Sunday, June 19, 2016

An uncomfortable silence

Thanks to its ever-changing messengers, The News is a thing that enters my consciousness a sentence or two at a time. I used to devour it; now I can barely choke it down.

Each word more treacherous and painful than the next. There aren't enough cat videos to compensate.

I've long ago stopped reading the obligatory commentary that attaches to the end of every item like tentacles, growing unwieldy until it starts to tighten.

They are all surging rivers of discontent feeding an angry, roiling sea.

Instead, I use what's left of my psyche as a breakwater against the tide, and retreat into works of fiction.

We've often made it a family affair; selecting tomes that we can read aloud, and that will make us laugh, and cry, and cry some more until I feel a tiny sense of hope. I try not to let my anxiety seep through.

In this silence, a part of me can travel the world, meet people I imagine might be soul mates, and visit all the secret gardens I haven't the skills to tend. Surprisingly, I can also bring things back with me; things that change me just a little bit.

These stories make me feel off kilter and slightly groggy, but otherwise contented. It is a strange effect.

I can shut my eyes and cast off into a dreamless night.

It's only temporary.

The world has a way creeping in through the curtains, bubbling over like a wave before crashing into something else. It nudges this sleepy introspection, gently shaking me awake and into the current.

I wish I could say this awakening sends a jolt through me, enough to snap me back to some gasping-for-breath reality I must have had as a youth; anything that could stir my senses into frenzied action.

But I can not.

Sometimes knowledge weighs on me like a stone, dragging me down through the shimmer to the deep and dark.

No matter where I look, I can't see a clear way out. Do we tell the kids? Do we wait until they ask? Do we go around or through?

This uncomfortable silence is the new normal. More doors and locks to protect us from ourselves. The only thing I can do is keep holding my breath. 

Until the boy, on his way to school Monday morning, notices a flag at half staff.

I knew he hadn't overheard our whispers. He had been too busy with childhood to notice us with our coffee, heads down in our phones. The little attention he paid to our mouths covered by hands, came out as advice:

"Drink water. That's what I do if I try to eat something too hot."

But, now, in the car and with the neighborhood rolling along beside us, his eyes leaped from pole to pole, and the lowered flags worried him.

"Has someone important died?"

"Yes, dear. Many someones."

"Many? Were they Soldiers?"

"Yes, some of them were. And some were mothers or fathers or sons or daughters. People who will not come home to their families."

"Was it a war?"

"No, it was a nightclub in Florida."

He looked confused.

"An unstable man with a rapid-fire gun killed many innocent people."

"Oh, I thought we only lowered flags for the military."

"We lower flags to show national sadness.”

But it's not enough. It's just a sign of respect; it's not respect itself.

For the rest of the ride, we sit in silence, with tears, wondering what we can do.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Can't complain

How's it going?

Before you answer, I can assure you I know. I have access to the internet and a few spare seconds each minute to hit “refresh.”

I see the problems.

The Grand Old Party is likely to nominate a cartoon character and his punchline for president.

The Democratic presidential candidate wore a $12,000 suit to address the topic of income disparity.

And we're almost all Berned out anyway.

Besides we have so many more fires to tend in the outrage.

We have overly romantic notions of the past and an uneasy anticipation of the future.
We are still asking what she was wearing and what was he doing in that neighborhood? We want trigger warnings and trigger locks so we can continue to go off half-cocked.

We like to raise our voices. Point fingers. Puff up our chests until we are filled with equal parts anger and hot air. We are, after all, entitled to our opinions.

There are no accidents. There's only prevention, or persons responsible or blame.
Fat is good. Sugar is not only bad, it's toxic. "Natural" on a label means nothing. And there's mostly cow's milk in your sheep cheese. Welcome to marketing 101.
Oh, and Target knows more about you than you do.

I mean who can keep track anyway?

Oh … look, cute cat catches laundry.

Are those cupcakes? You found them on Pinterest?

Is it strange that I feel better?

The Internet has provided an exceptionally efficient way to “infect” change. With a virus … oh wait … I get that confused. Virus is bad. Viral is good. Unless it's bad. Neither really matters since it's all entertainment.
Mostly harmless. Fun.
For instance. …

Did you know today is National Sewing Machine Day?

Or is it tomorrow? I've gotten conflicting dates in my considerable research.
I just hope there's a parade. My Janome Hello Kitty ¾ craft sewer in sea-foam green would look lovely on a float. It might even win an award!

I'd say it would be buttoned up, but I'm not sure how that feature works.

And that's not all …

It's also National Audio Book Month and Perennial Gardening Month, which dovetail nicely since you can enjoy both activities at the same time. Something that is not the case with International People Skills Month butting up against National Zoo and Aquarium Month.

That could pose a problem ...

Wherever we meet in cyberspace this week we seem to define ourselves as kid people, or zoo people, or ape people. We cannot be all three if we want to keep our following.

Which reminds me …

It's National LGBT Pride Month. Which is awesome, but didn't appear up front in an internet behemoth's algorithm when I searched “National Holidays and Observances in June.”

Something doesn't seem right about that … Although it may have gotten lost in all the other things we could be celebrating:

*National Pet Preparedness Month
*National Accordion Awareness Month
*National Migraine Awareness Month
*National Sorgham Month

What? Sorgham? That can't be a thing …

It's also National Cataracts Awareness Month … so maybe I should get my eyes checked.

And whose idea was it to have National Dairy Month share the same calendar slot with National Dairy Alternatives Month?

If there IS a conspiracy, that right there is proof.

Conspiracies can be tiresome.

No matter. I have a solution!

Here, sign my petition. I think it will take the World Wide Web by storm.
I'm lobbying for the resurgence of “Can't Complain,” a floating holiday to be used at any time of the year, and especially when some idiot asks you “How's it going?”

Sunday, June 05, 2016

And the cupboard was bare

The cupboard was finally bare, and Old Mother Hubbard had no plans to refill it.

"Ahem," she sneered at me from above her nose. "This is MY story ...

"And I just want to revel in the clean lines of my closet before you go ahead and tell it," she huffed and puffed with design-show flair.

It was quite a sight.

As she sat in the pretty, pre-teen room sifting through the remnants of her pre-pubescent life, I was gearing up for a post-teen apocalypse and assembling boxes to contain the remains. Though we had long-ago repainted the peptic-pink of her little-girl walls with two coats a tropical turquoise -- We pronounce the shade of bluish green tur-kwazzzzz to make ourselves laugh. .... "We bought our Tur-Kwazzzzz from Tar-Jhaaay. Ah-ha-ha-ha." -- she hadn't outgrown her belongings.

Every bit and piece we had pushed to the middle of the room and covered with a paint-speckled tarp found its way back into her life once the color had dried. And though I knew this reordering would be for a limited time only, the baby dolls perched silently on their old shelves, and plastic people with flocked fauna continued to congregate in their plastic houses. Each evening when I came to kiss her goodnight, they would have moved like magic. A rabbit under the bed. A doll at the desk. Miniature clothes hanging on drawer pulls and door knobs.

"Let's clean this up in the morning," I'd say, using what I thought of as The Royal "Us."

Only the threat of keeping her from being Belle Ball, would get the plebeian "She" to tidying.

A clean house is low on my priorities, too. I usually wait to nag until minutes before any nobles arrive.

So I had barely noticed how, slowly, over time, these trinkets started to disappear. Her door is always closed now, a barrier to the cats as we had agreed but also to prying eyes that might be none-too-excited about the scatter rug she's made out of her stash of barely-worn clothes.

I tried to remain calm with each offering she leveled with an outstretched hand. It was her job to sort, my job to pack. Slowly her abode would be emptied of coloring books, scented pencils and the big-eyed stuffed animals she had collected in droves. Tinctures and glittery tints she could apply to her face in the off-school hours are taking their place.

Until all that are left are the picture books.

As I began stowing the books, she's snatched one back.

"Oh ... I remember this. It was my favorite!"

Another favorite and a third made their way back to the shelf.

But in between, she would hand me volumes she no longer wanted (or needed) and I would have to decide: trash or treasure? With each book I would sigh. Every other breath, heavy on its release. I couldn't stop holding my breath.

For as long as she can remember, and no matter where we lived, she always had a library in her closet. A little nook that fit shelves of colorful books, and when she was small enough, a comfortable chair where she could lounge, swinging her legs in repose with an early reader.

Now she wanted to fill it with clothes.

Most of the collection I obtained during lunch breaks on payday at a book outlet on Fourth Street during the nine months she was baking. I read to her from Dr. Suess, and bell hooks, and Mother Goose as she gently kicked inside.

The petite platinum-haired woman at the counter would look up and smile as I came in every fortnight looking for pretty pictures and poetic prose I could use to narrate our lives: Goodnight Moon, ABCs, and One Two Threes, Mama Always Comes Home, My First Day of School, Felix Feels Better ...

I liked to watch her delicate fingers move as she searched for the penciled-in prices and re-form the stack.

I rarely spent more than an hour's worth of work.

She didn't seem to mind.

"Sleepy Pendoodle," my girl said with a snort, starling me out of my memories and handing me a dusty pink colored picture book with dreamy watercolor illustrations. "That's a silly title."

The binding made that satisfying crackling sound when I opened it as if it were stretching its spine after having been awoken from a long rest.

My eyes began to sting as I turned the pages. I felt the swish of a sleepy puppy, and a little girl with mismatched socks and sticking-out braids who would try to awaken him.

"Why did you get that book?" She asked after I had read it aloud one last time and slid the slim volume into the box.

"She was an unusual and lovely character," I answered. "She reminded me of you."

She was silent as her slender fingers reached into the bin and extracted "Pendoodle."

"I think I can find room for just one more thing."

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fight Club

There are only two major rules of Fight Club:
Number 1: You do not talk about fight club.
And Number 2: You DO NOT talk about fight club.
It seems simple, and logical, but in this day and age of InstaKvetch, we rarely hold back. Not talking isn’t the same as not speaking.
In the heat of the moment and its radiant aftermath, our anger overtakes us and we usually burst forth in a litany of protest.
We are not ourselves.
We are marriage's blind rage.
We are familiarity's contempt.
We are our own worst enemies.
Until death do we part.
We forget that you don't talk about your sparring partner. You don't flesh out the details of ugly, darkened moods. We smile in pictures.
You DO NOT talk about fight club.
You don't talk about all the ways the other person hurt your feelings. Or misconstrued your words and turned them against you.
You don't talk about petty frustrations any more than we speak of serious infractions.
You don't talk in front of the kids.
Especially not after you've yelled behind a closed door.
You don't talk to your friends.
You don't talk in front of the neighbors.
Though they may have heard you over the fence.
You don't talk about choosing sides.
If you're smart, you don't post transcripts to Facebook looking to garner awkward support. You stay mum at the water cooler. You mind the gap between treadmills at the gym. You keep a stiff upper lip.
Membership in this club is exclusive and requires this kind of dedication.
You don't talk about how serious you are about your commitment to the organization.
But there's more you can't do.
You don't joke about what will happen when the kids grow up. Or when they've left the nest.
You certainly don't talk about planning what you'll wear to the funeral. Or who you'll start dating when an acceptable amount of time has gone by.
Unless you're planning your own "send-off." ... But you won't get to pick your forever wear. Chances are you won't meet Elvis or hang out with anyone from the 27 Club.
Gallows humor, in this instance especially, is tricky and better left unsaid. Most folks won't laugh, even if you laugh first.
No … There's not usually much laughter during fight club.
And then there's the worry that the joke might just come back to haunt you.
There's not a lot of variation, either. We often circle around the same old arguments.
Of course there are exceptions:
Each member of fight club hops around a ring, dancing and jabbing in accordance with their own rules.
Timing is everything.
That moment of explosion, the point of impact.
A top, closed too loosely under pressure, often gives way. It's hard to predict where it will land. How much damage it will do.
Unforgivable betrayals ...
Like when I watched Game of Thrones without you.
Or when you tracked mud across the freshly washed floor.
Or when I declined your invitation to play Words With Friends.
A thousand little swipes resulting in a thousand invisible cuts, which will be covered in a thousand tiny bandages. And then doused in wine.
Until one of you reaches for something stronger ...
A deep breath. … A white flag. … An apology.
And understanding.

Eventually, we all have to talk about fight club.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tinsel Town

Next stop: Tinsel Town

I'm going to miss her crooked smile.

At least, I think I will.

I say 'I think' I'll miss it, because I'm not sure I've seen my daughter wear the expression enough lately to have it implant on the part of my brain that might withstand the coming of age and infirmity. What I know for sure is how much I'll miss the six thousand dollars it will cost to wipe that ever-so-fleeting grin off her face.

But that's genetics for you -- the need for braces doesn't skip a generation just because you want it to … unless you choose Invisalign (or in her father's case, do-it-yourself dental adhesive and rubber bands, which modern dentists tend to frown upon).

Ah, necessity! The mother of all invention.

Which is why I had made myself an appointment with the orthodontist -- without the kid -- to be thoroughly convinced this money for corrective dental work wouldn't be better invested elsewhere. Say ... a nice bridge somewhere warm ... or an island time-share of my dreams. Or college.

Honestly, her smile doesn't seem that crooked to me. Her teeth are straight enough. There's enough room between each nicely-sized pearly white but not too much. Nothing overlaps.

Of course, I would be a tough sell. After all, I had already sold myself on the notion that with a little watchful waiting, not to mention the use of expanders and extractions, braces might not be a forgone conclusion.

But I laughed a little -- that nervous, forced laugh one has at sudden surprise -- when her mug flashed up on the orthodontist's monitor during our pre-installation parent consultation.

"See there," the doctor said, pointing the tip of his pen at the screen. "The reason you can't see her teeth when she smiles ...

His voice didn't trail off. He finished his thoughts with the same quick, articulate efficiency he started with, but I can't tell you how he explained the whys and what-have-yous of her appearance. It was all a blur, as my mind started to coil around this astounding new observation: In the TWELVE YEARS that I have been a full-time Mom (and part-time Tooth Fairy), I had not managed to notice how her teeth are barely visible when she smiles.

Honestly, I tried to keep up as the doctor moved on, thoroughly explaining the scans of her mouth and each potential realignment. So many tiny flaws I'd never seen. How the space between her two top front teeth didn't line up with the space between her two lower front teeth? Missed it. He showed the degrees of asymmetry with a confident precision, using terms such as overbite, cross-bite and dilacerated roots.

"Di-what-erated roots?"

"It's just a small curvature of the roots ...Nothing to worry about, though it could be a treatment limitation. It might not allow for perfect alignment."

Who needs perfect? Definitely not me. I wouldn't notice Perfect if it bit me in the face with its crowded teeth.

Spread before me was a transcript of everything he was saying in plain English, so I could relax.

Still, I was marooned on a fog-socked island of thoughts, shipwrecked; it seemed, once more by realizations that all these things about her smile, hidden behind closed lips, had eluded me.

I have to admit feeling a little relief as the slide show continued and he explained all the good that would come as a result of tinseled teeth.

One of the most important changes would be that we'd finally be able to SEE her smile.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The running joke

If you hadn't already noticed, you will begin to see us now, all decked out in our phosphorescent shirts and swiftest shoes, traipsing over hill and dale, even in the driving rain.

You can't fathom how much we've planned this excursion even as we protest that we haven't. We've traversed this course in our dreams ... Or more likely, instead of sleeping. We've considered every little thing from what rests on the tops of our heads to what cradles the tips of our toes.  We know exactly how much compression we have in our socks.

Wave as you go by, but please, not with your middle fingers. We can't help ourselves.

Race days are upon us, and we are desperate to get in our mileage. We're not trying to ruin your commute.

On Saturdays all through the winter, some of us have dragged ourselves out of bed at six a.m., laced up our sneakers and picked a destination. Five miles here. Ten miles there. Lather. Rest. Repeat. We called it maintenance.

Back then we were only serious, not seriously obsessed.

We weren't what we'd call diligent, no matter what we told you.

There was always a time (or three) when we just stepped outside for a moment, turned around and went back into the warmth.

But each passing day, our numbers multiply, and we're starting to talk shop.

"Are you a pronator or a supinator? Are you working on a forefoot landing? Have you tried a foam roller?"

We happily take questions, but shhh shhh: don't ask us how the "jogging" is going. Our answers might not be civil.

Our non-running significant others laugh as they putter around the house with their second cuppa. We've tried to make converts of them.

They put up with us and our driving forces, but they can't help but make comments:

"When I want to go 13 miles I get into a car ...."

They understand our degrees of insanity.

Every Spring our obsessive-compulsive disorders come roaring back from their winter hibernations. Fueled almost entirely by gadgets that track us whether we are awake or asleep.

They plant ideas into our heads about how far we should go and how fast. They remind us via email that last year we were better, faster.

We hate them as much as we can't live without them.

We pray to the god of muscle strains to pass over our houses, as evidenced by our Google search histories:

"To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question."

The results aren't definitive no matter what you've read online. New York Times says ... Might as well give the Giant 8 Ball a shake.

We try to step lightly. Lean forward. Pump our arms at our sides. Careful not to cross our meridians.

At the coffee shop where we gather later to super-charge our running highs with caffeine, we talk about our plans with others we know by pace.

There's always someone selling us something that money can't buy. Some of it sounding off limits in polite company.

Tempo Run. Hill Repeats. Fartlek.

"Have you heard about the 4:1? It's not the latest model -- that would be the 15:15 -- but it's a solid choice if you are going to walk any of your intervals."

We make jokes about ourselves and our pronouncements.

Especially during the low moments.

The muscle pulls. The shin splints. The traveling aches and pains that we all fear will not only sideline us but cause our early retirements.

We lose count of how many times we decide to quit this thing called running before it quits us.

"I'm giving up racing," we've all uttered ad nauseam, only to be lured back mid-sentence by an upcoming entry deadline and a free t-shirt.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Baseball Ready

Baseball season sets my teeth on edge.

It's not that I don't like the game, exactly. It's more that I fear it.

I fear the hot sun and the foul balls that make their way into to stands. I fear the crowds and the crowing that make the experience uncomfortable for pretty much everyone.

But most of all, I fear that my kid is going to get hurt in every way a kid can get hurt.

From the moment my kid looked up and said he wanted to play in Little League, to the moment he stood out in the field – all decked out in his local business-sponsored duds – all I could do as I sat in the bleachers was pray he wouldn't get a line drive to the head.

He'd never see it coming. Not the way he did cartwheels, chased butterflies and laid down in the outfield, making angels in the grass. And he'd never live down the ribbing from his teammates if he survived.

People are as serious as a heart attack about baseball.

“Baseball ready,” is the mantra all of the best coaches use. And with those two words alone, you'll see a team of wrigglers straighten up and start catching pop flies.

Magic words aside, I can't relax.

Each year as baseball season rolls around I hope my Champ won't play. Each year I hide the papers that come home from school announcing sign-ups. Each year he finds them and demands to be signed up.

“This year is going to be GREAT,” he exclaims. “I loooooooooove baseball.”

And, each year, I reluctantly sign him up.

I know all the things that make baseball great. You have a simple game, with simple rules, wrapped up in a blanket of complicated histories and DNA strands of statistical facts. Anyone can play, but few play at all-star status, and fewer have the encyclopedic knowledge of a savant. There's as much reason for dubbing baseball our national pastime as calling bread the staff of life. It's all that and a bag of roasted nuts.

If I am truthful, I will say my boy's ability to focus on the game has improved from last season to this one. He may only do a few handstands during practice or when the other team is getting in its lineup. But there are still painful faces and tears when he strikes out.

Soon, I know, he'll come around. His face will stretch back into a smile.

Strangely, though the season is new, I find I am less anxious than I was.

I just hold my breath and clap between plays. I never yell anything.

Time, I tell myself. Time and practice. Every skill we learn takes time and practice. And as I watch, he scoops up a grounder and tosses it to the pitcher. I exhale a little of my pent up breath. He'll get there.

I have to suck all the air back in, however, when he slides on both knees in the grass as if he were reenacting a scene in “Risky Business” during a lull in play.

A new fear has arisen:

The team uniform called for white pants.