Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nature vs. Navigator

You know the driver who, during a long car ride, throws in a CD and keeps replaying one song until their passengers (should they be blessed with any) are forced to calculate the optimal speed and location to minimize injury should they somehow, accidentally, leap from the car on purpose.

Well, I am that driver.

My typical speed is 40 miles-per-hour, pretty much everywhere except the highway where my top cruising velocity is a consistent 67 miles-per-hour. I try to stick to the slow lane.

I make no apologies for it, although I understand you might think people like me ruin your commute.

You've probably seen me smile and wave as you passed by. I know you are emphatically trying to give me a driving lesson using pantomime and single-digit sign language. I don't hold it against you. I'm just grateful it wasn't a true crash course.

At that speed you travel, I worry you won't have time to react to the unexpected.

After all … I've seen you on 787 tooting on a recorder as you drove along on your evening commute. And you with the traveling tag sale, barely able to see out of your '70s-era sedan, on your way, presumably, to Target, I'm looking out for you, too. I'm not going to detail all the ladies (and the occasional man) I've seen applying mascara as they inch along Central Avenue. I know there's not enough time and you have someplace to be … preferably yesterday.

Actually, driving at the pace I do, I see a lot of things I'd ordinarily miss.

I don't demand amends from my alter-ego drivers, some of whom even feel the need to scan radio stations, listening to only a few notes at a time before moving on. Other people would tell you to settle on a song and let it play out.

Not me.

I feel your pain.

Obsession can be terribly misunderstood. People tend to classify them … usually in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Oh, I jest.

It's not as if I hear voices. My rituals don't get in the way of my leaving the house. I don't talk to myself. Much.

It's just the way I'm wired.

I assume others are wired similarly. Why else would commercial radio stations play the same songs hour after hour? Why would Home Box Office offer the same movies day after day, month after month, and in an on-demand basis virtually indefinitely? Let's just say I've lost track of how many times I've seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Whose day isn't ruined when they arrive at work and find their usual parking spot is occupied?

Even when I try something new it ends up being a constant. There was the year I made scarves, followed by the year I made pillows, which turned into the year I made quilts. There was the week I ate nothing but soup because I finally learned to make one I liked. I'd rather forget the month I made cookies by the gross.

It was stress relieving. Until the scale became unreliable, ticking up several pounds.

Then I found the joys of exercise.

Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. Shred. Shred. Shred. Running …Um. Never mind. I'm not doing that unless someone chases me.

Of course, I made excuses for my proclivities. I rationalized.

I used to think that to really understand something, I needed to be immersed in it. Sticking in a toe and testing the water won't suffice. I need to swim around and get pruny.

But I realize now that's not it, really. It's simply that I find fascination in new things and comfort in repetition.

I believe heredity has a hand in it, too. My kids argue over which of their songs gets played over and over again as we ease on down the road. Ittybit wants Track 2 of Selena … The Champ wants Track 17 of Juno. Alternating between the two alleviates the fighting and appeals to their sense of fairness.

And it gives me more than just the comfort of repetition during our commute. It gives me hope that one day, when they get cars of their own, they will also find it in their nature to take their time and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Choose wisely ... or not

We live in amazing times. Choice has never been more empowering.

Or more daunting.

You have to make a decision. Nothing big, mind you, but eventually you will have to choose between tarter control paste with whitening particles or fluoride-enhanced gel with mouth-freshening agents. You can hardly remember what you bought last time, can you? Was it the toothpaste on sale? Think. Think. Think. It was minty fresh, but was it wintergreenish or pepperminty?
The clock is ticking.

It's imperative you decide soon because eventually you must move on to the cleanser aisle, where you will spend another chunk of time cogitating on whether or not you need a simple liquid dishwashing detergent or a pressed powder brick containing a mysterious red-dot center and sporting fancy dissolving paper wrappers. 

Oh, the questions such decisions demand. Does this Power of Orange scent smell more like real Florida oranges or children's aspirin orange? Will I still need a rinse aid?

Never mind. It's not as if you weren't going to rewash the dishes by hand anyway before you let guests eat off them. … Unless your dishwasher actually works the way the manufacturer claimed it would when you researched all of the options available in such miracles of modern drudgery.

If that's the case, perhaps later you should buy a lottery ticket.

But I don't want to think about the dishwasher of my disappointment. It just leads me along the carpeting of my discontent. I have yet to find a vacuum cleaner that actually sucks past its warrantee. We don't need to go there. Not when I could just as easily ruminate on which of these brooms will work best when the electric floor cleaner gives up for good.

Nor do I wish to turn my attention to the paper products aisle. As if I had a choice. Soon I'll be standing in front of a wall of bath tissue wondering which one will do the least harm to the septic system and still prove economical, because … let's face it … when you have a four-year-old boy living under your roof whole rolls of the stuff gets jettisoned in a single flush.

The choices don't end once you've filled your cart, either. You still have the checkout lane. Which line will move faster? You can't really tell by looking at them.

The lady with two shopping carts and a accordion folder filled with coupons seems, at first blush, to be a risky bet. However, you could get behind the gent with 14 items only to find out that he's writing a check in disappearing ink or paying in pennies.
Never, ever, under any circumstances, bother with the self checker unless you have found enlightenment or are getting only one item.

Ah … one item …

When was the last time I went to the store for one item? And found it?

I'm sure it's happened. It's not as if grocery shopping is rocket science. It's more like a game of Tetris.

What I can't recall is the last time I perused a shelf when my mind didn't momentarily float away on a sea of choices. Body-building formula or smoothing nourishment? Lather, rinse, repeat.

As if she could read my thoughts, a woman standing next to me in the adhesive bandage aisle looked at me and chuckled. “It was so much easier when there was only one or two things to choose from, wasn't it?”

“But that's not really it,” I tell her nostalgically. “It's something more sinister. It's like we have the possibility of perfection if only we make the right decision on which shampoo/cake mix/bandage is best for our lifestyle. The products will still let us down, only we'll fault ourselves for not choosing wisely.”

She laughed again, a little more awkwardly this time, and pushed her cart quickly and determinedly toward cosmetics. For a moment I wished I'd just smiled and nodded. But then the sound that trailed in her wake gave proof she'd gotten the cart with the wonky wheel and I felt sorry for her. I would soon decide on flexible fabric bandages and head for home. There was no telling how many colors of nail polish awaited her in the make-up aisle.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Little runaways

A few things you might want to consider before running away from home: dress for the weather; make sure you can heft your bags; don't ask mom for a ride to "Bermont."

Narrowed eyes, twisted lips, feet that stomp around trying to find purpose.

That's how it begins.

Sometimes there's a grand, You'll-Be-Sorry announcement, but its equally likely the dejected will disappear with a rucksack and fill it to the brim with provisions needed to live a life of solitude.

Forever and ever …

With another family …

Who will love them and treat them better than you do.

Did you hear me? I'm running away! FOREVER!

The declaration had come from left field.


We'd been playing baseball in the yard and he'd stormed past me and into the house while I tried to straighten out my smile.

He was mad that I was trying to insert rules into his game. He didn't WANT to run counter clockwise. Why should he leave the bat at home plate? What do you mean base runners rarely get to bat from first to second, second to third and third to home? It's possible he was also miffed that the pitcher (me) staunchly refused to hurl using my mitted hand.

“You catch with the mitt, bud, you don't pitch with it.”

“This is not how I play,” he replied in an accusatory tone.

Evidently I'd wracked up my third strike.

“I'm leaving and I'm never ever never coming back. Ever.”

He tossed the bat and the ball onto the porch and stomped upstairs in his cleats, changed his pants -- which had gotten muddied on one knee from sliding into Pretend Home – and started emptying his dresser drawers into his backpack.

I listened from staircase, trying to sound more concerned than amused.

“I'm going to miss you, Kiddo. Don't forget your toothbrush and flossers.”

When I was his age I ran away from home twice: The first time I got as far as the edge of the overhang on the front stoop. It was raining in sheets and I didn't want to get wet. The second time I got all the way to the mailbox, where a neighbor, noticing me just standing there holding my plaid suitcase, packed to nearly bursting with toys and clothes, asked what brought me there.

I told him I was running away from home. He laughed a little, then mentioned I really hadn't gotten that far. I told him it was as far as I could go since I wasn't allowed to cross the street.

A few years from now this moment will seem more serious. It's hard to assert yourself when you’re in preschool. Not if you need your mom to make you lunch and help you tie your shoes.

It's my daughter I worry about, though.

When Ittybit decided to exert her independence (around age 5) I was unpacking groceries. She'd walked past me in her usual flair; with a kind of brisk pounding of feet and a dramatic flounce of hair as she trudged down the hall to her room.

"She's packing ... " my husband said a few minutes later. "She says she wants to leave."

Before she stormed out I had heard her voice chirping away, flittering between octaves "... ip ip ip ip ip ..." as I opened and closed the refrigerator door, "ip ip ip ip ip ip" as I folded another emptied the shopping bag and stowed it with the other recyclables. "Ip ip ip ip ip ip ip. ..." I really hadn't been listening.

But unlike my son, who appeared before me in February wearing a winter coat, shorts and carrying two backpacks – both filled with clothes that will probably fit him … someday – my daughter's bag was lighter and packed with purpose.

It contained only a few things. A dress. A toy and a book. Nothing I'd given her.

She was crying, but she gave me a second chance to listen to her complaint. As we sat on her bed, a tiny lifetime of upset streamed out with her tears. Upset that seemed to go back as far as the hospital ... when she was born.

"I remember another mother. Not you. A mother who was nicer to me. Who listened to me. Who didn't just SAY she was going to do something she DID it. That's the mother I'm going off to find."

I felt her pain. Everything she wanted from me was always just another In-A-Minute away. And my minutes take longer than her minutes … unless I'm timing them at the park. Those minutes, like all the years between my own childhood and theirs, go by all too fast.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Third child

Our third child – a girl – has arrived.

Via adoption.

At seven months, she's the picture of health and predictably adorable: Brown hair; a cute-as-a-button nose; and she's an angel when she sleeps, which happens suddenly and throughout the day.

She's perfect in almost every way except maybe one (I wish she'd stop chewing the insoles out of my shoes) or two or four dozen other little foibles ...

Such as pooping in our formal living room ...

Or begging at the table ...

Or stealing socks out of the laundry basket and burying them in the couch ...

Or playing keep-away (and then tug-o-war) with my brand new scarf …

That's puppyhood for you. A period of approximately seven years where dogs pretend to be Kato and their caretakers try not to be Inspector Clouseau -- bumbling and ineffective – every time they walk in the door, even if they were gone for only as long as it takes to put garbage into the trash can.

Her name is Roosevelt, but we call her “Rosie” for short. It suits her, for she's surely progressive if not entirely liberal.

After all, she did learn to sit the first day she arrived. Though most everything else – including housebreaking – is a process requiring much oversight and many, many mistakes.

I'd almost forgotten about these training trials when I saw Rosie's cute little face on the shelter organization's website. All I saw was the puppy my old dog had been way back when and remembering what it was like to have a new dog wiggle its way into your heart.

It's not as if I'd been counting the days. When we lost our dearly beloved, albeit incontinent, geriatric dog six months ago, I wasn't sure how long it would be before I'd be ready to welcome another pooch into our lives.

I thought it might be never after so much time had passed. And there were other things to consider.

We have a cat who, quite frankly, seems remarkably doglike, all she needs to do is learn how to bark. We also have a busy home with small children, toys that will be missed if they turn into shredded plastic and more shoes than any four humans should own. And frankly, I'd gotten used to not cleaning up smelly surprises.

The idea of opening our home for inspection and putting our pet-keeping history under the magnifier of scrutiny seemed like a tough pill to swallow as well.

Dogs had always come into our lives when we least expected. They needed us more than we needed them.

But one look at her picture made me remember Dog People, at some point, need dogs. It also reminded me that pills are only bitter until they start making you feel better.

So off we went to the adoption clinic. An hour after meeting her we knew the chance to bring her home would be worth any blazing-fire, hoop jumping required.

In a week we took her home. In short order she made the house her own, complete with nests of chewed up tissue paper and overly enthusiastic airborne greetings … not to mention the not-so-pleasingly aromatic ones.

Even if she isn't perfect. Even if she chews up all of our pencils, or steals food, or scratches the kids with her jumping, she's a good dog and worth the effort.

And her antics are already imparting wisdom that all my parenting efforts have been unable to achieve:

Such as the value of returning toys to the toy box once playtime has ended, or putting shoes in the closet instead of wherever they land, or eating snacks at the table instead of the couch. Chewed bits of prized possessions inspire more motivation than a mother hollering herself horse.

My bark, I assure you, is not worse than a puppy's bite.