Sunday, April 15, 2018

Go pave the driveway

The state of my car is appalling.

Dog hair and detritus everywhere.

I'm not even going a hazard a guess as to how to classify the sticky substance between the middle row of seats or what solvent would make it disappear.

I had been in the car by myself for the better part of an hour, driving from one errand to another, listening lazily to the sounds straining out of the pop music radio station my daughter prefers.

I might have been amused by the constant banter of the DJ duo discussing bad dates with their listening audience. Everything about it felt familiar. Even the talk formula, intermittently interrupted by one of seven hit songs, presumably played in rotation, seemed like old hat.

But as I drove, my mind was churning a mixture of past, present and future banalities as anesthetizing as the airwave testimonies fueling this perennial battle of the sexes.

Truthfully, I hadn't been paying attention until I hit snow. (Yes, there was actual snow ... this winter refuses to retreat) but it was the radio static that transformed figurative pain into literal pain.

I changed channels.


A woman with precise diction and a chuckle in her voice proceeded to lay out the problems with kids today:

Their parents.

Helicopters ...
Snow plows ...
Pushovers ...
Absentee ...

We know where we are on the spectrum.

A part of me wished I was not white-knuckling behind a steering wheel so I could let my eyes glaze over.

I could tell from the way her words flowed with a practiced flair into clear and chiseled points that this was more than a radio interview. Perhaps it was the subtle, yet distinctive sound of live studio-audience laughter punctuating her pauses that made me realize I was listening to a clip from a TED Talk.

I briefly wondered what the speaker looked like, imagined her pacing a stage wearing elegant but comfortable attire. I made a mental note to listen for the host to repeat her name so I could Google it later.

I never caught her name, but I imagined if I scoured the Interwebs for any of the above-mentioned search words I'd find no fewer than 7,000,010 potential scholars.

Far too few of us, our esteemed speaker noted with observances during her years of experience in academia, can walk sturdily in the place we need to be as molders of the future: a narrow little pathway she called “Authoritative Parenting.”

Usually, we end up on either side of the divide: the strict disciplinarians wind up on Authoritarian Avenue, and the friend-zoned parents wind up on Doormat Street, both of which are presumably dead ends in the game of Chutes and Ladders to Success.

Authoritative parents, however, are perfectly balanced between dictatorship and fairyland, which might mean they rule their little fiefdoms with a magic wand.

Not that I would ever bet bitcoin on any of that being even remotely true.

But as a person of a certain age, with a certain set of expectations and cultural pressures, I have continued to listen, hoping this stray voice in the wilderness will hand over the key to the universe, and she does: All we need is unconditional love … and chores.

Chores, like taking out the garbage or doing the laundry.
Paving the driveway. Anything that teaches children to look at their surroundings and predict what needs doing.

Look junior, a pothole. Fill it with tar.

It couldn't be easier. Chores! A simple and attainable plan.

I don't need to sweat all this big stuff. I don't have to worry that colleges won't accept my children if they walked out of school to protest gun laws when they were in middle school. Or that life won't be worth living if they don't play a sport or learn a second language while they play piano and develop a scalable model for a disruptive economic driver using only code.

I just need to get them to clean my car.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Parlez vous français? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

My daughter noticed it first. The city was a ghost town.

As we passed over the Champlain Bridge on a midday Monday, she remarked about the construction equipment seemingly abandoned.

“Isn’t it creepy,” she wondered aloud, “there doesn’t seem to be a
single soul anywhere?”

As we made our way into Montreal to celebrate spring break with a four-day holiday, I wondered if the Quebec province was celebrating a holiday of its own.

“Nope. I already checked.”

Then the only explanations I could come up with were a zombie apocalypse or an alien abduction.

Which, let’s face it, wouldn’t exactly surprise me considering my past history of planning our way through travel.

This diminutive vacation had been off to a rocky start from even before we’d arrived.

We’d been delayed at the border unexpectedly. Our car waved into a concrete slot while three uniformed men asked us to exit and stand at the curb.

“Take your hands out of your pockets, please,” asked one of the officials, whose voice didn’t make “please” sound in any way pleasant.

She had been excited to spend a few days exploring a foreign city. She had envisioned eating gravy-drenched fries and practicing her middle-school French for a stunned an appreciative audience.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her the minute she said “Bonjour,” her host would switch to English, having detected our native language expertly. She’d find out soon enough.

My daughter didn’t want to watch the latex-gloved inspectors paw through our things, so we took them up on their offer to take a seat inside a cement block building to stay out of the weather.

We had planned to see the old city, visit some museums and explore the Biodome, a museum of the environment that, as a google search would confirm, was not one in the same with the Biosphère, a similarly themed museum made from the 1967 World’s Fair pavilion designed by Buckminster Fuller.

Neither of which would be open during our stay.

It turned out the dome had shuttered for a complete renovation the day we arrived, leaving a gaping hole in our itinerary. The rest of the city seemed to be in a similar state of hibernation.

Everything seemed to be “ferme.”

We started to understand once we went into one shop and found that it spiraled into a city underground.

While it seemed a the survivors of the zombie apocalypse staggered around outside as Winter refused to concede Spring, life bustled under the streets and through buildings that connected, blending commuter trains with the retail terrain.

It felt ... how do you say?

Mort Vivant?

I think I may be too cynical for travel. Too fearful of being the illiterate who can only get lost. This trip has only reinforced my resolve to limit my surroundings to the familiar.

Back at our concrete shack at the border we sat behind a table and avoided looking in the direction of our car by translating a sign on the wall bearing the likeness of the saddest raccoon known to man:

“La Rage!”

“Ne jamais toucher à une chauve-souris, qu’elle soit vivante ou morte.”


“Never touch a bat, be it alive or dead.”

It’s hard to deny that everything sounds better in French. And probably look better with a photo of a raccoon, too.

One of the inspectors motions to us as he walked to the table. When he arrived, he unleashed a torrent of words that cascaded around us in beautiful nonsense.

I cock my head and raise my shoulders as my daughter proudly used her French:

“Je ne paux pas parler français.”

“I do not speak French.”

He smiled and points to our car.

“Enjoy your stay in Canada.”

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Waiting for the bump

It was the cutest thing: Two squirrels scurrying across the street as if they were a pair of teacup-sized dogs that had broken free of their people and gone off to play.

Rolling, tumbling, and then stretching out fully - as if in flight - they performed these and other varmint gymnastics until they were safely on the other side.

For a few moments, as I waited at the stop sign, I thought of how adorable this impromptu act seemed, and how I kind of miss the squirrels while they are laying low during their winter siestas.

But then they returned to the center of the road with full and equal vigor, heading straight into the path of my car and uncertain doom.

Squirrels being squirrelly and all, the certainty of a traffic-related demise can be offset by the quick and limber directional changes they exhibit that border on the magical.

As a driver, however, I know my response is limited to one of only two possibilities: the unwise and reactionary change of course that could impact other drivers; or the tensing of body parts and the momentary closing of eyes as I wait for the stomach-churning bump under my tires.

I always choose the latter.

No bump. I open my eyes. No rear view of a tiny corpse. Safe again.

I can relax, thankful for the agility of squirrels.

It occurs to me that parenting can feel a little like white-knuckling through an alleyway full of darting squirrels.

Obviously, these kids have no idea what they are doing. Boldly starting out on their journeys, doubling and even tripling back before darting back into harm's way.

We count ourselves lucky if we don’t feel or witness the bump.

Lately, though, I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that our kids may not be the only ones playing the part of the squirrels in this anthropomorphic flight of fancy.

We parents are also chasing our tails in some panicked state of industriousness.

Sure we have intuition. A nature to nurture. But our real-world experience with raising children is limited to how we were raised.

When you think about it, parenting feels like tackling a never-ending circle of tasks we would rather do differently than our parents if we could just stop hearing their voices coming out of our mouths.

Of course, nature would have it that we are always wrong. I know you can’t hear me, but the voice I used in the last sentence was not tinged with sarcasm.

We humans get it wrong. A lot. And probably throughout recorded history we have always made mistakes that we just haven't acknowledged.

We zigged, perhaps, when we should have zagged.

Maybe these mistaken turns lead to places we ought not go, or perhaps they lead us to safety. If we are lucky - and many of us are - the bump we experience in the road won’t prove lethal. But the thing that I think makes us most squirrel-like is the speed at which we venture forth into this great unknown.

It really is the cutest thing.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


I love when Spring refuses to take off its winter coat.

Its chill lingering in the air, making me take quick, half steps. The kind of stride that makes you feel like you aren't on secure ground.

It makes the heart race.

I call this meeting of seasons Sprinter.

I’m weird like that.

I love seeing my breath turn into clouds. And I’m not too old for snow angels.

I don’t even mind the soggy boots sloughing off the last of the heavy-weight snow in my entryway if it means the first season could last just a tick longer. It dries without a fuss.

Winter has the weather that best suits my clothes. Hats, gloves, and scarves. Sweaters, coats, and boots; Layers that hide shapes or lack thereof.

I will miss trekking over the frozen landscape on snowshoes truth-be-told. Laughing as the dogs trail behind me in a single file line, chest deep.

With cleats gripping into the drifts, I can go anywhere. I can lengthen my stride and feel secure on the vertical climbs. I don't mind the effort, nor do the dogs.

The world is fresh and new after a snowfall. The air seems clear.

Later, with the wind blowing against the house and blankets bundling us cozy and snug, all will sleep soundly.

I will miss the warmth of glowing logs breaking into tufts of tiny fireworks in my living room.

It won’t last much longer.

Any day now Spring’s wispy garments of chintz will reveal themselves from under Winter’s woolen exterior.

Slight tendrils of green will slither up through the ground as the snow melt causes the earth to turn into a kind of soup.

I’ll bear it with gritted teeth mimicking a smile, though the mess their shoes track in will probably stain the rug.

My kids.

They can’t wait until they don’t need the coats they haven’t worn anyway since a gopher in Pennsylvania predicted six more weeks of winter.

At least they are smart enough to keep their lips closed over their chattering teeth as we wait for the school bus at the crack of dawn.

These kids. They are enjoying a different kind of sprint; the kind that speeds the biological clock.

What? Did you think this life cycling timepiece only compelled women of a certain age toward procreation?

Maybe you're right. Time, I thought, left no impression on me before children.

My skin was unlined. My hair curled at my shoulders without a trace of silver. There was nothing but time.

I had no idea that time was like a turntable with adjustable speeds:

33 … 45 … 78 …

Sprinters, the lot of us.

If you’ve blinked, the saying goes, you might have missed it. Like all parents, cliché has proven beyond doubt that our children were born just yesterday. We thought time had slowed during the sleepless, hall-walking nights of those early years.

But once we've closed our eyes and slept effortlessly through the night, we open them to find ourselves, perhaps, on the other side of a conference table in a guidance counselor’s office, checking off boxes for a high school schedule, which is set to begin before we see another winter's return.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The weight of the world

Her shoulders have begun to ache. The burden of a heavy backpack as she gazes down toward a cellphone, no doubt.

The weight of the world resting there.

She muddles through her work with a stiff upper lip and a few discreet stretches to counterbalance herself.

The school day is hours over, yet she is still there. Working.

She makes a silly face and freezes it in Snapchat; sending her goofy likeness off into the void.

I “like” it as I sit out in the parking lot, waiting.

Even with the windows all the way up I can hear her voice dancing as she moves toward the car. She is saying “goodbye” to friends as she leaves play rehearsal. It sounds like she’s singing.

I recognize the attention she’s paid to her hair as she casually flips it, and notice the exact purse of her lips as she smiles and waves to someone I can’t quite make out from my vantage point.

A friend? Teacher? Perhaps.

It is dark and past her usual bedtime. She’s been going at it for hours, days, months.

This school play is no joke. Nearly four hours a day since the new year started. When the curtain opens later this month, the lights will artfully cascade on a professional-looking set.

In the audience, first-time theater parents will stop breathing for a few beats of their heart. They will look around at their neighbors in disbelief.

Is this a high school play?”

We’ve all asked the same question that first time.

It seems kismet, somehow, as I watch her through the glass. She has always been an actress.

But her act stops the moment she opens the car door.

She tosses her bag in the back and slides in up front with a deep sigh. She buckles her seatbelt and immediately adjusts the radio station.

You don’t mind if I change it.”

It’s not a question. She is the guest, and guests in my car get to choose the tunes.

It’s just how I roll.

She was silent for a while as we drove. The music faded into the background. She doesn't want me to ask her about her day. But I ask anyway. Adults, she tells me, never understand.

She tells me about hustling off to the gymnasium with her classmates so the principal could lead them in seventeen minutes of silence. One for each life taken in another school shooting.

I wondered if he mentioned how the title “Principal” is a combination of PRINCE and PAL.

It's not funny.”

She rolled her eyes. “It was supposed to be a student-led event, but it was all planned by teachers. Kids weren't even allowed to say anything about guns or gun control.

Some kids were able to speak, but they weren't free to speak.

They just told us how we're different. How they are prepared. And that they are keeping us safe in ways we can't begin to know. In ways even parents don't know.

And all I can think is I bet those teachers in Florida felt the same way: 'This isn't the kind of thing that happens here.'

But it can happen anywhere.”

I can't argue with her. I can only switch off the ignition and help her carry her book bag into the house.

The smallest of burdens.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Weather, you believe it or not

I hate relying on computers.

I feel this way despite the fact that without a compact electronic device to help gather information and relay messages while I am dividing my attention between any number of things, I would be lost.

And I mean this literally. Without GPS I might still be circling in lesser-known parts of the north country for days just trying to find my way south.

Not that I’d want to return to wrestling with the folds of a paper map — this is one genie that won’t get back in the jar — I just know technology hasn’t been the savior it was hyped to be back when Michael J. Fox was riding around in a Delorian with Christopher Lloyd.

What with hacking, data breaches, internet pests such as bugs and worms, I find it odd that the thing that irritates me most about our advance toward advancement is how much it costs us to save time.

I’m old enough to remember when computers were supposed to save the planet from being awash in paper. How fast and accurate the transfer of information would be. How information would be democratized.

I didn’t want to be a naysayer, but I knew mistakes would still happen, only now they’d seem more official.

That’s what happened back at the turn of the century when my doctor’s office changed over to computerized prescriptions, anyway.

Doc ticked the wrong box and my prescription for ten days of antibiotics turned into a two-day supply at a higher dose.

With a new script obtained when my infection came raging back on day three, the pharmacist said the previous one had seemed odd but was so terribly legible he didn’t bother to question it.

Nearly two decades later, I’ve finally given up on my trusted paper calendar. Those of you who have your favorite model Week-at-a-Glance will understand the strange feeling of loss.

And those who have already missed a few appointments in the first quarter of the year will blame their fat fingers, which may have scrolled when they should have typed.

Anyway, that’s the reason I was giving for missing concessions duties at the basketball games last Wednesday. I had it on my electronic calendar; I had just saved it under Saturday’s date.

I never even questioned the iCalendar’s authenticity.

To be brutally honest, I never would have believed our time slot to sell Swedish fish and Gatorade would have been pinned to a school night even if I’d seen it on paper in my own loopy script.

But crazier things are known to happen.

You know, like an early spring blizzard or a late winter heat wave, which is exactly what I thought as I scrolled through the weather forecast on my phone and found a roller coaster of temperatures.

“Can you believe it’s going to be 70 degrees tomorrow,” I said, to like, the 14th person that day? Mostly they voiced a climate change acceptance that a 40-degree swing would take place a few days after we’d been buried in snow.

Except for one person, who, as weather apps would have it, had just checked in with hers.

“No, actually; I don’t believe it.”

Which made me wonder about the accuracy of the information at my fingertips I had just taken for granted.

It turns out she was right. I had been checking the weather in New Zealand.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Man cold

For years I’d made fun of him in his sickbed.

A lump of husband flesh, moaning in congested agony. Honking and depositing white puffs of soggy tissues all over the floor. Spouting “invalid commands” (bring me soup, or a glass of water and ibuprofen, can you reach the TV clicker for me?) and wondering if he should go to the doctor.

Having gone through the His’n Hers bickering in our youth, these days I keep mostly quiet about my thoughts about the infamous Man Cold.

Especially my thought about how odd it seems that the antibiotics he inevitably wrangles from his physician finally start to work at about the time the prescription runs out. Ten days.

 Virus, schryrus.

I had worked through colds; and taken care of fussy babies when I was sick myself. I didn’t experience illness the way he experienced it ... except for the time I had pneumonia.

That was my Man Cold.

Somehow, he doesn’t remember it.

“They sent you home from urgent care with a printout for rhinitis.”

Of course, he remembered a different time. Different year. A different illness and conflated the two.

“Don’t you remember the x-rays? The fact that I didn’t have any energy for three months?”

He did not. He just remembered the girl’s ninth birthday party, and 20 guests I had left him to handle because I felt short of breath and I went to the Emergency Room.

It doesn’t matter.

I was fine. He was great. Everyone had cake.

Somewhere between then and now, some bubbly, morning news reader announced a recent study suggesting men may, in fact, experience colds more severely than women.

You should have seen him so happy, jumping around the kitchen, toppling over the butter knife he'd left hanging over the counter’s edge just in case he’d be wanting to have more toast.

He probably wouldn’t search for the empty coffee cup he left on the table — that I’d already put in the dishwasher — because a single study, reported on local news, supported his belief, and he was celebrating with a cacophony of I Told-You-Sos and I-Knew-Its.

Ha HA! There it is. I was right!

Essentially, a surgeon in Kansas who studies such things found that estrogen depresses a cold virus’ ability to replicate as quickly, so women may feel fewer symptoms than men. Also, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature is larger in men, presumably because of testosterone, potentially ratcheting up their fevers.

Grain of salt? No word on whether scientists have replicated the Man Cold study, but other scientists have said the numbers seem insignificant and that the immune systems of men and women are virtually identical.

In other words: hard telling, not knowing.

Not that I enjoy salting this particular skating rink.

The ice is already thin.

There is, however, a benefit to be had by showing compassion and offering up a “poor baby” along with a bowl of chicken soup on the occasions of viral infection.

One day that bowl of soup will be on the other hand. Estrogen doesn’t last forever, fellow Xxmen. Our Man Colds await.