Sunday, December 28, 2014

Age appropriate

I had just left the room for a moment. A millisecond to be exact. I didn't even see the wrapping come off the package, which had seemed to arrive out of nowhere. But I heard it. The sound of paper tearing in long, continuous strips.

This can't be good.

No sooner had they unwrapped the Christmas Village building set, ripped open the box and dumped out it contents -- several pillows of multi-color parts -- than the bottoms of my feet began to tingle in anticipation of the pain that would undoubtedly follow.

There was no time between the crinkle and burst of cellophane bags to stop what was happening. A cascade of hard plastic building bricks hit the soft carpet, surging like a waterfall.

It didn't matter where I was in the house at that moment – the basement … the attic … or the garage 500 feet away – because the sound of the bricks clinking together like tiny champagne glasses could have easily pierced lead.

The heavy sigh that left me that moment, if you are a parent you know, was the unmistakable sound of despair ...

A sound that is exactly like twelve-hundred sixty-three pieces of LEGO raining down from the air and covering the entire eight-by-five area rug with an inch of debris. My living room was now a minefield of holiday cheer. Which meant it was only a matter of time until the whole place erupted.

I started to count …

Three. …

Two …

“MOMMY! Can you help me?”

I took a deep breath and chased it with a slurp of coffee that had grown cold.

“Nope. Can't. Says as much right on the box: Ages 12 and up. I am much upward of eight. Sorry (NOT) sorry.

“Awww!” he said in momentary protest before raking his hands through the bricks.

“I'll help him,” said his big sister, in a voice that took on the sweetness of a much younger child; a child who didn't need to talk herself into the belief that Santa Claus was, indeed, watching.

She knew it to be true.

They hovered over the plastic carnage and I went back to my work.

I didn't get far. I could hear the low growl, a warning sign and stopped in my tracks.

I started to count …

Three …

Two …

MOMMY! The kitten is stealing pieces we need.”

I think she ate one of the connecting rods!”

Maybe if you feed her, she'll leave you alone?”

I pick up the cat and take her away. A tiny kitten will not be the reason Rome in Toyland falls.

Silence. How long will it last?

Three ...

Two …

MOMMY! She is not even helping.”

BUT MOMMY! He's already messed it all up.”

I roll my eyes and push my luck … “Do what you can. Try not to fight.”

I take another deep breath and hold it …

Three ...

Two ...

One ...

Silence? I can't believe it worked.

Still quiet. A true Christmas miracle.

Chore after chore completed in blissful quiet. It certainly seemed miraculous. Now, some people might object to the singing of several rounds of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin Laid An Egg,” being classified as either blissful or quiet, but in the absence of a full-on sibling war over which of them is holding the illustrated instructions upside down, there are a great many things I'm willing to overlook. Repetitious caroling among them.

Oh, to be a silly rube.

Turns out the silence had nothing to do with harmony. Christmas Village was abandoned. A few small buildings dotted the living room landscape in various states of completion, while the makings of a large, working carousel lay scattered on the floor like confetti. Any moment, I expected dog hair to float by like tumble weeds.

The children were gone. Both of them. Scattered to the wind … or their rooms. … or to Netflix once they realized the project they had started was a little beyond their pay grade. After all, neither of them had reached the ripe old age of 12 and up.

Still … there was the matter of the mess. ...

Carefully, oh so carefully, I eased my way into a seated position on the rug.

“I'm definitely older than 12,” I said and began raking my hands through the rubble.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas spirit ... and other holiday casualties

I can't find my Christmas spirit.

I've looked for it everywhere. Somehow it's just gone missing.

I hope the kitten didn't get it. She's a feisty one. Always chewing the corners off Christmas cards and tearing up wrapping paper.

I would blame her if I could, but I know it's not her fault.

For a time, I thought that someone had stolen it. Shoplifted, as it were, from the storage room of my brain that usually contains all of my warm and fuzzy thoughts. Ordinarily it's not difficult to find. It's the room adjacent to the ones that harbor nostalgia and gratitude. The Spirit of the Season stuffed into a dented cardboard box with all the tinsel and construction paper ornaments I so carefully saved over the years.

But I don't think that's possible. Who would want my old, worn out joy?

Oh sure, the 24-hour news offers a lineup of possible culprits. …

There's no shortage of rampages, whether deadly or just damaging to the psyche. There's no shortage of depravity, which, over time, will tend to sap your reserves of good will.

Keep clicking through channels. Then turn it off. What else can you do?

Still can't get away from the feeling ...

As if the world around me has turned into a sales pitch.

But that's just white noise …

Something I should simply tune out.

I plug in the Christmas tree. Maybe the warm glow from “traditional” twinkle lights will thaw my icy heart.

It's a possibility, I tell myself. After all, I had rejoiced a little at the hardware store when I found strings of incandescent mini-lights at half price. I am done with the cold, lifeless LEDs.

Maybe this was all I'd need. A dose of white, environmentally unfriendly, light.

Still nothing.

Maybe it's the dread of more stuff entering the house, taking up space we no longer have. All the pretty parcels brought late at night by a guy in a sooty beard and wearing a red suit.

For a moment, shouldn't it bring happiness?

The hours he spent at the mall, or online, searching for the “perfect thing.”

Of course, you know there are no “perfect things.”

It's not about things at all. It's about change.

The kids are growing up. The Christmas card list gains one person and loses two others.

I try not to dwell in the inevitable future. I know it's unwise. The future exists in one form or another, not both. There's no point in trying to set up housekeeping there until it becomes the present and you know the address for certain.

I need exercise and fresh air. I'll take the kids sledding. That will help.

And for the twelve minutes the stars align and the children are racing the dog down an icy hill on their toboggans with unbridled glee, I am calm.

It doesn't matter that I wore the wrong socks and my toes are beginning to turn blue.

It doesn't matter that in a matter of minutes a fight will break out over who was faster, or who's allowed to use whose sled.

Christmas will come. I will find that stupid, ratty box in an unexpected place, and when I open it, it will be filled with the spirit of the season.

Hopefully, I can catch it before it gets loose again. It won't stand a chance against that kitten.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Snow day

Outside, the world looked like a juggled snow globe.

Fat flakes swirl around in icy water, frantically at first and then slowly, as if deciding where to land. It was all beautifully precarious.

Inside, our world seems equally tumultuous.

A boy and girl dance around the house, celebrating this unexpected day off with mirth and glee, as well as a fantastic fight over the remote control.

“It's my turn to pick the movie,” shouts one as the other hollers: “You picked last time.” Of course, it doesn't matter which one said what, they both believe it should have been their turn.

I used to love snow days. The sledding. The snow fort building. The snow-encrusted mittens drying on the radiator. A day made of frozen sweet confection, wrapped in white icing and offered up insistently by Mother Nature.

She wouldn't take No for an answer.

Unlike myself. I take No as a question.

Wouldn't you like to play a game? No?

How about we make Christmas cookies? No?

I suppose the idea of you kids going out into the snow isn't going to happen either is it? No?


I didn't want to do any of those things either, truth be told. If we played a game, they would just fight over the rules. If we made cookies, it would just be the “Royal We” baking. And if we went out in the snow I would have to be out in it, too. Freezing.

Let's just skip to the hot chocolate, shall we? The kind with mini marshmallows, of course.

No cocoa? You've got to be kidding.

Of course, I'm not kidding … Now I remember what I forgot at the grocery store.

The snow has turned to rain. Freezing rain.

I feel better. The fact that we're not outside has shifted from failure to fortune. Which means now the kids want to build a snowman.

“This is the worst snow day ever,” says one of them.

It doesn't matter which one. They speak for each other, even if they don't admit such sibling harmony exists between them.

It's cold all of a sudden. In the living room. The fire's gone out.

As I get it going again, the kids huddle together on the couch under a blanket.

They are whispering, which is good, since the weather and the bickering have left me with a tension headache. And then they are gone.

“Do you have any boxes?”

“Can we have some wrapping paper?”

“Tissue paper?”

I am happy for the truce and show them where they can find such things.

They disappear upstairs, where I hear not a peep nor a rustle for more than an hour.

One after the other they traipse down with packages and bags festooned with ribbons and bows and rolls' worth of Magic tape, and tuck them under the tree.

Each strangely shaped package was marked with its intended recipient: Dad. Mom. Grandma. Grandpa.

The biggest ones were dedicated to each other: My Little Bother and My Big Blister.

So much for sibling rivalry and snow days.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

fixers and breakers

My friend had just arrived. We had made plans to brave the cold and go for a brief jog through the neighborhood. …

But I wasn't ready.

Instead, I was stuffing a small mountain of denim and Perma Press into the front-loader.

“I can finally do laundry!” I said with all the excitement I usually reserve for a sale on the pricey yogurt at the supermarket.

She knew exactly what I meant …

The washer hadn't been working for months. It wasn't broken, but there was something wrong with the outlet that connected it to power.

My husband had finally gotten around to “fixing” it.

“It must be nice for you ... that he's so handy,” she said, earnestly congratulating my husband for being a gen-u-ine Mr. Fix-It.

The equivalency of a husband who can repair a leak in a faucet or rewire an outlet in the laundry is calculated against an outrageous hourly fee. With or without plumber's crack.

I can't compete.

Even if one were to combine the wages of the babysitter, the maid and the school bus driver, who make up the basis of my unspoken worth, we're not even close. Of course a babysitter who swears in front of the kids, a maid who never mops the floors and a bus driver who plays inappropriate music on the way to and from school wouldn't likely have union representation in her corner.

But I digress.

Nice wasn't the word I would use to describe the way my husband fixes things. Humorous is more to the point.

Truth be told. It's not as if his skills are any more marketable than mine.

I still remember the cumbersome instructions we had to review for guests after he fixed the lighting in our first house:

"Ok. If you need to use the bathroom, remember to turn on the track lights in the dining room first. They are on the same circuit, and the bathroom lights won’t turn on without the dining room lights on. … And if you turn on the hall lights and they go off by themselves don't worry, it's nothing. Just turn them back on, making sure the switch located all the way to the left is turned on first. Oh. ... and the light over the bed works with a remote control. If you can't get them to come on you'll have to go to the main panel on the wall, make sure that the switch is pressed DOWN, and press the sensor – located on the right – seven times until the little green lights on the left side of the switch glow orange."

Yeah … those were the days … Strange no one ever asked to be shown the location of the fire extinguisher.

In retrospect, he has evolved rapidly since those early days of do-it-yourself electrical work.

In our current home, most of the lights do what one would expect with a simple flip of a switch. But not all.

Eventually. … the perfect confluence of boredom and ingenuity would meet one rainy afternoon … and he would descend into the basement to finish what he'd started.

Fingers crossed, I listened to clanging and muttered curse words as they wafted up from the cellar, and dreamed of doing laundry without tripping over an extension cord, which had snaked up from the depths of the house for far too long.

But I didn't need to be clairvoyant to understand the price for such a wonderful development in the at-home washing business had been paid inadvertently by the dryer. In 40 minutes – the time, it takes for a load of heavy-duty duds to cycle through all the prescribed rinses – that crazy thought would become a fact.

For one machine to work, it seemed, the other had to be on hiatus.

Breaker, breaker. … who's got the breaker?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Saving grace

Growing up, my family sat around the Thanksgiving table, bowed our heads and said grace:

Bless us Oh Lord

and these thy gifts …

Which we are about to receive

through thy bounty …

Through Christ, Our Lord


We never rushed through it to get to the meat. No one ever really seemed to pay attention, either.

Unless my uncle was visiting.

On those occasions, he would have the honor of leading the prayer, and he would lead as if the whole thing were a single, meandering word set apart by taking the lord's name in vein:

BlessUsOLordandthesethygiftswhichweareabouttoreceivethroughthybountythrough JESUS! CHRIST! ourlordAmen. Someone, gimme the bird!

I loved my uncle. Bespectacled and bearded, he was a hippy and a mystery. Above all, he had swagger.

And boy, did he have stories. The way he told them, you couldn't help but to believe.

He had spent most of his 20s playing golf pros for cash until the greens were white with snow, and then he'd hustle pool for the rest of the winter.

At least that's how he claimed to have made his living up until he graduated college and began teaching juvenile delinquents how to type.

He had just the right amount of nonchalance.

Everything about him was irreverent.

The conversation over dinner was always preposterous. She'd just listen as he cracked wise. He'd laugh and drink milk. Tell us sweets were poison, and that he never ate them … and then polish off two huge pieces of Mom's special cheesecake.

And of course, my devout and reverent mother, loved him fiercely.

It seems odd, somehow, that we didn't make more of the ceremony of those occasions. The saying of grace.

It may have been a jumble of words to us, but to her the words had profound meaning.

My mother just closed her eyes, determinedly oblivious to those among us who would put all the emphasis in the wrong places or snitch bites from our quickly cooling plates.

I don't remember any other tradition. We never went around the table to talk about that for which we were thankful.

Being thankful, was something you kept to yourself. Like a superstition. Wouldn't want to jinx it.

Is it strange to wake up the day after Thanksgiving and realize you and the nine or 10 guests who sat across a table from one another never once shared in conversation the things for which we are thankful?

Is it horrible that we never took the time to reflect on what it was that got us to this place?




Good or bad?


For a moment I felt a twinge of guilt ... as if the failure to verbally examine gratitude made me as callous as if I'd spent the last Thursday in November greedily shopping for things I would never be thankful for.

It didn't last long. I know what I am grateful for and for whom, and trying to put those thoughts into words doesn't give them any more weight.

I am grateful for everyone who has ever made me laugh ...

or smile ...

or feel like a part of something more than just myself.

And yet, perhaps more surprisingly, I'm just as grateful for everyone who has ever made me irritated or anxious or feel at loose ends. For all the things that have frightened me. Saddened me. Made me think about the world and all the parts of it I can't control.

As I sit there, looking at my family, I feel thankful that we have this complicated history. I am thankful for unspoken acceptance.

And I know if I cleared my throat to make a speech about gratitude, it would seem more awkward than silence.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cat fight

What was I thinking? Bringing two cats to the veterinarian at the same ...

Don't answer that. There was no time for that question … 

I was late and there was a problem.

No sooner had I stuffed the winter-widened mound of aged feline into one soft-sided carrier, than the wiry, wiggling strand of kitten flesh had nudged her way out of another.

I followed the scamper of little feet down the hall and under the corner cabinet.

Darn it all to heck!

Of course, I didn't mince words.

I didn't have time. I had to haul a caterwauling kitten out from under a china cabinet, stuff her into a make-shift cat carrier and schlep her into the car. Careful to place her far away from the growling cat who has, thus far, been her nemesis.

But I was getting ahead of myself. First things first.

I patted the floor underneath the cabinet, and, to my surprise, out she came, covered in fluff and dust bunnies.

Got ya!

A five-minute car ride later – a ride filled with the howls and growls of my two, non-traveling companions – we arrived at the veterinarian's office.

I struggle up the stairs with my lopsided luggage. Ariel, the canned ham of a cat, weighing down one bag, while Mittens, superfly kitten, floated around in another.

They were all waiting for me ...

The vet. The technicians. Even the office pet, a paraplegic cat that goes by the name of “Hope.”

“Go right into Exam Room One,” said the smiling woman, flapping the wings of a crisp, new manilla folder. “Mittens is the new one, right?” she asked as she stole a peek into the bag hoping to catch some of the magic that we believe encircles all baby animals.

“What a sweetie,” she exclaimed.

“Oh … you just wait. …” I sneered under my breath. “She had us fooled, too.”

Hope had heard me. As she quickly dragged herself in the other direction, I could tell she knew what mayhem I carried under each arm.

It wouldn't be long before the tiny terror was unleashed.

“I'll take Mittens,” said the nice lady, grasping the handles of the bag and whisking the kitten away to the lab located just behind a Levolor door. I put Ariel's bag on the stainless exam table, unzipped it, and waited.

A long hiss came from behind the door, followed by a deep, wet roar that went on for longer than a natural breath. And again. And again. Ariel and I both stiffened at the sound of it.

I couldn't picture our tiny cat making a noise that big.

There was scuffling and the low murmur of voices. I held my breath. Ariel's ears pricked forward. I could hear the team regrouping.

Even bigger cat noises followed.

Then silence.

The door opened and our tiny kitten was marched in at arm's length by the scruff of her neck.

“She's a firecracker this one,” said the woman at the end of the cat, miraculously still smiling. “Though, I think you might consider changing kitten's name from Mittens to Boxing Glove.”

“She is a firecracker,” echoed the vet, stepping into the room, bearing good news. “Everything's negative.”

The doctor even downplayed the attempted disembowelment we had overheard from the other side of the door.

“There is an age where young cats can be feisty,” he explained with patented calm. “We might have just gotten her right at that age,” he adds with a shrug.

Ariel started to growl as the woman approached the table with the kitten, who was wide-eyed but now purring.

“Don't worry, Ariel. It's all over. Your friend is fine,” said the woman soothingly.

“I'm not sure she was worried about the kitten ... My guess is Ariel was rooting for the Vet.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Virtual tour

Dinner was over, the kids had scattered, but we adults sat silently in place with our hands protecting the remaining swallows of our stemware. In every dinner party there usually comes a lull in the conversation.

The door opened and a cold wind entered carrying my father and one of my re-sealable containers with a half gallon of homemade soup.

“Why, I'll take a glass of wine, seeing as how you're offering.”

I'm happy to see him. Happy to take the container and stow it in the fridge. Happier still when he sits down and sweeps away the silence.

He's the kind of guy who has a smile in his voice. It makes you smile, too.

In no time we are making connections, meandering around in our childhoods, which are separated by geography and at least one generation.

“Do you remember Montgomery Ward?” my father asks, painting a picture of the trips he made there as a child. How he had taken a bus from Troy to spend the money he made from his paper route on model trains. Money that burned a hole in his pockets. He went on to describe how he bought his first lawn mower there as well. A machine to expand his after-school earnings.

“I loved going to Monkey Wards,” I said, remembering only the toy department and a catalog that rivaled Sears' Christmas Wish Book.

I remembered my mother taking me there in person to see the doll I'd pined for in the printed pages.

If it was going to disappoint, she thought, better it do so before Santa set in under our tree.

“It's all offices now,” said our guest, who had worked there for a time.

Small world.

While we sat and chatted, I image we all were probably looking at the dishes on the table in front of us, but seeing the white, art deco behemoth in Menands with a million square-feet.

“Where is that again?” ask my husband.

“He grew up in Maine. He can't help it,” I whisper to my friends.

He shrugs his shoulders. His connections to this place are older than ours, even if the lines didn't stay tied.

His grandfather once told us a branch of that family tree was named Covenhoven.

Small world. Smaller world that our friends' parents may have traveled in the same circles. Probably know all the same people.

It's funny how a conversation that doesn't have much weight can still feel like a warm blanket.

For an evening, we travel around my dad's 1940s neighborhood. We meet his neighbors. We go with him over the train tracks and into the cemetery that was his playground.

As his story continues, I'm revisiting all the people who have faded from my life. Our guests are meeting them for the first time. … The stable hand who taught him how to hand-feed a horse. The train engineer who took him for a ride. The man at the Oakwood, who invited him to witness a cremation.

We hold our breath as he tells us about how he once stopped to tie his shoes and looked up to see a freight train 60 feet upwind.

“All I could hear was my mother's voice telling me never to play around the tracks.”

And just like that time reversed.

I saw my grandfather again as my dad introduced him. A postal carrier, whose only vice once paid off the mortgage.

“It was the late '40s and he'd gone to Saratoga with his postal pals. He won the daily double, it paid out at the highest amount at the time: $1,900.

“Of course, he didn't want to have that much money on him over the weekend, so they wrote him out an IOU on a brown paper lunch sack and a check arrived in the mail the following Monday.”

The room filled with a sense of awe, not only at the idea of being able to pay for an entire house after a day at the track, but to pay it off for under two grand.

For more than an hour, a steady stream of people – many we've never met in person – paraded past that table in a strangely woven tale of colorful, albeit minor, history.

Small world. I bet they all had their own fond memories of Monkey Ward.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Two old friends walk into dressing room ...

It was an epiphany. And it hit me like a cartoon train.

In a dressing room, at the mall, with a woman standing outside the door wearing a measuring tape as a necklace, I was staring into the mirror and seeing another woman looking back at me. And she was in her underwear.

This was a mistake, I thought to myself. I shouldn't be here. I should be searching through racks at a discount store. But there was no going back.

I had been wide-eyed and fully clothed when the sales clerk circled my torso in two places. Looking intently at the spot where her fingers had pinched the pink-colored ribbon, she announced a fact I wasn't prepared to accept.


I couldn't help but laugh even though I really just wanted to cry.

Those are cartoon proportions. Proportions that would have my husband -- Wild E. Coyote – calling me “Mudflaps” under his breath.

“What size have you been buying?” the sales clerk asked with an efficient flair as she flopped a handful of push-ups or demis or bralettes over the door for me to try.

“Medium,” I said sheepishly, knowing that I had never abided by the laws of base-layer structure.
“A proper fit,” it is well known, “makes all the difference.”

All these years I'd been lying to myself.

Lying, and squashing my chest into the undergarment equivalent of an ACE bandage, trying to rebel against all the authority vested in mother nature.

Stupid mother nature. And her vests.

Despite appearances, this epiphany didn't start in a swank lingerie dressing room. It started on page eight of a 34-page booklet my daughter brought home from a special “Your Changing Body” workshop she attended in fourth grade with the school nurse and most of the other female students of the fourth-grade class.

She, of course, wanted nothing to do with the “maturation kit,” which included the booklet and a few sample products. After the class, she'd stuffed all the things back into the drawstring bag and hidden it at the bottom of her backpack. Where I found it ... looking through a fist-full of homework assignments and graded papers.

It was fascinating. … all the biological facts that I suppose I already knew, but hadn't exactly thought about for years, or thought about in elementary-school terms.

“Starting at the Top,” offered a simple math equation for bra fitting that confounded me:
“Measure around your chest just below your breasts … If it's an odd number, add 5. If it's an even number, add 4. This is your frame size.

To find your bust size, measure around the fullest part of your chest. Compare your frame size to your bust size and if they are the same, you need an AA cup. If they differ by 1, you need an A-sized cup. If they differ by 2, you need a B. If it differs by 2, you need a C.”

But the grade-school equation only went up to D.

Which, I guess, is probably appropriate given the audience for the pamphlet I was holding.
Even so, I was getting an education in middle age that I had probably received in Middle School but likely stuffed into my own backpack after the presentation.

Honestly … I had NO idea THIS was the trick to properly measuring one's bust line. Adding. Subtracting. All these years television commercials had me believing it was all about lifting and dividing.

Numbers. Letters. I'm still at a loss for how all this mysterious algebra works.

“How do they get to 3Ds?” I wondered aloud.

“Are you ready to try more?” the voice called from behind the door as another set of garments flopped over the transom.

“I'm not sure I'll ever be ready.”

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Love worth celebrating

My parents were married on Halloween.

Fifty years ago, to be exact.

My mother swore she didn't actively plan to wed on a day when grade-school ghosts and goblins prowled the nearby cul-de-sacs, following the lure of porch lights and filing their plastic pumpkins with sugary snacks.

All she had planned was a small, church wedding on the last Saturday in October.

When she realized the coincidence, she laughed it off with her famous nonchalance.

“I went to my wedding as the bride. Your father went as the groom,” she told me I don't know how many times.

“The song your mother chose for our wedding was 'Oh what a fool am I,” my father laughs.

Every year on October 31, save for the last four, my parents celebrated the same way: at home, with fun-sized candy, the music of the doorbell and the serenade of “Trick or Treat.”

I used to feel badly for them.

They didn't mind. My mom always said it was just as much fun staying home. “Who needs a candlelight dinner with your father when you have a bowl full of candy and perfect strangers coming to your door?”

For most of those years, business was brisk. It was a young street, with young children. My mom counted the parade of children by subtracting the sugary remainders of the once-full bags.

It was a sweet accounting that always left plenty of peanut butter cups for an anniversary dessert.
Over the years, of course, the leftovers grew more plentiful. The children who haunted our neighborhood grew up and moved into newer, bigger developments. The street aged and grew feeble by comparison, until only a trickle of grandchildren visited.

Still, the thought of turning out the light and going out never appealed to my parents.

This year should have been different. By custom alone, this milestone should have included a catered gathering of all their friends and family. A grand party to rival their wedding.

It's a shame we didn't get to plan that party.

My parents don't live under the same roof anymore. They have been separated by medical necessity and the cruelty of aging. But they are never really apart.

Instead of sipping champagne and cutting a replica wedding cake with my mother and their friends, my father, still full of love and devotion, sits at the end of a communal dining table and feeds her a meal of pureed food. She asks him “Who are you?” I don't know how many times. He always answers “I'm your husband.”

Despite this not being the story I wanted to tell, this isn't a tragedy. It's just another kind of love story.

This is the kind of love we promise, but hope we never have to deliver. In good times and bad. In sickness and health. For as long as you both shall live.

It's the love we all secretly worry we can't provide, or that won't be provided us.

It is the unknown. Trick or treat?

We all have to walk up those steps one day, ring a bell and wait in uncertainty for a door to open. If my husband and I stand outside of that door, I hope we get to go inside dressed as my parents.

Because that kind of love is always worth celebrating.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Karma is a cat on your doorstep

I knew I'd caught heartbreak in my hand one afternoon as Ittybit and I were running off to dance class. I just had that feeling.

I could barely understand the words coming from my daughter as she hollered for me to come quick. “Kitten” was the only word that registered.

Ittybit was dragging her dance bag to the car when a tiny, gray kitten startled her. It had been sitting on our porch when the two surprised each other face-to-face. No sooner had they locked eyes than the little feline vanished into the backyard.

"I don't see it," I said, not really wanting to find another pet. We already had a dog and a cat. Our furry family was complete. Not to mention, dance would tap and jazz without her.

"We should go. We'll be late."

"But it's just a baybeeee," she wailed.

Just then she spotted it. We spread out.

Ittybit tried to grab the tiny cat, but it spooked and ran in my direction. I reached out instinctively, and before I knew it, I had the gray fluff of infant feline gently in my hand. As a thank-you, it had sunk its teeth firmly into my finger.

No good deed ...

"Why didn't I just pretend it was too fast for me," I asked my husband as I washed and bandaged my pinky.

He just smiled and nodded. He would have done the same thing.

I smiled, too. “We should name it 'Karma.” It seemed fitting since a few weeks earlier I had teased some friends as they opened their door to a fifth stray cat.

One more and you might be able to skip the audition for 'Hoarders'.”

Karma … that is a kitten on your doorstep, alright.

Our vet said she seemed healthy enough, aside from the malnourishment and dehydration. No telling how long she'd been out in the world, separated from her mother.
I'm calling her a girl,” he explained. “But it's hard to tell. She's pretty young.”

So we took her home – this terrified, but now-purring, six-toed animal that had somehow found us -- and told The Champ the good news: It was his turn to name the newest addition.
And there was joy. The kind of joy you forget about when your household gets older.

The lighter-than-air, happy baby, midnight-feedings kind of joy. The imagining what she will look like when she's older, kind of joy.
Of course, it wasn't to be.

Twenty-four hours later this tiny, barely-named kitten died. The dehydration too far gone for little laps of water and smidgeons of food to turn around.

We learned from a neighbor that the kitten's mother had been hit by a car several days earlier trying to move her four babies from one side of the road to the other.

I knew it was coming. She'd almost stopped eating after her first shots at the vet. She wasn't playful. She became cuddly and wanting of attention. She fell asleep as the children stroked her back.

As the children were getting ready for bed the next evening, her breathing turned labored and her mournful cries became whispers. I called the vet.
There wasn't anything they could do.

The next morning, we tearfully buried her next to our beloved dog.
Ittybit and The Champ took turns at the shovel.
Everyone cried. Her passing seemed more tragic that the release of our 16-year-old pup. It was too soon.

The only comfort, whispered over and over, was in knowing we'd given her all the warmth and love we had in her last hours. Knowing that she didn't die alone in the wind and rain.
In a few days, karma paid us another visit, or more accurately our pet-hoarding friends ...

And of course they brought with them a kitten they'd found under a porch – a playful, full-bellied, healthy little bundle of feline energy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ahead of his time

My husband has always been ahead of his time.

“When is Daylight Savings Time?” my husband grumbled.

I don't know why he asks me.

“No, I'm serious. When is it?”

For 12 years, this has been our semi-annual fight, and my response is always the same.

First, I must correct his grammar:

“It's daylight SAVING time. There's no S.”

“Whatever … When is it?”

Then I correct his usage:

“It's in the spring.”

“Fine! … Then when do we turn the clocks ahead?

“In the spring.”

“But then we'd gain an hour.”

“Sure. We gain an hour of daylight but lose an hour of sleep. In the fall, we get that hour of sleep back.”

He shoots me a look that says what I am doing is the mental equivalent of pulling the wings off of flies or burning ants with a magnifying glass. Torture.

“You know what I mean. When do we turn the clocks back?”

“Yes, yes. I know. We return to Eastern Standard Time the first weekend in November. … Wanna know how I know?

“How do you know?”

“I Googled it on this thing in my pocket called a smartphone. … It looks surprisingly like yours only my case is much cooler.”

“Ha, ha. Very funny.”

Twelve years. Seems like a long time when you're an outsider looking in.

For me, it seems like yesterday.

I remember the torrential rains that visited the night before. The elation of a clear morning followed by the forehead-slapping realization that we would welcome our guests to our outdoor wedding in a field of ragweed. Everywhere we turned, we faced the potential for allergen disaster.

He doesn't remember it that way.

He was too busy looking for his car keys.

These weren't keys to just any vehicle, mind you. Nooooo.

He was frantically searching for the keys to our “get-away” car: A 1974 Lincoln Mark IV hardtop that had been painted purple and accented with metallic-gold stencils of poisonous flora and fauna. It also had orange, matted shag carpeting that smelled of paint-thinner and cigar smoke.

It got nine miles a gallon. It would have cost us $1.64 to get from the wedding to the reception.
Holy moly was gas cheap when we got hitched.

Not the point.

The most miraculous thing, besides the cost of petrol, was that I did NOT hide the keys to that monstrosity.

My sincerest affirmation of this amazing fact, however, did little to stop his mind from weaving all of his last-minutes of bachelorhood thoughts into a giant conspiracy-theory hat.

Not that he would have held it against me, even if he hadn't found the keys later on that week in the laundry, accidentally left in the pocket of a pair of jeans.

Thing is … time doesn't fly in his world, it seems to go backward.

I know this now, because as we were both busy almost forgetting this particular anniversary, we had both tried to pull together last-minute, year-appropriate gifts.

I had gotten him a snarky t-shirt.

He commemorated the occasion a few days later by buying table linens, “the traditional gift of that particular anniversary,” he explained.

“Guess how I knew what it was?”

“You Googled 13.”

“How'd you guess?”

“We've only been married 12 years. When I Googled, it came up silk or pearl. I went with snarky pearls of wisdom. ...

You really are ahead of our time.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Grocery seeking

I'll never forget the sound of my enlightenment -- an explosion of air, followed by the crinkling of plastic over wrap.

Gratification, 1; Delay, 0.

Honestly, it was horrifying.

My best friend's mother had unceremoniously opened a bag of cookies right there in Aisle Seven as we accompanied her on the weekly shop. All hands dug in ... All hands except for mine.

I had never seen such effrontery.

"Have some," she offered kindly, as she extended the bag.

I couldn't speak. I must have been in a state of shock. I shook my head and looked down at the floor, a light-colored linoleum that had seen better days. The world went dark around the edges.

Wishing the spider vein cracks in the floor would open wide and swallow me up, I tried to steady my breath. I felt like I was about to faint.

I don't remember what year it was, but something in the moment – the moment after I regained my composure – signified a new era. Everything I knew about etiquette and decorum was crumbling. Waiting was over.

"It's ridiculous," she said, reading my thoughts and dusting cookie crumbs from her hands as she continued to steer the half-full cart toward Frozen Foods. "They say, never go shopping on an empty stomach, but who goes shopping when they have a houseful of food? I say, eat!"

It's not as if we would eat and run. I knew her to be an honest woman. She'd hand over the sampled package with the rest of the unopened purchases and pay up.

Of course, she was right. Appearances be danged! I greedily reached into the bag. Cookies would be eaten. Hunger would be abated. Kid grumpiness reduced.

This is freedom.

Funny how over the years I'd forgotten about that educational outing.

I never tagged along on shopping trips after that. And my mother never got peckish during our weekly chore. She would have been aghast if I'd asked to snitch from a sleeve of saltines.

Aside from the testing of a grape or two for sweetness and the occasional sampling of snacks handed out by chef-garbed hawkers, I haven't noticed much pre-purchase munching going on at our local supermarket.

The more I think about it, though, the more perplexing this phenomenon seems.

Now it feels as if we are prisoners of stores. The sheer amount of time modern shoppers spend buying groceries has got to have increased during my generation.

And that's by design ...

I mean ... it takes me at least four trips around the store to find which of the five cracker sections has the saltines with the unsalted tops. Not to mention … Why, for the love of peas … is the third cheese section in the cereal aisle this week?

Where did they move the newspapers? They are still being printed, right?

Honestly, I think I spend at least an hour more per week grocery shopping than anyone from my parents' generation even though I rarely buy more than a meal's worth of groceries at any one time.
It's not as if I have much food at home these days. Between the lack of energy to do a “Big Shop” as we've come to call it, I browse through the kitchen cabinets every few days. Buying meat and produce as needed.

I can't believe I'm not famished by the time I reach the cashier. In fact, I can't believe people don't just set up lawn chairs in front of the beer cooler. Crack open a cold one and keep score of how many neighbors search for their favorite frozen novelties where the Pilsners have been placed this week.
At least if a person gets lost, she won't go hungry.

The worst thing in the world isn't an open bag of cookies at the check-out. It's a black head of lettuce at the back of the vegetable drawer and playing hide and seek with the lunch meat.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Red-letter days

“You can do this,” I told myself as I turned off the ignition and stared through the windshield at the low brick building straight ahead. “There's no reason to be frightened.”

But “Myself” wasn't buying it. I was volunteering in my son's second-grade class, and failure was in the air.

Teachers always intimidate me. Skillful masters of time. Always efficient, not a single moment wasted.
I'm just a mom. My kids don't even listen to me.

Slowly, I gathered my wits and headed toward the school. Might as well get this over with.

A steady stream of kindergarteners flowed past me through the front doors of the building and headed toward the play fields. Their coach, a smiley-faced man, inhaled deeply from the damp morning air and tipped his head in my direction. He recognizes my potential for cat wrangling.

That's what I told myself, anyway.

I am buzzed in, and go to the front office where a small test awaits. I must write the date and time, my name, the name of my son, the classroom I intend to visit and for what purpose. In triplicate.

Beads of perspiration start to form over my eyelids as I try to put the information on the correct lines.
Purpose of visit? I have to look at Jimmy's mom's entry from six minutes ago before I write down “Centers.”

I am grateful that she wasn't visiting for a birthday, but feel like a cheater.

I've also frittered away four of the six minutes I'd allowed as a buffer. If I got lost in the hallway now, I'd be late and the teacher would be disappointed.

Of course, she has all of my work cut out for me. … Cut out and stapled, with the important parts underlined and circled in green felt pen.

But the room was bright and filled with colorful posters. My eyes couldn't rest anywhere as every surface boiled with a host of shapes and patterns.

I raised my hand to ask a question ...

I could see the giant letter “F” circled in red looming over my head as she read from the page I held in my hands.

Turns out, I had fifteen minutes to get six kids to read a poem, answer five questions about the poem's contents and draw a picture that illustrated one point the poem had made.

Somewhere, in the fog that surrounded my brain, a buzzer sounded and my group of students started out of the gate without me.

And they're off ...Little Johnny Appleseed is reading the poem aloud … he's already on line two. Teenage Mutant Ninja Shirt is stuck on a word and is beginning to buck. Holy cow, it looks like My Little Pony Sneakers has rounded line five and is heading for the homestretch. This could be an upset, folks.

Of course, everything slows down once I catch up.

“Question One: How does the author describe fall.”

“I fell once. Skinned my knee.”

We're talking about the season, Fall. See here … look at some of the colors the author describes … 'red and yellow and brown.' …

“I have red shoes. … they're sparkly. I didn't wear them today, though.”

The minute hand on the clock races the second hand as I try to keep my herd of cats focused.

A bell rings and they scatter.

“That's a good beginning,” says the teacher and I hand over the kids' work. “Ideally, I'd like to see everyone get at least a start on the picture.”

“I'm not sure I can do this,” I confess. “I'm not a teacher.”

“Of course you can,” she says. “You're a mom.”

A mom? Yes. Why didn't I think of that?

This week if I feel overwhelmed I'll just tell the kids to go outside and play …
"Mommy needs a Time Out."