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.  

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Ladies, start your engines

She came around the track. Wide in the turns. Hair flying. Not giving anyone a chance to overtake her. She didn't think she could do it.

Yet, there she was in the lead.

I had fallen back. The last go-cart, hugging the turns ... pretending the tarmac was ice. Don't want to lose control. I knew I could go faster … but I don't have the same need for speed.

When she laughs at me later -- AND SHE WILL LAUGH -- I will tell her I choose to drive with precision.

PRECISION! That just means you are slow."

She will be slow, too. I tell her. "It's in your DNA."

My daughter is three years away from driving.

Only three years until she will be legally eligible (provided she pass a series of drivers' ed. classes and ability tests) to navigate a moving vehicle through traffic.

The shock of that statement will never abate.

Three years is no time. The blink of an eye.

Three years ago she was still wearing mismatched socks and playing with dolls that barely fit into a pink plastic convertible she liked to push around a three-foot-tall balsa wood model of the Eiffel Tower. She'd shush her brother, who was providing unwanted Vroom-Vroom noises so that she could make her own sound effects.

Her car needed to purr.

"Someday I will drive through France on the Autobahn."

I wouldn't hold my breath," I said under mine. I wish I could stay quite.

She doesn't need me to be a naysayer.

There will be many of those in her lifetime.

Three measly years until some feckless soul makes a tasteless joke about the inherent (and totally imagined) shortcomings of Double X Drivers.

But "driving like a girl," at least according to insurance company statistics, might be a good thing.

We fems, according to such actuarial tables, have fewer incidences of aggressive and rage-fueled driving and tend to be more likely to follow the road rules and speed limits than our Y-chrome compatriots.

I was reminded of this as I read the recent news that Saudi women will soon be allowed to apply for driving licenses.

How thrilled I was for them and their new freedom. I could see the road open up. I could feel the wind on their faces and the first tinge of worry that whispers doubts in your ear: "Maybe I'm not ready."

It's fleeting.

Soon it will be second nature.

Although, it remains to be seen how Saudi guardianship laws will work around license applications ... Will women have to get permission from their fathers, husbands or sons? Will they be allowed to drive professionally? ... It's probably best not to look a gift car in the grill.

The ability to drive opens other avenues.




Not to mention discovering the joy and profundity of NPR's vintage Car Talk.

My daughter can't see it yet.

But she can see over the dashboard. Finally. She's even graduated to sitting in the front-seat passenger-side.

In three years (or so) we'll switch seats.

I will be sure to remind her of her family's penchant for precision.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Happiness cost averaging

It turns out a person can buy happiness. Sure, it has a limited shelf life. This happiness one is able to procure for a price only lasts for the amount of time you are shopping and roughly 58 minutes after purchase.

I'm not saying that's always a negative.

For some, the thrill of this particular drug may be the status of luxury alone. For others, the excitement may reside in the inverse cost-to-enjoyment ratio of said tangible find.

But for an even rarer breed, there is the delight of the inconceivable: Clothing based on a dare.

And that is where I found myself one evening last week, trailing after two teenage girls in search of the most outrageous things they could cajole each other to wear, if only under the rose-color lighting and ominously noted "monitoring" of the mall store dressing rooms.

Teen One and Teen Two, occupying opposite mirrored cubicles, spent what seemed like hours flinging one garment over the tops of doors in mock exasperation.

This one wasn't the right fit. That one wasn't the right color. This one was just too ridiculous for words.


They weren't complaining as much as they were compelling each other to venture out into the wild world of absurd fashion. The game is to find the best of the worst and to wear it proudly.

Faux fur, pleather, plaid, puce.

Bring it on.

Anything that inspires the gagging noises they could cough up between jovial twitters, all the better.

They're following the script, playing their designated role in the dressing room drama unfolding: "Who wore it best?"

I may be in the audience, but I cannot judge.

The list of things money bought that I can say with confidence brought happiness along in tow is a relatively brief one. It includes ordinary items imprinted with memories.

A pocket knife, a set of towels, a knickknack I never display. A toy she played with, or a shirt he wore. A photograph strip spit from a machine from before the days of diapers.

These things I may lose track of for a time, but when happened on again they will bring my mind back to a place as if it traveled there by rail.

Whatever guilt I have saved up for lack of fiscal discipline I spend on enjoying small moments.

Like this one.

Where my daughter holds a dress she does not need; looks toward a friend who tells her she looks beautiful in it; and watches her mother, as her mother nods once in agreement. "Will you wear it?"

The question is always hanging above her head.

She knows accepting the terms comes without much of a penalty.The garment might hang like a flag in her closet. It may cycle among her favorite outfits or just gather dust. It's a question that doesn't have a straightforward answer that will be held against her.

Instead, she chooses to put the dress back on the rack, where, in her memory, it will stay even as fashion seasons change.

Happiness can be silly or serious; it can be tangible or ethereal. It may not be permanent, but one can conjure it out of thin air without much investment at all.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The stuffed horse of the apocalypse

The horse's glassy eyes stared straight at me. Someone had pushed the three-foot tall, plushy relic of two early childhoods nose-to-nose with me as I slept.

"Butterscotch," we'd called her, and apparently she was now my charge.

I look around my home -- a mix of old and older, encapsulated in a structure that echoes a similar span of time -- and I see the field of damage caused by life's mostly harmless hurricanes.

When I step on the discarded carcasses littering the way forward, they squeak.

Or they squish.

Or they scrunch down into a soft, flat carpet of fabric I will refuse to launder on principal.

Such is the nature of motherhood.

Room to room, wall to wall, wherever I turn there are the many remnants of an ongoing if not an entirely adorable storm.

The flotsam and jetsam of experimentation.

I imagine it's not unlike the 23,000-and-counting pieces of aeronautical junk floating in space; Clouding the view of Hubble.

"How many hours does it take to bake an inch-wide brownie with a lightbulb?" my eldest asks.

The question didn't come from thin air.

Curled up with a blanket and viewing screen, and next to a growing pile of empty wrappers, she was watching reruns of  "Friends."

She had gotten to the part where Monica Geller admitted the temptation of uncooked batter was always too great to overcome the wait time on her EZ-Bake oven. 

And she thought it was funny but ultimately unbelievable: How could anyone enjoy the runny consistency of uncooked batter with raw eggs?

"Four hours seems right," said my daughter; no doubt talking to the screen though I was sitting right beside her. "I made a sad little cupcake in one of those toys once with my friend, Amy. I remember it took four hours to bake! I never understood why we couldn't just use the real oven."

There were so many reasons why.

Toys are fun.
And distracting.
And physical reminders of our position in society. They help you grow up and remind you you were once a child.
Not to mention the point that your poor mother didn't have to worry about industrial accidents or fingertip burns.

"I'm glad I never had one," she says, again to the empty space between us. "It seems like such a waste."

I can't help but be annoyed.

"Unlike the rock polisher? Or the plastic ceramics wheel? Or the science kit that got used exactly once each?"

She jumped as if she hadn't seen me sitting there in the same room at the end of her couch. As if I were a pillow propped against the furniture that speaks.

"It's not as if I asked for any of those things," she said with all of the truth and a single grain of salt.

These gifts - still taking up residence on shelves and in closets - all failures of excess: Pretty boxes to wrap and unwrap on special occasions. 

But there were successes.

There was the inflatable water slide (finally retired after umpteen years and numerous fabric patches) and that rideable pony, which was blank staring me right in the eye.

The stuffed horse of the apocalypse.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

No place worth getting

We meandered through summer with neither care nor plan.

Truth be told, I felt bad about this; my apparent “unparenting.”

Plans are good I suppose if you can make or follow them. Especially good if you can change those plans quickly and without strife.

He stands by the curb, my son; waiting on the bus. He is finally scrubbed of the summer's dirt, although it will take a few days before the fair stamp on his arm, which allowed him full access to carnival rides, cracks and starts to peel. His badge of courage ... and privilege.

He is certain this year will be the best one yet. He likes his teacher. Likes the first week's lesson plan, which promised a temporary moratorium on homework and a gradual reintroduction during the forthcoming weeks. He is looking forward to learning to play an instrument. He chose trumpet.

"There's a special way you have to blow into the nozzle," he tells me with
equal parts wonder and excitement. 

I laugh. "I think the first thing you'll learn is the mouth piece is NOT called a nozzle."

He doesn't care that I laugh. Or that I correct him. Or he doesn't seem to care.

He is changing. Maturing.

More able to say what he means and to mean what he says, which has signaled his eagerness to try new things, leaving old ones behind when he's ready …

Whether I am or not.

Over the summer, he traded his martial arts whites for a flag football uniform, and somehow his body changed to match his new sport.

The skinny little kid who got off the school bus last June is gone; replaced by a square-shouldered boy, now tall and brave enough to ride every ride at least once. 

Now he lines up with a new team of boys, waiting for a ball of a different shape to fly in his direction. The new challenge: catch it and run toward a new goal line. 

"Coach calls it 'turn and burn,' don't think about it, just run with it."

It's hard for me not to think about it.

So many moving parts. So many things can go wrong. Turning off the mind and taking that first step is a daunting task. 

Having a plan helps, but it doesn't prevent a person from getting sacked ...

Or whatever term they put to the tearing off a person's flags. 

This is just a game. It's easy to reattach the colors and start again. 

They are a team now, with a good coach who will make them see opportunity in their weaknesses. If they are successful, win or lose, players will smile and thump each others' backs. They will leave happy and tired and motivated to do better next time.

That's the hope, anyway. 

The reality, of course, is not always as
lofty. Disappointment can be crushing, and crushing injuries don't heal easily. 

But that's my fear. A fear I'm trying not to project.

Of course, it's too soon to lose hope. 

He's still small, I suppose, and there is no place worth getting that has you walking in a straight line.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Reading, Righting and Relics

I pushed the wonky-wheeled cart around the office supplies store and stubbed my toe. Again. I've lost track of how many trips this latest one makes, though I could count the years and multiply by two. Each trip extracting a little more blood.

The boy's list is simple, still.

Pencils, paper, notebooks. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Her list, however, is explicit. And she, like all peers in her age group, is loathe to deviate from its parameters.

In addition to the ream of paper and horde of pencils she could lash together into a raft with the laces she's removed from all her shoes (it's not a style-thing she assures me), she also requires tissues and paper towels and ball point pens that don't leak. 

She will need folders and page tabs and correction fluid. Highlighters and permanent markers and one's that will erase with a dry cloth. 

She selects each item as if it were a cog in a machine.

The color-coded notebooks and binders I'm sure I bought last year are somehow all wrong for this year's scholarly pursuits. Too thin. They must be replaced with larger examples.

As too will the calculator required for last year's honors math, be traded for a more expensive version, which she assures me will last her through high school. How clever that the $99 graphing calculator comes in jewel tones.

"My brother can have my old one," she says with all the graciousness of a girl who never gets her supplies second hand or chooses drab colors.

Who am I to judge the function or fashion? I'm just the one wielding the plastic card to pay for it all. Sadly, the store is out of models colored black or dark gray.

"It's really worth the investment," she coos, hinting at all the calculations she will make with her turquoise-colored device. "Look. It's even rechargeable."

I laugh.

Just the other day I'd been busy staring off into my phone, pretending the last-minute rush of back-to-school spending was a deluge I could avoid when a story popped up from 3,700-year-old Babylonia.

It seems a recent study of a device discovered near the turn of the 20th century -- a pressed-clay tablet known as Plimpton 322 -- contains hints on figuring out complex trigonometry problems three-thousand years ahead of its time. And it has some mathematicians wondering if the ancient calculator could have lessons for modern day students since its calculations use ratios rather than angles.

Of course, it has others wondering what's the agenda?

To sell some other theory? Creating solutions to problems that don't really exist?

This isn't really new.

We're always trying to reinvent the wheel, aren't we?

When mathematicians fight, apparently, you get a knock-down-drag-out over whether base 60 is better than base 10.

When mother and daughter fight it's over whether a fancy new cerulean graphing calculator is better than last year's gray one. ... or even a sand-colored lump of clay from centuries ago.

I know which one of us will win.

The only question remaining is whether this pretty device will become a hand-me-down or a relic.

Time will tell.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

That's progress

The phone rang.

It was the automatic refills service from my local pharmacy mispronouncing my name and asking if I'd like to reorder my prescription.

I usually hang up.

These are among the few legitimate phone calls we receive on our antiquated landline. A phone we can never find because unlike the corded wall phones of years' past -- the cordless handsets of today are never where we left them.

Not that it matters. It's the listed number for sales calls we can't legally block.

The kids and I have stopped rushing to its siren song, not caring who's on the other end. We listen instead for the answering machine to pick up and reveal the sales pitch.

More times than not, it's a telemarketer. Or a politician. Or a wrong number. But more often than not it's the drugstore.

"I'll call back when I'm ready," I say to myself, bristling with the irritation of having to deal with an automaton that never gets my medicinal history quite right.

The complexity of taking two different strengths of the same drug in alternating intervals is too much for the modern machine mind to follow. And, apparently, asking in person NOT to be put on automatic renewal doesn't tend to keep one from being automatically prompted with robocalls.

Ignored, I know the tin man's calls won't go away. They will become insistent.

This evening perhaps, or tomorrow, the phone will ring again with its irritatingly pleasant mechanical voice: "Hello! ... This is ALL-CONSONANTS PHARMACY ..."

It's inevitable, so I stay on the line.

"Your prescription is ready to be refilled. Would you like to refill this prescription?"

"Oh ok ... I'll just press one. Sure fill away!"


The mechanical man tells me my prescription has expired and my doctor has to approve the latest refill. Shall we call and renew this prescription?

Please press One.

"Sure ... call away!"


"Your prescription will be ready for pickup on Thursday," advises the machine. 

I hang up the phone.

I don't know why this irritates me so.

Maybe it's the impersonal nature of progress? Or, more likely, the lackluster imitation of personal nature that's really at the heart of my ire.

There's only so much patience a person can maintain as they try to get a computer to understand the spelling of their names.

"I said 'C not 'T';"

This is why I try to speak to a human whenever possible.

It's why I forgo the do-it-yourself check-out kiosks and wait in line where there is the possibility of a smile, some chit-chat, and a "have-a-nice-day," no matter how scripted it sounds.

So many pet peeves, so little pet peeve pellets to feed them with. Let this one go.

But then the phone rings again ...

"Hello! This is ALL CONSONANTS PHARMACY. Your prescription can't be refilled at this time. Thirty days have not transpired since your last refill."

I want to scream. So I do. ARRRRRGHHHHH!

I know how you feel,” said my son, who had recently found the limit of his own communications patience as he tried to phone a friend and was told he had to dial a few extra digits.

Do you know I have to dial area-code 518 now to call my best friend, who lives in the same town as me? Isn't that crazy?”

Yes. It's almost as crazy as your pharmacy calling you to refill a prescription they have no intention or capability to refill.

But that's progress.