Today I did something I have missed. I got to attend my son’s cross-country meet. As the story goes, when Covid hit, everything stopped. Our oldest son missed out on his last season of track, his prom, and even a typical graduation. Last year, our youngest son, who was a junior then, missed an entire year of normalcy. He spent half the year doing class online from home and the other half sitting, socially distanced, in a classroom wearing a mask. This year, though, most of Luke’s senior class is vaccinated. They are all in person. And, sports are back.
On this lovely almost fall day, I went to a park to cheer Luke on as he ran his 5k. It was a beautiful thing. We’re not back to normal. Not even close, really, with over 2,000 people a day still dying of Covid. But today at the park with the leaves beginning to change and a cool fall breeze making the temperature perfect for running, for about an hour I felt like I had my old, pre-Covid life back. Luke shaved a minute and a half off his last race time, which is about the pace at which he improved during his sophomore year.
Today felt good. I soaked it in. The probability of reacquiring our freedom to move about without concerns about Covid is uncertain. I hope that with each year that passes, we will find a way to live with it. It might take a while to figure it out given our political climate, but I suspect we will get there at some point. In the meantime, I will continue to lap up these brief moments that feel normal because I miss them. I appreciate them. And I will take them when I can get them.
Writer’s note for my fellow arachnophobes: There are no spider photos contained herein. This is a safe space, unless you are afraid of large toads.
I love our new suburban home and neighborhood. When we left our house in the city to move into a house with open space behind it, close to two state parks that we adore, I felt I could breathe again. There was space and nature and wildlife. Every morning when I look out my bedroom window, I am grateful. There is only one thing about this neighborhood that I cannot abide. And that is, in the fall, there are spiders. Big spiders. Creepy, long-legged, sometimes even furry, spiders. I get the heebie-jeebies even typing the word. Shudder.
I am not afraid of most creatures. I have no problem with snakes, not even those that live around me and rattle. Mice and rats don’t freak me out. I will catch and release moths that make it into my home. I have picked up toads and had the poor frightened things pee in my hands and didn’t blink. I’ve saved a salamander or two from a window well, and removed a vole or two as well. Even black bear sightings don’t frighten me. But spiders? There is a place in hell for them. And don’t bother telling me how good they are at eating other bugs. Do. Not. Care. Anything with eight legs and eight eyes is straight out of hell.
Tonight as we made our way down the driveway for our evening walk with Ruby, Steve casually called out “Spider,” which instead of making me look away caused me immediately to look down and see the sizable wolf spider beastie on the ground to the left of me. And, even though I knew it was there, I still jumped in the air, squealed, shivered, and exclaimed, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph Christ!” I hadn’t even made it past the damn sidewalk. Spiders like that one are the reason why at this time of year at night I walk in the middle of the street. I try to avoid sidewalks adjacent to open space or fields or even lawns because the spiders who live there are the large ones that hunt. Wikipedia describes wolf spiders as “athletic.” Seriously? Satan spawn. I would literally rather risk getting hit by a car than be in the direct sight line of one of those devils.
As we skirted our way around the spider and walked up the block in the middle of the road, I noticed my heart was racing, my arms crossed tightly over my chest. My eyes were focused downward, looking for the next big, old, disgusting, furry, eight-eyed, eight-legged beastie I might encounter. On the next block up, we spotted a sizable toad we named Jabba. A bit beyond that, we saw a black cat a distance and I heard Steve call out to it, “Don’t you do it,” and it ran across the street in front of us anyway. Other than that, my downward gaze in the middle of the street spied only one large locust. I walked along mumbling about how I just need to make it to October 31st. We usually don’t see them much after that. I made it back home again without another incident. But now I am wondering if I will dream about spiders tonight because that is usually what happens when I encounter one with a body that would take up the majority of my palm if I held it, which I never would because ewwwwww. Shudder again.
I have never been a fan of the fade of summer into fall, but these spider sightings have me ready to put on a sweater, pull on my boots, and get a pumpkin spice latte. As for the spider I saw tonight, well, for him I want to be like Al Capone in The Untouchables when he finds out Elliot Ness has intercepted his bootlegged booze shipment from Canada. I want to stand in the street and tell anyone who will listen that, “I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!”
Okay. Fine. Maybe that’s a wee bit dramatic. But let it be known that as they start to die off in the colder weather that lies ahead, every time I glimpse one of their folded-up carcasses on the ground, I will think about that speech, go gangster, and mentally urinate on their lifeless bodies to send a message to the other spiders who might still be lurking around waiting to ambush me at the bottom of my driveway. You’re next.
“And if you should survive to a hundred and five, look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive, And here is the best part, you have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart” ~ Frank Sinatra
Tonight my 13 year old puppy did not want to stop playing with her squeaky squirrel. I finally had to take it away from her because she was panting like crazy. Over the past couple months since we learned she was in kidney failure, Ruby has become more puppy-like than she was, even as a puppy. She walks 2-4 miles a day. She’s finishing all her food in record time. She’s rooting through the trash can. It seems she is Benjamin Button dog, aging in reverse. She’s clearly unaware of her age and condition.
Once again, this old dog seems to be teaching me a new trick. Age is just a number that only matters if you are a cheese or a bottle of wine. The young at heart never truly get old.
As a parent of a high school senior, the college search is often on my radar. After successfully launching Joe in person at his college of choice in January, I began to work with Luke on his search. To that end, back in March, I took Luke to get a feel for a Reed College in Portland, which at the time was his number one choice. Then, in June, we flew to the northeast because he wanted to visit Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. After that, I decided he needed to see some schools in the middle of the country, a little closer to home, so we visited three colleges in Minnesota. The schools on Luke’s list have largely stayed the same, but the order he has them ranked in has evolved several times. It’s been kind of exciting to see his process at work.
This weekend Luke is in Walla Walla, Washington, visiting Joe at Whitman College. Today he toured the campus and sat in on an information session. Initially, Luke had no desire to attend his brother’s school of choice because he was intent on finally setting himself apart from Joe. The boys have attended the same schools together since Luke started kindergarten, so I didn’t blame him for wanting to step out of his older brother’s shadow. Still, I couldn’t help but selfishly want them to end up at the same place again. They would still be a thousand miles from home, but they would be there together, at least for part of the time until Joe graduated. They could share a car and have family there for emotional support. It made sense to me, but it was never my choice to make so I decided to let it go and let the chips fall where they may.
Luke told me recently that Whitman had moved into the top spot for him. I think after doing a cost/benefit analysis of his situation, he realized that he would have time to make his own way as an upperclassman after his brother had graduated and gone on. And, in the meantime, he would have a support system at school, someone who could give him advice on professors and activities and dorms. He could start down his own path, make his own friends, but not be taking such a huge leap on living across the country alone. Joe could be a safety net for him as he branched out for the first time as an adult. Luke, for all his ideas and occasionally stubborn views about his future, usually lands squarely on the wisest choice.
Nothing is definite until the five schools Luke will apply to make their decisions, but I am solidly behind his selections and don’t think he could go wrong with any of them. Would I like it if he ended up with his brother in small town Walla Walla with its charming downtown, 140 local wineries, beautiful scenery, and pleasant weather? No. I would love it. I fell in love with Walla Walla two years ago when I toured Whitman with Joe the first time. But I will have to pull back my enthusiasm until the dust settles. It’s hard to be a parent as your kids transition into adulthood. What was once settled and routine and in your control gets upended. It’s your turn to go along for the ride. I keep wondering where we will end up.
For now, I will just be grateful that the two are together again tonight. All is right in my world. And probably in theirs too.
“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. ~John Lennon
Tonight I finally had a chance to watch a movie I have been curious about for a while. It’s a documentary about Val Kilmer, simply titled Val. The film is a combination of video Kilmer shot himself, long before the days of camera phones during the time when memories were recorded on large, clunky video recorders with footage that ended up on large, clunky VHS tapes, and more recent footage taken of him. Kilmer had a bout with throat cancer from 2015 to 2017. Chemotherapy and two tracheotomies stole his voice and left him with a hole in his throat through which he breathes and feeds himself. It’s sobering to watch the juxtaposition in footage between a handsome, winsome leading man and a man with tracheostomy tube who now travels the country to sign autographs at events like Comic Con. It’s a stark reminder of how life works.
Kilmer is eight years older than I am, and I had a crush on him from his first feature film, Top Secret, in 1984 when I was 16. He had an on-screen charisma that came at me like a freight train. After Top Secret, I went to see him in Real Genius, a film I have seen at least a dozen times now and still adore. I saw Top Gun because he was in it (I never cared much for Tom Cruise, always preferring blond men) and then I went to see him in Willow, The Doors, Tombstone, and Batman Forever. There was something about him, a depth that you don’t often see in handsome, Hollywood-leading-man types. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was there.
Watching Val, I found that depth again. At times it was hard to tell if the recent footage of him was him being himself and living his life with a camera recording it or him playing a character, a Hollywood star who survives cancer only to realize he’s lost the only career he ever wanted. Whether or not he was a “difficult” actor because he cared about the craft of acting and telling a story is up for debate, but I get the sense from the film that Val’s perfectionism regarding his chosen profession likely ruffled feathers. After Batman Forever, a film that was a big commercial success, he turned down the title role in the sequel because his experience in the first film, being cramped and miserable in a suit that barely allows you to stand or move without help, much less hear or breathe well, was simply not an opportunity with growth potential. But, you don’t get to turn down a request to reprise your role as Batman without fallout.
I don’t want to say anything else about Val himself or the film because I believe art is best left to be interpreted by each individual their own way. What I can say is that the real life struggles of the man behind the actor are profound and, in many ways, universal. As I watched, I was struck by how ephemeral it all is. How we think we have all the time in the world for our passions, our work, our loves, our family, and our own self-development and growth, when we have no control at all over any of it. Ever. One day you’re creating what you hope will be the pinnacle of your life’s work. The next, you grapple with the knowledge it’s gone and can never be resurrected.
We don’t have all the time in the world to live out our dreams. Each day we have that day and nothing more. It’s what we do in the aftermath of when our dreams fall apart that matters. Val founded a creative studio in Los Angeles and created a film about his life thus far. He may have difficulty speaking aloud and being understood, but I suspect he is not finished trying to express himself through art.
“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.” ~Lewis Carroll
There is a show starting on television next week called Ordinary Joe. This is how the network describes it: “Life is all about the choices you make – and sometimes, what you do in a single moment can change everything.” In a preview for the show, we hear Joe’s voice say,“It’s only natural to wonder, What if?” We all have asked ourselves at one point or another how our life might have been different if we’d made a different choice. What if we’d pursued medicine like we wanted to instead of settling for an easier career path? What if we’d given that one boyfriend a second chance? What if we’d decided not to have children? There are a million what ifs any one person could come up with relating to their life. Let’s face it. All the what ifs we conjure up are infinitely more glamorous and desirable than our current reality because we’re dreaming, and that is the nature of dreams.
Most of my what ifs have centered around “what if I had realized earlier that the stories I had been told about myself as a child were just stories and not at all true reflections of who I was on the inside? What if I had grown up feeling loved, secure, and lovable, rather than alone, fearful, and unlovable?” These what if thoughts, in particular, have really done a number on me. They’ve taken the past I was handed and made it heavier than it already was. So, in addition to carrying around the mental weight of the trauma I endured, I was annoyed that I didn’t figure out until well into my mid-40s that there was trauma in the first place.
I’ve been thinking about this since I first saw the preview for Ordinary Joe. Here is what I have decided: what ifs may be natural, but they are not at all useful. When we make a decision, we are making it with the only skills we have at that time. Whatever knowledge or experience we’ve acquired up to that point figures into our choice. We couldn’t have done better for ourselves in the past because in the past we weren’t who we are now. When we think what if, we are imagining for ourselves in the past using our present experiences and mindset. We didn’t have our present knowledge and experience back then and, therefore, would likely have made the same choice we already made. There is no better outcome. We are where we are now because of where we were then. If you’re taking time to imagine what ifs with a more positive outcome, you’re basically in a fantasy. And while imagining a different, potentially more positive outcome (because who here wants to imagine a worse outcome) might be the kind of fantasy in which we would like to indulge, it’s only hurting us because it’s keeping us from accepting our present with gratitude.
When we focus on what ifs, we are focusing on two things that don’t matter. The past is over and done with, and we can’t unring that bell. And the future is guaranteed to no one, so dreaming what our future might look like is wasting the only time we know we have, which is happening right now while we remove ourselves from it.
I’ve decided it’s time to stop beating myself up over a past I wish could have been different. It couldn’t have been. I was who I was and I made the only choices I was capable of making given the reality I knew. It wasn’t until I understood my reality was skewed that I could do better for myself. So, I am going to try to stay in my present and appreciate what is rather than wondering about what ifs from my past or dreaming about what ifs for my future. We all have made choices we wonder about now, but that is a waste of precious time in the current moment. Maybe if we spent more time focusing on now, we wouldn’t be so concerned about mentally rewriting our past or dreaming about a future we are not guaranteed. We are perfect the way we are, and who we are right now in this moment is all we are called to be. Everything else is just noise.
I took my first drum lesson five years ago on September 15, 2016. Playing drums was something I had wanted to do since I was a child, and at the ripe old age of 48 I finally decided to go for it. I found my instructor online (the introvert’s way), but I knew instinctively he was the right person for the job because he had previously been a practicing Buddhist monk. It was going to take Buddhist-monk-level patience and calm to deal with my level of anxiety about this big step. I had spent most of my life up to that point purposely avoiding situations that made me uncomfortable, such as learning new skills in areas where I had no knowledge base. Meeting a stranger at a music studio so he could help me learn to play drums ranked about a 10 out of 10 on my discomfort scale. Still, I somehow managed to show up to the lesson, anxious as hell and sober as a judge. I remember that first lesson as an out of body experience. When it was over, I walked back to my car berating myself for being such an uncoordinated, nervous, and uncool dork. These are not things you want a drummer to be.
I persisted with my lessons, though, because Jeff was beyond awesome to me and for me. Ashamed as I am to admit it, there were several lessons in the first year where I got overly emotional when I couldn’t get a beat or fill or technique and wound up teary eyed and too stressed to continue. Jeff, thankfully, did not freak out at this crying middle aged woman and channeled his Buddhist training to help me get to a better mindset. As time went on, I began to believe I could actually learn to play drums. I had no plans of joining a band or performing in front of others. I simply wanted to be able to get behind a drum set, put on some headphones, and play along to songs I enjoy with some level of competency.
In March of 2020, when everything in-person shut down, so did my drum lessons. Jeff set up a situation where we could do drum lessons virtually, but it was not my thing. So, I stopped taking lessons. I told myself I would play at home, but I didn’t. There were four of us full-time in our house then, and taking up space and banging on drums didn’t feel right. When we moved to our new home, my sweet spouse suggested we have a room finished in the basement for my drum set. It was finished in January of this year, complete with insulated walls to quiet my noise. But, I still didn’t play. This is all on me. No one in my family said I should stop bothering them. I just felt awkward about it. Taking up space in my own life is something I have struggled with for years.
Today, though, I decided it was time to do something for myself that benefits literally no one else. I went into that tiny room in the basement and set up my drums. I put a poster on the wall. I dusted off the kit. I found all my drum notation and skill books. I located my metronome and charged my wireless headphones. And then I played. It was rough, but drumming is a motor skill that uses muscle memory, kind of like skiing or riding a bike. It didn’t take long before I was remembering beats and somewhat successfully playing along to some songs I knew well once upon a time. I was still awkward, but it felt good, like coming home.
I have decided to keep going. It’s good for me to keep learning. Jeff taught me how to read drum notation, and I have a plethora of song books to teach me how to play along with the Foo Fighters, Green Day, and Nirvana. Now that I have a tattoo, it seems like continuing drumming is compulsory, right? I’ve got some work to do to turn my little drum studio into my own oasis, but I am finally ready to make it my own.
I may never be a great drummer, but working on the skill is enough for me. It will keep my brain flexible as I age. Maybe someday my grandkids (when I have grandkids) will think I am badass too. That would be kind of cool.
I was driving on the highway today, going about 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in the fast lane, when a shiny, brand new, bright blue Audi S4 came buzzing up behind me way too fast. I quickly moved out of his way, shaking my head at the driver, because there was traffic in front of me. I wasn’t sure exactly where he thought he was going once he got me out of the way because there were plenty of cars ahead of me, but I let him zip around. As he did, I noticed he was on his cell phone texting. I rolled my eyes. I’d like to say that drivers like this dude are a rarity in Denver traffic, but they’re not. On any normal commute, I will encounter at least two accidents slowing traffic because some people haven’t figured out that when you are going 80, weaving in and out and zooming around people like you’re in Mario Kart, you’re creating dangerous situations.
Anyway, I got out of his way because I didn’t want to be in an accident, much less in an accident with a dope like that. A few minutes later, though, continuing along at my same, steady speed, I passed him because he had pulled into the slow lane and was going 65. I looked over and saw he was still texting, though. I assume he thought 65 was a safer speed for that illegal behavior. I shook my head again, merged onto the northbound highway, and was in the process of expunging him from my mind, when I saw him flying up behind me again. Holy hell. I was in the right lane now, and he sped around me on the left going at least 20 miles an hour faster than I was, and then pulled back into the lane in front of me so I could enjoy the tail view of his shiny car once more. Sigh.
Then it happened. Traffic came to a standstill. The blue Audi was suddenly stopped directly in front of me. All five lanes were loaded with cars at full stop. I slowed down, pulled up directly behind him, and smiled. I love it when shit like this happens. It makes me happy. I call it “divine intervention.” Some outside force leveled the playing field. Despite all his speeding, zipping, zooming, and buzzing in his quick little Audi, we were in the same spot. He hadn’t gotten any further than I had. Tee hee.
He noticed me pull up behind him. He adjusted his designed sunglasses in his side view mirror. At least now he could continue texting without potentially killing someone, I thought. I have to admit I was a little tempted to pull an Evelyn Couch from Fried Green Tomatoes, ram into his rear bumper (okay, okay, maybe just tap his bumper enough to scratch it) and tell the young fool, “Face it, dude. I’m older and I have more insurance.” Instead, I sat in my car feeling a little smug because all the speed of his fancy new car was rendered useless. He might have enjoyed passing the old lady in her 2015 Lexus SUV and feeling powerful, but now he was impotent like the rest of us. It almost made sitting for the extra twenty minutes behind him, waiting to get around another highway fender bender, worth it.
A few months back, I bought my son and I some tickets to a concert tickets. A five-band extravaganza happening today. It had been so long since I had concerts on the books, and I was excited to be adding them again. For this particular concert, however, the ticket purchase per household was two. When I told my husband that I was planning to take Luke to the show, he felt a bit left out. I told him maybe I could find a friend or family member who could buy a ticket and transfer it to us, but he said he was fine with it. Luke and I could go.
Yesterday, though, I realized that a full day at a concert venue means venue food, most of which I cannot eat because of my dietary restrictions, which currently include no gluten, dairy, corn, soy, or sugar. Translation: no food for me for the entirety of the day. Which, if you know me, is no bueno because I get downright cranky when I am hungry. I didn’t want to be ruining Luke’s day with my poor attitude. And I didn’t want to eat prohibited foods because they would make me feel horrific. So, I told Steve he should take Luke. I assured him this was the right decision.
It wasn’t until after I’d made the decision to send Steve in my place that it dawned on me that this new arrangement would mean I would have the entire house to myself for the entire day on football Sunday. Say whaaat? It’s been a while since I’ve had alone time in our lovely home. The pandemic has made sure of that. My husband has been working from home full-time since March of last year. It’s made for some touch-and-go moments in this family. It’s not a good idea to force your introvert into a house filled with constant company for seventeen months. It’s made me sort of grumpy and sort of crazy. Okay. Okay. It’s made me sort of grumpy and completely crazy. I can admit it.
After they departed for the show around 2:30, I turned on football (minus the volume), pre-ordered an heirloom tomato salad for takeout, and sat down on the couch to enjoy some much needed alone time. It’s so quiet in the house, I can hear the clock ticking in the kitchen. It’s heavenly. And although the Bills lost (dammit), I’m glad I made this choice. It works great for Steve and Luke. They hit a taco place they love before heading to the show and they will undoubtedly enjoy the plethora of junk food available to them over the evening. And I will enjoy my tomato salad, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog, and a peaceful Sunday night at home.
My wish is that over the next couple years the pandemic might come under control and perhaps we can return to life as it was before March of 2020. While one night at home alone won’t suddenly transform me into a less cranky wife and mother, it’s a good start.