t then some other girl would. Most importantly, son, you are kind. And people need kindness.

Still, his eye searched the ceiling, blinked back more tears. I climbed onto the bunk and wrapped him in my arms. I whispered in his ear to be happy. Moments later, the four year crept up there and told us in his raspy, self-satisfied voice that he was going to marry that 5 year old girl, because she loved him. And we all smiled at that.

Later, after the boys had fallen asleep. I sat in my office, and I wondered.

I wondered how and why and when my seven year old inherited this epic kind of yearning? I’d been the same; six years old and already major crushing on a Polish actor I’d seen in a movie, whose name I learned to write S T A S, whose name I wrote and folded over in my notebook, like a secret, and above the name I had my mother write Dagmara loves

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Was this lovepining hereditary? What makes my kid so incredibly aware of the notion of romantic love? What makes him so desirous of it? It’s a curious thing. It makes me laugh and bite my lip to keep from crying at the thought of the weighty sadness of the break-ups to come in his life. 

The other day, his pal Tommy, who also had been crushing on Angie the Blonde, told us that he’s over her. He has a boyfriend now, and they love each other. I’m gonna marry Ezra, said Tommy. Kal looked up at me when he heard that, a small, wistful smile on his face. See? I wanted to say, the heart is a resilient muscle. The heart will figure it out. 

How do we come to understand love? Can it be this early? What is our first glimpse? Does our idea of love change and surge and fade? Or is our first brush with it what molds the rest, when we grow up and go forth to find it or sidestep it, at any cost. Is the glimpse from movies, or snippets of commercials with diamond rings or lyrics from songs about life sucking without you or mom and dad who won’t stop smooching or mom and dad who can’t stop yelling or mom and mom or dad and dad who cook dinner every night clinking wine glasses or is it divorce or is it wedding anniversaries…Or is it nothing to do with who made us or raised us, but is our own particular, peculiar, molecular thing? A thing we are born with; this innate yen, this little tiny thing inside our hearts that wants to be loved and nothing else…

Can love awaken in second grade, when my son writes in his diary about girls he loves and girls who don’t love him back? Is he destined to spend his life searching, searching madly, constantly for The One? Or is this quest a phase? I don’t know. I don’t know. I look into his big beautiful blue eyes and I see everything that is good and pure and true and tender. I give him stories instead of answers, because when it comes to love there are no answers, only questions, that we spend our lives asking. Do you like me? Do you like me like me?

Love is blind. And shallow. And furious, and whimsical and stalwart. Love is on the horizon. Love hides. Love is the girl who saves you a seat during lunch. Love is the little boy who tumbles toward sleep, holding his stuffed Creeper doll from Minecraft, dreaming of the one…

(All names have been changed to protect the identity of the second-graders and their budding, little hearts)

Filed under love first love crush sons

22 notes

resolve

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this is what i do best this kind of night the last year dwindling and as i write something new is nigh, old mistakes nipping at my heels, old regrets scratching at the door so i flash forward i start again at the bottom of the pile i wish and think and hope that when the clock strikes midnight everything sad & stupid will disappear and i’ll kiss him on the mouth and we will try our best, all over again, and tomorrow i will wake up and not eat a doughnut and i will try to resolve 

to

smoke less

pick up more dog poop (not in general, just in my backyard)

locate & implement indoor voice

finish novel

sell novel

build up a sweat from fun things and also not fun things like treadmills

make amends 

say i’m sorry in a timely manner

put the dishes away sooner

write letters to people and mail them

less twitter

more arts and crafts

no crying when the pretty twinkly lights come down the world will be okay without sparkly windows and so will i

kiss my husband fully on the mouth every time he walks in the door

brush teeth visit dentist fix that fucking cracked tooth ugh

be more patient with my mother/father/anyone over 60

stop panicking that every cough my kids come down with is really tuberculosis 

stop pining for the things that have run their course remind self that life tumbles forward not backward

understand that it’s alright to watch crappy reality TV without stuffing one’s face at midnight 

count to ten, often

be honest without being brutal

encourage people to say fuck if they feel like it - anger in appropriate doses is good better than fuming inside and sometimes one little fuck under our breath or hollered to the heavens, is fine

ignore the skin tags and hope they go away

take some walks & ponder life, happily

read more

write more

love better

forgive

leave some things to the imagination

Filed under new years resolutions