Many will write today about last Friday’s tragic events. Many will pray and question and cry. If we aren’t parents ourselves, we all know at least one child. We are not alone. So far reaching is this grief – not just across the world. No, this grief reaches so far into our souls that we are afraid to acknowledge it. We have no answers, instead we are left with raw, painful grief. Already, many are citing gun control statistics and mental health facts, and rightly so. And yet we still are paralyzed by our sadness.
Most days,I write about what I expereience – and so often, my children are the source. They are my deepest love, my greatest responsibility, and my inspiration to be a better person. I recently had a thought rolling around in my head about how I was going to write about the new discovery that my eleven year old’s hand is now bigger than mine. What a moment for a mother to realize the hand that she instinctively held back and out a bit, always waiting for the littlier hand to reach for it to cross the parking lot, to dodge a mud puddle, or to cling to in a crowded parade… is now cradled by that once-little hand. I was feeling melancholy and sad. I couldn’t help but be drawn to that thought as I continue to wrestle with this deeply sad and senseless violence. The mothers left behind will never have that moment with their children… along with so many other brilliant milestones and celebrations.
In the coming days, weeks, and months, stories will surface of heroism, forgiveness, and unbearable loss. There will be opinions and facts, investigations and evidence. As a nation, we will try and pick ourselves up, and send our love and prayers to Sandy Hook and Newtown. We will know that the teachers and school personnel acted in the heroic best interest of each child, and that in doing so they may have lost their lives. We will feel helpless. As I think of my lonley hand and how I wish so badly that the time had not passed so quickly, I can now only look ahead to a time when that hand will hold the hand of his own child, and be tremendously thankful for every day I was blessed with to hold that hand. In the meantime, I am comforted to know that each and every child whose time passed by too quickly here on earth, has a much bigger and greater hand to hold now.
It’s become apparent that the tables have turned. The winds have shifted. Somewhere between preschool playdates and Middle School dances, my children have become their own people and have needed me less in some ways. However, my own survival skills have been compromised it seems. This became apparent when I found myself stuffing a bag of chips into a basket full of clean laundry and swiftly making a break for my bedroom… where I could eat bad food all by myself. When the kids were younger, I would do this at times so that they we wouldn’t see me mowing down a half a bag of chocolate chips after a tough day. Now I do it because if I don’t save something back for myself before I leave the house in the morning, there will be nothing left by the time I get home after school. Nothing good, anyway.
I may spend an hour or more of a day cruising the aisles of the local super market filling my cart full of frozen broccoli, bags of apples, cheese sticks, and granola bars – all to make sure there are healthy foods in the house for our children. But then I become disoriented and weak when I get to the cookie aisle, and just on a whim decide to throw in a package of some chocolate treat manufactured by those crafty Keebler elves. Ah yes, what a delicious treat I shall have for myself some day in the coming week! I may even have been thinking of that particular treat during the work day or while driving home, only to arrive home, open the pantry door and be greeted by an empty, busted up tray holding a few measly crumbs. And then I see it – the chocolaty evidence in the corners of my somewhat remorseless children’s mouths.
The same is true of tape, sharpened pencils, and postage stamps. These are things I try to always make sure are stocked in our office supplies. But again, when I need tape, a stapler, or even just a notepad – no matter how many times I’ve filled my desk, it’s an Office Max ghost town when I need something. When trying to take an important phone message in a hurry, all I can come up with is a broken purple crayon and the back of political flyer. Later when I share the message with my husband he asks if Grimace has been taking messages at our house.
No matter how many loads of laundry I do in a week, my stack of clean clothes yields only a few pairs of underwear and one mateless sock. The last time I went to fetch the laptop to use at school, there was no little green light blinking – only a message of “Low Battery.” Last week, I went to grab a sweatshirt to throw on for a walk. I looked high and low, but couldn’t find it. When I finally decided to just wear something else, I looked out the window and saw it riding away on the back of my son as he left on his bike for the park. I think I get it now. The reason children must grow up and leave their home, is merely so that their parents can continue to survive.
So today I discovered the meaning of true joy. I pushed myself through the front doors of the dreaded gym and decided maybe that monthly fee should be utilized at some point. This is not about the delights of experiencing a runner’s high. I have yet to do that. However, I did enjoy my workout… but not nearly as much as the runner on the treadmill next to me did.
As usual, I put my “all business” face on and made a beeline to the treadmill section. Yes, I was aware that my morning hair was putting Don King’s do to shame, but I figured if I seemed serious about burning calories, this would somehow tame the unruly rooster tails flailing around on top of my head. I began the routine of untangling the knots out of my earphones while at the same time starting up the treadmill – a dangerous adventure, for sure. Eventually, I coordinated my ipod and the treadmill… and my serious face, and began the workout.
About six minutes into my run, I was silently crooning along to some old Billy Joel hits and trying to read Matt Lauer’s lips while he interviewed Penny Marshall on the overhead TVs when I noticed some rather deliberate stomping taking place on the treadmill next to me. I didn’t want to be obvious or rude, but I was curious about this fellow gym mate’s interesting routine. I took a short, quick glance and noticed that the runner was as adult with Down’s Syndrome. I thought to myself, “Wow, he’s really making every step count.” I then politely, continued my workout looking straight forward.
Soon enough, I heard a couple of whoops and “yahoos” to my left – as I continued to worry about my crazy hair bobbing around on the top of my head. Within seconds, I noticed this gentleman’s running legs were now catching a decent amount of air as he was gripping the safety rails and lifting himself and kicking the air to the beat of his ipod music. This was followed up by some clapping and punching of the air. This man was truly enjoying every second of his workout! I looked over at him again to smile in agreement with him, but his eyes were closed. He was no doubt, feeling the rhythms of the next song and setting up for his next moves.
We ran side by side on our treadmills for the next twenty-five minutes. His exuberance continued, and I began to care less and less about my hair. I was struck by his bold enthusiasm and pure happiness. Part of me wanted to yell, “Yeah, uh-huh, look at me running – in my ratty Iowa Hawkeye’s sweatshirt and crazy hair! And my favorite song is on – this is awesome!!” I didn’t. I just finished up, enjoying company next to me.
I don’t think this man ever noticed that I was smiling with him and taking in his enthusiasm. He didn’t need to. He was completely one hundred percent content and happy all on his own. A good lesson for me on a damp, murky, Monday morning. I was feeling so happy, I forgot about my clown hair and marched right into the grocery store. I was doing just fine until I caught my profile in the reflection of the glass freezer doors. I quickly finished my shopping, and speed walked to my car… and who do you think I saw bopping along, still plugged in to his favorite tunes and singing as he walked? That’s right… evidently I needed two lessons on contentment today.
The first day of any school year is much like going to the library. When walking through the stacks of books, it’s easy to get taken in by all of the knowledge that sits in front of you – just waiting to be sponged up, soaked in, and used wisely. The possibilities of what could be accomplished with that knowledge is mind blowing. Right? It’s all just waiting for you to pick up the ball … and run with it. Sure. Until the second day. Don’t get me wrong, the second day of school is just as exciting… maybe even better. The second day of school is like the day you actually get your own library card. Now you don’t have to just wonder about all those books staring you down and daring you to come in for a closer look. The stacks are much less intimidating. Now you can search for the all that piques your interest and take it all home with you! Much like school: you have a few friends to sit by at lunch, you’ve got your locker combination tamed into submission, and heck, tomorrow is art class – who doesn’t love art class? Still excited, right?
Now comes the third day of school. It’s much like the moment when you unload all of the books you and your tribe just checked out. Now the pile of novels, pictures books, and 101 Things to Do with Beads book looks a little more overwhelming than when you started. But you still feel enthusiastic – you just have to find a place for your tower of knowledge so that you can start dinner. So you move the “pile of possibility” to the den… you’ll get to that right after dinner, and oh, tonight is the first PTA meeting… you can start in on that novel right after you get the last load of laundry folded. Sure. No problem. Kind of like day three of the new school year: You had a spelling test (no problem), a short row of math problems… and oh, yeah, the teacher said you need another composition notebook… and what was that other thing you needed… hmmm… no worries, I’m sure you’ll think of it when you get home from basketball practice.
This is how it goes year in and year out. The excitement of “new” baits us in every September. This year will be awesome! This year, we’ll keep our desks tidy, and make sure our planner is signed every night. We’ll complete homework right when we get home, go to bed early, and wake up with the rooster! Or… we might decide to keep a diary of all that we eat for dinner, so that we don’t repeat and try to keep it exciting, healthy and fresh… for a whole month! Sometimes these ideals can take us fairly far into the school year… like to October at least. But many times, things get hard. Schedules get busy. Life starts to manage us, instead of us managing our lives. Some of it is unavoidable and unpleasant. Some of the obstacles that get in the way of our “School Year’s Resolutions” are exciting and unscripted. Either way, we all seem to jump the tracks at one point or another – even if just for a short while.
But this is what I love about us humans… we just keep trying! And we don’t tend to look back as much as we look forward – which might be helpful at times, I guess. Either way, we all look forward to a new school year for all the new friends, new teachers, new classrooms, new lunch schedules, new tennis shoes – it doesn’t matter what we look forward to most – just that it’s a new beginning. Much like a trip to the local library – who cares if we ever figure out how to bead curtains or potholders or floor mats? It’s just the idea that we could if we wanted to, and besides, there’s a whole section filled with books like “Make that Failed Beading Project into a Great Gift!”
It’s another year… and it’s all waiting for you. Happy New School Year!
He pleaded. He begged. He left post-it notes on the bathroom mirror. He printed out how to purchase a permit, how to get there, a list of phone numbers for more information complete with a recent review of how one mom spent a delightful day with her beloved son… at the fossil beds. My son has been on my case for the last three months about taking him for a day of digging, climbing, and treasure hunting. So when I asked my children last week to check their summer bucket lists – to see what we still needed to accomplish, I should not have been surprised when my tenacious eleven year old wrote: “fossil beds, fossil beds, fossil beds, I want to go to the fossil beds…. it’s the only thing I really, really want.”
I have to admit, this kind of outing does not excite me. When I think fossil beds, I think: hot, remote, boring, digging for little bits of random nothingness. I didn’t want to go. And up until this week, I had successfully played an excuse game of duck and dodge. With my feet dragging and my excuses right and ready, I filled out the appropriate paper work to purchase the holy grail of all permits: the fossil digging permit. To my disappointment, it was rather easy to obtain this little piece of paper. Also “lucky” for me – those darn brickyards are less than twenty minutes away from my front step. I enlisted the help of my sister. I knew I was going to need enthusiasm reinforcements.
Today was the day. Before I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, my son had packed a backpack with a fossil identification guide, water bottles, small picks and hammers, and rubber boots (still not sure what their purpose was – but seemed like a fine idea to me). With permit in hand, we began our adventure. We had a rough map that may have been drawn by hand, two children ready to discover pterodactyl bones, and two adults displaying forced excitement. What could possibly go wrong?
After we cautiously zig-zagged our way down the river road, I wished I had not watched 20/20 episodes entitled “Tragedy in the Woods,” or Law and Order episodes featuring transient folk coming out of the woodwork to give first-hand accounts of of grizzly crimes. By the time we reached the abandoned parking area, I could feel my heart beating in my neck and what little enthusiasm I had mustered now draining quickly. I was just nano-seconds away from manufacturing another excuse, when my son saw the park map. ”There’s the path, Mom! This is the place! We made it!!”
With trepidation, we gathered our tools, locked the car, and committed to the cause. Fossils, here we come. The walking path was lush with nature that actually made an arch over us. The further we padded into the forest, the more at ease I began to feel. We followed our little map up and around waterfalls, trickling creeks, and scenic look-outs before we came to” the promised land.” Two excited voices yelled, “Mom, we made it! This is it! Let’s get going! This is a great day for digging!”
I stared at the steep, rocky hill before me and it was obvious to my children that I did not know what to do next. How does this happen? There comes a time in every parent’s life when it is realized that the little people that could at one time not buckle or unbuckle themselves from a seatbelt, now know more than the official un-buckler. My kids just raced up the hill armed with their little picks, and literally dug in. My sister and I exchanged a look, braced our knees, and began the climb upwards where we received instructions from my daughter on how to proceed. ”Mom, you have to dig and then dig some more. You have to look really closely because the best stuff is sometimes the stuff you can’t see… and then, here, you have to brush, brush away the the little crumbs… that’s where the bestest stuff is. Oh… and you have to be really patient… but, I know you’ll find something special. Don’t give up.”
There are firsts for everything I suppose. First step, first date, first job, first child, first time taking your children to Bob’s Crazy Fireworks off exit 19. There’s something really, uh… unique about a fireworks joint. Since I had never been, I thought I would follow my husband’s lead and troop right behind him and our children up to the front door displaying the confidence of a mother duck. I had always been a little curious about what treasures awaited those who dared to browse the fare inside those big circus tents just over the state lines. Not curious enough to ever venture in, of course. But something happens to moms when their boys reach the age of eleven. I think we tire of saying thinks like, “No, you may not slide down the driveway using a garden hose and dish soap; No, you may not find things to light on fire as a science experiment, and No, you may not use all of your birthday money to buy random rusted out junk, throw it in our front yard, and hope that the American Pickers stop by to ‘pick’ your fabulous junk.” We finally just give in. We decide it’s time to say yes to something. I’m not sure why I chose explosive mortars to be the thing to say yes to, but my curiosity got the best of me.
The boys went on ahead, while my eight year old daughter and I hung back a bit. We casually perused the narrow aisles of “less dangerous” stuff like the small explosives wrapped in American flags with pictures of cats and devils on them… fairly harmless, I’m sure. All the while I was pretending to be completely cool with this outing, there was a distinct stench that held the air around my nose captive. I couldn’t quite put a name to it, until my daughter boldly said, “Let’s get out of here, Mom – it smells like sweaty animals and burned up hot dogs!” I agreed and we marched ourselves back to our vehicle where we played a quick and unusual game of I Spy – given our location.
Soon enough, my husband appeared at the exit door with my son. I don’t know that I have ever seen a grin that big on my son’s face. He was carrying a fairly large paper sack and fast walking to the car with great enthusiasm. When he reached the car, he bellowed, “I’m so excited! This is going to the best time of my life! I can’t wait until it gets dark, Mom! We’re going to really light it up tonight!!!” Okaaaaay… Next came the constant pacing while waiting for darkness to arrive. Personally, I am not a huge fan of fire, loud noises, or general danger. I thought I’d sit this one out to stay in the cool and take in some NPR with the Boston Pops. When the bewitching hour finally came, my husband went through a litany of rules with my son, read through all the instructions (which I am thankful for), and marched outside to “start this party.”
They began their party with some small popper things and then worked their way up to the “show stoppers.” Things to remember: my husband is a by-the-book-read-the-directions-forwards-and-backwards-always-follow-the-rules kind of guy and my son can be completely and enthusiastically entertained with a stick. It’s an odd pairing, but it mostly works out. When it comes to explosives, I guess they share a bond I will never understand. I don’t know who was more awestruck, my forty-something husband or my intensely happy eleven year old. There was giggling, running, happy yelling, and a general atmosphere of “This is so stinkin’ cool, I can’t contain myself!”
I’m happy to report that all limbs are still firmly attached to all people involved, all fireworks were lit in a legal area, and no grass fires were started. My son and husband enjoy doing things together from time to time. They play catch, they fish, they shop around Target for Double-stuff Oreos, Ice-ees, and all the other stuff the ogre mother never lets them get. However, they now have a new shared love that’s probably going to involve “Crazy Bob” at least once a year. I’m guessing this is one of those things I’m wishing I’d never said yes to. One of these days, I’m just sure I’ll get it figured out…
“A half a cup of olive oil, a cup of tomatoes… diced, another half a cup of parm-a-shzona cheese. Says her ya bake ‘em. Hmmm… never did ‘em that way before. Yeah, ok, let me see… says the recipe is continued on page 134… Let’s see… 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133… where in the heck’s the 134??? I’ll ask the lady at the desk. Justa minute, I’ll be right back.”
This was the conversation that was in full swing just a few feet away from us as we waited the obligatory 30 minutes after my son’s allergy shot. I was rereading the same sentence in my book about 13 times, just so I could listen in on this captivating conversation. It went on.
“Well the lady at the desk says she don’t know who took the page 134. She says it happens all the time. People just don’t care. Let me see. Maybe there’s more over here, wait… looks like there’s part of it on 135. Yep, here it is. Says you should boil ‘em first, then roast ‘em up. Why wouldjya do it that way? Hmm. I wonder what seasonings they used. Well, isn’t that the way it goes… one minute yer readin’ a recipe, the next minute, yer readin’ about bladder control. Huh? I said I’m readin’ about bladder control now. Right… I don’t know where the recipe for short ribs went… that’s what I been lookin’ for when I got up to ask the lady about page 134… I don’t even like short ribs.”
Her husband just nodded as she went on and on about the whereabouts of the elusive recipe from Good Housekeeping. At this point, I gave up and went back to my book. Just as I was figuring out what characters were doing what, another gaggle of people came in and took over the other side of the waiting room. There were about four different generations represented by several gentlemen – all of them related in one way or another to each other. They all seemed happy and were talking enthusiastically to one another. Now I was really stumped. Why did they all come together? Who had the appointment? Is it always a family reunion for allergy appointments? What was going on?
Then it hit me. I’ve just taken another harrowing step closer to older middle age. I was apparently more interested in the people I don’t know, then the little people who came with me. During that 30 minute wait, I know that my daughter got up more than once to use the restroom… I think. My son asked for something out of my purse, and I approved the request… for whatever it was. I was so wrapped up in the missing short ribs recipe and what appeared to be a family barbershop quartet, that I literally lost 30 minutes I can never get back.
I can easily get frustrated with my children when I am “patiently” trying to teach them how to reduce fractions, and they seem distracted by their pencil or the a snack calling their name from the pantry. But I guess the playing ground is more level than I thought. I’d like to say I’m going to focus more, try to be more patient, and engage my children in interesting conversation while waiting in doctors’ offices… but truthfully… I’ll probably just be on a more intent search for page 134.
Damp, mildewy, rusty, and cementy – with hints of varnish. That’s the way my parents’ basement smells. It’s what many would call an unfinished basement. My kids call it “The Treasure Cave.” They love the smell. When they bring home a “treasure” from Nana and Papa’s basement, they sometimes ride all the way home with the object close to their noses. Most adults would wrap that treasure four times in cellophane, once in a paper sack, and stick it in a cooler – far from their nose. But that’s the wonder of the olfactory system. The entire basement is home to odds and ends of every hobby my Dad ever had. Tools, wood remnants, paint for fishing jigs, pieces of old train sets, boat motors, an art easel, fishing poles, buckets of nails, rock collections, toolboxes teeming with chisels, screwdrivers, awls, and pliers, rain suits, and a freezer stuffed with ice cream treats. Everything about the basement is “Papa” and I’m convinced that’s why they drink in that smell like it was a nectar of the gods.
The gift of an unfinished basement is its versatility. When we were kids, my Dad would move everything to the perimeter so that we could race around the chimney on our tri-cycles during the long winters. Other times, we would clear the large, rectangular table and set up a play-dough bakery for a rainy afternoon. Once, when we kept the box from a new refrigerator, we created “The Haunted Basement” with our friends. We used the box as a coffin and jumped out of it to “scare” our parents. And we always had a place to paint, splatter, pound, or spray anything we wanted. Sure, a lot of our friends had basements complete with shag carpet, pool tables, cool stereos, and bars. I always thought that would be great. However, my Dad grew up right next to a river that flooded every spring… into their basement. And every spring, he and his sister and brother hauled out boxes and boxes of their Dad’s prized LIFE magazine collection. He was going to have no part of that annual tradition when he built his own house. As scary and as dark as our basement could be, it always kept our imaginations in tip-top condition.
When I stop to think about it, I loved the smell of my grandparent’s basement too. Damp magazines, paint, and a freezer full of Ding-Dongs – that was the smell of an afternoon with my grandpa – build, spill, drip, paint, cut…. and then have a Ding Dong. I adore my father for so many reasons, but more than anything – I love that he is to my children what his dad was to us – the perfect grandpa. He laughs at their silly jokes, eats their “famous” sandwich recipes, takes them fishing and then for ice cream, listens to their exaggerated stories intently, cheers them on, builds them up, and lets them dig for treasures in the “Treasure Cave.”
Who knew the smell of a dank and dark basement could be the beginning of something beautiful? Happy Father’ Day, Dad!
Yesterday, my daughter and I went to the salon for a pedicure – her first one. She asked me lots of question as we approached the front and I could tell she was a little unsure of the process. When we arrived, we were taken back to the “thrones” as they called them. There was a bit of confusion at first and we were seated on opposite sides of the room from each other – about eight thrones away to be exact. Eventually we were seated next to each other where I thought my daughter and I would enjoy light conversation and cool drinks. We had cool drinks… but very little conversation.
I have been a whimsical romantic my entire life. When I think of lemonade, it’s not just sugary lemon water in a glass. No, it’s an ice cold pitcher filled with bursting lemons and gently clinking ice cubes, and the sun is shining through the pot-bellied pitcher (I guess I watched too many Wyler’s or Country Time commercials as a kid). I am swinging on a painted white porch swing, wearing a flowy sundress next to a dear friend, and we are laughing and talking… and … well, I guess, getting ready to skip through a field of sunflowers or something. That happens all the time, right?
So, as you can guess, I again had pictured myself and my daughter giggling and chatting and whiling away the hour with our own secret sense of humor. I don’t know why I do this. It’s not like I just met the girl. She doesn’t talk when she’s nervous. In fact, if she’s really got her nerve on, she looks like she’s angry and only gives me darting side glances. We weren’t quite at that point yesterday, but not far from it. In my heart, I knew she was having fun and that when it was all over, we would talk and laugh in the safety of our van. So I sat quietly with my disengaged pedicurist, relaxed and watched the goings on of the salon. Which is, evidently, what my daughter was doing as well.
We ended our session, she politely thanked her stylist, and we headed for our van. And as expected, she chatted wildly about the whole experience all the way home. She had a few other things on her mind too. After spilling over with happiness about getting her toes done, she had a few questions for me. Turns out, she’s not quite as romantic as I am.
Are safety pins really earrings?
If I put a whole big bunch of eyeshadow on when I’m older, will I still be able to open my eyes?
When people bend over, you can see tattoos on their chests… are they supposed to have those?
Some people laugh really loud. It kind of sounded like a farm in there.
I only want one kind of lotion on my foot next time.
If I stub my toe or get a wart, can I still have palm trees painted on them again?
Next time, I want that shocker blue color with black crackles on it.
And my personal favorite: I hope I never get so fat that it’s not comfortable to sit on that throne thingy.