Sunday, May 28, 2017

Spin doctor

“Did you know if someone turns red they might have Scarlet Fever? We read about it in class. The boy in the Velveteen Rabbit turned red, and they said he had Scarlet Fever. They had to burn everything in his room. It was sad.”

My son is a font of tragicomic wisdom.

I tell him to wash his hands before dinner.

“Did you know a girl was dragged into the water by a sea lion? The news said it was the quick thinking of a man nearby that saved her, but I think she was just lucky the sea lion didn't swim off with her. It was scary.”

“Set the table, please.”

“Did you know that tops were probably the first fidget spinner? They date back to infinity. Maybe even beyond. I think Buzz Lightyear said that.”


“Sam's going to sell me his fidget spinner for a dollar,” my son getting to his main point as I was plating dinner. “Did you know that fidget spinners have probably been around for decades. His fidget spinner isn't that old, though. It came from Five Below last week.”

He really is a spin doctor.

Fidget Spinners – in case you don't have a 9-year-old boy of your own -- are these rotating toys that dropped into a few YouTube videos in late March and somehow materialized in the pockets of elementary schoolers everywhere by the beginning of May.

The spinners most often consist of three rotary bearings set into plastic, metal or ceramic cases that, when pinched between one's thumb and forefinger, can spin forEVER™.

They are billed as “stress relievers” and good for kids with attention deficits, though no studies have been proffered to bolster such claims. And of course, they have become collectable, running between a few bucks to a few hundred bucks.

Not that I want to be a naysayer.

Even I – the great and powerful user of the word “NO!” – have to admit the sensation of having a virtually silent and perfectly balanced rotating gizmo circling atop my fingertip was an unexpectedly satisfying experience.

“He didn't want it.”


“Sam! The kid I was telling you about with the fidget spinner from Five Below.

“It had a wonky bearing or something, and it didn't spin for more than a minute. Sam said he had others that were better so he'd sell me the wonky one for a dollar. I think I can fix it. It's probably just an unbalanced bearing or an ill-fitting finger pad. I could probably strip it down and rebuild it from scratch.”

Honestly … I was just staring at his lips by this point.

None of it made sense to me.

Almost as if he were speaking in tongues.

How long could this last? How soon until these spinney toys go the way of Zhu Zhu Pets and Silly Bandz and Bakugans?

“Even if I can't fix it, it would be worth it to customize. I could take the bearings out and marbleize it by running it through a bath of water and spray-paint.”

I don't like where this is going.

“You are not spray-painting my bathtub.”

“Hey! I wouldn't do that. … But I would clean the tub for the bargain price of $4. … I'd even throw in the sink for an extra fifty cents. I found an Anti-Spinner on Amazon.”



“That sounds like this spin cycle's already at its end point.”

“No. It's just marketed that way. It's just got a different rotation.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A million reasons

I'm the woman who opens her mouth and inserts foot ... up to her kneecap. I'm so fervent I'm strident. 

You know people like me. We have opinions.

Our opinions have opinions.

And our opinions are not always right.

Not that we’d necessarily agree with your assessment on that particular point.

But you know me.

I haven’t thought that far ahead. My thoughts are on constant churn, macerating with some little tidbit of something.


I'm the lady complaining about how terrible coaches are ... to a coach. How scary religions are to the devout. How awful healthcare is to the doctor. Mine is the voice you hear from across a crowded room, saying whatever tone deaf thing that should probably have been left unsaid.

This lack of forethought isn't a new phenomenon.

Ever since I was a teen, I've been telling it as I see it. Somewhere between the dark side of the ashram and the upside of utopia. Of course, I know that not everyone sees the world through the same puce-colored lenses I do. Of course I know all about projecting. Of course.

But ... Maybe I can persuade some...

The hope of persuasion is some intoxicating gas, isn't it?

Hope is what saves us.

But I’m not usually able to persuade.

Often, a person will smile politely and immediately remember an urgent matter they have neglected to attend.

A few yards away.

I don't blame them.

We are, after all, adults. We can be adept at displaying some form of civility, either genuine or otherwise.

Of course, I'll regret saying whatever it was I just said.

I'll try to backtrack. Or apologize. I'll startle awake in the middle of the night with the memory, still fresh and vivid, though it may be years later.

You'd think I'd learn.

Or at least adapt.

Honestly, I don't believe I'm unique.

Most of us say things we wish we hadn't.

Most of us come across in some way we hadn't intended.

We make mistakes that seem huge and unfixable.

And some of us will pay a price that isn't at all justified.

Honestly, I mostly feel lucky.

These are the things that passed through my mind as I watched the Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher's novel about teen suicide, "Thirteen Reasons Why."

My daughter, you see, started watching the series without me.

She had viewed two episodes before deciding, on her own, it wasn't something she was ready to handle.

Once I tuned in, I could understand why.

The title was a misnomer: there wasn't just an odd number of reasons that had gone undetected. The list seemed an infinite distraction. The real cause went beyond bullying. It settled in the place between criminal law and mental health. Where the system we've created seems to fail just about everyone who can't "just move past it."

I have to admit; I think we adults can learn a lot from 13 Reasons.

Perhaps the most important of which is to accept that we can't ever know all there is to know, and our answers are not always correct. Our best hope is to stop talking and to start listening.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A mother's garden

It was Mother's Day, and I was in the garden.


To the casual passerby, I was a just a woman of a certain age, enjoying a quiet moment on a warm spring day, taking the time to indulge in a much beloved suburban hobby. ...

Wearing a "Rage Against The Machine" t-shirt.

Killing [weeds] in the name of ... 

It wasn't my finest moment.

I hate gardening.

And I hadn't intended on spending the day alone.

Truth be told, I had had the mother of all meltdowns, and the only thing l could think to do when nature met nurture in this head-on collision of emotional upheaval was to place myself in exile.

And by way of atonement, I would do the thing I hated most.


There I was, out near the road, tending a strip of curated nature I never wanted but knew would grow wild without me.

Tears stung my eyes as I dug out thistles with my bare hands.

The sporadic successes I've had raising plants hasn't been enough reward for the indignities of pulling weeds in full view of the world as its traffic roars past.

Is this motherhood?

Sometimes, I suppose, it is.

I know it doesn't pay to wallow in its indignities. They could be as fleeting as our children's childhoods if we just let them go on without us.

I know the pain I feel at this moment has little to do with being a mother, though. And everything to do with being someone's child.

Mother's Day – the switch hitter's card holiday – ready to give everyone a wallop. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, male or female, parent or not.

That's the garden, too.

A strip of space, bursting with white flowers. The colors will change as spring moves into summer and summer moves into fall. I won't remember everything we planted. The colors will surprise me, or they will remind me of my regrets.

What was I thinking … putting orange flowers there?

I didn't put them there. That will be my answer. These blooms were a gift, planted by a child on one of these annual Sundays during the past dozen years.

As I look around, I notice the rhythm of this garden has no symmetry. No color scheme. No discernible pattern. It is imperfect. Like me. This patch of earth may as well be my fingerprint.

And then I realize something unsettling: The only things I have ever had a keen eye for in this place have been the weeds.

Gardening in anger does that to a person. Focused on the weeds, we only see the flaws.

In the struggle for achieving rich, earthy spaces between the peonies, I lose sight of the whole. I can't enjoy the flowers when the greenery steps out of line.

Nature always has other ideas.

It occurs to me then that this patch of hell has grown on me.

As I mourn the loss of the showy poppies and the dinner plate dahlias I can't revive, I marvel at the Dusty Miller, an annual that, in my garden, has become perennial through sheer force of will.

This is motherhood, too.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Second nature

I drummed my fingers on the door of the car.

I had five hours to kill.

In a nearby county. An hour from home. On a Friday night. No Dogs. No husband. Just waiting on one kid immersed in an extra-curricular.

I was as alone and untethered as a middle-aged suburban mother in unfamiliar surroundings could be.

I won't lie. Going to a bar for a brew and a burger crossed my mind … but the idea of “bar-flying” alone in an unfamiliar place seemed, well … unseemly and possibly unsafe.

Instead, I chose to investigate the park. An inner-city wilderness where a five-mile trail winds its way around springs and creeks and meadows and shallow ravines.

As I walked around … mapless and alone. I hadn't thought this through.

I felt odd.

And somewhat vulnerable.

I jump when a twig snaps and leaves crinkle nearby. I forget to breathe. I don't see anyone around. I inhale the moment a little red squirrel hops into view.

Cute little critter. Explains the noise.

I hold my breath again when I realize it's barreling down the path, headed my way. It's not afraid of me.

Momentarily I think it might be attacking. Squirrels aren't rabid. Squirrels aren't rabid. Squirrels aren't rabid, right?!?

I smell skunk.

My inner voice bellows with a cartoon drawl: “What in the Sam Hill Tarnation ….”

Then, out of nowhere, two hoodied youths that had seamlessly blended with the landscape saw me and silently slunk away.

It occurred to me then that perhaps a walk in the park is not the harmless endeavor I imagined it to be.

This nature stuff isn't second nature to me.

Maybe the bar wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all.

I was no longer alone.

As I meandered into the woodland, humans sprang out of nowhere, out to see the sights and stretch their legs. Some brought their dogs, who were straining against leashes. Families gathered at grills to picnic. Runners passed by on trails, calling out they were “to your left.” A man in waders calmly fished while his two Viking children, clad only in summer bathing suits, thrashed around downstream.

I smile and shiver as I pass by; at once admiring their chutzpah for such an early-spring soak, but wishing they were wearing insulated wetsuits. I resist the urge to be the stereotypical mother figure, telling a child to put on a sweater just because she is cold. I am, after all, just a stranger in a park, taking a walk.

I smile at other people's kids. I ask to take pictures of cute dogs walking around in cute coats holding tightly to their prized sticks. I carry my phone and check on emails. I wander around the woods looking not at all “at one with nature.”

A couple holding a map at arm's length, and wearing backpacks and sensible hiking boots, stop to ask me if I happen to know where they might find the park's crown jewel. They think they might have made a wrong turn at the last dotted line.

I snort a little to myself. I had just passed the place they were looking for, so it would appear (wrongly) that I knew these woods.

The truth is I'm the neophyte lost in the forest. Not even possessing the common sense to stop at the park office and ask for a map. Instead, I was resigned just wandering around, hoping I might find my car before it gets dark or my cell phone battery gives out.

They laugh and offer the map for me to photograph just in case my plans don't work out.

Of course, it will be a few hours until this nature bar closes. There's still plenty of time before dusk.

I'm glad I came.

Daylight Saving Time offers a different sort of happy hour once the business day has ended.