Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year, Same old me

In one cozy moment, quiet had settled over the house.

Christmas had come and gone.

There was nothing to do but throw another log on the fire and relax.

Each child had retreated to their bunkers with their Santa loot and were happily engaged introducing the new to the old, and rearranging pecking orders.

Time enough to breathe and loosen my white-knuckled grip on this manufactured reality.

A carpet of canines had just settled in for a short winter’s nap while the cats that had lain doggo were finally stirring.

The Bumpass Christmas, as this year’s carnival of excess, would become known, at its most festive featured ten humans, six dogs, one ginormous roast and at least three subsequent meals made entirely from leftovers.

And despite some minor disagreements, some involving sharp words others involving sharp teeth, somehow we had survived mostly unscathed.

Of course, it wasn’t all happiness and fancy Christmas lights shot out of a cannon in the direction of the house, although the lazy light show did its part to lessen our grief the night “Luna,” still lustrous of fur though elderly in hamster years, finally trundled off to the giant cardboard tube in the sky.

Her departure serves as a tiny reminder of the humans we were missing this year, too.

All those shiny packages containing even the smallest of treasures helped to redirect our thoughts. Not that we will ever admit such selfish soothing.

What is Next if not a distraction from Last?

Life is good. Good. Not perfect, but that’s what keeps it interesting.

Tomorrow we will try to build us better selves.

We will strive to be more organized. We will seek to exhibit fewer vices.

 We will be our thinner, healthier, happier selves, though we will still be recognizable. It’s just that our finances will be in better order and our hearts will be at peace.

But the process in our house is also external, born of the unhappiness of others in us.

We squint our eyes and see where our lives would be better with less of someone else's life spilling over.

My husband wants less clutter and more peace and quiet.

My daughter wants to eliminate all the dog hair that seeks to cling to her formal-hued fashions.

My son would like his time on the internet uninterrupted.

I would like everyone just to get along.

We won't all get what we want. And that's as it should be. Even my most pessimistic self should know the process of resolve is incremental. Small starts are starts all the same.

And not all failures are regressive. Most of our missteps still send us forward, just in a different direction.

It will still be noisy and chaotic. But there will be joy.

Dogs will still leave a trace, but you will learn to use a lint brush.

Sometimes the internet goes out “unexpectedly,” and the world doesn't end.

Even when we argue, we're still talking it out.

Getting along sounds loud and angry sometimes, too.

So it is with some hope that I step off into a new year and another beginning. Next year may not be better, but it will always bring something for which we can be thankful.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Learning the ropes

“In four miles take a left onto Route Nine.”

For fifty minutes I’d been following Siri’s every instruction, starting with an easterly turn out of our driveway.

“In one mile you will reach your destination.”

I was worried.

“Did you hear her mention of our destination was on the right or the left?”

My co-pilot for this leg of the adventure was an eighth-grade friend of my daughter’s who’d apparently drawn the short straw.

The four other girls on this journey had already pretzeled themselves into the second- and third-row seats, and were nervously chirping away, twittering about what to expect, but trusting I would get us there.

We were going rock climbing.

Or, more precisely, wall scaling inside a two-story metal warehouse made to look like rocks.

It was my girl’s 14th trip around The Sun, and she had a dream.

Or rather, her father had a dream:

“Hey, kiddo,” he said one morning over eggs and toast. “I had the strangest dream last night. You and your friends went rock climbing on your birthday.”

She tilted her head and laughed the kind of laugh that threatens to either choke a person or propel orange juice from their nose.

“Oh that’s hilarious, dad,” she said with an overly dramatic flair. “I can’t see any of my friends agreeing to climb rocks.”

Somehow, between a second helping of bacon and me as the designated driver squinting off into nothingness as my Australian-accented navigational assistant insisted we had arrived, my daughter (having been fed a few web pages of details about a local rock gym) had managed to make his dream a reality.

And she had talked a handful of friends into accepting the challenge.

I’m not sure what I was going through my mind when I floated the idea that a rock climbing dream wasn't out of the question.

Because as I stood at the gym counter with five girls and no experience, the look on the guy’s face momentarily told me I had made a mistake.

There were too many of them. And I wasn't enough.

“How old are they?”


His face relaxed.

“Oh, great! They can belay for each other. No problem.”

Before anyone could have third thoughts, he’d taken the group to get equipment: shoes and harnesses and a little device that would help them return to safety after reaching unimaginable heights.

It looked like a candle flame snuffer.

In 20 minutes he’s talked all five girls through the process of literally “learning the ropes.”

Ropes, it turns out, is more involved than climbing, which had only one hard and fast rule: “if the belayer tells you to slow down ... slow down.”

And then... just like that ... one girl after another scaled to the top of a wall and repelled back down to the floor. Each girl putting their trust in another girl who was keeping their rope from going slack.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down.

It was almost as if they had been doing such a things in their sleep their whole lives.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Return to sender

My mailbox is over its quota.

Now, in the real world, this might mean that the nice folks at the Post Office are drowning in letters and parcels and cards that I’d been remiss in retrieving.

Which, let’s face it, at this time of year is perfectly plausible and a mostly accurate portrayal. I haven’t been able to walk to the Post Office in weeks without having to return home to get a vehicle to truck back that day’s haul.

However, I’m not talking about the real world, where mail takes up cubic space and costs many dollars and cents to transport from place to place.

I’m talking about an email box on a server somewhere in the ethosphere, overflowing with news of cyber sales and enormous opportunities I will undoubtedly miss since I just can’t seem to connect with that wealthy but unloved Nigerian prince who has money to give away to perfect strangers.

How do I know this? Well, my internet-service-provider-slash-old-email-purveyor forwarded a copy of the email they couldn’t fit into my mailbox.

... to another mailbox?

Don’t ask me to explain it. I still don't know how the Fax machine works all these years after it has become mostly obsolete. All I know is that the thing I might not have seen if they didn’t insist I couldn’t see it was an important message from Etsy. 

Apparently when some twee hipster has crocheted something “amazing,” that is now on sale just in time for holiday shopping, the entire World Wide Web could come to a crashing end.

Of course, this shouldn’t bother me. Thousands of unread emails taking up space at an address I rarely visit and only give out to the shifty types who will sell my information to other shift types, all of whom are trying to sell me something, should be low on my priorities list.

And yet, I am curious enough to spend a few minutes figuring out how to log on.

“You. Have. Fifty-thousand-four-hundred-twelve emails ...”

“And you can't delete them from your server by deleting them from your phone.”

But it turns out if you don't delete them from the server, you will hear from a tinny, robotic voice every hour on the hour, and on the half hour … forevvvvvvvvvver!!!

I’m not kidding. Even as I write this, I have been trying to pitch hundreds of these old pitches out of an open browser window. It's not as simple as crumpling paper and practicing your hook shot. I have to check each email individually and jetison them in groups that are no larger than 25.

Each batch takes at least 25 seconds to spin their way into the trash. Did I mention I have to go into the trash and repeat the process? (Trash mail counts and that just mega bytes).

Twenty minutes later and only three hundred and seventy-five emails have spun out. And of course, my available space still hasn’t budged.

Oh, wait ...

There’s been a development ...

“You have 1 percent of your usable space remaining.”

Why am I doing this? Honestly, I have Christmas cards to address, and laundry to wash and fold. I could empty the dishwasher and fill it up again. The dog is holding her leash in her mouth and looking at me plaintively.

Gosh, I could be learning about how net neutrality will make all of this worse, or why I should specifically hate bitcoin instead of just feeling generally opposed to its existence.

Seriously? Why?

If only I could mark them return to sender.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Grab tidings

I’m happy to be able to wish you a “Merry Christmas” again.

Of course, my glad tidings are true and genuine reflections of the profit and loss tally that will result in this year’s Christmas spirit.

A full accounting of which I've requested from the Congressional Budget Office.

I anxiously await their reply.

In the meantime, and in the service of this secular Christmas, which we celebrate as a nation by arming ourselves against any and all disappointments with plastic cards that accordion out of our wallets like all those pictures of babies and grandbabies no one at the office really want to gaze upon (but “oohed” and “ahhed” over politely anyway) I would like to formally surrender.

That's right: I give up.

I will not find the perfect gift.

Or select the right color.

I will likely get the size wrong.

I just want you to understand that I’m at peace with my failures in this battle.

I’d hold up a white flag, but I can’t manage to separate colors in this dimly lit laundromat of an economy. If I’m lucky the banner I pull from the front loader will be a healthy (if unwanted) shade of pink. My guess is, however, the object of my surrender will make its way into the Downey Soft scented air either a dull grey in hue or a distasteful brown.

I don’t think the kids will be too disappointed. They have their own money, saved by working odd jobs at the home front, not the least of which involves vacuuming the furnishings, and removing from them the inches of sediment comprised almost entirely of pulverized after-school snacks.

In other words, they buy what their hearts-desire year-round with the change they gather from under the cushions and the loot the Tooth Fairy brings.

It took several years to explain to my offspring the value of only parts of dollars. And it wasn’t until my rap on wrapping coins (complete with practicum and a share of the proceeds) that small money started to matter to them in a big way.

This is not to say that I was an early adopter of the penny-wise practices of my Depression-era forebears. There was a time (not long ago) that I deposited the nickel-backs into the recycling right along with the cardboard and tin foil.

I dumped handfuls of change into an old coffee can every laundry day for years, never really considering depositing the contents anywhere else.

Of course, my fear now is that small money will be the only income left for our children to earn. A life of shopping carts filled with deposit bottles to buy half-slices of avocado toast.

They’ve already reached the age where they listen to media reports and swear worse than an entire team of Bad News Bears.

They would make Walter Matthau blush, rest his soul.

I can’t worry about that. Just like I can’t worry about which of their “friends” is most likely to snap and bring a semi-automatic weapon to school one day.

I will pray the manufacturer turns out to be Nerf.

We parents aren’t supposed to think about that. We have already planned for the worst. Our district (and no doubt yours) has already installed a buzz-in entry point with bullet-proof glass. Protectionism is now 9/10s of the law.

And when I think of protection, I, of course, think walls.

Walls so tall it would keep all these passportless red-coated idealists out of our hair.

I will build mine out of the gazillion and four throw pillows I have acquired since the last holiday season, and line the top with thousands upon thousands of slightly over-cooked toffee shards I will make each night until the New Year.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

You're such a good kid, Nellie Oleson

Life was simple once.

I’m not pining for Neanderthal simple or Little House on the Prairie simple, I’m just wishing life’s simple things could be like they were before Thanksgiving.

At 7:30 Post Meridian, on the day we gather with family and roasted turkey and five kinds of potatoes to give thanks for everything we have in our lives that we take for granted during the rest of the year, my children marched up to me with some rumpled papers in their hands.

"Can you send this to Santa?" my 10-year-old asked as he thrust in my direction a torn sheet of notebook paper with a seemingly meager list. 

My eyes got all misty as I smoothed the food-stained page and the realization that this is perhaps the very last time in his wonder-believing life he will perform this ritual took full effect.

His sister, in solidarity, produced a letter of her own and presented it with a wink. "And mine, too?"

Her missive was typed and doubled spaced, and contained a host of things that could only fit onto gift cards. Ostensibly, the slabs of plastic cash would be used for year-round shopping ... randomly spaced in the foreseeable future ... with friends... as I chauffeur silently ... and dotter along behind ... at an acceptable distance.

As I try to decipher the boy's misaligned letters scribbled after three consecutive numerical notations, I realize Santa is doomed.

Number one: There is no way The Big Guy is going to finance this kid's heart desire for “a super-fast gaming system with impressive video capture for streamlined YouTube uploading.”

Not when there’s at least three perfectly good gaming systems collecting dust under the television.

Number two: “A Cyclecar?” I had to Google this contraption, only to find out it is pretty much a lightweight bullet-shaped go kart that tools around on bicycle wheels propelled by the equivalent of a motorcycle engine. More than “some assembly required.”

The 1918s called. It wants its fad back.

Maybe Santa could spring for the leather aviator goggles that should accompany such a vehicle, but the kid would have to drive around in the box they come it, making realistic vroom, vroom sounds on his own. Alas, he’s outgrown that stage.

Now it’s all about Snapchat, interactive video gaming, YouTube channels and ... hair gel?

Number three: “Enough hair gel to fill the swimming pool. Jell-O could be substituted.”

Poor Santa.

The internet and social media has certainly changed his job.

If I were him, I’d want to shift my kids onto the Naughty List and call it a day.

But I know he’s looking past my kids.I can feel his scowl. It sends icicles through my veins.

I can hear his normally jovial voice turn melancholy. “Now, who was it, I notice, who PAID their children to model for the family Christmas card?”

Guilty as charged.

In my defense, I felt the sum of a sawbuck worth the efforts of two camera-shy kids if only to lessen my own efforts in getting them to stand still and pose. I opened my mouth to speak.

No words came out.

I couldn’t bring myself to voice such logic. No matter how much I wish my children were the altruistic angels Hollywood has taught me children can be, realistically I’d rather employ than implode.

Appearances matter, especially as my daughter overhears me wrestling with my inner demons.

You do realize we would have posed for photos without you paying us, right? We’re not complete brats.”

I know. I know. You’re such a good kid, Nellie Oleson.”

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Urban astronomy

We always seem to see celebrities whenever we go to The Big Apple.

One year I saw Yoko Ono in SoHo. The next, I bumped into Meryl Streep near The Met. Another time we saw that guy from Law and Order (never forget Ol’ What’s-His-Name) somewhere on the Lower East Side. 

My husband had breakfast (in the same restaurant) with Kate Winslet. Later that same day, Ethan Hawke laughed at my husband’s humorous t-shirt when their paths crossed in Chelsea.

But never has a trip to the city been as star-studded as this year.

At this one address in the theater district, Celebrities. Were. Everywhere. 

I couldn’t quite see who was straddling the trapeze three floors up. 

But we had paid $29.95, plus all applicable taxes and fees, to find out.

“She looks and sounds like Pink,” my daughter said with conviction as she thrust out her phone, which was belting out “Fire,” and for the briefest of moments, I had to consider the chances I was experiencing some form of synesthesia.

“The wax figure? Up there? It’s the singer, Pink. I recognize her tattoo.”

I squinted up at the figure twirling above and could only see a minimal splotch of ink next to a maximal exposure of gluteus.

“I’ll take your word for it.”

We stepped into the elevator and headed to the ninth floor. During the ride, our elevator operator coached us on the guidelines for interacting with the stars we would encounter: “Please be careful with hands and faces as they are the most delicate parts. Otherwise, have fun and take lots of pictures!”

“Really? People touch them?”

“And they do a lot more than that! Thousands a day,” our elevator operator said with a wink. 

I could tell that wink was code for: “You will find hand sanitizer stations near all emergency exits. I suggest you gargle with it at least once during your visit.”

“This wasn’t my idea,” I wanted to tell her. “I abstained from the vote!” I had visions of lunch and a Broadway show. The extra hour of free time, I thought, could be spent at Bryant Park sightseeing and window shopping.

But the children saw golden phalanges dangling the letters that spelled out “Madame Tussaud’s” over her West 42nd Street wax museum, and that hand might as well have swooped our entire party into the lobby as if dusting the sidewalk of breadcrumbs. 

It was awkward at first, taking a selfie with Jennifer Anniston. Inspecting the shoes of Patrick Stewart. Wondering why Salma Hayek looked like no one we recognized in particular.

We weaved through the hall of world leaders and marveled at the incredible likenesses of England’s Royal Family and the Pope in Rome. Even our dislike of the waxwork POTUS held true.

By the time we got to the movie sets, we had lost every bit of self-control. We were making funny faces with Ghost Busters and piling on E.T.’s bike, not caring who witnessed our spectacle.

Only one of us had any composure by the time we came to the last exhibit.

In fact, my son had so much composure; it occurred to me that he hadn’t moved in quite a long time.

It turns out he had aspirations of his own for fame.

“I figure if I stand here long enough, and stay perfectly still, someone will take a selfie with me.”

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Dream house

The door had opened and closed at least a dozen times. In between the snap of the latch and the thud of wood against its opposite wall, buffered as it happens by winter coats draped over pegs, the evenly paired slaps of my son’s sneakered feet pummeled the floor.

Click-click, slam. Thud. Wubba-wubba. Wubba-wubba. Click-click, slam.

Then the tell-take clattering of rummaging hands.

Over and over and over again, the mantra and melody of boyhood made its cacophonous presence known.

Ordinarily, this racket of repetition would have made me grit my teeth and pull out my hair by the root. But the house’s standard silence, granted only by the solitary play of pocket devices, can be overwhelming to a mother’s guilt.

You see, my son had been puttering around outside in the crisp fall air for longer than I would have wagered money. This communing with his imagination and the great outdoors was a miracle of modern proportion, and I didn’t want to jinx it.

His brief trips back to civilization eliminated any inclination of mine to hover. As one might when children are building their own pint-sized version of the American Dream, a clubhouse in the trees.

Notice I did not say “treehouse.”

This distinction, his father assured me, was the key to safety when it comes to allowing 10-year-old builders to do-it-themselves.

“Mom! Have you seen my hammer?”

For the better part of a week, since his father had planted a decommissioned packing crate in the center of a small grove of trees in our backyard, this has been the boy’s routine after school.

Just a few boards, some nails, what little remains of a half gallon of green paint and some ingenuity is all that’s needed to live this dream.

In a few hours time, the bits and bobs he begged from our closets and castoffs began to take the shape of a diminutive dwelling.

A blanket tacked up for a door. A little more begging (of his father’s time) would buy him a second floor and some railings for safety, but not a roof. A roof on his budget, his dad, explained, would go over budget and wouldn’t get OSHA approval.

Soon friends would clamor to help.
Pairs of pals, happily hammering away into the afternoon. They would hone the fancy curved-nail technique of tacking various lengths of thin plywood paneling to studs that been safely secured by a Dad.

A proper clubhouse with a patchwork of ruff-edged walls, inexpertly aligned so that the resulting gaps accidentally provided the perfect peepholes to help protect all the club’s secrets, which, at this point in its development, amounted to a couple of floppy bean bag chairs and an armload of pilfered snacks.

“Mom, do you have any more blankets we could have? We need something to keep out the wind.”

I hand him a stack with a smile.

“We’re almost ready to give tours,” he exclaimed with a new seriousness that turns his inner wood shop elf into a shirt-collared docent.

And I am almost ready to view this rickety palace of our dreams. I just have to quiet my inner child’s green-eyed envy.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

My warmest thoughts

The clocks turned and all of a sudden summer had ended. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures plummeted. The furnace yawns and roars to life.

As I started digging through bins of hats and gloves and scarves, I noticed the first smear of blood across my knuckles.

Winter already?

I wonder if it's possible. Had I packed my winter skin inside a box of winter wear?

But I will not complain about the cold. 

I will find my warmest thoughts and fixate on them. It will help if I pull a chair up to the wood stove and sit all cross-cross-applesauce, scrunching my toes inside shearling slippers as I watch the flames dance for me.

It doesn't matter that the temperature outside has only dipped to a little above seasonal, inside I am ice. I have to plan every move as I was trudging through the tundra. 

I consider using the blowdryer on my hair ... and my knees ... and my feet. But first I must endure the split second of spray from the tap. Once it warms up, I will linger in the shower, turning the lever ever-so-slightly to the left as the heat of the water dissipates. 

 I will hover over the kick heater until its motor cuts out, letting the air chill and the room fog up. 

My children hate this weather. It forces them to wear socks and shoes and pants that are longer than shorts. They will refuse coats of any kind, keenly aware that wearing one now would betray some ethos of their youth.

The internal thermostat that allows their swimmer's lips to turn blue throughout the summer is evidently still on the fritz.

The sight of this throws off my internal furnace. Bare arms flailing around bare trees makes my skin bumps multiply.

My mother's words ricochet around my brain for a while and eventually escape through my voice:

"Put on some clothes; I'm freezing!"

They ignore my chattering pleas and continue wearing the wardrobe of summer. 

And the only motherly thing I can do I will have to do unto the dog, for she lacks thumbs and the will to stop me.

We will go for a "Double-u, Ay, Elle, Kay" (I spell out these intentions to minimize excitement and unnecessarily jumping).

It also gives me a chance to wrestle a fluffy, plaid coat over her head. 

She doesn't care about the cold, or that she looks ridiculous. She doesn't flinch at my ugly green beanie, uneven bulk, and faux fur boots.

She only cares about straining against the leash and that squirrel just around the corner neither of us has seen.

And she won't care about the human children who will laugh at the sight of us: a rag tag and a rover wearing the unfashionable costume of warmth. 

"I don't think I could admit knowing you," says the girl who hibernate under her quilt on the couch but wouldn't be caught dead in a quilted jacket.

I don't need to tell her the feeling is mutual the moment she ventures out of her blanket fort and stands at the bus stop in shirtsleeves. 

I will just inwardly shiver.

The dog gives my hand a brief nuzzle before she starts to dance around me in circles. And I will wave goodbye to my daughter thinking about how much easier it is to be the mother of dogs.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

I have a few questions

Do you spend an inordinate amount of time trying to wrap your mind around events, small and large, that float from The Cloud and trickle down into this thing some call the collective consciousness?

Do you get this same tingly sensation I get when some jolt of understanding breaks through the insulators and microchips and stands your hair on end?

Are you ever able to connect all the dots?

For instance, why is there ALWAYS room for dessert?

Why do dogs roll in deer poo?

Why do those two thoughts occupy my mind at the same time? 

What is the driver in the circle supposed to do if they encounter a pedestrian in the crosswalk at their exit?

Should we keep circling?

How do the laws we follow get so bound up in knots?

Why is Pinterest suddenly draped in things that look like elaborate fishing nets? Who resurrected macrame?

Are platform shoes next?

Why did Amazon send my husband two parts of a used "dancer's pole" and its dog-eared installation instructions with the children's bicycle helmets he had ordered?

Did the person who received the other pole parts also get my husband's order of Phillips-head screws?

How do I keep those two thoughts from occupying my mind at the same time?

Why is it so difficult and costly for drinking establishments in New York City to get a license allowing their patrons to dance?

How has it been possible for law enforcement (ever since Prohibition apparently) to crack down on dancing places that don't have these magical cabaret licenses?

Do they know something I don't know?

If we allowed folks to sway to the music of a house band at a corner bar, are we saying it's no big thing to crowd surf at a rave in a warehouse without fire suppression or adequate emergency egress? Is that what we mean when we shrug and say it's a slippery slope?

And why is it that virtually anyone can be a cab driver or an hotelier thanks to the interwebs, but no money can change hands for dog-sitting your "friend's" Bichon?

If a kennel takes fewer than three guests (including resident ruffers) couldn't it just be considered a home daycare?

You understand that I'm asking for a friend, right?

Why do people like pets more than preschoolers?

Is it possible that everything old could be new again if we just keep the definitions vague?

Is that why my daughter is listening to the 80s group, Journey?

Why do we pretend to know the answers and then get enraged when we see everyone else faking it?

Why does the President knee-jerk Tweet?

Why can't we admit to making mistakes? Is it because old dogs can't learn new tricks?

What am I supposed to say to my children when they ask why one mass killer using guns isn't called terror, while another mass killer using a car gets that label?

Does the future now depend on what crawls out from under the dark corner of the internet a person unearths?

Do you also secretly hope the cloud will burst and wash all this nonsense away?

Why am I suddenly thinking of “Flashdance?”

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Like two bugs in a rug

My little bug is buzzing around Washington D.C. with the rest of the 8th graders in her school. A class trip to the nation's capital that she's been preparing for since fourth grade.

In the fundraising sense, anyway.  Scrimping and saving in a school-based account with the expected efficiency of market-sponsored fundraisers.

You know what I mean: you sell a candle to your grandad that your mother will pay for and keep, because, let's face it, not a single person his age needs a chunk of wax that supports an open flame.

I prefer dropping off bags full of bottle deposits that miraculously tabulate into a small fortune than to periodic pyramid sales schemes.

Surely two years' worth of spent soda cans would put a bite into the final bill.

"You're welcome," I said with all the confidence of a moral superior. But I had missed the mark.

"Yeah .... you saved the planet a whopping $14.45."

"What a bargain for you."

But it is a bargain, even at twice the price.

Right ... like I'm not going to invest at least twice that amount in replacing her shoe leather.

In four days - as per the itinerary - the kids will infest every spoke of the district. They will walk nearly 40 miles; land on dozens of museums and monuments; eat their way through a handful of restaurants, and do a fly-by of all houses of their representative government.

They pack a lot of tourism into 96 hours.

As she walked out the door, leaving her phone as per school regulation, I missed her.

Wished I could call just to hear her exasperated voice say "Mom! I'm not a kid anymore."

As I fed her critters and changed their water, I missed her.

I didn't even want to complain about the lack of cleanliness of their abode. I just silently swept.

As I sleepwalked into her room at the crack of dawn to silence an alarm she neglected to unset, I missed her.

I almost missed how her voice would sound from our shower at that ungodly hour. How her father would have hollered that she had her own bathroom she never used as if talking to himself.

I especially missed the late morning prank texts I send for her to find when school time electronic bans are lifted
and she rushes to check her messages.

I know she's probably waiting on a
cute boy to say "Hey! ..." and so she can reply "Hey!" and leave it at that.

Instead, she'll find a picture of a ballet dancing bear pirouetting through the air with a furry, distended belly and resting beast face.

She'll send me a catalog page in reply. A screen-shot of a lemon-colored pair of pants M.C. Hammer might have made famous. And she'll tell me they look like olden-days pants she thinks would look marvelous on me now, even though I've grown long in the tooth.

I will agree and tell her they do seem timeless. And I will admit with a false flair that I went ahead and bought two pairs. Now we can match.

She will flash a look of horror that reassures me that the bug in her misses the pest in me, too.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The same old story

It's the same old story.

A handful of swashbuckling men and a token woman swashbuckler (who, no surprise, meets a grim demise a few scenes in) all trying to save the world and one particular damsel in distress; a princess threatened by a venomous villain, who also happens to be a vixen.

Oh, and The NOC list -- an imaginary run down of all the names of covert spies -- was getting out in the open. Again. 

The popcorn wasn't even fresh.

I should mention the film was a sequel: A comedy wrapped up in a spy thriller featuring top-notch stars. Pure entertainment packed with natty clothes, English accents and dozens upon dozens of extra-special effects.

It was also the teen's first R-rated movie. In a theater. Accompanied by her parents.

My husband covered our daughter's eyes once during a particularly racy scene, but still, we laughed albeit awkwardly.

Harmless, escapist fun. That's what we tell ourselves as we follow along with the unbelievable storyline plot point by plot point and wait as the credits roll, hoping for bloopers.

I think spy movies are better when Megan McCarthy saves the day,” I said to virtual silence. 

How can you say that? Did you not see that epic car chase?”

Or the cool gadgets?”

Yes. Gadgets, gizmos, and girls -- the G-Force Field of entertainment. How could I forget?

We would go home to Amazon to search out the original in the series: Unearthing original sin, so-to-speak.

And then Harvey Weinstein happened.

More than the NOC list was now out in the open.

And it was repugnant.

The distressed damsel, now with a come-hither look and not a stitch of clothing, invited her spy savior into the just sprung prison cell for a tryst, which Big Brother watched on closed-circuit tv.

And laugh track ensued ...

I wasn't laughing.

I might never laugh again at another Hollywood ending made into a happy one by the pen of some man.

"Never in a million years would the victim of a kidnapping - and one who feared death at that - would become amorous of her hero.

"And even if some strange universe where such an outcome was possible, no hero would ever take advantage of her position."

I could think of a dozen endings that would have been better, funnier, though none that would be so outlandish.

But this was the ending that must have played best with the test audience. An audience made up of people like me. People who really hadn't given much thought to the way the world actually works, or who can explain it away as something that happens to other people.

And even when we have our own stories of harassment or assault, we see it normalized in art if not exactly in life.

We all have a story we'd rather not share; rather not have visited on our children; rather not have them repeat themselves.

It is a story that will haunt us all.

I don't blame the movies, though that would seem easy. There's no one place to look and find fault.

But I won't ever see these movies the same way again. And I think that's a start.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Mad dash

The alarm went off before first light.

I was already awake. I had gathered raincoats and coffee cups and portable breakfast snacks, knowing that we'd soon have a mad dash.

"Why are we doing this again?" asked my daughter groggily when I cracked open her door to rouse her from sleep. "It's still dark!"

"Because it will be fun."

I had volunteered us to hand out water and encouragement to all the runners who passed mile 8 and 21 of the Hudson Mohawk Half- and full Marathon, respectively.

But to be honest, my response was mostly wishful thinking. It was raining. And humid. And the thought of not knowing exactly how to hand off a wax lined cup filled with water to a runner scooting past us at a 6-minute-per-mile pace was slightly nauseating to me.

Equally sickening, of course, is the green-eyed monster I wrestle every time I see a neon-hued moisture-wicking clad person logging miles in my neighborhood.

I want to cheer them on, but I'd be happier if they were slogging along on a treadmill in a distant basement. Out of sight, out of mind.

I haven't been able to run since July. And it's been a kind of torture.

Stupid tendons.

I wasn't sure how I'd feel watching a few thousand sprinters scoot past me.

It turns out there wasn't much time to feel melancholy about what I was missing, the clock ticked quickly as we under-filled cup after cup with water and lined them up on a folding table set up alongside the street.

We joked about the added fiber runners would be treated to as the trees overhead dropped their gifts of tiny leaves with each gust of wind.

Someone spotted a leader on the horizon and hollered for the volunteers to find our places.

It was showtime.

And so we flanked the table, creating a chute the runners would tread through. The more seasoned among us offering tips:

Keep eye contact!

Balance the cup in your palm, shoulder height. Let the runner take it from you.

Pinch two cups in your other hand as ready replacements.

Keep checking for errant leaves before you hand off any cup.

Many runners, we noticed, have their own rules. Some grip the cups at the top and pinch a corner, creating a funnel to keep the liquid from spilling. Others take two cups, dumping one or both over their heads as they lope on through.

The faster ones might point to their desired target, usually the last volunteer on the line, and slow their pace imperceptibly.

Oh my god. That's me!

My heart races as the reality hits me:

I am this runner's last hope for water at mile 21. If I miss, bib number 1268 might dehydrate before getting to mile 23.

My daughter sees the terror in my face and dutifully calls out the play-by-play for the enjoyment of the rest of the volunteers: "This is it, folks. The moment you've all been waiting for; the moment of truth! Will she buckle under the pressure?"

Time seems to slow down. My arm starts to shake at the shoulder. The weight of the cup as oversized as the tension.

There is a blur. A warm hand brushes mine and the weight lifts. Runner and cup are gone.

"And it's good! The crowd goes wild!!!"

I have to admit, this strange sideline dance feels like a sport in and of itself. Perhaps I need a coach, or at least someone to take into account the lull between waves so we might replenish supplies. It's so easy to let funny t-shirts and snazzy running kicks sidetrack us.


Imagine what we might have accomplished had we'd trained. Imagine if we had spent just one measly hour a week mastering a complex routine of pouring, balancing and raking up cups.

I had a new addiction:  “Next year, I tell you, we are going to PR this water stop."

And my daughter had the antidote: “Wait? Why are we doing this again?”

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Music to my ears

"Do you want to hear me practice?"

Of course, I do, I say with a smile as the dog dives under the bed.

It's not a lie. ... Exactly. But the dog senses what is to come, and I envy her a bit on her choice of shelter. She doesn't mind the dust bunnies as much.

My son is still an enthusiastic student of music, though not yet an accomplished one.

It's only been three weeks.

And while I'd love to use earplugs or a sound suppressor at this juncture in his education, there's nothing I want more than NOT to have to force him to play.

The boy disappears into the avalanche of debris that is his bedroom and returns in short order with a pristine black trunk.

He opens the box and gingerly removes the shiny, brass tri-valved horn within. Behold! The trumpet we acquired through a low, low, introductory lease.

He holds it aloft for all to admire. The dog ventures a nose toward the boy and slinks back to safety.

I marvel at the gleam of this rental instrument; its lack of dents and fingerprints despite however many unwashed mits have handled it over the years. There's not even a single scuff mark on the leatherette case he totes back and forth to school three times a week.

But I'd be crazy not to shrink at my own fun-house mirror reflection as he points the funnel in my direction and blows.

I discretely cover my ears a bit, thinking next time I should wear a hat.

In the two short weeks he's been a student of band, he has taken all of the rules and recommendations of his leader seriously.

He applies the oils and cleaning rags at regular intervals and buffs the trumpet to a gleaming finish. He practices routinely with a timer. He buzzes and blows, rests in between, and toots out tunes that are almost recognizable.


If I close my ears halfway and make some allowances for the thick blasts of stabbing sound -- which usually end in shrill, needling tendrils -- I can hear "Mary Had A Little Lamp."

Or maybe it's "Maury is a Little Lame.”

Playing the trumpet is harder than it looks.

Wind from bulging cheeks turns suddenly from a strong gust into a whimpering, off-tune flatulence.

After a while, it seems only natural that the bent or broken notes will take their toll on his excitement. Not to mention taking all the wind right out of him.

Encouraging him to continue seems even more difficult when exhaustion sets in. Lung capacity takes some endurance.

The dog ventures out and takes her place next to me as the rehersal continues.

Two short blasts and a long note. A “G,” I think.

"Hey! That one didn't sound like a fart. And The dog isn't running away anymore. I think you might be getting the hang of this."

Probably not the best comparison to use with a 10-year-old boy. But not the worst.