Sunday, January 29, 2012

Size matters

“One children's 8, one 12 and a ladies' size 6 please,” I asked the man behind the counter. I slid my driver's license and a twenty-dollar bill through the glass partition. He lined up the skates and passed them to me with a smile and ten dollars change.

Ittybit had disappeared with her friend and the pair of delicate white skates into the ladies' locker room while I labored over her brother, trying to convince his step-sister-stubborn feet to squeeze their way into this strange-looking boot with a blade.

It was hot and the pressure was on.

“I've never done this before,” he said in a whisper. “Ice skating ...”

“It's going to be fun. You'll see.”

I didn't have the heart to tell him that once the skates were tightly strapped to his feet my expertise would reach its end.

I haven't skated since I was 12, and to be quiet honest I'm not sure what I did back then could be called skating. I don't think I managed to glide anywhere effortlessly. How could I? I never strayed from the rails, where I was holding on for dear life. “Graceful” wasn't a word that would describe me now or then.

The fact that I had actually Googled “How to ice skate,” prior to the excursion and taken notes on my arm would have been lost on him.

No matter. The way things were going we were destined to spend our rink time in the “lounge” trying on skates.

As I loosened and stretched the laces – trying to coax his doubled-socked foot into the boot -- I began to doubt my abilities as a mother.

I thought he was an eight, I grumbled under my breath.

“Wait here, OK? I'm going to go back and get the next size up.”

Back to the window.

“Can I exchange these for a nine?”

“Of course.”

A few minutes later, I have his right foot secured and am working on his left, when a terrible realization makes me wish we'd decided on Wii skating instead: His left foot is ever-so-slightly bigger than his right foot.

Back to the window.

“I'm sorry,” I say, pushing the second pair of skates through the glass. “I need whatever size is next.” I am unsure of just what size that might be – 10, 12, 1? – so I don't want to hazard a guess. I can practically feel the motherhood license being ripped from my parenthood wallet and torn into tiny bits.

When I return with the skates The Champ was quieter than usual. The room had filled with skaters who weren't struggling with fit. And though he could see I wasn't much of an expert at lacing either, he didn't accuse me of “getting in all wrong” like he usually does when I make mistakes … such as “frenching” his waffle by leaving it in the iron until it crisps, or playing games by the instructions on the box and not the rules he arbitrarily concocts.

Finally, fitted and laced, he stood on the blades and walked rather confidently up and down the length of the narrow room.

He was ready to go …

I was fumbling with my skates and praying the sweat from my brow wouldn't smear the notes I needed for the next challenge – to actually skate on ice.

“I wish dad were here,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Why's that, bud,” I asked, assuming the answer would be my final vote of no confidence.

“Because he could take me to the men's locker room,” he said almost wistfully. “I bet it's more funner in there than on the ice.”

Like mother, like son.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Beside the points

We barely talk anymore.

With work and kids and crazy schedules … we're rarely alone.

Tragically cliché, I know.

There he was … sitting across from me in the living room, sprawled on the couch as the light from the wood stove painted the room in romantic saffron light.

The television was on … playing a movie we'd barely seen because we continually check emails and status upstates and whatever-else lights up the flickering screens of our smartphones.

Evidently, we're no different than at least 40 percent of US smartphone and tablet users who say they routinely surf the web, visit social network sites or check their email while doing other things … such as watching television.

Personally, I think that figure, arrived at by the Nielsen rating people in October of 2011, seems on the low side, especially since the number of people who claimed to only rarely multitask was around 14 percent. A study released about a month later by Yahoo Mobile and Razorfish put the number at 80 percent, which seems more likely given the substance of most television and the infinite possibilities available on YouTube and LOLCats.

As a society, it pains me to think we learn more about ourselves from Damn You Autocorrect than from The Nightly News, but there it is. … the only daily briefing that makes me laugh until I cry.

We hate it, don't we? Yet, even as I lament the march of progress, I fill my cell phone with apps.

Oh sure, we try to fight it. We make rules we both fully intend to follow …

We promise ourselves we won't check our email during dinner.

We will let all calls go to voicemail.

We won't even look at the text massage that scrolls across the screen.

I won't check Twitter. He won't find out which eBay item he's lost to another bidder. And for a time we are successful. We talk about our day or the the things we have to do tomorrow. It almost feels like the old days … before the invention of the wheel or indoor plumbing.

But before too long the lure of the LED backlight draws us back to it like moths to flame.

In our souls we know the danger, we try to to kick the habit, but we're hooked to the gills on technology.

We talk about an intervention. We talk about where all this distraction will take us in two or 10 or 20 years.

Somehow it feels like trying to stop a flood-raised river with a handful of pebbles.

I type quickly and hit send. A generic alert tone dings across the room. He inhales and picks the phone up off his chest, where it was resting like a pet as he inspected the insides of his eyelids.

He read it and snorted.


He sounded incredulous, as if I he couldn't believe I was finally getting serious.

“Yeah … D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”

“ … for 72 points?”

“I used all my letters and picked up two triple-letter scores.”

“Nicely played. Nicely played.”

If we can't beat them I suppose we might as well join them.

At least it's something we can do together.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The force of habit

Two weeks into the New Year and I've already reneged on the resolutions I would have made were I prone to making ritual year-end proclamations pertaining to personal improvement.

This year might have been an exception.

In my mind, if not in verbal resolve, I saw myself vowing to make more homemade dinners; taking long, daily walks; and playing family-friendly games after dinner besides “Who has the Remote Control?”

But just as I was just about to say it aloud: “This year I will …”

I was overtaken by viral-turn-bacterial plague. I could barely turn over on the couch, let alone turning over a new leaf.

Truth be told, I'm not used to getting hammered with the mythical “Man Cold.” Something seemingly slight that takes a person down for the count. But by the third week, I began to wonder if I'd ever feel human again.

I also waxed even more dramatic than usual:

“Our time here is so brief. Don't waste it,” I told myself. “Being sick and knowing you will recover is a gift so many people won't receive. Don't take it for granted. ...

“Oh, Hon? Can you get me a glass of ginger ale and a banana?”

Of course, by that point I hadn't handled bedtime bedlam. I hadn't been the heavy behind brushing of teeth or finishing of books. The last-minute sibling squabbles – a standard ploy of the manufactured extension of playtime – had been swept from my room and shushed with a sensitive admonishment: “Mommy needs her rest.”

Oh, how I missed them.

But as I started to feel better – as my achy joints smoothed over and my stuffy head dried out – the idea that I would take pleasure in the small things in life seemed entirely possible again..

I could breath again. I wasn't sneezing or coughing or fearful of spreading contageon. I missed reading stories and good-night kisses.

Until bedtime rolled around on the second night, as it usually does, with overdue housework, overtired kids wanting to hold off visiting the Land of Nodd until they ate everything in the refrigerator, read every word on their book-buckled shelves and secured the OK to brush their teeth in the morning.

One step forward. Three steps backward.

I could taste the familiar threats as they found their way into my throat.

“There will be no books.

“I will shut this door and listen to you cry.

“I don't care. I can find earplugs.

“You'll have no one to blame but yourselves.”

Somehow, perhaps it was a holiday miracle, the words never made it to my lips.

Stopped, perhaps, but a new perspective.

It's not as if we don't have a routine: They always settle down … eventually. They will brush their teeth and they will fall asleep sooner than it seems. Tomorrow we start again.

This is my resolve.

It's not perfect. But, as I look more closely, it certainly doesn't seem broken.

Perhaps the goal shouldn't be to break habits, it should be to smooth edges.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Lucky stars

I never watched TV on New Year's Eve. I didn't see any of the hoopla that surrounds the lowering of an illuminated crystal ball in Times Square.

Truth be told, I barely made it to the kids' holiday-extended bedtime of 9 p.m.

But I wasn't surprised by the sentiment among my friends that some things should come to an end.

Like Dick Clark's life in front of the camera.

I wasn't offended.

Dick Clark, an entertainment icon whose entire career had exalted Hollywood's ideal of being forever young, hasn't sounded anything like we, the unwashed masses, have come to expect from on-air personalities since he suffered a stroke in 2004.

Ordinarily, aphasia would have ended his career right then and there.

What people thought of the business decision to allow an 82-year-old entertainer with garbled speech to continue to be a presence on a show he created and hosted for more than three decades, is opinion that can only come down to dollars and cents.

But I was sad.

I've made it no secret that my mother had a stroke this summer.

… and that by fall she'd been institutionalized, as she required skilled nursing care.

She's not like Dick Clark.

Her conversations follow a thread few can follow at all and no one can follow for long.

Her presence, with its stream of seemingly idle chatter, has been disruptive to the church goers and the concert audiences and even the performers who come to the facility to cheer the residents.

I must admit, it hurts to think church is an inappropriate place for my formerly devout Catholic mother.

But I understand it's my soul, not hers, that's in jeopardy.

I'd like to think I was more tolerant before I faced my mother's deteriorating condition, but truth is I too felt better when I didn't see the things that can happen to a body before the end of life.

This is just how we are.




It just seems to come across more often than not as being unkind.

The real problem I see, however, doesn't have much to do with the people who show up in the world to challenge our fears. It has more to do with the millions of folks who wind up in facilities that have suffered under dwindling state revenues, cuts in federal funding, underfunded programs and diminished ability to actually find and retain skilled nurses who care.

To be sure, this time of life is not cheap.

Medicaid pays for the majority of it as people needing acute care have incomes that barely cover moderate expenses let alone medically intensive long-term care. And as we all know, reform is problematic, Medicaid is underfunded and budgets are tight all over.

For most intents and purposes, there is no fiduciary return on such investment.

Not when we have kids to educate and an economy to rescue.

But there are lessons in empathy and humanity that are invaluable.

When I see Dick Clark these days … I see a man who, in addition to being very talented, was also incredibly lucky.

I think we all need him to remind us of those who may have been the former, but haven't been the latter.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A dog, not our own

The last thing I wanted to do was stop the car.

I'd just chased one child from the dairy aisle to the lobster case and back while the other kid pretended she belonged to another family. My head was pounding. My eyes feeling as if they were bulging and ready to pop. I was d.o.n.e.

All I wanted to do was go home, unpack the provisions and pop a pair of headache-be-gone.

But a little dog walking alone on the street made me change course.

Now ... it's odd in this day in age to see unaccompanied canines, especially ones of the toy variety.

I tried to see if it was tied up as we passed by, but I couldn't be sure. I circled the block, thinking it may have been a fluffy figment of my imagination and would therefore be gone upon a second drive-by. Nope. It was still there: a cream-colored dust mop on the loose.

The kids were quiet when I stopped the car. I imagine, for an instant, they'd thought I was finally following through on that hollow threat: If you don't stop blankety-blank-blanking I'm pulling this car over ...


“Stay right here. I'll be right back. I'm going to see if that dog any tags.”

As any sane dog would do, it started to bark at me and bear its tiny little teeth when I approached. What to do ... what to do ... what to do? It ran to one doorway and then another. Neither opened to swallow her up and save her from my feeble attempts at assistance.

I paced the street a little, looking for someone who might belong to this little beast. The whole town seemed empty. Stores were closed. All the windows above street level were dark. No one even looked in our direction as they passed by on their evening commutes.

How could I just leave her alone a hop-skip from rush-hour traffic? One jaunt into the street and it would be all over.

I decided I'd take my chances that its teeth weren't sharp enough to break skin. When I returned to the shivering mass of hair and nerve endings, it had already decided it would rather go with with a stranger than stay out alone in the cold, oversized world.

I combed through the hair around its neck, where I discovered a collar, but no tags.

It didn't protest when I picked it up, tucked it into my coat and then handed her over to Ittybit, who was more than happy to cuddle a quaking pooch during the four-block ride home. Even The Champ settled down.

I'd cautioned him to be on his best behavior. This was a dog, not a toy.

“I think it's a boy. I'm going to call him George. … Hi George!”

Ah … yes. The other thing this dog was not: Ours.

Don't get attached. This is not our dog. This dog belongs to someone.

“His name is George. I'm going to call him George.”

Not. Our. Dog.

“You mean yet.”

“No, I mean this dog belongs to someone who misses it. We'll find the owner soon.”

I called the shelter to report a found dog.

I called the dog warden.

We took her picture and made fliers.

We waited for the phone to ring.

As I made dinner, this furry scoop of vanilla ice cream stood silently by the stove, willing a slice or two of steak to fall from the counter. I obliged with a bowl full of shavings.

The bowl was licked clean in the blink of an eye and the dog was already curled up on the couch sleeping in Ittybit's lap. Snoring.

It occurred to me how much I missed having a wee beast to clean up the leftovers.

Stop. It.

Don't get attached. This is not our dog. This dog belongs to someone.

I thought of another person to call. And then another. A little lost pocketbook dog would surely be easy to find if we just asked the right people.

Six phone calls later and we had a likely owner.

One phone call after that and we had an affirmative answer. Her was named “Chloe.”

A few tears after her departure made it crystal clear.

It's time to start looking for our dog. The one that that will belong to us.