Sunday, January 29, 2017

See you next Tuesday

It was just your typical Tuesday:

The house was humming along in all of its usual disharmonies: the washer was spinning, the dryer was churning, the sink in the kitchen was belching up air.

"Someday," my husband says, "I'm going to fix that vent."

“I won't hold my breath,” I said under mine. 

I'd leave all the breath-holding to the girl, who was harrumphing and releasing huge amounts of pent-up air as she looked for the mate to one of her shoes. The boy added his own layer of buzz, making electronic shooting sounds as he waged an epic intergalactic war between his pieces of toast. "Only the crusts will be left to rebuild the world. Dun dun dun duuuuunnnnn."

Then the dog starts barking. She is not impressed with the idea of crusts rebuilding. She has claimed them for herself, but now she's tired of waiting for her tiny warlord to hand them over.

"What do we want? Toast! When do we want it? Before it turns into crumbs!"

The clock is ticking.

"Mo-ommm!" Yells the girl from over this din, "can you help me find my shoe?” It wasn't a question as much as a recrimination for the fact I could not.

Unlike most mothers I know, I am incapable of doing two things at once. If I look for a shoe while I'm making lunch now, she'll find a peanut butter sandwich in her room later. That's just a sad fact.

And yet, like most kids, knowing a thing is true can not stop her from taxing my system with alt facts.

"You never help me do anything, and now I'll be late!"

I stop her before she goes nuclear. 

"Calm down. Look under furniture in the general vicinity of where you found the other shoe. It will turn up."

I take deep breaths as I go back to shoveling the elements of a non-nutritious lunch into a SuperHero lunch box while my husband marks time. 

Think "cheerful drill sergeant."

"Seven A.M., folks, seven A.M.!  We have 10 minutes to get out that door. Ten-minute warning, folks!"

A new day was breathing down our necks, but I swear it had the same script as yesterday and all days before that.

At half past, I would switch the laundry and head off to work.

Of course, this scene ends promptly at ten past seven and silence blankets the house.

The voices were gone, the dog had settled in her sunny spot near the window, and even the machines had stopped their whirring and chirping.

Wait?! That can't be right. The dryer still had 20 minutes.

I push the buttons, but the machine won't resume its operations. Only a horrible, no good, very bad sound comes echoing back to me. I open the door to a belch of air and feathers. Was it the down comforter that killed the dryer or was it coincidence? Only the repair guys can tell me.

And they will be here between ten and noon next Tuesday.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Not looking for a free lunch

It is another morning in paradise. My husband switches on the TV and returns to stirring eggs in a pan. The noise comforts him over the commingled sizzling of proteins and fats.  It usually makes me steam from the ears as I'm fixing lunches.

This morning was no exception, as I took deep draughts from my coffee cup between the stuffing of sandwich bags. I was trying to ignore politics, but the news of confirmation hearings sluiced through the cracks in my over-strained focus.

A woman who has been talking the talk -- wanting to get rid of public education though she won't likely say as much outright -- may just get the chance to walk the walk, as she raised her wet finger into the rarified air of the Senate Chambers to check on the winds of change. 

They seem to be blowing her way.

All we can do is cross our fingers and hope it doesn't send us all in the direction of a perfect storm.

"Why not have a choice?" she and her ilk keep hammering. As if traveling hours away from the place where you live is possible, let alone sustainable. As if the private sector will have reason to reach beyond the remote. 

Before long, I will be shouting at the TV.

"Why not give the 75 million children wifi and Wikipedia while you're at it; drown the masses in YouTube videos of cats wearing toupees. So much for edge reception. 

Next followed more sound bites from a politically connected neighbor.

The same old song and dance:
Taxes are too damn high.
Regulations are choking NYers.
Commuted sentences of convicted whistleblowers will be our undoing.

But it is I who would come undone.

"Hey ... let's just privatize everything while we're taking the public out of education. Let's turn Social Security and Medicare and Public Safety over to private interests. Because when has that ever gone wrong, Enron? Securities fraud? Abu Ghraib? 

"No, I'm sure the coupons we get for our tax dollars -- after all is said and deregulated -- will cover most of the costs associated with education and healthcare. Please, don't forget tort reform. We wouldn't surely won't need any protection since we don't have to worry about our stockpiled guns!"

"I mean, who doesn't want to cross state lines to see a doctor that will accept your insurance? I love road trips."

Maybe we are just a nation strung together by a rope bridge of temper tantrums slung across our social network of choice?

Oh, wait? Choice?

"Choice" may as well be defined as "what we think other people have if they have the means."

But everybody spins.

Everybody seeks out something to prove a point, right up until they block out the noise of our opposition. 

Usually with a toggle feature on Facebook (sniff). Or Twitter (achoo). Or Reddit (gesundheit).

An American Spring doesn't look so promising from the vantage point of this sodden cold winter.

It feels more like a train wreck.

My son doesn't agree.

He's been on this earth slightly longer than nine years, and he knows that public/private partnerships are as old as time.

"You already pay so much for public school; it doesn't make sense to throw it all away."

"You mean through taxes and vouchers?"

"No! I mean through fundraising and lunch money. No one gets a free lunch."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Words escape

I have no ability to define my mother. If I tried, I'm sure the attempt would read as though I'd shaken words from a dictionary and just added punctuation at some breathless end. Life, in many ways, is a patchwork of contradiction. A mystery with a seemingly simple solution if you can find its pattern. But I will never be able to pull together all the pieces of her puzzle and arrange them into a clearer picture. The pieces will jumble from moment to moment.

I can tell you some of the things she did in life. Where she was born; attended school; was employed; and to whom she married and made a family. These facts will likely seem unremarkable to you. Words on paper, no matter how dressed up, don't build a person up in three dimensions. They tend to meander around in generalization and gather together our familiars.

She was a nurse, and a wife and mother. She had closely cropped hair and clear, kind brown eyes that belied a sharp intellect and equally sharp sense of humor. A scar on the heel of her left hand served as a permanent reminder of how capable hands are not always safe from accidents with scalpels. 

Her smile made you wonder what she was hiding. She was incapable of telling lies. She preferred wearing slacks and turtlenecks made of natural fibers. She sang like Joan Baez and could make money grow on trees. She loved heated arguments and crossword puzzles and proving a point. She put duty to family above all things.

She loved each of her children best of all.

She'd tell you she never made any sacrifices for them. (You can not sacrifice that which you did not want in the first place.) And she'd tell you she couldn't sustain boredom (thanks to imagination and time). Both of these ethos served as key examples of her prime philosophy: Thinking makes change possible. Choices can be undone simply by making another one.

And while those attributes might describe her, they can't make you understand the uniqueness of her being. How do you define a force? How do you convey the depth of love that spans a lifetime of small moments? How can a daughter explain how good it felt to be sick in her mother's care? That knowledge you'd always be safe with her. How do you explain that what you miss most of all drove you crazy?

I know you've felt this way.

If you had a mother, you know.

My mother was sharp and kind and loving and fierce. She wasn't easy, but she could make any trouble less troubling. All she needed was pragmatism and clear-headed logic to smooth the problem. She was strong and generous and wise. And she was wickedly funny. Unfailingly kind.

She was outsized. Just like your mother. Only she was mine.

I loved my mother.
I pitied my mother.
I envied her.
My heart broke for her.
I have missed her.
I miss her still, always.

Perhaps it isn't a puzzle to be solved after all. Her life is not something I need to define. It wasn't static. I knew her as a child knows an adult, as a teen knows a piece of furniture in their house, as a mother from a new age knows a mother from a by-gone one. Our paths crossed often, and yet it wasn't until now that I understood our trails did not run parallel to each other or in opposite directions. She may be gone from this world, but she will never leave me.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The other side of the mountain

I had the bad fortune of being fully dressed. That's what crossed my mind, anyway, as I slowly inched my way up the snowy mountain road toward the ski resort, trailing our guide car at a glacial pace. I was trying not to look out over the winter splendor all around me, seeing as how none of it had been spoiled by guardrails.

Had I stayed in my PJs and bare feet, I might still be in the warm, safe, kitchen-centered house we'd rented.

It was already 8 a.m. on the East Coast, yet this sleepy little town in Colorado hadn't even seen a smidgeon of the sun. Wide awake, I had filled myself with caffeine out of habit as I checked and rechecked my watch, anxiously awaiting the moment our hosts -- natural born Mountain Timers -- would rise and shine.

The kids had ski school reservations and a firm 8 a.m. sign-in time. On a holiday week, it would be packed.

Since I was ready and pacing, it only seemed right that I should be the parent who ferries the children to their destination, as well as transports the gear that wouldn't fit in the first carload. 

I tried to be calm as I caught glimpses of the precarious edge, always a little too close to the white line.

And I tried not to think too far ahead. I still had down to look forward to. Maybe the sun would have a chance to clear the road.

Anyway, the worst feeling wasn't the fear of coming back down the mountain, it was having all of our children in this one car, and not making it to the top. 

I could barely hear the cousins' chattering above the sound of my fear. Though I had turned down the radio so I could hear my own thoughts, which were just a mantra of sorts to stay calm.

"Deep breaths," Was the answer I gave to every question the children fired my way. "Will there be a terrain park?"
Deep breaths.
"Will they let us ski together?"
Deep breaths. 
"Can we ski tomorrow if we want?"
Deep breaths.
Hey! I thought you said I could snowboard!"
Deep. breaths.

The air was thin here -- 10,000 feet above sea level. And it felt like I would never get enough of it.

Keep taking slow, deep breaths. 

We make it to the summit. The parking lot, where I slip into a spot next to our lead car. 

I hadn't wanted to come. Hadn't wanted to be responsible for ski fittings or waiting in lines. But now I didn't want to leave. Now I could handle, overanxious kids, and dropped gloves and forms in triplicate. I could handle anything as long as it meant I didn't have to face the other side of the mountain.

Eventually, though, there would be no one to wait with. The ski school day would begin, and the children would be whisked away. My husband would get his gear and be off to the lift with his brother-in-law.

For a moment, I considered chatting up strangers, seeing if I might wait with them. 

But the air wasn't thin enough to keep me from coming back to my senses. 

I would get down that mountain as slowly and surely as I had climbed it in the first place.

But I might just put on my pajamas the moment I get home.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Snapchats in airplane mode

When will we get there?”

That's the teenage equivalent of the much maligned toddlerism, “Are we there yet?”

Asked a single time, a parent's answer usually rolls off the tongue with an automatic nonchalance if not genuine excitement.

However, when uttered more than a handful of times over the course of an hour in the cramped confines of the family car after one flight cancellation and a frenetic, still-in-process attempt to navigate to an alternate airport via an unfamiliar road -- in the FREEZING RAIN -- not to mention the pressure of delayed arrivals and the added expense of an overnight stay, my final answer took on a life of its own.

That iPhone in your hands – the one you haven't released from a death grip since Christmas morning – has other features besides SNAPCHAT! Google Maps for instance."

Strange how a person can so keenly hear hurt feelings amid an otherwise stoney silence.

I will admit I might have handled that better.

Although I won't use as an example what has become known as "The Great ChexMix Meltdown of 2015," during which countless choice words took flight over the noise level surrounding ardently chosen travel snacks. Suffice it to say: if no one wanted the cereal bits, why for the loveofpete didn't we just buy bags of pretzels?

Next time, I vowed, everyone would eat before we left the house. And they would LIKE it. If they had to tote sustenance, they would have the choice of one of the silent fruits or maybe a chewy granola bar that had been previously unwrapped of its noisy cellophane, which would then have been properly disposed of in the correct receptacle -- not the front pocket of my purse. And they would LIKE it. Or they would starve.

As if THAT would ever happen.

The horror! Of course they would starve. No child in the history of modern travel has ever gone a mile beyond their immediate neighborhood before asking when they can expect an arrival, or requiring a handful of fish-shaped crackers and the affirmation that a beverage is available lest they spontaneously dehydrate.

Probably shouldn't admit that I've told my kids the heavily trafficked roads to our destination are traditionally paved with the dust of those poor parched children whose parents didn't plan ahead. 

It's of little consequence, though. My kids are as fluent in sarcasm as they are in English. And since they have come to know me so well over the past decade, they have also begun packing their own provisions.

Sure, the boy will ask me for a candy bar using the magic words as we pass by the airport newsstand, but I know he will conjure a sleeve of saltines from his own carry-on at the gate's waiting area if my response disappoints.

See? I know a little magic, too. Paradoxically, all it requires is less effort.

So when my daughter asks for the twelfth time when we can expect to arrive, I will just shrug my shoulders and suggest she ask the flight attendant.

At least until we get to turn off airplane mode.