Sunday, December 29, 2013

Parrot Eyes by the Dashboard Lights

I have a tendency to get a little lost in translation.

It's not uncommon.

Eddie Money didn't sing: “I've got two chickens to paralyze” and Jimi Hendricks never excused himself to “kiss this guy.”

But it doesn't stopped me from singing along that way.

I also have a tendency to ignore things to see if they'll just go away.

I know it's not advisable. And yes, I did walk around on a broken ankle for two weeks before I admitted defeat and sought the attentions of a medical professional. But that's beside the point.

I like to think my car would agree with me … if it's weren't an inanimate object.

Having a newer car is a joy not unlike having children who won't disappear at the grocery store. Every trip, even the most mundane, is predictable and relatively worry-free.

When I slide into the driver's seat, all I need to do is turn a key, click a seatbelt and check the rearview mirrors. The fact that my husband and I share roughly the same inseam means I don't have to adjust the seats. I don't even have to sweep the car of snow since my chivalrous, short-legged husband has seen fit to move his collection of power tools and other accumulated objects to make room for the new ride underneath the carport.

Even in this bitter cold, all I need to do is drive.

So you might imagine my surprise as I neared the end of the driveway, headed to the grocery store with aforementioned child in tow, and an alarm sounded, that, previously had meant the driver's seatbelt wasn't properly secured.

Only I was strapped in. The kid was strapped in. No doors were ajar. The sky wasn't falling.

What the … s-i-l-e-n-c-e.

I was only slightly relieved when the ringing stopped. Because it was at that exact moment that a dashboard light went on. A light that I had never seen before … in the three decades I've been driving.

I mean NEVER SEEN, not just willfully ignored.

I couldn't even decipher what it meant. It didn't look like any of the lights I'm used to overlooking. It looked nothing like a gas pump. The Check Engine light would have resembled a large outboard motor. The brake light should have letters. The oil light looks like the doohickey the Tin Man needs in the Wizard of Oz.

Nope. This one looked like a keyboard emoticon someone with an eighth-grader's sense of humor might send to their fourth-grade friends on Facebook.

Or maybe it was Beaker finally having the breakdown he so richly deserved after suffering one too many injuries at the hands of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew in the Muppet Labs.

I tapped the plexiglass. Nothing.

I even laughed a little because, let's face it, some dashboard light designer somewhere is totally having a laugh that his creation will delight untold numbers of motorists who, like me, will stop everything, open the glove box and dig out the never-been-opened-but-mysteriously-has-coffee-spilled-on-it Owner's Manual.

“Tire Pressure.”

Seriously? You get tire pressure out of two parentheses, an exclamation point, a mustache and two tiny fists raised to the sky?

And I can see Parrot Eyes by the dashboard light.”

This, too, shall pass.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Yes, Ittybit, there is a Santa Claus

“She's waiting for you,” my husband said when I got home. It was long after bedtime, and she couldn't sleep. “Something happened at school today, and she wants to talk to you about it.”

She was heartbroken. The magic was gone, and she was covered in the cinders of destroyed fairy dust.

And it was all Avalanche McBoyerson's fault.

He's the one who just blurted it out in fifth-period history class: “There is no Santa.”

“It's really not his fault,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes and staring hard at me. It's not as if she hadn't known something might be awry. How many times, within her earshot, had I claimed an almost ninja-like shopping prowess for the items she thought had come from the big man himself?

“It's just so hard being the only kid in the fourth-grade who still believes in Santa.”

And she does … she still believes.

To prove it, she had come home after school and written a detailed letter to Santa, which she slipped into an envelope and left on my desk to be mailed.

It began thusly: “A boy in school I know told me that you aren't real. But I know that's not true. You are real.”

It was a paragraph of wishful thinking that reminded me of the most famous holiday letter of all … from 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon to the editor of the New York Sun.

Cuddled up with my daughter as she sought solace, I felt the fire of a thousand suns as I tried to recall the beautiful sentiment expressed in “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” from memory.

But she didn't want the poetry. She just wanted a straight answer to her question: Who puts the presents under our tree? Is it a mythical being or do you do it?

The thing is, I don't want Ittybit to leave childhood thinking the magic of Santa was all just a lie.

I don't want her to think his spirit disappears the moment your mind can no longer expand enough to believe that some roly-poly old elf could miraculously fit down a chimney (that you might not even have) to leave your heart's (manufacturer's retail value) desire under a Christmas tree.

Santa's shouldn't vanish. Santa should evolve.

Santa isn't just a parent who pretends. Santa is also a family that donates to Toys for Tots and local food pantries.

Santa is the person who organizes a fund drive for the family that just lost their home in a fire.

Santa is the person ahead of you in the “14-Items or Fewer” line who lets you go first because you have only a handful of things.

You never know, Santa could even be the kid who chooses an ornament from the Tree of Needs and uses their own money to buy a present for a kid less fortunate.

Looking into her eyes as I try and express this idea, though, I wonder what the 10-year-old Virginia thought of that Sun editorial.

I can only hope time will help show her that an evolved Santa is even better than the original, you know, because the Santa within each and every one of us can decide to celebrate year-round.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Running partner

It's 27 degrees. The sun is shining. And I am wearing Spandex.

I try to ignore how many ways this combination is wrong as I search under the bed for my most colorful footwear.

Ah … found them.

The dog dances around me as I lace up the sneakers. She knows where I'm going and has every intention of getting in my way.

She pretends this isn't futile.

The dog calms down as I gather more things. Gloves. A hat. Earphones. My smartphone.

She sits and stares at me. She's no longer panting. Her head has lost its cocked-to-the-side cuteness. She is as serious as a security dog.

Something is missing. Hmmmmm … Where's the armband that holds my iphone?

I look over at the dog. She couldn't have had anything to do with its disappearance. Yet, she seemed to be giving me the malocchio – the evil eye. I wasn't about to let it intimidate me.

My dog is all bark and no bite.

Anthropomorphism that's all. The application of human emotion to a hang-dog stare.

I don't feel sorry for her. The dog had enough chances, and, on more than one occasion, proved she wasn't up to the challenge.

First, there is that neighbor dog she can't ignore at a quarter mile.

The hydrant at the first turn.

Laying down at the start of mile three.

And who could forget the chaos in the last stretch. ... I've since dubbed that corridor “squirrel alley.”

She might be a good runner, but she's definitely not a good running partner.

Now. What to do about the missing armband?

I feel like a mother of invention as I snip the toe off an old wool sock and snake my arm through. I slip the music device into the pocket created by a single fold. This will do.

The dog skulks away as I slip out the door. I can see her fogging up the window with her breath. She doesn't waste any of it barking. I wouldn't hear her anyway. Not with the panes sealed up tight with new weatherstripping.

I start off slowly. I know it will take me a while to find the place where a quickened pace feels as comfortable as walking. Usually it turns up a little ways past the first mile, but sometimes not until I get sight of squirrel alley.

I imagine my personified pooch would feel pleasure knowing the wind had burned my thighs into pin prickles and numbness. She's much better equipped for this outdoor running business … what with her fur coat and youthful joints.

Not that she'd rub it in.

She'd rather redecorate in celebration of my return.

Plastic bags are shredded hroughout the hallway and into the kitchen. A roll of paper towels has been nibbled at each end and sits upright on the floor. Pencils, chewed to the eraser, are in splinters all over the couch.

I shouldn't be surprised when I walk through the door but I am. She only seems to use our things as chew toys when I go running without her.

Oh lord, she's found Ittybit's collection of flavored lip balms and eaten up the waxy sticks of lemon and grape.

Wait until your girl gets home,” I sing ... 

She slinks off into her crate before I can say another word.

Soon I hear the soft sounds of neoprene and vinyl being torn into tiny pieces.

Ugh, my armband.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Guessing games

It's always a guessing game.

“What animal are you thinking of,” she asks, beginning the hour-long car ride, which will bring us to our first family hike since the kids were small enough to tote around in backpacks, with our own version of round robin.

I hesitate long enough to pretend I am not going to use my trusty old standby.

“I'm thinking of an animal that lives in North America.”

There are no direct answers in this game, just clues that will lead to more questions. It's formulaic, sure, but it distracts the booster-seated-passengers from asking the more nettlesome “Are-We-There-Yets?”

The Boy jumps right in: “You said North America … is it the North America where we live or is it the South America, where Disneyland is?”

“They are both part of North America … so is Canada. (*Makes mental note to hang the world map Santa brought two Christmases ago.)

“The North American Wood Turtle,” says Ittybit in her bored teenager voice.

“How did you guess?”

“You ALWAYS say North American Wood Turtle on your first turn.”

She brightens as soon as it's her turn. She's spent so many hours at National Geographic's website that she's sure to stump us all.

“I'm thinking of an animal ...” she says, pausing for effect.

It's a good game. It keeps us from having to turn the car around. I mean it.

The exercise also keeps me from playing out the multiple choice future that is circulating in my mind as we get closer to our destination. How far will we be able to go before someone A. gets tired. B. gets hungry. C. decides their legs don't work D. falls off a cliff. E. all of the above.

By the time we arrived, we'd gone around the car (clockwise) about a dozen times, the questions becoming more absurd. “Is it bigger than a mailbox?” my husband asks, and then pretends to get exacerbated when I parse the question: “That depends on the size of the mailbox. If it's like that one, (I point to a fifty-gallon drum welded to a post by the side of the road as we speed by) then, no, it's not bigger than a mailbox.”

There is an audible groan from the other passengers in the car. “Oh look, we're here!”

The questions don't end when we cut the ignition and tumble out of the car.

Can we take this trail?

Can we climb on the rocks?

When can we eat our picnic?

I am happily surprised that the further we go into those woods the more excited they become.

The Champ makes up names for the birds that fly across his path.

“That is a spiral-tailed yellow-bellied whistler. It has wide stripes. Hopefully we'll see a flat-tailed orange-bellied squint. It has fur.”

Of course, the terrain is more rugged than I thought it would be. We get lost momentarily once and backtrack twice. The trail is steeper than I expected. The leaves and pine needles that are beneath them are slippery. We all lose our footing in places, but only the boy falls.

“I'm OK!” he says before we can even ask the question just so we aren't guessing. “This is fun. We should do this every weekend.”

I guess I'll have to study up on the real yellow-bellied whistler for the next time we play our game of round robin. At least the Champ will know exactly where we can find its spiral-tailed cousin.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Defying the laws of tradition

The wind was cutting when she got off the school bus – coat slung over one arm, balancing what only seemed like all of her Earthly possessions in the other. Her messenger bag filled to bulging, she handed me a paper plate with a grin.

“Here, it's for you,” Ittybit said, smiling a smile that looked as if it was holding back a river of laughter.

I looked down at the plate – a single, white paper circle – and what appeared to be demised candy corn glued to its surface in the shape of a semi-circle.

“What's this?”

“I have no idea.”

We are both laughing now.

“Oh good, because for a minute I thought that you had been demoted to kindergarten, which would be surprising considering your recent report card.”


Inside the house, she dumps her things and heads for the place where the TV lives while I contemplate asking the most taboo question of all.

“So … if you don't know what it is … can I throw it away?”

I tried to use the same smile she used when she got off the bus, but the chill of sarcasm must have been completely melted away by the warmth of the wood stove.

I think this because she barely reacted as she stood by the stove with the remote control posed, flipping through channels and warming her backside. But I am quickly proven wrong by her response:

“I don't care if you toss it, but it has a poem on the back that my teacher says I should read to our guests on Thanksgiving. … so … maybe you should read it first.”

Of course, she's fluent in sarcasm. Should have known.

Carefully, I turn the plate over and see the circle of print glued to the back.

It describes the Legend of the Five Kernels, a story about how the pilgrims survived their first winter in America, with a ration of food that on some days equaled only five kernels of corns. In the spring, the pilgrims planted the remaining corn and were able to harvest much food in the fall.

Every Thanksgiving thereafter, the legend says, the pilgrims placed five kernels of corn beside each plate to remind them of their blessings, and to count them.

The first kernel was to signify the beauty of autumn; the next kernel was to remind them of their love for each other; the third to remind them of the family's love; the fourth reminds them of love of friends, specifically the native Americans who helped them survive; and finally, the fifth kernel reminds them of their freedom.

She watched me as I read the back, probably wondering if I'd break down and cry at the sentiment.

It seemed hollow. Like a sentimental piece of history we know to be wrong. Even the tip of the hat to the “Indian brothers” seems like an afterthought and, knowing the generations of oppression that followed, somehow diminishes the freedom the Pilgrims took for themselves.

“Perhaps, next Thanksgiving we will count our blessings with strawberries,” I offer instead, reminding her of a recent trip to Howes Cave and the Iroquois Museum, where the docent gave her ideas for a school project.

Strawberry drink.

Strawberries, she explained, were the first blooming fruit of the new year, and they symbolize a new beginning. They are food, a fruit and medicine. When you were welcomed into a village you were given food, shelter, and your clothes were washed and mended. You were also given a strawberry drink to cleanse your palate and your soul.

“That's a great idea,” she said. “I think we should make our tradition from now on to count our blessings with five strawberries … especially since the dog just ate the candy corn.”