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."

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Power-lifting may tend to corrupt

My head was pounding. Adrenaline was rushing through me, raising my blood pressure and heart rate. Sweat beading on my brow. I couldn't breathe. My muscles twitched as every fiber of my being seemed to seize and contract.

This anger feels like a workout.

See, I have been on the phone now three times trying to cancel my gym membership. And each time I heard the same response.

You must come in and sign a form in person.”

It wasn’t inertia keeping me away. It was a sign that the owners had plastered to the front door of the club. A sign that seemed a harbinger of all that could go possibly wrong in a world filled with fear and firearms.

Guns are welcome on premises. Please keep all weapons holstered unless need arises. In such a case, judicious marksmanship is appreciated.”

It wasn’t a joke.

As I waited for a return phone call, I seethed. I should have ended this relationship last summer when news surfaced about a shooting accident at this very gym. The owner himself fumbled a gun, and, in an attempt to catch it, sustained a minor wound. Lesson learned. Or so I thought.

That’s what the police report said, anyway.

I had averted my eyes that time because I thought caution would prevail. But this sign reminded me some people prefer to throw caution to the wind.

My phone rang, Finally. The owner. His answer was more of the same: You must show up in person coupled with the assertion that he’s trying to work with me. These are just the rules I refuse to follow. Stop resisting.

But I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to set foot in a place where grunting people in sweaty clothes were now welcomed to bring their guns as sidekicks. 

And I certainly didn’t want to face the man with the gun. Especially now that he was reading me the riot act over the phone, saying I was the one who was threatening him. … All because I’d promised to let Better Business know there are probably better businesses.

All I wanted to do was cancel my membership. I didn’t want to cut off someone’s life support.

But I also wanted to stop being a doormat and a bystander. That skinny kid who gets sand kicked in her face.

I didn’t want to accept the threat of a cancellation fee that should have already expired on my mature membership. I didn’t want to accept the idea that a paper trail was necessary to end a service that no longer suited me. I certainly didn’t like being threatened with collections if I directed my credit card company to stop making payments.

As I listen to all the barriers being erected in the way of my departure, I fell disbelievingly silent. Why would a business owner prolong the inevitable? For his pound of flesh? Why am I trying to reason with irrational?

I just didn’t want to belong to a club that would have guns as members, why did this feel like breaking up with the worst boyfriend I never had?

All I could come up with were these three words …

You. Are. Insane.”

Which I said aloud, and which I instantly regretted.

Not that I have any medical objectivity to level such a diagnosis, the power struggle playing out over the phone just struck me as being an exercise in futility. 

I just didn’t want to belong to a club that would have guns as members.

I should have been nicer. “You get more flies with honey … didn't your mother tell you that?”

Nope. My mother was a realist. “Flies will flock to the smell of death, too. Who wants more flies?”

So I took the path of least resistance, held my breath , walked through the gun-welcoming door and signed the paper. Lesson learned.

It was time to lower my impact. Power-lifting – like power itself – might tend to corrupt.  

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Boiling over

The pot had boiled over.

That's what my husband calls it, anyway, as whatever has been simmering all day in my thoughts comes out in a blast of hot words and scalding tones when we sit down to dinner.

It's not about him. It's not about anyone, really. I'm just a geyser of stress that erupts in moments of silence.

A filling of voids with angst and upheavals.

Anything can set me off. The internet. The elections. Orthodonture. Doctors appointments. Television news. Did I mention the internet? There wasn't a single thing I could pin down and do that would be constructive. There wasn't one outcome I could change from wanting change.

“I think you need to go to the gym, or out for a run,” he'll advise cautiously, aware that patronage at any point in this delicate endeavor could work against us. The pushing of any pseudoscience in my direction has to be incremental.

It has to be my idea …

Which, unspoken to anyone else, it had been. But I had gone out the night before. And the night before that. Three days in a row seemed selfish.

It was before six and he was already in pajamas, wine poured generously into a glass. I didn't need to ask about his day. “It's fine. Just go.”

And so I go.

Out the door and up the street. One foot follows the other.

I feel stiff and slow. As if my legs have been replaced by chopsticks. They don't feel as if they bend at the knees.

The wind is wicked. It claws at me with little bits of sand it kicks up in its gusts.

I put my head down and continue. I focus on taking small steps. More power, less effort.


They say it helps to exercise. But I don't know.

I'm not sure I feel better, exactly. I just feel different.

Reassuringly different. Explainably different: I can think of THIS pain as from running. THAT pain is from sit-ups. The heat you feel in your face is from raising your heart rate, not peri-menopause.

Just take deep, calming breaths.

The hardening of soft muscles is a bonus I don't wish to talk about. As if to admit pleasure in this area would diminish its value or add to my vanity.

Not to mention the conflict my thoughts tend to wage with each other over exercise.

“Don't step on the scale …. it's not about that.”

Step on the scale … be disappointed.

Look in the mirror … it's still the same me.

The pot is still there.

“It wasn't about losing weight. It was about all the other benefits. … the longer life. The mental health. The better sleep.”

I have choice words for that angel in my head, but I'll refrain from saying them. “Think positive,” would be her response, anyway.

My husband will tell you I sleep better. That I'm less liable to boil over at the slightest increase in temperature, but I still wake up at night, worrying about the things I can't control.

But I'll just go for a run.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Filling the space between us

Three miles. Thirty minutes. How hard could it be?

She watches me as I tie up my trainers. She's been saying she'd like to go with me. Stretch her legs. Get some exercise. But I know it's an intention she will likely postpone indefinitely.

The temperature was still climbing even as the sun was started to set. Perfect weather for a three-mile jog around the neighborhood. “Really. It will be fun. We can walk some, run some.”

She politely declines.

My daughter had other things on her mind. School things. Clothes things. Room I asked her to clean things. Boy things …

She says nothing above a whisper. I can tell she is balancing on the edge of sadness and could fall either way.

I get her to agree to walk with me to the meeting place. Other evening runners will gather, spring training in full effect. Ten minutes and two changes of clothes later, we are ready to head out the two or so blocks to the center of town. We have a pleasant talk around subjects. I hold my breath, resisting the urge to utter a stream of unhelpful advice. I just listen and nod.

Once we reach the square, we will go in opposite directions. She will head toward the library, where she will return materials that have been accruing fines. I will tackle the local cul-de-sacs at a hopeful 10 minutes per mile.

I worry about her in all the ways a parent worries. And now, adding to it with this new and expanded boundary of actual space. We so rarely go separate ways.

“Go right home after the library, Ok, before it's dark.”

She just grins at me.

“Where else would I go?” her smile tells me.

We've been through this dozens of times.

She disappears in the opposite direction I start to run. Slowly at first. Familiar. The pack starts out together, past the coffee shop and some houses, then thins out. Working harder, we don't chat as much as we pass the cemetery where our eighth president is buried. We pass more houses. People in their yards stop what they're doing to bid us a good evening. Turn left at the cornfield and head toward the orchard.

That's when I heard the siren and felt a lump in my throat that I try to explain away with statistics I made up for comfort's sake.

“I'm sure everything's fine.”

But the sirens continue, and I can hear cars racing to a spot that might be my home. It's hard to tell the direction of noise.

“Or it might be a neighbor's,” that everything-will-be-alright voice offers in hope.

I dig out my phone, just to be sure.

My stomach sinks. My phone has been ringing on “silent.” It's my husband.

The emergency is at our house. Everything is OK, though. She's fine. He's on his way there now. Ignore the messages.

Which I do. I ignore the messages and call the house. My daughter answers immediately and, with great excitement tells me she saw fire in the backyard as she was walking home.

“So I called the fire department.”

And just like that, my daughter saved the day in under three miles.