Sunday, May 25, 2014


“Put your hands in the air,” he demanded, hands firmly clasped, fingers tightly intertwined, and pointers leveled directly at me.

He pulls the hammer back with the click of his tongue. The true danger revealed.

“I said: Put yer hands in the ai-yerrrr!”

My heart drops.

It's only been a moment, but I have already seen glimpses of where this will lead. His imaginary gun is loaded. The blast will echo like a holler into a canyon, and forever until bedtime he will jump out of dark corners shooting.

This moment magnifies almost every single insecurity I have harbored as a parent. The kids watch too much TV. Violence pervades every video game. And worst of all we only half-heartedly try to regulate any of this imaginary aggression.

I turn the thoughts over and over in my mind. Composting the sticky remnants of modern parenthood, hoping to make rich and fertile soil. We are hovering and absent. Cling-y and ineffective. We are distant and still controlling. We organize chaos because we are afraid of the consequences we have to mete out to our kids.

Oxymorons everywhere, and they call the shots. It all seems so hopeless.

More images of failure come at me now in rapid fire. Time seems suspended as I try to hone in on my options.

Do I act offended and explain the gravity of guns? How people should NEVER, under any circumstances, point a gun – even the literal hand gun -- at another human being?

Do I pretend to be an outlaw, surrender willingly, and suggest a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders to pass the time instead?

Or …

Do I ignore him in the hopes this will all go away and he'll forget he ever wanted to fake kill me? I can always search for a child psychologist later.

I can't decide.

Only seconds have elapsed and yet it feels as if when I blink, I'll snap out of this daze and realize my boy is a grown man … with a real gun, facial hair and a tattoo of someone who doesn't look quite so matronly on his arm.

That moment passes, too.

I blink.

He's still staring at me, his pistol hands pointed just above my chin. His eyes are relaxed, despite his smile being so tightly drawn across his face. He looks happy: all smudge and spit and boy, for sure, but hints of his desire to cuddle and nap equally apparent through the rough and tumble. He is waiting for my response.

“Well …

“What's it gonna be, Pilgrim?

“Are ya gonna … Put. Yer. Hands. Up. In. Tha. Ayrrrrrrrr?”

That's when I decide. I am exhausted.

From fighting traffic to fighting the weeds in my unwanted garden, I have been battling things I love to hate all day. As I look into his giddy face now, all I can think is that if he were to shoot his imaginary bullet anywhere near my direction it would break my heart.

But I would survive.

I take a deep breath and hold it as I raise my arms overhead.

And just as I reach for the sky, he utters his final command:

“Now wave 'em like you just don't care!”

He drops his weapon and it floats this way and that as he joins me in celebration.

And for the next infinitely suspended moment, we wave them like we just don't care.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Cutting the cord

It's time for “The Talk.”

A part of me thought that we'd never get here. That somehow we would skip right over the milestone in our preteen's development.

But unfortunately, the need for a chat was clear as a bell. A telephone bell.

Honestly, I thought we'd have ditched the landline by now, so the only phone she'd have to answer was the one in her pocket, which we had given her – finally – when she turned 18 and was already a skilled and cautious driver.

But the fact is -- as children of the '80s ourselves, who's first cellular telephones (acquired well after graduating college) couldn't even fit in our pockets -- cutting the cord linking our house to the telephone company is easier said than done.

As it is now the only people who call the house phone are either telemarketers, or looking for someone who lives elsewhere:

“Is Charlotte there?”

“Sorry. You must have the wrong number.”

Or, increasingly, calls are from friends of Ittybit.

Just the idea that shrill summons of the telephone might be for her has her flying toward it at breakneck speed. “I'll get it,” she chirps with unbridled enthusiasm.

Oh sure, I patted myself on the back when – no thanks to me – Ittybit answered the phone on the first few occasions with professional flair.

The smile in her voice never wavered, even when the call turned out to be a wrong number or, more disappointingly, for her father.

But lately, her much-taken-for-granted expertise has shown a bright light on all the things she really doesn't know about dealing with disembodied voices.

(I'd call them perfect strangers, but we all know nobody's perfect.)

Before, when the voice on the line said something completely nonsensical in her estimation …something like: “Good afternoon Mrs. (mispronounces my name). We'd like to tell you about a special opportunity for people in your area. ...” she would simply look perplexed and hand over the handset to any adult who happened to be taking up space nearby.

Now, however, the strangers' words form a puzzle that her 10-year-old self feels bound and determined to solve:

“Hey, Ma! There's a guy on the phone who says he's not selling anything, so I thought he could be your brother … if you had one. I don't know. I thought it was fishy, but I told him who I was when he thought I was you.”

And so it has become quite apparent (in addition to the fact that she routinely tells people are mother is in the bathroom, and NEVER writes down messages anyone can understand) Ittybit really has no concept of “phoning it in.”

Of course, after the first lesson in Answering the Phone 101, it also became evident that she really isn't much interested in learning anything I have to teach her about the transfer of information – digital or analog – into the ether.

Ring-ring. Ring-ring.


“Say 'Hello'.”



“Ask who it is ...”

“Who is this?”


“Well. Who is it?”

“I don't know, it's a recording.”

“Hang up.”

“What if it's the school or something …”

“Well, is it the school or something?”

“I don't know, I wasn't listening.”

“Then hang up.”

 "But that seems rude."

Of course, on the occasions when telemarketers are actually on the line trying to adjust their scripts to accommodate the wild goose chase of a conversation my daughter has started, my heart just leaps into my throat.

“Why on Earth would you tell a total stranger your name? Never, ever, ever, ever give out information to anyone over the phone, especially if you don't know them. … On second thought … WHENEVER there is someone on the phone you don't know just hand the phone to an adult.”

"But what if you are in the bathroom?"

"Then take a message. But write down their name AND their number."

“But why would they give me any of that information? They don't even know me.”

Honestly … I didn't know what to say after that. It felt a little like we were playing a game of Who's On First.

Perhaps this is just a sign from the universe that we need to cut the cord.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The problem with encouragement

So … about a year ago I started running, right?

My kids made me do it. They were the ones who thought the idea of running club would be fun.

I had no grand illusions. I didn't expect to become a runner overnight … or ever. I didn't expect to look like I belonged in a Title Nine catalog (or even the Walmart sportswear flyer). I just wanted to try it and say: “Well, now that's over. Let's eat pie.”

Yeah. It's true. I expected to hate it. I expected to run (halfheartedly) during the hour-long running clinic with other non-athletic adults (who were also killing time) as we waited for our kids (who were simultaneously learning the proper way to hate running) in the children's version of the class.

Running turns out to be a love/hate pastime, which everyone and their eavesdropping mothers will tell you will ruin your body more effectively than methamphetamines.

Well, everyone that is, except for my husband, who may, in fact, be trying to kill me with encouragement, who knows?

In short, I expected to be back on the couch BEFORE my first 5K.

Well, it didn't quite work out as I'd planned.

Oh sure, I injured a knee. … then an ankle … then the other knee … and then the same ankle again (only in a different place) … All of which I expected.

What I didn't count on was how much I missed running when I couldn't do it. Or how much I would envy all the hard-core runners I'd pass in my car as they braved the outdoors in a wintery mix.
Surprisingly, I didn't have to talk myself into pounding the pavement after recovery. During the downtime I had taken a crash course in running tips from the Google School of Sports Medicine and found exactly what I'd been doing wrong:

Too hard. Too fast. Wrong socks. Wrong shoes. You're injured, don't run.

During those sedentary weeks, I had learned the difference between Fartlek, Tempo and Interval runs. I could even define them dependent on a runner's ability to talk naturally, gasp for air, or have the urge to vomit during completion of the workout.

Yet, after learning all of that, what dolt would go racing back to potential re-injury?

Points. At. Self.

Oh sure, I ran in the snow and rain. I ran when it was 7 degrees, but I really did hold myself back. I listened to Dr. Google and went out slower and for shorter distances. I didn't chide myself for taking time off. I didn't even care that I had gained weight instead of losing it during my quest for faster miles and longer distances. Well, I pretended I didn't care, anyway.

And then, last month, my determination payed off: I ran 60 miles.

I can honestly say, staring at the number, I felt like a Viking.

The number on the scale, however, pointed to the fact that I might actually look like a Viking, too.

I blame my husband, of course. There I was, feeling like I had earned those extra helpings of chocolatey decadent desserts he'd been telling me were guilt free.

“Go ahead,” encouraged my husband. “You ran eight miles today while I took a nap. You deserve the dessert.”

Perhaps that's why the needle on my scale moved in the wrong direction.

Why else would the miles I was putting in and the calories my phone said I was burning off have the opposite affect on my weight?

“Muscle weighs more than fat,” chimed my helpful husband, as he skied in place. A smug smile settles on his face.

He'd been prescribed a gym membership by his doctor not more than two weeks ago, and opted for the mechanical whirring of an ancient NordicTrack device he'd pulled out from under a blanket of dust in the garage and set up in our bedroom.

“Swish, swoosh, swish, swoosh, swish swoosh,” goes the machine as he raised the volume on the television. “I've skied one mile every morning and I'm already down 10 pounds,” he shouts proudly over the din.

I resisted the urge to strangle him with arm cords and walked down to the kitchen instead.

Chocolate chip cookies are his favorite.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The road ahead

I guess I've always had a problem with finding my way in the world.

I like to think it was easier before the Internets, when all a person had to do was ask for directions. Invariably you'd be passed around until the person with the best skills for such a thing could be found.

That person would ask you if you had a pen, and wait for you to get one before taking you on a ride, in your mind, along a series of roads so perfectly clear you could almost see the destination before you even got behind the wheel.

It was a combination of familiarity and trust.

“Go about 55 miles East on the turnpike. Turn left at the last intersection. Travel until you see some road sign and bear right at the enormous chicken. We're the third house on the left. You can't miss us.”

The real ride, however, isn't usually the clear path you think it will be. There's always some important step (or several) that I trip over.

“Go about 55 miles East (which is East again). Turn left at the intersection (what exit?). Travel until you see some road sign (that was stolen by some undergrads last summer) and bear right at the enormous chicken (which bears a striking resemblance to a cow). We're the third house on the left. You can't miss us (if you are looking on your OTHER left).”

Maybe I'd just written it down wrong? No matter. It wasn't a big deal. Ordinarily, I'd arrive on time and without getting terribly lost. 

The return trip would always bedevil me, too.

Getting from Point B to Point A is never as straight backward as it seems. When backtracking, I usually meander around the alphabet for a while before I find the off ramp.

I find real life, like directions, is like that, too.

No matter how you prepare, you're never really ready for the roadblocks the universe (and spring construction) plunk down in your way.

You could be driving down a road you've driven down your entire adult life, merging into traffic with the same careful practice you've always used, only to become confused by a new sign and a dirt road that weren't there before.

In the millisecond your awareness of this change charges through the gentle fog of your thoughts -- which, up until that moment, had allowed you to drive most of the way on automatic pilot -- you panic.

There is a sign for my turn. Wait ... this doesn't look right. Is this a detour?

What do I do?

On the road ahead, the pickup truck takes the path less traveled.

Of course, I follow.

Almost immediately I know that I was mistaken.

Cars ahead of the truck keep going up the ramp and take the right I should have taken. They cross the bridge I should have crossed.

The road I'm on leads to a construction site, with bulldozers on either side of me making level ground. The truck I followed disappears into a cloud of dust and parks.

I can't stop myself from thinking about how stupid I am … how incredibly short-sighted and ineffective. How much I don't want to be here. Now … or ever.

And how much I want to cry.

The man on the bulldozer smiles as I roll down my window. He doesn't seem as surprised to see me as I am to see him.

He doesn't care that I am a fool.

He gives me simple directions:

“Just turn around and go out the way you came in. Then take a right.”

I hate to admit it, but I did cry after I took that right and merged back into traffic.

It occurred to me that life can be a lot like my unfortunate detour. The road ahead isn't nearly as complicated at it seems, but that doesn't make our travels any easier.