Sunday, October 26, 2014

Karma is a cat on your doorstep

I knew I'd caught heartbreak in my hand one afternoon as Ittybit and I were running off to dance class. I just had that feeling.

I could barely understand the words coming from my daughter as she hollered for me to come quick. “Kitten” was the only word that registered.

Ittybit was dragging her dance bag to the car when a tiny, gray kitten startled her. It had been sitting on our porch when the two surprised each other face-to-face. No sooner had they locked eyes than the little feline vanished into the backyard.

"I don't see it," I said, not really wanting to find another pet. We already had a dog and a cat. Our furry family was complete. Not to mention, dance would tap and jazz without her.

"We should go. We'll be late."

"But it's just a baybeeee," she wailed.

Just then she spotted it. We spread out.

Ittybit tried to grab the tiny cat, but it spooked and ran in my direction. I reached out instinctively, and before I knew it, I had the gray fluff of infant feline gently in my hand. As a thank-you, it had sunk its teeth firmly into my finger.

No good deed ...

"Why didn't I just pretend it was too fast for me," I asked my husband as I washed and bandaged my pinky.

He just smiled and nodded. He would have done the same thing.

I smiled, too. “We should name it 'Karma.” It seemed fitting since a few weeks earlier I had teased some friends as they opened their door to a fifth stray cat.

One more and you might be able to skip the audition for 'Hoarders'.”

Karma … that is a kitten on your doorstep, alright.

Our vet said she seemed healthy enough, aside from the malnourishment and dehydration. No telling how long she'd been out in the world, separated from her mother.
I'm calling her a girl,” he explained. “But it's hard to tell. She's pretty young.”

So we took her home – this terrified, but now-purring, six-toed animal that had somehow found us -- and told The Champ the good news: It was his turn to name the newest addition.
And there was joy. The kind of joy you forget about when your household gets older.

The lighter-than-air, happy baby, midnight-feedings kind of joy. The imagining what she will look like when she's older, kind of joy.
Of course, it wasn't to be.

Twenty-four hours later this tiny, barely-named kitten died. The dehydration too far gone for little laps of water and smidgeons of food to turn around.

We learned from a neighbor that the kitten's mother had been hit by a car several days earlier trying to move her four babies from one side of the road to the other.

I knew it was coming. She'd almost stopped eating after her first shots at the vet. She wasn't playful. She became cuddly and wanting of attention. She fell asleep as the children stroked her back.

As the children were getting ready for bed the next evening, her breathing turned labored and her mournful cries became whispers. I called the vet.
There wasn't anything they could do.

The next morning, we tearfully buried her next to our beloved dog.
Ittybit and The Champ took turns at the shovel.
Everyone cried. Her passing seemed more tragic that the release of our 16-year-old pup. It was too soon.

The only comfort, whispered over and over, was in knowing we'd given her all the warmth and love we had in her last hours. Knowing that she didn't die alone in the wind and rain.
In a few days, karma paid us another visit, or more accurately our pet-hoarding friends ...

And of course they brought with them a kitten they'd found under a porch – a playful, full-bellied, healthy little bundle of feline energy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ahead of his time

My husband has always been ahead of his time.

“When is Daylight Savings Time?” my husband grumbled.

I don't know why he asks me.

“No, I'm serious. When is it?”

For 12 years, this has been our semi-annual fight, and my response is always the same.

First, I must correct his grammar:

“It's daylight SAVING time. There's no S.”

“Whatever … When is it?”

Then I correct his usage:

“It's in the spring.”

“Fine! … Then when do we turn the clocks ahead?

“In the spring.”

“But then we'd gain an hour.”

“Sure. We gain an hour of daylight but lose an hour of sleep. In the fall, we get that hour of sleep back.”

He shoots me a look that says what I am doing is the mental equivalent of pulling the wings off of flies or burning ants with a magnifying glass. Torture.

“You know what I mean. When do we turn the clocks back?”

“Yes, yes. I know. We return to Eastern Standard Time the first weekend in November. … Wanna know how I know?

“How do you know?”

“I Googled it on this thing in my pocket called a smartphone. … It looks surprisingly like yours only my case is much cooler.”

“Ha, ha. Very funny.”

Twelve years. Seems like a long time when you're an outsider looking in.

For me, it seems like yesterday.

I remember the torrential rains that visited the night before. The elation of a clear morning followed by the forehead-slapping realization that we would welcome our guests to our outdoor wedding in a field of ragweed. Everywhere we turned, we faced the potential for allergen disaster.

He doesn't remember it that way.

He was too busy looking for his car keys.

These weren't keys to just any vehicle, mind you. Nooooo.

He was frantically searching for the keys to our “get-away” car: A 1974 Lincoln Mark IV hardtop that had been painted purple and accented with metallic-gold stencils of poisonous flora and fauna. It also had orange, matted shag carpeting that smelled of paint-thinner and cigar smoke.

It got nine miles a gallon. It would have cost us $1.64 to get from the wedding to the reception.
Holy moly was gas cheap when we got hitched.

Not the point.

The most miraculous thing, besides the cost of petrol, was that I did NOT hide the keys to that monstrosity.

My sincerest affirmation of this amazing fact, however, did little to stop his mind from weaving all of his last-minutes of bachelorhood thoughts into a giant conspiracy-theory hat.

Not that he would have held it against me, even if he hadn't found the keys later on that week in the laundry, accidentally left in the pocket of a pair of jeans.

Thing is … time doesn't fly in his world, it seems to go backward.

I know this now, because as we were both busy almost forgetting this particular anniversary, we had both tried to pull together last-minute, year-appropriate gifts.

I had gotten him a snarky t-shirt.

He commemorated the occasion a few days later by buying table linens, “the traditional gift of that particular anniversary,” he explained.

“Guess how I knew what it was?”

“You Googled 13.”

“How'd you guess?”

“We've only been married 12 years. When I Googled, it came up silk or pearl. I went with snarky pearls of wisdom. ...

You really are ahead of our time.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Grocery seeking

I'll never forget the sound of my enlightenment -- an explosion of air, followed by the crinkling of plastic over wrap.

Gratification, 1; Delay, 0.

Honestly, it was horrifying.

My best friend's mother had unceremoniously opened a bag of cookies right there in Aisle Seven as we accompanied her on the weekly shop. All hands dug in ... All hands except for mine.

I had never seen such effrontery.

"Have some," she offered kindly, as she extended the bag.

I couldn't speak. I must have been in a state of shock. I shook my head and looked down at the floor, a light-colored linoleum that had seen better days. The world went dark around the edges.

Wishing the spider vein cracks in the floor would open wide and swallow me up, I tried to steady my breath. I felt like I was about to faint.

I don't remember what year it was, but something in the moment – the moment after I regained my composure – signified a new era. Everything I knew about etiquette and decorum was crumbling. Waiting was over.

"It's ridiculous," she said, reading my thoughts and dusting cookie crumbs from her hands as she continued to steer the half-full cart toward Frozen Foods. "They say, never go shopping on an empty stomach, but who goes shopping when they have a houseful of food? I say, eat!"

It's not as if we would eat and run. I knew her to be an honest woman. She'd hand over the sampled package with the rest of the unopened purchases and pay up.

Of course, she was right. Appearances be danged! I greedily reached into the bag. Cookies would be eaten. Hunger would be abated. Kid grumpiness reduced.

This is freedom.

Funny how over the years I'd forgotten about that educational outing.

I never tagged along on shopping trips after that. And my mother never got peckish during our weekly chore. She would have been aghast if I'd asked to snitch from a sleeve of saltines.

Aside from the testing of a grape or two for sweetness and the occasional sampling of snacks handed out by chef-garbed hawkers, I haven't noticed much pre-purchase munching going on at our local supermarket.

The more I think about it, though, the more perplexing this phenomenon seems.

Now it feels as if we are prisoners of stores. The sheer amount of time modern shoppers spend buying groceries has got to have increased during my generation.

And that's by design ...

I mean ... it takes me at least four trips around the store to find which of the five cracker sections has the saltines with the unsalted tops. Not to mention … Why, for the love of peas … is the third cheese section in the cereal aisle this week?

Where did they move the newspapers? They are still being printed, right?

Honestly, I think I spend at least an hour more per week grocery shopping than anyone from my parents' generation even though I rarely buy more than a meal's worth of groceries at any one time.
It's not as if I have much food at home these days. Between the lack of energy to do a “Big Shop” as we've come to call it, I browse through the kitchen cabinets every few days. Buying meat and produce as needed.

I can't believe I'm not famished by the time I reach the cashier. In fact, I can't believe people don't just set up lawn chairs in front of the beer cooler. Crack open a cold one and keep score of how many neighbors search for their favorite frozen novelties where the Pilsners have been placed this week.
At least if a person gets lost, she won't go hungry.

The worst thing in the world isn't an open bag of cookies at the check-out. It's a black head of lettuce at the back of the vegetable drawer and playing hide and seek with the lunch meat.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Red-letter days

“You can do this,” I told myself as I turned off the ignition and stared through the windshield at the low brick building straight ahead. “There's no reason to be frightened.”

But “Myself” wasn't buying it. I was volunteering in my son's second-grade class, and failure was in the air.

Teachers always intimidate me. Skillful masters of time. Always efficient, not a single moment wasted.
I'm just a mom. My kids don't even listen to me.

Slowly, I gathered my wits and headed toward the school. Might as well get this over with.

A steady stream of kindergarteners flowed past me through the front doors of the building and headed toward the play fields. Their coach, a smiley-faced man, inhaled deeply from the damp morning air and tipped his head in my direction. He recognizes my potential for cat wrangling.

That's what I told myself, anyway.

I am buzzed in, and go to the front office where a small test awaits. I must write the date and time, my name, the name of my son, the classroom I intend to visit and for what purpose. In triplicate.

Beads of perspiration start to form over my eyelids as I try to put the information on the correct lines.
Purpose of visit? I have to look at Jimmy's mom's entry from six minutes ago before I write down “Centers.”

I am grateful that she wasn't visiting for a birthday, but feel like a cheater.

I've also frittered away four of the six minutes I'd allowed as a buffer. If I got lost in the hallway now, I'd be late and the teacher would be disappointed.

Of course, she has all of my work cut out for me. … Cut out and stapled, with the important parts underlined and circled in green felt pen.

But the room was bright and filled with colorful posters. My eyes couldn't rest anywhere as every surface boiled with a host of shapes and patterns.

I raised my hand to ask a question ...

I could see the giant letter “F” circled in red looming over my head as she read from the page I held in my hands.

Turns out, I had fifteen minutes to get six kids to read a poem, answer five questions about the poem's contents and draw a picture that illustrated one point the poem had made.

Somewhere, in the fog that surrounded my brain, a buzzer sounded and my group of students started out of the gate without me.

And they're off ...Little Johnny Appleseed is reading the poem aloud … he's already on line two. Teenage Mutant Ninja Shirt is stuck on a word and is beginning to buck. Holy cow, it looks like My Little Pony Sneakers has rounded line five and is heading for the homestretch. This could be an upset, folks.

Of course, everything slows down once I catch up.

“Question One: How does the author describe fall.”

“I fell once. Skinned my knee.”

We're talking about the season, Fall. See here … look at some of the colors the author describes … 'red and yellow and brown.' …

“I have red shoes. … they're sparkly. I didn't wear them today, though.”

The minute hand on the clock races the second hand as I try to keep my herd of cats focused.

A bell rings and they scatter.

“That's a good beginning,” says the teacher and I hand over the kids' work. “Ideally, I'd like to see everyone get at least a start on the picture.”

“I'm not sure I can do this,” I confess. “I'm not a teacher.”

“Of course you can,” she says. “You're a mom.”

A mom? Yes. Why didn't I think of that?

This week if I feel overwhelmed I'll just tell the kids to go outside and play …
"Mommy needs a Time Out."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dating pool

The boy looked up at me with sheepish hope. His voice was so low I could hardly hear. I asked him to repeat the words again.

“Mom, will you tell MaryJane Smithdoe that I want her to look at my painting.”

Hands jammed in his pockets, lips wrapped over his teeth, he shifted from one foot to the other as he looked down at the floor.

I still didn't really understand.

He was four at the time, and in preschool, and in absolute awe of one girl in particular. A raven-haired beauty whose interest included pigtails, sparkly shoes and playing Grocery Store with friends.

I knew he was smitten. When he said her name he seemed to sing it, elongating it with a few extra syllables.

She, of course, didn't know he existed. Because she was four, too.

Despite my apprehension, and being the dutiful mother that I am, I walked over to the girl and told her that my son was hoping she would be so kind as to look at a painting he made at the easel. (I successfully stopped myself from using the word etching.)

She agreed and followed me to the art room of the preschool.

As he stood some distance away, concealed behind a doorframe, she giggled at the sight of a smiling sun dripping its yellow tempera rays onto a wobbly tricolor rainbow. And then she skipped away without another word.

I held my breath. What was he expecting?

He … was ... ecstatic! She had looked at his painting. She had smiled. And he never had to speak to her at all.

I was a little less ecstatic. Not only did I feel the need to worry that my son might grow up to be a stalker, I had already proven to be an enabler.

It's harmless, right?

Probably even hereditary.

It wasn't too long ago … during the awkward 90s … that I thought dating in my mind would be the best way to have a relationship.

I would pick someone, call him my “boyfriend,” and then never tell the person we were “going out.”

It really was perfect. There was no awkwardness, no arguments, and no worries about what to wear to a romantic dinner … because there would be no romantic dinners.

But that's beside the point.

The point was that when I decided we were through as an imaginary couple, the relationship just ended. No bad feelings.

Oh, how very Lars Lindstrom of me, right?

Which leads me to my budding adolescent. Who, it turns out, has independently found my secret to dating at the ripe old age of 10.

Wait! Back up the truck! Dating? At 10?

I didn't believe it either, so I asked around. Turns out there is a thriving and intricate web of elementary school love connections that work like MatchDotCom without the DotCom.

My fifth-grader explained it to me, with the proviso that I never divulge names.

Turns out, students at this age spend an inordinate amount of their free time trying to establish would-be infatuations.

“If A likes B and C likes D, but A likes D and F is jealous, you might have a mess on your hands she explains. It could lead to d-r-a-m-a.”

The more I dug, the more I understood that “going out” in the eyes of fifth graders is as far away from the common understanding of the term “dating” as humanly possible.

“It works like this: Since everyone is talking about who likes whom, if you tell people who you really like it can get awkward. Dating, let's face it, is awkward. Anyway, they find out who likes you and you decided if you like them too and then you are going out.”

I know …

The explanation doesn't really clear things up.

“So … What do you do when you 'go out'?”


Well … do you hold hands? Do you pass notes?”

“Nope. Not at all. In fact, we just stop talking to each other altogether. It's really easier that way for everyone.”

It all makes perfect sense to me. After all, half of the fluid sloshing around in her DNA pool is mine.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Time and space

She sat across from me at the dining room table, sipping coffee.

Exactly thirty-five minutes and thirty-seven seconds earlier we had kept pace along a three-mile loop through the rainy streets outside my front door. Ordinarily I would have run the course alone or not at all.

This was a treat. Another mother, with an hour of time to spare between trips to the bus stop, was actually in my house. Drinking coffee ... after a run.

Inwardly, I was giddy. Outwardly, I was stone.

I didn't want to seem too eager. (I'd already made that mistake with the Jehovah's Witnesses, who now visit once a month.)

The last thing I wanted to do was scare her off. Aside from my new Witness friends, it had been ages since I'd had another adult human to talk with during the day. Besides the brief pleasantries with the man selling stamps at the post office and the how-do-you-dos with the ladies behind the glass at the bank, I barely used my voice between the hours of 8 and 3.

But there she was. My friend. The newest member of the team we hadn't expected to join.

The unemployed.

No. That's not the right word. That word implies something else. Something negative. Something tinged with desperation. Something put upon us like a weight.

The stay-at-home moms. The housewives. Chief cook and bottle washers.

Even worse. We are none of those things … and yet, we are all of them.

We hate labels and stereotypes, so we try to coin new ones.

Domestic goddesses. Cough, sputter, retch.

We join a gym. We go at off-peak hours and get our pick of the machines.

We talk about play dates, school lunches and bake sales. We complain about how hard it is to lose those extra pounds as we hike side-by-side on the treadmills.

Oh sure, we call them dreadmills, but we secretly think they are the highlight of our day.

A day that increasingly revolves around prioritizing the things we had previously deemed the least of our worries.

Sorry, can't today. I'd planned to dust the ceiling fans and mop the floors.”

When someone asks us what we do, we hesitate for a second. … We make it known that we work at something that doesn't always pay us in money, and we imply that we work harder than ever before. Few of us feel like we actually do.

Some of us are grateful, some of us feel guilty.

I ask her to decide which category she falls into without thinking.

So, how's it going?”

It's all so new right now, but I'm really enjoying it.”

I still can't wrap my head around it,” I tell her, wishing I could just smile and nod.

But it's all I think about, despite the three-years' worth of practice.

Suddenly, there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day for laundry and dishes and homework and chores. Doctors' appointments, dance lessons, soccer practice and the part-time-job you took just to keep in practice.

And then there are the what-ifs …

What if he loses his job?

What if he dies?

What happens then?

I could tell from her expression that I was talking aloud.

I apologize profusely.

I know more than anyone that doesn't have to be this way. That dividing up into opposing teams isn't really a good way to play this game. Title or no title. Label or no label, we haven't become different people. We just have different schedules.

Another cup of coffee?”

Sure, what-the-heck. Laundry can wait.”

The hour stretches into two. We still have time.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

One last ride

She sidled up to the chipmunk, as she had so many times over the last 10 seasons, and twisted around to look up. Her squint-eyed expression, a beacon of hoping beyond hope.

“Well? Am I there?”

“Sadly, my friend, you are not.”

It was June and we were at Hoffman's Playland. Ittybit was two inches shy of the line separating her from her intentioned ride – The Bumper Cars.

There are many things I wish I could give my children, but average height is genetically beyond my ability to provide. The chipmunk and I never saw eye-to-eye.

Deflated, but not destroyed, she skipped away from the only shady area in the place and headed for The Scrambler. That's her favorite, anyway: a pair of sardine cans attached to an arm that shuffles between four other cans until its passengers turn green.

She can't get enough.

Sad is the word that best describes emotions surrounding today's closing of this tea-cup-sized fun park after 62 years in business.

Although it had evolved over the years – growing from its original two mechanical rides to include more than 20 rides and attractions – Hoffman's Playland never really changed. It offered a warm pocket of nostalgia in a garment that you thought you had outgrown.

That's how it felt, to me anyway, the first time we brought Ittybit to Hoffman's when she was a tot.
I hadn't thought about the place since my parents brought me there. So it came as a surprise how perfectly perfectly it still fit. Not only could I scrunch in beside her on the Rock, Spin & Roll (a ride we had mistakenly referred to as the Spinning Dog Dishes), all 200-pounds of my husband could float high above the park in the Balloon Flight, as well.

I would have called it magical, too, had it not been for a different kind of revelation that Hoffman's made perfectly clear a few rides later. ...

Somewhere in the vastness of time – exactly where between the last ride of an intricate loop-the-loop roller coaster in college, and the first moment Hoffman's carousel started to turn while I held onto my infant equestrian, is unclear – I had become a victim of motion sickness.

As soon as the horizon shifted and the air pressure changed, my stomach started to churn.
Oh sure, the Tilt-a-Whirl seemed tame for the first few swings, but by the end of the ride I was regretting my morning coffee and not interested in lunch at all.

Eventually, my husband and I would wind up playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to see which one of us would have to go on the Rock, Spin & Roll.

The season I was pregnant, My father even gallantly offered to go on the bigger rides that his tiny granddaughter preferred. I'll never forget how scared I was as the two of them spun about seemingly miles overhead. I was left on the ground, finally reading the caution sign beyond “Pregnant Women” to where it had mentioned “Heart Patients.”

We all make mistakes.

People think the age difference between our children was planned for lofty, developmental purposes. But really we just wanted her to be tall enough to accompany her brother on the big-kid rides at Hoffman's.

This year, it paid off.

We visited the park one last time in September to say our goodbyes.

We wound around the park, taking turns on all their favorite rides. I stood at the fence holding a camera as they waited in line.

Finally, we made our way to the Bumper Cars. This time when she stood next to the chipmunk, he was the bearer of good news. Over the summer, she had grown the two necessary inches.

But at the gate, another sign delivered the bad news: The ride was closed.

She was deflated, but not destroyed. Our family tradition of height-restriction disappointments will continue.

We took one last spin on the Iron Railroad, thanked Hoffman's for a perfect childhood experience, and called it the end of an era.