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.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

My people don't camp

My people don't camp.

I wish when I said this statement, it sounded as arrogant as it reads. But when it tumbles out of my mouth the words are filled with disappointment, having been all but deflated of their rarified airs.

No matter what I do, my people don't camp.

I've always owned a tent. I've always had gadgets that would help me ease back to civilization if ever I got away from it: backpack, sleeping bag ... collapsible cups. I can barely pass up packaging that purports waterproof matches.

I've just never been able to convince anyone else that camping in the great outdoors would be an adventure worth having.

You see, though my parents were fond of taking the family on annual trips to Boston and Cape Cod, they preferred clean and modern motels with pools or walking access to the beach.

And the mechanics of these weeklong rituals back in the late '70s went without question.

To ask my mother if we could go camping would have been akin to asking if we could go to the moon.

Or worse:

Into a war zone where the enemies are mosquitoes and public showers.

It was safer to ask the man at the front desk to explain the tide charts every couple of hours. At least he'd give me two wrapped peppermints to get rid of me.

My mother just told me I would grow up and do whatever I wanted. If it was to be the moon ... "Well, good luck with your uphill battle."

Mothers, bless their stubborn hearts, are usually right.

Though my people have changed over the years, through marriage and periods of gestation -- I even have a husband who relishes his bi-annual camping trips with his boyhood pals -- the closest we've ever come to camping as a family is pitching a tent in the backyard ...

And then moving it into the living room when the sun went down and small bodies with big imaginations decided a zipper wasn't much protection from all the noise the wild suburban kingdom is prone to making.

But I haven't lost hope.

I even caught a glint of it for a moment this year, when my husband mumbled something about the guys planning a weekend camping trip for the families.

In my mind, I could see us all gathered on an island in Maine. Our tents pitched as if in a catalogue village. Kayaks portaged and waiting at waters' edge. Folding chairs set up around a blazing campfire. Me walking around with my tin cup of coffee, surveying it all ...

I could almost smell the bacon sizzling away on a camp stove.

Of course, it could have been a display area, over to the left.

We do find ourselves in outdoor equipment stores quite often. My husband is looking for luggage. Kids are looking for backpacks. I am looking for woolen socks. After awhile, the children, having wandered around and found nothing appealing, will settle in among the camp chairs display, try them all until one has the right fit.

There they will stay, quietly staring into their pocket pals until we have decided on purchases.

I wonder aloud if we should look into buying a bigger tent for the upcoming camping trip. There's a preseason sale ...

"Oh, Sorry," he said, with the sound he makes of sucking back air whenever he has to eat his words. "Timing didn't work out on that trip this year."

See? There's no getting away from it.

I stand there, wide-eyed and gaping-mouthed. A small hand tugs on my coat with urgency.

"I need to peeeeeee!"

Our people don't camp. Our people just hang out at camping stores and pretend.

"At least this place has a bathroom."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Minimum wage

As we wait at the end of our driveway for the school bus to arrive, my daughter paces around, scuffing her feet just enough to kick up loose gravel.

Hands in her pockets, shoulders inching upwards, her posture braces against the crisp air, giving herself protection from the wind the way a jacket with a tipped-up collar might have ...

If she'd worn one ...

I won't pick that battle, nor the one that should present itself an hour later when I stand out here with her brother, who will undoubtedly be wearing shorts.

The truth is I like being out here. I like that she still lets me stand beside her, cracking jokes and making a silly spectacle of myself when the mood strikes.

I know these days are numbered.

These days most of her friends require a buffer zone between their too-cool selves and their hot-mess parents.

Not her. Not yet, anyway.

She fixes her eyes on the ground and kicks up another pebble. It glances off the grass and disturbs a clump of wild violets.

Even though there was no harm, she recoils as if the rock had hit her.

"I didn't mean to do that," she says, apologizing to the weed.

She's fond of its purple flowers, she tells me, noting the pretty petals are closed up now because of the morning chill, but will open fully to greet her when she steps off the afternoon bus.

She's taken an interest in them because the lawn has recently become her "chore."

A chore for which she is paid handsomely.

For twelve years she has led an existence unencumbered by responsibilities other than the most basic and pressing:

"Feed the cat before she eats the walls."
"Clean your room if you want your friend to come over."
"Feed the cat!"
"Pick up your stuff."

But mostly her job has been this one, solitary constant –
"Feed." "The." "Cat!" – and a series of prodded peripherals. “Could you please, for the love of sanity, put your dishes in the sink?!”

Thusly, her economic situation has been financed by saving up Christmas cash and birthday money instead of an allowance, and cute-faced begging.

But that's getting old. She has needs that I don't see as such and therefore refuse to finance.

See we had always planned to give our children jobs, but we couldn't decide whether we should pay them for household tasks.

"I don't want to pay her to do her own laundry or the dishes, or setting the table," my husband interjects. "She shouldn't get paid for ... "

"... doing the things I will eventually do for free when I get sick of waiting," I finish his sentence.

And there's the rub: without the incentive of recompense, and in the absence of near-constant nagging, three out of four humans in the household have been miraculously oblivious to the mess.

Until now.

Now, since she's short on cash and big on shopping, she's been noticing things that need doing:

Loading and unloading the dishwasher.
Washing and folding laundry.
Cleaning bathrooms.
Raking leaves.
Mopping floors.
Vacuuming carpets. …

But it's her father who has the big jobs.

Building fences.
Welding ... stuff.

"Two-fifty an hour for housework," we agree after some negotiation. But her little brother, acting as her agent, wasn’t satisfied. "Five bucks an hour for general carpentry and landscaping. That's my final offer."

His intervention was worth the extra portion she’d shaved off her dessert that evening. We would have paid more; she would have settled for less.

And I have to admit, not being the only one who cleans the cat box would be a bargain at twice the price.

But twice the price IS calling her toward my husband’s directives.

Mom. … Can you pick up some grass seed next time you’re out? There’s a patch of lawn I want to fix.”

I think I may have to rethink my minimum wage if I want to keep her.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Heads Up

The subject is Animals.

And we are failing spectacularly.

“Ohhhh … wait … I know!” I say reading the words on the screen my daughter is holding up to her forehead. “It's another name for a bison.” *crickets* “Spicy chicken wings are called this.” *blank stare* …. It a place people shuffle off to?” *Blinking blank stare*


For pete's sake, BUFFALO! It was Buffalo!

She groans, gets up from the comfortable chair and hands me the game device. I push a button, it starts to tick and I hold it up to my forehead facing her.

Now it' was my turn to guess the clues.

Uh … You play this is a band.”
A guitar!”
No the other thing.
No the thing that sounds like a guitar but is a fish.”
A bass?”
But it's a fish so you can't tune it.”
A bass?

Ding Ding Ding … We have a winner!”


Now the boy wanted in on the action.


I hand over the phone.

This time, let's try Acting it Out!” says my son, whose internal mute button often seems to get tripped during times of high excitement.

He just can't get the words out fast enough.

But then … as he hops around and acts out the phrase that is hanging over my head, my internal mute button activates, too.

Everything he pantomimes looks like “Monkey,” and I know we've moved on from animals.

It's a monkey!
It's an ape!
It's a baboon!
Is it a primate grooming another primate?
Oh my ghaaad. NO! No already! It's not an animal. It's dad clipping his toenails.”

Dad, who didn't want to play, and who was trying to mind his own business holding down the couch positioned just a few feet away.

How come I am the only one in this house who clips his toenails?” he asks a little dejected. “And why do you always make ME look like an ape, when it's your MOTHER who insists on trick-or-treating in the gorilla costume.”
Enough from the peanut gallery,” I say to my husband, who can't see from his place of repose that his son has twisted his face into a mean little prune. “Let's move on.”

So for the next sixty seconds I miss interpret Gymnastics, Winning the Lottery, and Defusing a bomb.

After which my daughter tries but can non convey Getting married, Receiving a shot, and Pole dancing.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Snow-day give-aways

Even before a carpet of white landed with a thud on our elongated spring, my daughter had been snowed-in for days. Tethered to a mountain of quilts with unlimited access to WIFI, she had hunkered down in her room like a weather-weary ground hog.

She ventured out for meals (if you can call scrounging the kitchen for snacks "meals"); and phone calls; and twice-daily showers, one of which served to provide deep-conditioning treatments for her ever-lengthening locks and to clog up the drain with aforementioned "gunk."
I don't want to give you the impression she is self-sufficient.

She'd find me and make requests for provisions. We are out of celery! And shrimp! And those chips that taste like bacon!

I smile a tight little smile and lift my shoulders and hands in unison. "Oh well …"

I try to give her space.

Time ticks forward. Her brother takes up her space with a double volume of noise.

But every now and again I miss her voice and pre-teen presence (as shocking as it seems,) so I wander into dangerous territory to make contact.

I stood by her door and listen for sounds of life.

Mostly I hear teenaged voices narrating the opening of packages and the excited recitation of the things that are within. I gather she is watching videos, and has been for hours.
She scoots over when I walk in, clearing room for me to sit down. She shifts her tablet to the center. For better viewing.

"OOOOH ... this is AHHHHHHMAZING! I love the colour!!!!" A disembodied voice says from behind the camera.

I gag at the pronunciation of European spelling.

Or maybe the sour taste in my mouth was from the flavor of bacon macaroni-cheese potato chips she had offered if I'd just close my eyes and open.

It all leads me to believe that most of what we think of as growing up might be based on a dare.

But she doesn't expect me to understand ... Because I am old. And set in my ways. And have no need for make-up to accentuate my otherwise ghastly appearance.

I've peeked over her shoulder on occasion and found bubbly blondes in blemish-free surroundings gushing out superlatives.
What am I watching?” I ask my daughter.

She just points to the screen, and, as if on cue, the vlogger explained:
The rule was that we could send each other ten cosmetics that would cost a total of about $25 … or we could send more or less. Or it could cost more or less … it depended on the translation of the dollar … or something. I don't know. I'm so exCITEed!!!!”

I look at her. My tight little smile returns.

She looks at me. Her eyes prime for a full summersault.

"I just don't understand. Do people really enjoy watching other people open boxes and describing the contents? It seems like watching paint dry."

She just smiles my tight little smile and lifts her shoulders and hands in unison. "Oh well ..."
Are we at an impasse?

Is shutting off the internet all I have left at my disposal?

I think not.

I pull out my phone ... and in seconds I find her.

A pretty girl, sans makeup, giving a tutorial about how to make backpacks for Syrian refugees using three tools and yards of reclaimed materials out of the rafts they swept in on.
It's just a small thing. But it makes a big impact.

"See ... this is a girl thinking outside of the box."