Sunday, November 12, 2017

My warmest thoughts

The clocks turned and all of a sudden summer had ended. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures plummeted. The furnace yawns and roars to life.

As I started digging through bins of hats and gloves and scarves, I noticed the first smear of blood across my knuckles.

Winter already?

I wonder if it's possible. Had I packed my winter skin inside a box of winter wear?

But I will not complain about the cold. 

I will find my warmest thoughts and fixate on them. It will help if I pull a chair up to the wood stove and sit all cross-cross-applesauce, scrunching my toes inside shearling slippers as I watch the flames dance for me.

It doesn't matter that the temperature outside has only dipped to a little above seasonal, inside I am ice. I have to plan every move as I was trudging through the tundra. 

I consider using the blowdryer on my hair ... and my knees ... and my feet. But first I must endure the split second of spray from the tap. Once it warms up, I will linger in the shower, turning the lever ever-so-slightly to the left as the heat of the water dissipates. 

 I will hover over the kick heater until its motor cuts out, letting the air chill and the room fog up. 

My children hate this weather. It forces them to wear socks and shoes and pants that are longer than shorts. They will refuse coats of any kind, keenly aware that wearing one now would betray some ethos of their youth.

The internal thermostat that allows their swimmer's lips to turn blue throughout the summer is evidently still on the fritz.

The sight of this throws off my internal furnace. Bare arms flailing around bare trees makes my skin bumps multiply.

My mother's words ricochet around my brain for a while and eventually escape through my voice:

"Put on some clothes; I'm freezing!"

They ignore my chattering pleas and continue wearing the wardrobe of summer. 

And the only motherly thing I can do I will have to do unto the dog, for she lacks thumbs and the will to stop me.

We will go for a "Double-u, Ay, Elle, Kay" (I spell out these intentions to minimize excitement and unnecessarily jumping).

It also gives me a chance to wrestle a fluffy, plaid coat over her head. 

She doesn't care about the cold, or that she looks ridiculous. She doesn't flinch at my ugly green beanie, uneven bulk, and faux fur boots.

She only cares about straining against the leash and that squirrel just around the corner neither of us has seen.

And she won't care about the human children who will laugh at the sight of us: a rag tag and a rover wearing the unfashionable costume of warmth. 

"I don't think I could admit knowing you," says the girl who hibernate under her quilt on the couch but wouldn't be caught dead in a quilted jacket.

I don't need to tell her the feeling is mutual the moment she ventures out of her blanket fort and stands at the bus stop in shirtsleeves. 

I will just inwardly shiver.

The dog gives my hand a brief nuzzle before she starts to dance around me in circles. And I will wave goodbye to my daughter thinking about how much easier it is to be the mother of dogs.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

I have a few questions

Do you spend an inordinate amount of time trying to wrap your mind around events, small and large, that float from The Cloud and trickle down into this thing some call the collective consciousness?

Do you get this same tingly sensation I get when some jolt of understanding breaks through the insulators and microchips and stands your hair on end?

Are you ever able to connect all the dots?

For instance, why is there ALWAYS room for dessert?

Why do dogs roll in deer poo?

Why do those two thoughts occupy my mind at the same time? 

What is the driver in the circle supposed to do if they encounter a pedestrian in the crosswalk at their exit?

Should we keep circling?

How do the laws we follow get so bound up in knots?

Why is Pinterest suddenly draped in things that look like elaborate fishing nets? Who resurrected macrame?

Are platform shoes next?

Why did Amazon send my husband two parts of a used "dancer's pole" and its dog-eared installation instructions with the children's bicycle helmets he had ordered?

Did the person who received the other pole parts also get my husband's order of Phillips-head screws?

How do I keep those two thoughts from occupying my mind at the same time?

Why is it so difficult and costly for drinking establishments in New York City to get a license allowing their patrons to dance?

How has it been possible for law enforcement (ever since Prohibition apparently) to crack down on dancing places that don't have these magical cabaret licenses?

Do they know something I don't know?

If we allowed folks to sway to the music of a house band at a corner bar, are we saying it's no big thing to crowd surf at a rave in a warehouse without fire suppression or adequate emergency egress? Is that what we mean when we shrug and say it's a slippery slope?

And why is it that virtually anyone can be a cab driver or an hotelier thanks to the interwebs, but no money can change hands for dog-sitting your "friend's" Bichon?

If a kennel takes fewer than three guests (including resident ruffers) couldn't it just be considered a home daycare?

You understand that I'm asking for a friend, right?

Why do people like pets more than preschoolers?

Is it possible that everything old could be new again if we just keep the definitions vague?

Is that why my daughter is listening to the 80s group, Journey?

Why do we pretend to know the answers and then get enraged when we see everyone else faking it?

Why does the President knee-jerk Tweet?

Why can't we admit to making mistakes? Is it because old dogs can't learn new tricks?

What am I supposed to say to my children when they ask why one mass killer using guns isn't called terror, while another mass killer using a car gets that label?

Does the future now depend on what crawls out from under the dark corner of the internet a person unearths?

Do you also secretly hope the cloud will burst and wash all this nonsense away?

Why am I suddenly thinking of “Flashdance?”

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Like two bugs in a rug

My little bug is buzzing around Washington D.C. with the rest of the 8th graders in her school. A class trip to the nation's capital that she's been preparing for since fourth grade.

In the fundraising sense, anyway.  Scrimping and saving in a school-based account with the expected efficiency of market-sponsored fundraisers.

You know what I mean: you sell a candle to your grandad that your mother will pay for and keep, because, let's face it, not a single person his age needs a chunk of wax that supports an open flame.

I prefer dropping off bags full of bottle deposits that miraculously tabulate into a small fortune than to periodic pyramid sales schemes.

Surely two years' worth of spent soda cans would put a bite into the final bill.

"You're welcome," I said with all the confidence of a moral superior. But I had missed the mark.

"Yeah .... you saved the planet a whopping $14.45."

"What a bargain for you."

But it is a bargain, even at twice the price.

Right ... like I'm not going to invest at least twice that amount in replacing her shoe leather.

In four days - as per the itinerary - the kids will infest every spoke of the district. They will walk nearly 40 miles; land on dozens of museums and monuments; eat their way through a handful of restaurants, and do a fly-by of all houses of their representative government.

They pack a lot of tourism into 96 hours.

As she walked out the door, leaving her phone as per school regulation, I missed her.

Wished I could call just to hear her exasperated voice say "Mom! I'm not a kid anymore."

As I fed her critters and changed their water, I missed her.

I didn't even want to complain about the lack of cleanliness of their abode. I just silently swept.

As I sleepwalked into her room at the crack of dawn to silence an alarm she neglected to unset, I missed her.

I almost missed how her voice would sound from our shower at that ungodly hour. How her father would have hollered that she had her own bathroom she never used as if talking to himself.

I especially missed the late morning prank texts I send for her to find when school time electronic bans are lifted
and she rushes to check her messages.

I know she's probably waiting on a
cute boy to say "Hey! ..." and so she can reply "Hey!" and leave it at that.

Instead, she'll find a picture of a ballet dancing bear pirouetting through the air with a furry, distended belly and resting beast face.

She'll send me a catalog page in reply. A screen-shot of a lemon-colored pair of pants M.C. Hammer might have made famous. And she'll tell me they look like olden-days pants she thinks would look marvelous on me now, even though I've grown long in the tooth.

I will agree and tell her they do seem timeless. And I will admit with a false flair that I went ahead and bought two pairs. Now we can match.

She will flash a look of horror that reassures me that the bug in her misses the pest in me, too.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The same old story

It's the same old story.

A handful of swashbuckling men and a token woman swashbuckler (who, no surprise, meets a grim demise a few scenes in) all trying to save the world and one particular damsel in distress; a princess threatened by a venomous villain, who also happens to be a vixen.

Oh, and The NOC list -- an imaginary run down of all the names of covert spies -- was getting out in the open. Again. 

The popcorn wasn't even fresh.

I should mention the film was a sequel: A comedy wrapped up in a spy thriller featuring top-notch stars. Pure entertainment packed with natty clothes, English accents and dozens upon dozens of extra-special effects.

It was also the teen's first R-rated movie. In a theater. Accompanied by her parents.

My husband covered our daughter's eyes once during a particularly racy scene, but still, we laughed albeit awkwardly.

Harmless, escapist fun. That's what we tell ourselves as we follow along with the unbelievable storyline plot point by plot point and wait as the credits roll, hoping for bloopers.

I think spy movies are better when Megan McCarthy saves the day,” I said to virtual silence. 

How can you say that? Did you not see that epic car chase?”

Or the cool gadgets?”

Yes. Gadgets, gizmos, and girls -- the G-Force Field of entertainment. How could I forget?

We would go home to Amazon to search out the original in the series: Unearthing original sin, so-to-speak.

And then Harvey Weinstein happened.

More than the NOC list was now out in the open.

And it was repugnant.

The distressed damsel, now with a come-hither look and not a stitch of clothing, invited her spy savior into the just sprung prison cell for a tryst, which Big Brother watched on closed-circuit tv.

And laugh track ensued ...

I wasn't laughing.

I might never laugh again at another Hollywood ending made into a happy one by the pen of some man.

"Never in a million years would the victim of a kidnapping - and one who feared death at that - would become amorous of her hero.

"And even if some strange universe where such an outcome was possible, no hero would ever take advantage of her position."

I could think of a dozen endings that would have been better, funnier, though none that would be so outlandish.

But this was the ending that must have played best with the test audience. An audience made up of people like me. People who really hadn't given much thought to the way the world actually works, or who can explain it away as something that happens to other people.

And even when we have our own stories of harassment or assault, we see it normalized in art if not exactly in life.

We all have a story we'd rather not share; rather not have visited on our children; rather not have them repeat themselves.

It is a story that will haunt us all.

I don't blame the movies, though that would seem easy. There's no one place to look and find fault.

But I won't ever see these movies the same way again. And I think that's a start.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Mad dash

The alarm went off before first light.

I was already awake. I had gathered raincoats and coffee cups and portable breakfast snacks, knowing that we'd soon have a mad dash.

"Why are we doing this again?" asked my daughter groggily when I cracked open her door to rouse her from sleep. "It's still dark!"

"Because it will be fun."

I had volunteered us to hand out water and encouragement to all the runners who passed mile 8 and 21 of the Hudson Mohawk Half- and full Marathon, respectively.

But to be honest, my response was mostly wishful thinking. It was raining. And humid. And the thought of not knowing exactly how to hand off a wax lined cup filled with water to a runner scooting past us at a 6-minute-per-mile pace was slightly nauseating to me.

Equally sickening, of course, is the green-eyed monster I wrestle every time I see a neon-hued moisture-wicking clad person logging miles in my neighborhood.

I want to cheer them on, but I'd be happier if they were slogging along on a treadmill in a distant basement. Out of sight, out of mind.

I haven't been able to run since July. And it's been a kind of torture.

Stupid tendons.

I wasn't sure how I'd feel watching a few thousand sprinters scoot past me.

It turns out there wasn't much time to feel melancholy about what I was missing, the clock ticked quickly as we under-filled cup after cup with water and lined them up on a folding table set up alongside the street.

We joked about the added fiber runners would be treated to as the trees overhead dropped their gifts of tiny leaves with each gust of wind.

Someone spotted a leader on the horizon and hollered for the volunteers to find our places.

It was showtime.

And so we flanked the table, creating a chute the runners would tread through. The more seasoned among us offering tips:

Keep eye contact!

Balance the cup in your palm, shoulder height. Let the runner take it from you.

Pinch two cups in your other hand as ready replacements.

Keep checking for errant leaves before you hand off any cup.

Many runners, we noticed, have their own rules. Some grip the cups at the top and pinch a corner, creating a funnel to keep the liquid from spilling. Others take two cups, dumping one or both over their heads as they lope on through.

The faster ones might point to their desired target, usually the last volunteer on the line, and slow their pace imperceptibly.

Oh my god. That's me!

My heart races as the reality hits me:

I am this runner's last hope for water at mile 21. If I miss, bib number 1268 might dehydrate before getting to mile 23.

My daughter sees the terror in my face and dutifully calls out the play-by-play for the enjoyment of the rest of the volunteers: "This is it, folks. The moment you've all been waiting for; the moment of truth! Will she buckle under the pressure?"

Time seems to slow down. My arm starts to shake at the shoulder. The weight of the cup as oversized as the tension.

There is a blur. A warm hand brushes mine and the weight lifts. Runner and cup are gone.

"And it's good! The crowd goes wild!!!"

I have to admit, this strange sideline dance feels like a sport in and of itself. Perhaps I need a coach, or at least someone to take into account the lull between waves so we might replenish supplies. It's so easy to let funny t-shirts and snazzy running kicks sidetrack us.


Imagine what we might have accomplished had we'd trained. Imagine if we had spent just one measly hour a week mastering a complex routine of pouring, balancing and raking up cups.

I had a new addiction:  “Next year, I tell you, we are going to PR this water stop."

And my daughter had the antidote: “Wait? Why are we doing this again?”

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Music to my ears

"Do you want to hear me practice?"

Of course, I do, I say with a smile as the dog dives under the bed.

It's not a lie. ... Exactly. But the dog senses what is to come, and I envy her a bit on her choice of shelter. She doesn't mind the dust bunnies as much.

My son is still an enthusiastic student of music, though not yet an accomplished one.

It's only been three weeks.

And while I'd love to use earplugs or a sound suppressor at this juncture in his education, there's nothing I want more than NOT to have to force him to play.

The boy disappears into the avalanche of debris that is his bedroom and returns in short order with a pristine black trunk.

He opens the box and gingerly removes the shiny, brass tri-valved horn within. Behold! The trumpet we acquired through a low, low, introductory lease.

He holds it aloft for all to admire. The dog ventures a nose toward the boy and slinks back to safety.

I marvel at the gleam of this rental instrument; its lack of dents and fingerprints despite however many unwashed mits have handled it over the years. There's not even a single scuff mark on the leatherette case he totes back and forth to school three times a week.

But I'd be crazy not to shrink at my own fun-house mirror reflection as he points the funnel in my direction and blows.

I discretely cover my ears a bit, thinking next time I should wear a hat.

In the two short weeks he's been a student of band, he has taken all of the rules and recommendations of his leader seriously.

He applies the oils and cleaning rags at regular intervals and buffs the trumpet to a gleaming finish. He practices routinely with a timer. He buzzes and blows, rests in between, and toots out tunes that are almost recognizable.


If I close my ears halfway and make some allowances for the thick blasts of stabbing sound -- which usually end in shrill, needling tendrils -- I can hear "Mary Had A Little Lamp."

Or maybe it's "Maury is a Little Lame.”

Playing the trumpet is harder than it looks.

Wind from bulging cheeks turns suddenly from a strong gust into a whimpering, off-tune flatulence.

After a while, it seems only natural that the bent or broken notes will take their toll on his excitement. Not to mention taking all the wind right out of him.

Encouraging him to continue seems even more difficult when exhaustion sets in. Lung capacity takes some endurance.

The dog ventures out and takes her place next to me as the rehersal continues.

Two short blasts and a long note. A “G,” I think.

"Hey! That one didn't sound like a fart. And The dog isn't running away anymore. I think you might be getting the hang of this."

Probably not the best comparison to use with a 10-year-old boy. But not the worst.  

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Ladies, start your engines

She came around the track. Wide in the turns. Hair flying. Not giving anyone a chance to overtake her. She didn't think she could do it.

Yet, there she was in the lead.

I had fallen back. The last go-cart, hugging the turns ... pretending the tarmac was ice. Don't want to lose control. I knew I could go faster … but I don't have the same need for speed.

When she laughs at me later -- AND SHE WILL LAUGH -- I will tell her I choose to drive with precision.

PRECISION! That just means you are slow."

She will be slow, too. I tell her. "It's in your DNA."

My daughter is three years away from driving.

Only three years until she will be legally eligible (provided she pass a series of drivers' ed. classes and ability tests) to navigate a moving vehicle through traffic.

The shock of that statement will never abate.

Three years is no time. The blink of an eye.

Three years ago she was still wearing mismatched socks and playing with dolls that barely fit into a pink plastic convertible she liked to push around a three-foot-tall balsa wood model of the Eiffel Tower. She'd shush her brother, who was providing unwanted Vroom-Vroom noises so that she could make her own sound effects.

Her car needed to purr.

"Someday I will drive through France on the Autobahn."

I wouldn't hold my breath," I said under mine. I wish I could stay quite.

She doesn't need me to be a naysayer.

There will be many of those in her lifetime.

Three measly years until some feckless soul makes a tasteless joke about the inherent (and totally imagined) shortcomings of Double X Drivers.

But "driving like a girl," at least according to insurance company statistics, might be a good thing.

We fems, according to such actuarial tables, have fewer incidences of aggressive and rage-fueled driving and tend to be more likely to follow the road rules and speed limits than our Y-chrome compatriots.

I was reminded of this as I read the recent news that Saudi women will soon be allowed to apply for driving licenses.

How thrilled I was for them and their new freedom. I could see the road open up. I could feel the wind on their faces and the first tinge of worry that whispers doubts in your ear: "Maybe I'm not ready."

It's fleeting.

Soon it will be second nature.

Although, it remains to be seen how Saudi guardianship laws will work around license applications ... Will women have to get permission from their fathers, husbands or sons? Will they be allowed to drive professionally? ... It's probably best not to look a gift car in the grill.

The ability to drive opens other avenues.




Not to mention discovering the joy and profundity of NPR's vintage Car Talk.

My daughter can't see it yet.

But she can see over the dashboard. Finally. She's even graduated to sitting in the front-seat passenger-side.

In three years (or so) we'll switch seats.

I will be sure to remind her of her family's penchant for precision.