Sunday, March 27, 2016

Boiling over

The pot had boiled over.

That's what my husband calls it, anyway, as whatever has been simmering all day in my thoughts comes out in a blast of hot words and scalding tones when we sit down to dinner.

It's not about him. It's not about anyone, really. I'm just a geyser of stress that erupts in moments of silence.

A filling of voids with angst and upheavals.

Anything can set me off. The internet. The elections. Orthodonture. Doctors appointments. Television news. Did I mention the internet? There wasn't a single thing I could pin down and do that would be constructive. There wasn't one outcome I could change from wanting change.

“I think you need to go to the gym, or out for a run,” he'll advise cautiously, aware that patronage at any point in this delicate endeavor could work against us. The pushing of any pseudoscience in my direction has to be incremental.

It has to be my idea …

Which, unspoken to anyone else, it had been. But I had gone out the night before. And the night before that. Three days in a row seemed selfish.

It was before six and he was already in pajamas, wine poured generously into a glass. I didn't need to ask about his day. “It's fine. Just go.”

And so I go.

Out the door and up the street. One foot follows the other.

I feel stiff and slow. As if my legs have been replaced by chopsticks. They don't feel as if they bend at the knees.

The wind is wicked. It claws at me with little bits of sand it kicks up in its gusts.

I put my head down and continue. I focus on taking small steps. More power, less effort.


They say it helps to exercise. But I don't know.

I'm not sure I feel better, exactly. I just feel different.

Reassuringly different. Explainably different: I can think of THIS pain as from running. THAT pain is from sit-ups. The heat you feel in your face is from raising your heart rate, not peri-menopause.

Just take deep, calming breaths.

The hardening of soft muscles is a bonus I don't wish to talk about. As if to admit pleasure in this area would diminish its value or add to my vanity.

Not to mention the conflict my thoughts tend to wage with each other over exercise.

“Don't step on the scale …. it's not about that.”

Step on the scale … be disappointed.

Look in the mirror … it's still the same me.

The pot is still there.

“It wasn't about losing weight. It was about all the other benefits. … the longer life. The mental health. The better sleep.”

I have choice words for that angel in my head, but I'll refrain from saying them. “Think positive,” would be her response, anyway.

My husband will tell you I sleep better. That I'm less liable to boil over at the slightest increase in temperature, but I still wake up at night, worrying about the things I can't control.

But I'll just go for a run.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Filling the space between us

Three miles. Thirty minutes. How hard could it be?

She watches me as I tie up my trainers. She's been saying she'd like to go with me. Stretch her legs. Get some exercise. But I know it's an intention she will likely postpone indefinitely.

The temperature was still climbing even as the sun was started to set. Perfect weather for a three-mile jog around the neighborhood. “Really. It will be fun. We can walk some, run some.”

She politely declines.

My daughter had other things on her mind. School things. Clothes things. Room I asked her to clean things. Boy things …

She says nothing above a whisper. I can tell she is balancing on the edge of sadness and could fall either way.

I get her to agree to walk with me to the meeting place. Other evening runners will gather, spring training in full effect. Ten minutes and two changes of clothes later, we are ready to head out the two or so blocks to the center of town. We have a pleasant talk around subjects. I hold my breath, resisting the urge to utter a stream of unhelpful advice. I just listen and nod.

Once we reach the square, we will go in opposite directions. She will head toward the library, where she will return materials that have been accruing fines. I will tackle the local cul-de-sacs at a hopeful 10 minutes per mile.

I worry about her in all the ways a parent worries. And now, adding to it with this new and expanded boundary of actual space. We so rarely go separate ways.

“Go right home after the library, Ok, before it's dark.”

She just grins at me.

“Where else would I go?” her smile tells me.

We've been through this dozens of times.

She disappears in the opposite direction I start to run. Slowly at first. Familiar. The pack starts out together, past the coffee shop and some houses, then thins out. Working harder, we don't chat as much as we pass the cemetery where our eighth president is buried. We pass more houses. People in their yards stop what they're doing to bid us a good evening. Turn left at the cornfield and head toward the orchard.

That's when I heard the siren and felt a lump in my throat that I try to explain away with statistics I made up for comfort's sake.

“I'm sure everything's fine.”

But the sirens continue, and I can hear cars racing to a spot that might be my home. It's hard to tell the direction of noise.

“Or it might be a neighbor's,” that everything-will-be-alright voice offers in hope.

I dig out my phone, just to be sure.

My stomach sinks. My phone has been ringing on “silent.” It's my husband.

The emergency is at our house. Everything is OK, though. She's fine. He's on his way there now. Ignore the messages.

Which I do. I ignore the messages and call the house. My daughter answers immediately and, with great excitement tells me she saw fire in the backyard as she was walking home.

“So I called the fire department.”

And just like that, my daughter saved the day in under three miles.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

How do you say 'crazy' in Chinese?

To be honest, I'm not sure how to talk to my kids about this election cycle.

Last time it was easy.

My son, to whom we ofter refer as Alex P. Keaton because of his penchant for wearing suit coats and ties on minor occasions, came home from school one afternoon in 2012 and announced: “It's settled! I'm voting for Mitt Romney.”

To which I replied: “That's too bad. I'll miss you when you move in with the neighbors, but I'll still be able to wave at you from your old room every now and again.”

What, you say? Horrible mother!? Taking away a preschooler's right to vote in a general election. Sheesh!

Truth be told, I wished my mother had set me straight about politics when I traipsed in from school one afternoon in the 1980s with an announcement of my own: Jelly beans are cool, peanuts drool.

Of course, I felt a tiny bit guilty taking away his right to think for himself, but we're not running a democracy here. There's not a lot they can control. They don't get to vote for who becomes chief cook and bottle washer.

They eat, we cook.
They wear clothes we wash them.
They need braces we pay.
They go to college we panic.

I'm sure that sense of panic has something to do with the place we find ourselves politically.

At night, after they are tucked-in and sleeping, I whisper “state school,” hoping to implant a notion that will grow into a plan, which will save us from refinancing the house or having them take out loans they might be able to pay off when they have children of their own … after they reach 40.

This election cycle, however, I don't have to threaten my kids with rehoming if they choose the honeycombed comb-over with a giant scowl.

They're already afraid he might win. They wouldn't want to cancel out each other in voting for the guy who looks like their papa – Einstein hair, dark glasses and all.

The idea had crossed my mind to tell them someone had spliced some strange reality game show into the national debates, and now broadcast technicians were at a loss for how to fix it.

“Not to worry, it's just a glitch,” I imagine myself saying. “Soon we will be back to the regularly scheduled programing.”

But they're not as gullible as all that. They can see something has changed since we last elected a president.

Maybe it's that politics has become an extension of regular programming.

Every four years we have to pack up our belongings and relocate them to the part of our imagination that tells us where we could live in harmony with our ideals.

“We'll have to move to Canada,” says my daughter, an echo of her friends, which I can only image rings back to their parents.

As if.

“You know … It will be hard to move to Canada,” counsels my son, who has already figured out the logistics. “But not impossible … I figure mom can be a substitute language teacher. She can teach every language except Chinese.

“Do you know why she can't teach Chinese?”

“Ahhhhh … because she doesn't know any Chinese?”

“Nope. Because my friend, Johnny's mom is going to teach Chinese. That's how we'll all stick together.”

But it seems we probably won't stick together. Even in this discussion, the goal is to divide and conquer.

“Are you hearing this, mom? Can you tell him he's crazy?”

“Sorry. I can't argue with that logic. It makes about as much sense as anything these days.”

Sunday, March 06, 2016

NaCl meet wound

I could tell before she's said a word that things weren't going as she had planned.

She looked exasperated, and the house was more of a wreck than usual, which is what I had planned. After all, I've seen her cook. I've witnessed how she opens packages after reading the printed directions. I've seen her skip steps and improvise … So when she said she was doing a project for the science fair, I just imagined cereal everywhere and a resealable bag that has no way to reseal.

I couldn't help myself.

But let's not rub NaCl into the proverbial wound. Science requires some restraint and the opportunity to be wrong.

As it happened, the project she decided to undertake was already in process. She hovered over four gummy bears, soaking in individual tartlet Petrie dishes on our kitchen counter.

She was quite a site as she stood there in a pool of overspilled fluid, a flexible purple measuring stick in one hand and a fork in the other.

“What's the project again?” asked her brother.

“I'm trying to find out what makes gelatin grow.”

“What's with the fork? You're going to eat them,” he asked and answered. “I'd like to see you eat the one soaked in vin-a-gar.”

“No, doofus. I'm not eating them. That would be gross.”

“Couldn't you just make a volcano? That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to make a volcano as big as our couch!”

“You can't even make volcanos in science fair anymore. It's been done to death,” she replied, not too kindly either.

He just shrugged and looked around. “Looks like you should be doing your project on earthquakes.”

I had to agree. But I didn't want to set off a chain reaction. The conversation between siblings was explosive enough.

The kitchen was littered with discarded dishware, half-filled measuring cups and opened containers of spice. Posters, markers and stencils littered the floor as if there'd been a ticker-tape parade with office supplies through the den. The cat was chewing on the corner of her display board. A make-shift photo studio set up on the living room coffee table kept crashing down each time the dog passed by and wagged her tail.

“You spelled vinegar wrong,” I tried to say nonchalantly, as I reached for the coffee pot and refilled my cup. “It should have an “E” – “Vin-E-Gar.”

But nothing I say is nonchalant. She started to growl, and I backed off. It was going to be a long night.

I flipped through the guidebook – a packet of questions stapled together with a lot of blank space. “Aren't you supposed to fill this out?”

Her eyes narrowed. She started to answer. A run-on protest of grievances: “Every experiment is different” … “I'm figuring it all out” … and “I know what I'm doing” … tumbled out along with “When I need your help, I'll ask for it.”

“Thank you. Now please go.”

And can you please take the dog?
And the cat?
And the annoying commentary of the little brother?
And the little brother?
And the coffee?
And get all of them away from me?
I don't care what you do with them so long as they stop bugging me.
I can't work like this.

I can do that.

“See?” I muttered, catching a glimpse of my puffy-eyed self in the surface sheen of my coffee, now coming perilously close to breaching the rim of my cup as I corral the errant “control-freak group” upstairs where we will watch Netflix. “She still needs an assistant.”

“You realize that makes you Igor, right?”

NaCl? Meet wound.