Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fight Club

There are only two major rules of Fight Club:
Number 1: You do not talk about fight club.
And Number 2: You DO NOT talk about fight club.
It seems simple, and logical, but in this day and age of InstaKvetch, we rarely hold back. Not talking isn’t the same as not speaking.
In the heat of the moment and its radiant aftermath, our anger overtakes us and we usually burst forth in a litany of protest.
We are not ourselves.
We are marriage's blind rage.
We are familiarity's contempt.
We are our own worst enemies.
Until death do we part.
We forget that you don't talk about your sparring partner. You don't flesh out the details of ugly, darkened moods. We smile in pictures.
You DO NOT talk about fight club.
You don't talk about all the ways the other person hurt your feelings. Or misconstrued your words and turned them against you.
You don't talk about petty frustrations any more than we speak of serious infractions.
You don't talk in front of the kids.
Especially not after you've yelled behind a closed door.
You don't talk to your friends.
You don't talk in front of the neighbors.
Though they may have heard you over the fence.
You don't talk about choosing sides.
If you're smart, you don't post transcripts to Facebook looking to garner awkward support. You stay mum at the water cooler. You mind the gap between treadmills at the gym. You keep a stiff upper lip.
Membership in this club is exclusive and requires this kind of dedication.
You don't talk about how serious you are about your commitment to the organization.
But there's more you can't do.
You don't joke about what will happen when the kids grow up. Or when they've left the nest.
You certainly don't talk about planning what you'll wear to the funeral. Or who you'll start dating when an acceptable amount of time has gone by.
Unless you're planning your own "send-off." ... But you won't get to pick your forever wear. Chances are you won't meet Elvis or hang out with anyone from the 27 Club.
Gallows humor, in this instance especially, is tricky and better left unsaid. Most folks won't laugh, even if you laugh first.
No … There's not usually much laughter during fight club.
And then there's the worry that the joke might just come back to haunt you.
There's not a lot of variation, either. We often circle around the same old arguments.
Of course there are exceptions:
Each member of fight club hops around a ring, dancing and jabbing in accordance with their own rules.
Timing is everything.
That moment of explosion, the point of impact.
A top, closed too loosely under pressure, often gives way. It's hard to predict where it will land. How much damage it will do.
Unforgivable betrayals ...
Like when I watched Game of Thrones without you.
Or when you tracked mud across the freshly washed floor.
Or when I declined your invitation to play Words With Friends.
A thousand little swipes resulting in a thousand invisible cuts, which will be covered in a thousand tiny bandages. And then doused in wine.
Until one of you reaches for something stronger ...
A deep breath. … A white flag. … An apology.
And understanding.

Eventually, we all have to talk about fight club.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tinsel Town

Next stop: Tinsel Town

I'm going to miss her crooked smile.

At least, I think I will.

I say 'I think' I'll miss it, because I'm not sure I've seen my daughter wear the expression enough lately to have it implant on the part of my brain that might withstand the coming of age and infirmity. What I know for sure is how much I'll miss the six thousand dollars it will cost to wipe that ever-so-fleeting grin off her face.

But that's genetics for you -- the need for braces doesn't skip a generation just because you want it to … unless you choose Invisalign (or in her father's case, do-it-yourself dental adhesive and rubber bands, which modern dentists tend to frown upon).

Ah, necessity! The mother of all invention.

Which is why I had made myself an appointment with the orthodontist -- without the kid -- to be thoroughly convinced this money for corrective dental work wouldn't be better invested elsewhere. Say ... a nice bridge somewhere warm ... or an island time-share of my dreams. Or college.

Honestly, her smile doesn't seem that crooked to me. Her teeth are straight enough. There's enough room between each nicely-sized pearly white but not too much. Nothing overlaps.

Of course, I would be a tough sell. After all, I had already sold myself on the notion that with a little watchful waiting, not to mention the use of expanders and extractions, braces might not be a forgone conclusion.

But I laughed a little -- that nervous, forced laugh one has at sudden surprise -- when her mug flashed up on the orthodontist's monitor during our pre-installation parent consultation.

"See there," the doctor said, pointing the tip of his pen at the screen. "The reason you can't see her teeth when she smiles ...

His voice didn't trail off. He finished his thoughts with the same quick, articulate efficiency he started with, but I can't tell you how he explained the whys and what-have-yous of her appearance. It was all a blur, as my mind started to coil around this astounding new observation: In the TWELVE YEARS that I have been a full-time Mom (and part-time Tooth Fairy), I had not managed to notice how her teeth are barely visible when she smiles.

Honestly, I tried to keep up as the doctor moved on, thoroughly explaining the scans of her mouth and each potential realignment. So many tiny flaws I'd never seen. How the space between her two top front teeth didn't line up with the space between her two lower front teeth? Missed it. He showed the degrees of asymmetry with a confident precision, using terms such as overbite, cross-bite and dilacerated roots.

"Di-what-erated roots?"

"It's just a small curvature of the roots ...Nothing to worry about, though it could be a treatment limitation. It might not allow for perfect alignment."

Who needs perfect? Definitely not me. I wouldn't notice Perfect if it bit me in the face with its crowded teeth.

Spread before me was a transcript of everything he was saying in plain English, so I could relax.

Still, I was marooned on a fog-socked island of thoughts, shipwrecked; it seemed, once more by realizations that all these things about her smile, hidden behind closed lips, had eluded me.

I have to admit feeling a little relief as the slide show continued and he explained all the good that would come as a result of tinseled teeth.

One of the most important changes would be that we'd finally be able to SEE her smile.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The running joke

If you hadn't already noticed, you will begin to see us now, all decked out in our phosphorescent shirts and swiftest shoes, traipsing over hill and dale, even in the driving rain.

You can't fathom how much we've planned this excursion even as we protest that we haven't. We've traversed this course in our dreams ... Or more likely, instead of sleeping. We've considered every little thing from what rests on the tops of our heads to what cradles the tips of our toes.  We know exactly how much compression we have in our socks.

Wave as you go by, but please, not with your middle fingers. We can't help ourselves.

Race days are upon us, and we are desperate to get in our mileage. We're not trying to ruin your commute.

On Saturdays all through the winter, some of us have dragged ourselves out of bed at six a.m., laced up our sneakers and picked a destination. Five miles here. Ten miles there. Lather. Rest. Repeat. We called it maintenance.

Back then we were only serious, not seriously obsessed.

We weren't what we'd call diligent, no matter what we told you.

There was always a time (or three) when we just stepped outside for a moment, turned around and went back into the warmth.

But each passing day, our numbers multiply, and we're starting to talk shop.

"Are you a pronator or a supinator? Are you working on a forefoot landing? Have you tried a foam roller?"

We happily take questions, but shhh shhh: don't ask us how the "jogging" is going. Our answers might not be civil.

Our non-running significant others laugh as they putter around the house with their second cuppa. We've tried to make converts of them.

They put up with us and our driving forces, but they can't help but make comments:

"When I want to go 13 miles I get into a car ...."

They understand our degrees of insanity.

Every Spring our obsessive-compulsive disorders come roaring back from their winter hibernations. Fueled almost entirely by gadgets that track us whether we are awake or asleep.

They plant ideas into our heads about how far we should go and how fast. They remind us via email that last year we were better, faster.

We hate them as much as we can't live without them.

We pray to the god of muscle strains to pass over our houses, as evidenced by our Google search histories:

"To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question."

The results aren't definitive no matter what you've read online. New York Times says ... Might as well give the Giant 8 Ball a shake.

We try to step lightly. Lean forward. Pump our arms at our sides. Careful not to cross our meridians.

At the coffee shop where we gather later to super-charge our running highs with caffeine, we talk about our plans with others we know by pace.

There's always someone selling us something that money can't buy. Some of it sounding off limits in polite company.

Tempo Run. Hill Repeats. Fartlek.

"Have you heard about the 4:1? It's not the latest model -- that would be the 15:15 -- but it's a solid choice if you are going to walk any of your intervals."

We make jokes about ourselves and our pronouncements.

Especially during the low moments.

The muscle pulls. The shin splints. The traveling aches and pains that we all fear will not only sideline us but cause our early retirements.

We lose count of how many times we decide to quit this thing called running before it quits us.

"I'm giving up racing," we've all uttered ad nauseam, only to be lured back mid-sentence by an upcoming entry deadline and a free t-shirt.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Baseball Ready

Baseball season sets my teeth on edge.

It's not that I don't like the game, exactly. It's more that I fear it.

I fear the hot sun and the foul balls that make their way into to stands. I fear the crowds and the crowing that make the experience uncomfortable for pretty much everyone.

But most of all, I fear that my kid is going to get hurt in every way a kid can get hurt.

From the moment my kid looked up and said he wanted to play in Little League, to the moment he stood out in the field – all decked out in his local business-sponsored duds – all I could do as I sat in the bleachers was pray he wouldn't get a line drive to the head.

He'd never see it coming. Not the way he did cartwheels, chased butterflies and laid down in the outfield, making angels in the grass. And he'd never live down the ribbing from his teammates if he survived.

People are as serious as a heart attack about baseball.

“Baseball ready,” is the mantra all of the best coaches use. And with those two words alone, you'll see a team of wrigglers straighten up and start catching pop flies.

Magic words aside, I can't relax.

Each year as baseball season rolls around I hope my Champ won't play. Each year I hide the papers that come home from school announcing sign-ups. Each year he finds them and demands to be signed up.

“This year is going to be GREAT,” he exclaims. “I loooooooooove baseball.”

And, each year, I reluctantly sign him up.

I know all the things that make baseball great. You have a simple game, with simple rules, wrapped up in a blanket of complicated histories and DNA strands of statistical facts. Anyone can play, but few play at all-star status, and fewer have the encyclopedic knowledge of a savant. There's as much reason for dubbing baseball our national pastime as calling bread the staff of life. It's all that and a bag of roasted nuts.

If I am truthful, I will say my boy's ability to focus on the game has improved from last season to this one. He may only do a few handstands during practice or when the other team is getting in its lineup. But there are still painful faces and tears when he strikes out.

Soon, I know, he'll come around. His face will stretch back into a smile.

Strangely, though the season is new, I find I am less anxious than I was.

I just hold my breath and clap between plays. I never yell anything.

Time, I tell myself. Time and practice. Every skill we learn takes time and practice. And as I watch, he scoops up a grounder and tosses it to the pitcher. I exhale a little of my pent up breath. He'll get there.

I have to suck all the air back in, however, when he slides on both knees in the grass as if he were reenacting a scene in “Risky Business” during a lull in play.

A new fear has arisen:

The team uniform called for white pants.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

My people don't camp

My people don't camp.

I wish when I said this statement, it sounded as arrogant as it reads. But when it tumbles out of my mouth the words are filled with disappointment, having been all but deflated of their rarified airs.

No matter what I do, my people don't camp.

I've always owned a tent. I've always had gadgets that would help me ease back to civilization if ever I got away from it: backpack, sleeping bag ... collapsible cups. I can barely pass up packaging that purports waterproof matches.

I've just never been able to convince anyone else that camping in the great outdoors would be an adventure worth having.

You see, though my parents were fond of taking the family on annual trips to Boston and Cape Cod, they preferred clean and modern motels with pools or walking access to the beach.

And the mechanics of these weeklong rituals back in the late '70s went without question.

To ask my mother if we could go camping would have been akin to asking if we could go to the moon.

Or worse:

Into a war zone where the enemies are mosquitoes and public showers.

It was safer to ask the man at the front desk to explain the tide charts every couple of hours. At least he'd give me two wrapped peppermints to get rid of me.

My mother just told me I would grow up and do whatever I wanted. If it was to be the moon ... "Well, good luck with your uphill battle."

Mothers, bless their stubborn hearts, are usually right.

Though my people have changed over the years, through marriage and periods of gestation -- I even have a husband who relishes his bi-annual camping trips with his boyhood pals -- the closest we've ever come to camping as a family is pitching a tent in the backyard ...

And then moving it into the living room when the sun went down and small bodies with big imaginations decided a zipper wasn't much protection from all the noise the wild suburban kingdom is prone to making.

But I haven't lost hope.

I even caught a glint of it for a moment this year, when my husband mumbled something about the guys planning a weekend camping trip for the families.

In my mind, I could see us all gathered on an island in Maine. Our tents pitched as if in a catalogue village. Kayaks portaged and waiting at waters' edge. Folding chairs set up around a blazing campfire. Me walking around with my tin cup of coffee, surveying it all ...

I could almost smell the bacon sizzling away on a camp stove.

Of course, it could have been a display area, over to the left.

We do find ourselves in outdoor equipment stores quite often. My husband is looking for luggage. Kids are looking for backpacks. I am looking for woolen socks. After awhile, the children, having wandered around and found nothing appealing, will settle in among the camp chairs display, try them all until one has the right fit.

There they will stay, quietly staring into their pocket pals until we have decided on purchases.

I wonder aloud if we should look into buying a bigger tent for the upcoming camping trip. There's a preseason sale ...

"Oh, Sorry," he said, with the sound he makes of sucking back air whenever he has to eat his words. "Timing didn't work out on that trip this year."

See? There's no getting away from it.

I stand there, wide-eyed and gaping-mouthed. A small hand tugs on my coat with urgency.

"I need to peeeeeee!"

Our people don't camp. Our people just hang out at camping stores and pretend.

"At least this place has a bathroom."