Sunday, August 28, 2011

Just another suburban legend

The wilds of Maine are filled with roaming gangs of feral children. And no amount of logic nor arguing will tame them.

Or so it would seem as we, members of the Clan of Aging Hipsters, filled to the brim with barbecue, gather around the backyard fire pit clutching our bottles of pale ale. We chat idly about the salad days as we watch our progeny organize their rebellion near a giant cedar play set, which is festively draped in Christmas lights.

We are holding court and they are playing the sabatours.

No matter how many times we tell them not to trample flowers, aim foam-blunted projectiles at body parts or tear into delicate tent zippers, they simply nod their heads and continue onward.

Their giant shadows dancing raucously under the rippling dapples of green and red light as their tiny bodies act out all manner of imagined adventures.

Soft swords slash the air and foam bullets ricochet off the tent flies landing smack dab in the center of half-eaten delicacies piled on paper plates.

A three-year-old, the smallest active member of the battalion, is the only one to hit vital targets: My husband's cranium, my cleavage and her own father's groin region. She wasn't even aiming.

There were great roars of laughter and eardrum-piercing squeals of delight as the children darted animately about the yard making memories. We stared unblinkingly into the flickering firelight silently reliving ours.

I listen as Ittybit barks orders to the ranks, some of whom smirk at the novelty of a pint-sized general sounding the battle cry, but they carry out her requests without question or hesitation. Everyone is having fun.

As night falls, so do the children. Their bodies can't keep up with their over-stimulated minds. They trip over tent flies and fall to the grass. Some cry. Others complain. Everyone is losing the plot. Someone herds them inside and turns on a television. An electronic narcotic for all ages.

The air was chill and the bugs were biting. A soft couch and a flashing screen of classic cartoons seemed the perfect end to a perfect day.

We were a little jealous. We mused about how everything seemed easier when we thought our lives would be an adventure ... and that any problems we encountered could be eradicated with a shot of (insert the name of vexing problem here) spray from Batman's utility belt.

For a moment around that fire we were all kids again, trading lines of remembered script as if we were still sitting in the living rooms of our childhood soaking up the latest Johnny Quest, just the the way our kids soak up Sponge Bob.

We peered past the flames to the picture window as someone threw more wood onto the fire. "Holy crow, they're watching Thunder Cats in there," said one of the dads wistfully. "We're all out here talking about cartoons and they're in there watching them."

It occurred to me that the first crack in the generation gap has formed as we continue to compare and contrast the virtues of our cartoons against the vices of theirs.

"Yeah ... but Sponge Bob has nothing on Thunder Cats. They don't make shows like ours anymore. You know that 'Finneas and Ferb' show? I don't get that at all. The sister is always trying to stick it to her brothers but her parents never see what's happening. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. I don't get that."

Of course, once you have had that conversation with your kids you might as well hang up your clicker and your righteous indignation for good.

"Yeah ... Well, how about that Coyote ... always missing the Roadrunner ... Lather, Rinse, Repeat?"


As the flickering lights start to fade and the party wanes, a cold gust of air reminds me that summer is also coming to a close ... as are the days in which we rule the kingdom.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hey, Lady

Whenever I hear a self-described lady say: "I'm not a feminist, but ..."

I want to stop her right there and tell her whatever she plans on saying next is completely unimportant.

It is of no value or consequence.

Because that's what women were ostensibly told before our grandmothers and great grandmothers fought for the right to vote. Before our mothers secured the ability to be in control of the size of their families. Before they refused to accept the standard choice of careers.

I hold my tongue. Perhaps it's also the lady's choice to define herself and feminism so narrowly.

Feminism, for women like her, has morphed from a word to a dreadful afflictions. Perhaps it references a person she believes to be the opposite of womanly. A pushy broad she'd like to keep at arm's length. A woman she neither liked nor wished to emulate.
A woman exactly like her mother.

Feminism for those women, and lets not forget the men, is something entirely different. To them feminism is the basic component of a free society.
It has nothing to do with who opens doors for whom, or who stays home with the kids. It's not about forcing women into military service or mandating that men mop floors. It isn't about turning people into something they're not. In so many ways feminism is the exact opposite.

Although I'm sure our comfort with specific gender roles does blind us to the real issues of equality.

Personally speaking, I find the idea that feminism can be boiled down to the assigning of household chores insulting. But I had to mature to realize the hubris.

Like many young women trying to find my own voice, I mouthed the same anti-feminist idiocy that took my very existence for granted:

"I'm not a feminist, but ..."

And what I meant was:

"I'm not a man hater."

"I'm not angry."

"I don't think I'm better than you."

" … But I am ... better than you."

What I didn't understand was that feminism wasn't about any of those things.

Feminism isn't about obliterating feminine traits or emasculating men. It's about teaching boys they are not masters of the universe and teaching girls they are not victims of it. It's about having respect for each other, and realizing we need to work together.

In my way of thinking, feminism doesn't even have much to do with personal fulfillment, although that is certainly a benefit. On the contrary, feminism has everything to do with equality. It has everything to do with acknowledging the need for all people to be afforded the same opportunities - regardless of gender - for the betterment of society. It's acknowledging that where you have empowered women you have stronger communities.

Feminists are everywhere women are respected. It doesn't matter what they wear, or what they do, or even which pair of chromosomes they posses. When we accept feminism, it means we believe men are capable of nurturing. We believe women are capable of leadership. It means we are not narrowing the possibilities.

It's not special treatment. It's equitable treatment.

So, dear ladies and gents, if you believe women and men should be treated equally under the laws of society in which we live, you may call it whatever you like, but you are a feminist.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Smart phone. Dumb users.

I don't usually pick up the phone when I'm driving. Not only is it illegal, but I'm probably one of the few people on the planet who feels that each time I do it successfully I am tempting fate.

But something, perhaps the string of bad news and unfortunate events that had been dogging me that week, made me reach for the phone when I saw my husband's number blink across the screen.

"Where are you?"
"On my way ..."
He didn't let me finish.

Something was wrong. And the phone kept cutting out.

"... I was .. lawn chair. ... finger. ... cut off ... ambulance ... You need to get the (expletive deleted) home NOW!"

I heard that last part loud and clear.

He added an "I love you," to soften the panic in his words before he hung up.

I tossed the phone and concentrated on driving. But my mind was making moving pictures of the possibilities:

He had invited some friends over for swimming. There had been an accident and someone was hurt. Possibly disfigured. My initial understanding was that my husband had cut off a finger in a mishap with a folding chair. That was bad enough, but the mom side of my mind couldn't let go of the idea that maybe it had been a child whose name could rhyme with "I was" if you said it just the right way against the static.

I started driving faster than my usual, senior citizen-like speed concentrating on the road instead of my mental motion picture.When I arrived the ambulance was turning around and ready to leave. I could see my husband on the gurney hugging his arm, wrapped in a towel, to his chest. He smiled painfully.

I breathed a little in relief. "Damage to a finger isn't as bad as damage to a four-year-old's body."

Still, I stood like a deer in the headlights, stopping the ambulance to ask all the questions our guests, waiting inside, could have answered: What happened? Amputation! What hospital? AMC!

Inside the children were watching TV, but not as calmly as it first appeared. Ittybit all but ignored the video and tried, instead, to gauge the situation by parsing how many expletives rushed forth from her father's mouth.

Everyone was trying to change the subject.

As soon as my children saw me their tears started to flow. They had seen more of the accident than they had let on."It's just a bad cut that needs more than a Band-Aid to fix," assured our guests, one of whom had also hunted in the weed-choked yard during the dusk-descending aftermath, for the remnant. The other had called for the rescue squad.I stood silently, nodded and hugged my kids. "It's just a deep cut. Not as bad as it sounds. He's going to get a few stitches and be home before you know it."

It was all true, of course - the cut was neither as bad as it seemed nor as bad as it could have been in the crushing jaws of an ancient, adjustable lawn chair. It was just a mishap gory enough to warrant sewing, antibiotics, a bandage as thick as a boxing glove and at least two visits of follow-up care. Not to mention the investment in updated outdoor furnishings.It would be all right. But it was also going to be a long night. The boy would have his first-ever away-from-home sleepover, the girl would get as much sweetened cereal as she liked, and I would get a security badge and a chair in emergency room B-19.

Oddly enough, when a terrifying event isn't as bad as you'd otherwise expect, you can almost relax and enjoy yourself.

You tell jokes. You make conversation. You take pictures with that very same smart phone you wish you didn't have to answer.

And you call to thank your friends again, and to let them know it's going well ... and not to open any pictures the patient might have sent in his shock-induced frenzy. At least, not if they planned to eat anything for breakfast.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Goodnight, sweet Madeline ... see you in my dreams

February, 2004

She wasn't the dog I wanted.

The litter of lab mutts she came from had three distinct varieties: Black as night, yellow as the sun and a her — a mix of both with a visible splotch of mid-day hound dog for good measure.

The others had wriggled their way into my lap and were covering me like a blanket of unabashed love. She had sniffed me and walked away.

Oh, I had pick of the litter but I knew the pretty pups had people lined up to adopt them. ... No one wanted the one that looked like a mongrel.

So, home she came with me, this tiny little eight-week-old ball of not-as-attractive fur. I named her Madeline ... the prettiest name I could think of.

Wanted or not, it didn't take long before I knew she was the dog I needed. She was not in my house more than an hour when she moseyed on over to the door, sat down and scratched it.

So smart.

So smart, she could later open the door herself.

So smart, that even when her dumb owner handed her an old shoe, it was the only one she ever chewed.

So smart that she learned to get around the other rules.

Like not eating the food off of plates balanced by humans momentarily looking the other way.

Or becoming so stealth in thieving that she could rise up on her hind legs without jingling her tags and drag a whole pie, pan and all, off a stove top without her nails even clicking. What's more, she could consume her ill-gotten gain, filling, crust and crumbs, with its baker standing within eyesight.

So cunning that NOT hearing her eventually sets off alarms.

A sweet, lovable and obnoxious dog. Wont to bark intermittently for no apparent reason. And knock over small children or step on their feet. A chaser of cats (until she cornered one and then realized they kinda scared the dog out of her). And my personal favorite, always being where I needed to be ... and refusing to move.

Lovingly, I added an initial to her formal name: Madeline J. Dog ... The J standing for Jerk.

I had considered, and then dismissed, adding an “I” for Infuriating.

Of course she was also the dog who would lay by your side, looking at you worriedly, should your back happen to spasm. She would always be there, even when she seemed utterly disinterested. Babies came home and her place in the pecking order changed. Though she seemed to want no part of these crying teacup humans, she couldn't take her eyes off them.

Even though she was standoffish ... she never stood off too far.

Until now. In perpetual sleep.

I gathered some photographs I'd taken of her over these past 16 years, and was surprised by how many pictures she'd been in just around the corners. Never too far from the main activity. I smiled at that thought of her feigning disinterest. How many walks had we taken? Probably not enough. How many sticks had we thrown? She never grew tired of bringing them back. How many times had we said "Bad DOG!" while trying not to laugh? Too many to count.

I know everyone says their dogs seem more human than canine. I'm not going to be different as I look back on her life. Maddy always seemed more playful, more intuitive, more comic and more in tune with us than I ever thought possible. She never stopped changing. Her quirks, likes, dislikes all seemed fluid as she aged. Only her sweet disposition -- and her penchant to jump up suddenly and race out of the room as if it was on fire — remained constant.

Near the end, as I was over-feeding her palliative French fries and marveling at her still keen ability to chase and pin her late-in-life cat friend, or abscond with an entire plate of food mid-meal, I couldn't help but think of all the joy and the life lessons I would have missed had she not been stuck with me.

I never thought I'd miss her infuriating traits: Her running roughshod over the kids, her chewing of all things important, or her petty thievery.

But that was the flip side of all the traits that made her sweet and endearing. too. Without one we wouldn't have appreciated the other.

Sweet dreams, my sweet Madeline. I couldn't have imagined a better friend.