family

We Won’t Go Back…To Email Forwards

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We Won’t Go Back is the mindset I am working from these days. Forward motion only. 

For the past couple months, there has been a whirlwind of activity in my little brain. I’ve had a lot to think about. I can trace the upheaval to November 9th, the day I moved from the backseat to the driver’s seat in anticipation of some unsettling revisions to life as I have known it over the past eight years. During the past two months, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, some changing of habits, and a bit of reaching beyond my comfort zone. The universe, it seems, is hell-bent on providing me with growth opportunities. Another one of those opportunities knocked on my door two nights ago.

My father sent me and my sisters a forwarded email message about Kellyanne Conway entitled Trump’s Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway Reveals How Faith In Jesus Led To Huge Success. In his comment on the forwarded message, he stated that Kellyanne is just like his three daughters, “educated, working diligently, family centered, and lovely.” While the message began with a comment that the attached message was “not political,” the forward outlined Kellyanne’s accomplishments and her role in conservative politics and many times invoked her Christian faith and her pro-life views. I assume a conservative Christian would read the message and get a boatload of warm fuzzies about Kellyanne and her new role in the White House as counselor to the president.

Here’s the thing about email forwards. It helps if you know your audience before you hit send. A one-sided religious or political message sent to a likeminded person may be appreciated, but the same message sent to someone with differing views may feel at best didactic and at worst totally out-of-line and heavy-handed. In this case, my father didn’t consider his audience. He sent a message in praise of Kellyanne Conway, a religious, conservative, pro-life advocate, to his atheist, liberal, pro-choice daughter. While as a rule I take all religious and political email forwards from my dad and relegate them immediately to the Trash folder to avoid conflict, this time something hit me. I can’t expect my father to know his audience when to avoid uncomfortable conversations with him I’ve not been explicit about who I am, what I believe, and what I am willing to stand for. I’ve allowed him to think I agree with him by not disagreeing with him. I’ve been complicit by accepting the forwards and not presenting my beliefs in contrast.

I know my father meant no disrespect by sharing that message with me. I know he felt he was paying me a compliment. He could only believe that, though, by not knowing me at all. So, last night, at the ripe old age of almost 49, I hit reply and shared my views with my father unabashedly for the first time ever. I explained why I am pro-choice and why I support Planned Parenthood, and why, while I can appreciate all Ms. Conway has achieved in her life despite her personal struggles (we all have them), I don’t appreciate his email forwards about religion, politics, or the pro-life movement. I reminded him I have been a functioning adult for thirty years now and, as such, possess my own beliefs, which don’t happen to coincide with his. I told him I don’t share email forwards supporting my views with him because I respect that he has the right to seek his own truth. I also mentioned that I know he meant no harm or disrespect to me, even though my ego felt it.

Our country is deeply divided. There is rancor everywhere you turn. I would like to see us move to a place where discussion is possible, but that type of discussion is never going to be possible unless we as a nation are 1) brave enough to share our views openly, 2) comfortable enough with others to try to understand where they are coming from and consider the points they are making, and 3) willing to acquiesce on some of our stances to meet in the middle somewhere. At some point, we decided that compromise is weak and accepting less than 100% of what we want undermines the legitimacy of our beliefs. We are a nation of contrasts. We can’t possibly all get what we want. Compromise is crucial. It is democracy at work.

Last night I took my first step towards improving the conversations in my life. I was brave enough share my views rather than remain silent to preserve a false peace while my insides roiled with dissent. My second step will come this weekend when I participate in the Women’s March on Denver with my family in support of Planned Parenthood. I am going to continue to work on my mindfulness skills so I am better equipped to take deep breaths and enter into crucial open dialogue with people of differing viewpoints. I am going to work towards practicing compassion for others when they test my open-mindedness and poke me with their sticks of self-righteous certainty. It’s going to be a process but, then, all good things are.

The Evil Eye in My Living Room

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The Evil Eye

 

My husband, endlessly keen on electronic gadgetry, came home from Best Buy with a Nest Cam the other day. He had been talking about getting one for a couple months, and each time he brought it up I rolled my eyes and ignored him. His reason for purchasing the remote video camera was that he would use it to check on the dog while we were out. He explained that the Nest Cam has a speaker so you can talk to whoever or whatever you see on the camera once it is in place. He fantasized that he would be able to yell at the dog if he caught her napping on one of our new library chairs, a decidedly verboten location for four-legged, shedding fur babies. While I could see where he was going with his idea, I told him that he doesn’t understand that she is a border collie. Border collies are a bit smarter than your average dog (and, given our current political situation, they may actually be quite a bit smarter than many average US voters).

I’ll be honest. The main reason I didn’t want him to buy the camera had little to do with its price tag and everything to do with his being able to check in on me during the day. Between the hours of 8:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., my house is Vegas, baby. What goes on here stays here. If I walk around in my underwear all damn day, that is my private business. If I am unshowered and sans make up and dancing 80’s style to Depeche Mode while I vacuum furniture, that is not your concern either. And if, on some off chance, I am eating popcorn and binge watching episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the last thing I want is my husband yelling at me through the speaker to get off the sofa like I am his dog. I have personal space issues. Those issues are that I need it. While the government may have photos of me that I hope will never come to light when I run for City Council, in my own world I like to imagine I am at least somewhat stealthy and secure in my personal space at home.

As proof of this, I offer Exhibit A.

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I am great at not sharing.

Yesterday, my son’s phone was accidentally taken home by another student. Concerned son asked me to use the Find iPhone app to locate it. While I was checking on its whereabouts for him, I used the app to illustrate my privacy issues for my husband. All three of my Apple devices are always and famously not sharing location for the exact reason stated above. Rest assured that if I go missing in the Colorado wilderness and the bloodhounds can’t track me, you should just write me off as eaten by a mountain lion because you won’t be tracking me using a Find iPhone app that I voluntarily engaged. Not. Ever.

But, I digress. Yesterday hubby set up the Nest Cam while enduring my vigorous and wordy protests. He tried to reassure me that he had zero plans on spying on me. He told me he would set it up so that the only time it was activated was in my absence. He reminded me of the house security system and its camera, which he pointed out had never been abused to stalk me. I consequently reminded him this is mainly because I made him mount it in the garage because my home is Vegas, baby. He had me stand in the living room while he tested the audio capabilities. Then he asked me if I noticed what he had named it. He named it Hal after the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I told him he wasn’t funny. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me elucidate; Hal is a little smarter than you would want your computer to be. He’s nosey, sneaky, and he’s creepy as hell. Steve was doing little to further his case. I started imagining terrible things accidentally befalling Hal during a routine dusting task. A smack on the back of its little black head with a baseball bat, perhaps?

Later, an email message came in for Steve from Hal. He saw it, began laughing, and forwarded it to me. It reinforced my concerns.

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Damn you, Hal!

Hal had tracked me to my own living room at 8:17 p.m. There I am looking down at my iPhone, probably right after I got an alert that Hal spotted something in my living room, namely me. The level of creepiness just got upped. All I needed was Hal’s soft and calm voice saying something like, “I’m sorry, Justine. I’m afraid you can’t do that,” and I would lose my shit. I told hubby that I hate Hal. Secretly, though, I hoped Hal hadn’t heard me because I know what he is capable of.

I went to sleep last night not exactly sure where we would eventually land on this whole Hal development. I kind of hoped hubby would return the stupid thing, but he seemed pretty hell bent on using it on the dog as planned.

Today he got his opportunity. While I was out at an appointment, Ruby did indeed help herself to a comfy seat on her preferred library chair near the picture window. Upon receiving notification of movement in the living room, Steve panned Hal around to check the chair. And there she was. Vindication would soon be his. Steve pressed the microphone button on the Nest Cam app and proceeded to chide Ruby loudly to scare her from the furniture. She didn’t budge. He tried again while people in his quiet office silently wondered what the hell he was shouting from his cubby. Ruby lifted her head but remained steadfast. She had seen through Steve’s little charade and she was having none of it. She put her head back down and went right back to sleep. She’s border collie smart.

When I got home, I had to scold her for sleeping in the chair, but I apologized later. She may not be the best behaved dog ever, but she was on my side about Hal. We females have to stick together. The camera is going back. Our house is still Vegas, baby!

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High five from my furry soul sister

 

 

Wouldn’t Take Nothing

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Experiencing the Great Salt Lake

Back to school has changed me. When my sons were younger and full of ill-advised helpings of sugary treats with food coloring, I could not wait for the school year to start. Sure it would mean I’d have to wake up early, cart them across town in my SUV school bus, and go through the dreaded rigamarole of homework, but the house would be quiet all day. I would have time to myself again. I’d be getting my life back, jumpstarting my summer-neglected workouts and my writing, and revisiting my peaceful hours in SuperTarget wandering the aisles of things I didn’t really need but felt helplessly attracted to all the same. Lately, though, my mood about back to school has gone from Yippee to Oh crap.

I was perusing my news feed this morning and found myself buried in a wave of photos of moms jumping for joy (quite literally in some cases) at the prospect of divesting themselves from their offspring for six hours each day. I was that mom once, gleefully depositing my children at school before heading for the hills for the first transcendent hike of fall, feeling liberated at the prospect of rediscovering the me I had left behind when school let out in spring. So while I scrolled through the endless display of children in first-day-of-school photos this morning, I remembered all too well that joy of potential freedom. I just didn’t identify in quite the same way.

My sons start 7th and 9th grade next week. And, as enticing as the notions of getting our house and my life back on track are, I feel like the mom dreading dropping her child off at full-day kindergarten for the first time and acknowledging the impending loneliness. My buddies are leaving me. It’s an end-of-days feeling. I spent my summer staring wide eyed at my sons, floored by their minute-by-minute growth both in height and in maturity. They are the same kids who once left me for kindergarten, but they are so much more now. They are their own people. They are no longer mine. And it sucks. Well, it’s great and amazing and incredible and awesome and it still somehow sucks. Life is weird that way.

When I decided fifteen years ago to quit working my paying job and focus my plethora of natural energy on my infant son, I didn’t give much thought to where it would lead me. I only knew that I had a newborn who seemed hell bent on never sleeping or napping or giving up colic who would probably drive me to an early grave if I attempted to maintain a career and figure out his sleep schedule if he even had one. He didn’t. I had no idea where this journey would take me. Today, though, as I sit here contemplating back to school with a middle schooler and a high schooler, my chosen path makes sense. All the sleepless nights, endless testing, and struggles to figure out how to help them, all the missteps, flubs, and pitfalls of parenting, all the little milestones, the small steps forward, and the minuscule personal triumphs, they were all worth whatever sacrifice I made in savings, earnings potential, and career advancement. I’ve got the tears of gratitude to prove it.

How lucky am I to have had this experience, to have been able to stay with them, suffer alongside them, search for solutions with them, and monitor their progress? To have been able to catch them in the first few minutes after their school day and see their disappointments and triumphs before they faded? And how fortunate am I that I have had them for 13 and 15 years and been able to witness their transition into actual human people when some parents are tragically robbed of that opportunity? I have no idea what path I will take if I get to see Joe graduate from high school in four years. No clue what career I might find or how I might re-enter the workforce after a 20-year hiatus. No sense of who I might yet become. All I know today is that I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. I don’t just love my children. I actually like them, even when they are acting like little creeps with skills I am positive they honed while watching me not have my best moments. I’m going to miss them in the coming weeks when I am once again wandering aimlessly through SuperTarget in a dress rehearsal for my life without them. Still, I wouldn’t take nothing.

The Great Sausage Meltdown of 2015

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Homemade pierogies frying in butter

I am third-generation, full-blooded Polish-American. My great grandparents arrived here in the early 1900s and settled into a neighborhood with other Polish families in Buffalo, New York, and there they stayed. My parents were the first to leave when they moved west to Denver when I was 9. Denver was quite a change from my insulated life in Buffalo. In Buffalo, I’d been surrounded by people with names like Rzeszutek, Michalak, and Trzaska. There were three full phonebook pages of folks with my maiden name. We were practically Smiths. In Denver, there were seven individual listings for Nowicki in the phone book, and one of those listings was our family.

My childhood in New York was steeped in Polish culture. We broke and shared oplatki (a communion-like wafer) with our family at the Christmas table before our meal. We filled baskets with everything we planned to eat at Easter breakfast (hard boiled eggs, sausage, rye bread, horseradish, and a butter lamb with a peppercorn eye and a red ribbon around its neck) and took them to our Catholic parish to be blessed by a priest the day before the holiday. My parents and aunts and uncles, in a quaint tradition was meant to foretell their child’s future, would place a shot glass, a rosary, and a silver dollar in front of their children on their first birthday to see which they would reach for first. The shot glass represented social skills, the rosary deep faith, and the silver dollar wealth. (Legend has it that I reached for both the shot glass and the silver dollar simultaneously. I’ll let you decide what that says about me.) There were the Polish carols, the celebration of saints’ Feast Days, and the occasional uttering of whole phrases in Polish by my grandmothers. I thought all these things were part of everyone’s childhood.

Once we moved away from our Polish family, though, these traditions slowly faded into our history. My children have heard me mention these things only in passing. There is just one Polish tradition we continue to hold. Every year we make pierogies and serve them with fresh Polish sausage (not to be confused with its smoked cousin, kielbasa…horrorsfor our Christmas meal. My mother, sisters, and I have done this every year for as long as I can remember. We have taken turns making the pierogi dough and carefully stuffing them with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, or farmer’s cheese, before boiling them. We trade off these duties. Last year, I made the pierogies. This year, I was tasked with bringing the sausage and fresh horseradish to our Christmas Eve dinner.

With all that has been going on with the new house, the holidays, and my husband’s birthday on December 20th, my trip to Tony’s Meat Market to fetch the Polish sausage got delayed until December 23rd. Honestly, I was grateful I hadn’t let it slide until the 24th. At approximately 11 a.m., I got in a long line at the butcher shop. After standing for ten minutes to reach the counter, I finally got close enough to ask for fresh Polish sausage. The gal looked at me like I had asked for filet of Tauntaun. She consulted with the guy next to her in a hurried whisper then replied that they didn’t have any. It had to be special ordered a week in advance. Deflated like one of Tom Brady’s footballs, I turned and headed out of the store. This was not good.

Making pierogies is a day-long endeavor. I had gotten off easy with sausage task and I was about to blow it. In my family, you don’t want to be the one who screws up the only tradition we have. I would hear about it. For a long time. I was already running a litany of the expected and predictably critical comments on an audio reel in my head. We’re a lot better at “I told you so” than compassion in my family. I opened the car door, plunked myself down and, hand to God, started to cry…over goddammed sausage. My sons must have thought I was losing my shit because they dared not say one word while I quietly wept. When I at last pulled myself together, I called my sister for my fair comeuppance.

“Tony’s didn’t have the fresh Polish sausage,” I lamented. “They told me you have to special order it.”

“That’s what I usually do,” she replied. Of course, I thought, bitter at my error.

“I’ve never had to do that before,” I squeaked. “They’ve always had some in the refrigerator in the back,” I told her.

“No. You have to order it in advance,” she reiterated.

“Well, crap. I’m not sure where else to look for it. And my day is packed. Luke has a haircut at noon, I have to be downtown at 2 to meet Steve, we ran out of toilet paper, and we haven’t eaten yet.”

“Do you want me to do it?” she asked. “I can take care of it,” she said, sounding about as annoyed and condescending as I would have sounded if I had been in her shoes. The only thing worse than screwing up in my family is screwing up and needing someone else to bail you out.

“No. No. I’ll figure it out,” I said, pulling on my big girl panties. “I’ll call you if I I can’t get it somewhere else.”

After hanging up the phone, I wracked my addled brain trying to figure out the next logical place to find Polish sausage in a town not known for Polish anything. The name of a store downtown came to me. I searched the number for Marczyk’s Fine Foods and called. If Marczyk isn’t a Polish name, it must be close enough because the guy in the meat department told me the fresh sausage was available for $6.99 a pound. I told him I was on my way and drove the 20 miles to the store to make things right.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my little, pre-Christmas meltdown and I’ve decided it’s a borderline insane how stressful we make the holidays with our wanting things to be just so. And, no matter how well-intentioned they are, traditions are things that we expect to be just so. Our lovely custom of sharing a Polish meal would have been marred had I shown up with Polish kielbasa from the fine Hillshire Farms simply because it would have fallen outside of tradition. Aren’t the holidays stressful enough without raising our expectations at a time when we’re already overwhelmed and likely to let things fall through the cracks? The truth is that people mess up. Relatives make inappropriate comments. Christmas trees get taken down by overzealous cats. Holiday cards get lost in the mail. And at the end of the day none of it matters because it just doesn’t.

I declare 2016 the year of letting go. No more sweating the small stuff. If I show up with the wrong sausage next year or my pierogies are a little thick skinned, you can just deal with it. I’m moving on, baby.

 

 

The Handbook for 5th Grade Dating

One for the scrapbook

One for the scrapbook

A couple days ago, I wrote about a note that my son had found dropped into his locker at school. Oh…the days of passing notes at school, especially notes that were dropped surreptitiously into lockers. Remember those days? When one folded piece of paper could set in motion a new romance? When a handwritten note could change your fate? The note Luke found was not a declaration but an inquiry, an inquiry which required him to check this box. He had an entire long weekend to ponder his answers. We discussed his options. Early on Monday morning, he reached for the note, took it over to the table, and privately recorded his responses. I watched him fold up the note and put it into his backpack. When we reached school, he made the bold pronouncement that later that day he would probably have a girlfriend. His older brother reiterated that the whole situation was depressing. And I drove off feeling a little bit vicariously giddy about it all.

Well, Luke got into the car yesterday with no news. Wanting to keep the whole affair a secret, he had tossed the note back into her locker rather than handing it to her in class. Now he would have to wait one more night to find out what effect his response had. He was playing it cool and maybe he was actually relaxed about it, but the suspense was killing me.

Today as Luke ran out to the car, there was an extra, nearly-imperceptible-to-anyone-but-a-mother bounce in his step. I could tell he had the news he wanted in his hands. He climbed into the car.

“So…do you have a girlfriend?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered with the sweetest little grin.

He handed me the note. I hadn’t seen it since he had taken it off the counter, so I wasn’t quite sure what he was showing me. As far as I knew, he had simply answered her questions by adding checkmarks. I wondered what she had added. Turns out it wasn’t what she added that made the note interesting. It was what he added. Luke had answered her question about having a girlfriend with a check-marked no, and then added yes/no check boxes of his own under these three words: Or do I? She had checked yes.

I have to hand it to my son. He’d found a way to get the answer he wanted without any help from his parents. His question to her was both flirtatious and charming. What 5th grade girl wouldn’t love that question after having received all the right answers to her own questions? And by making her respond on that same note, he’d worked it out so he could keep it forever as proof. He told me he’d wanted to be sure he’d end up with the note for posterity. The kid is a genius. I wondered if the poor girl had a clue what she was getting herself into.

On the drive home, I asked Luke what it means to be boyfriend/girlfriend in 5th grade. I had no experience with such things when I was that age, so my curiosity was piqued.

“So, do you kiss?” I asked.

“NOOOOOOO!” Luke replied in his most appalled voice. “We’re in 5th grade! We’re too young for that.”

This was good news. I was not ready for kissing.

“So, what do you do then?”

“You hang out. You talk on the phone. You just get to know each other better,” Luke explained.

“Do you go on dates? Am I going to have to drive you to the movies?”

“Yes,” he said, “but you’ll come in. You can sit in the theater with us but not in the same row.”

“Gotcha,” I replied, feeling a whole lot better about Luke and his new girlfriend.

For the rest of the ride home, we talked about what would be the best way to keep their new relationship status on the down low from the rest of the class. They haven’t had a chance to talk much since their declaration of like, so we discussed how he could ask if it might be all right to call her on the phone so they could talk in private. You know in Despicable Me how Agnes says, “He’s so fluffy I’m going to die?” Well, that adequately sums up how cute I find Luke’s new interest in romance.

When we decided to have children, I never gave much thought to this part of parenting. I pictured changing foul diapers and spoon feeding infants. I imagined taking them to the zoo and being the Tooth Fairy. But I didn’t imagine that someday I might be dispensing relationship advice. Maybe it’s because that was so far into the future? Maybe it’s because I never sought dating advice from my own parents? I’m happy that Luke is willing to talk to me. It means he feels I’m approachable. I know he’s only 12 and his openness might wain as he inches further into adulthood, but I feel we’re off to a good start. I’m excited for what the future holds for Luke. And I sure hope I like his new girlfriend. I imagine I will. After all, she has phenomenal taste.

True Story…And That’s No Bull

 

Park at your own risk…including damage by stubborn bulls

Life is funny. There you are, going along on autopilot, head down, cruising blindly through your day when suddenly something completely unexpected happens to remind you that you’re alive. 

The day started out as our typical travel day. We were up at the butt-crack of dawn to head to the airport. Got there early, checked one bag, cruised through TSA-Pre and were sitting at our gate guzzling lattes with an hour to spare before our flight. (Don’t get me started on how early my husband finds it necessary to head to the airport. It’s been a 20-year battle for which I’ve only ever managed to negotiate a 15-minute delay in the alarm clock.) Flight took off and landed on time, we breezed through the rental car counter, and were quickly on our way to a top-rated, Trip Advisor restaurant for a Montana-sky-sized breakfast. So far, so good. 

During breakfast we discussed our options for the day. It is rainy and cool here in Billings, so we decided to take a scenic drive to see some pictographs. The drive took fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes. Why is everything so much closer in a smaller town? So much for killing time before our family dinner meet up. As we checked in at the visitor center, we discovered the cave where the pictographs can be viewed was closed due to a rock slide earlier in the year. Bummer. We took a short walk around, but decided that cold and wet was no way to spend vacation. We got back in the car and discussed an art museum visit and a mansion tour. Both options were met with grunts and eye rolls. We negotiated a settlement. We would check in early at the hotel and, if the boys let their exhausted parents catch a quick nap, we would hit the pool. It was the most optimistic and ambitious plan we had all day.

The boys let us sleep about thirty minutes and then began their pacing. I could hear the drum beats getting louder and more insistent. The natives were getting restless. I gave in to the increasing volume, sat up to offer an ultimatum, and spied out the window a man on horseback in the hotel parking lot. Only in Montana. I mentioned it to the boys who ran to the window.

“There are three guys on horseback out here!” Luke exclaimed.

“What the….there are cops out here with rifles!” Joe added.

“What?” I questioned. “Are the rifles drawn?”

“Yes!” Joe exclaimed. 

This piqued Safety Dad’s interest. He went over to the window to investigate. I gave up and crawled back under the covers, hoping to extract a few more precious moments of rest. 

“There’s something on the ground back there behind the horse trailer,” I heard Steve report from the depths of my semi-conscious state. “The police keep walking back there and taking photos.”

I turned over toward the window and opened my eyes. They were all three lined up at the window, staring out of the partially drawn curtains like nosey neighbors.

“Why don’t you go walk around the hotel and see if you can figure out what is going on?” I suggested, hoping they would all leave so I could get some decent sleep.

Does this qualify as an Act of God?

Steve’s phone rang. He looked at it and mentioned it was a local number. I sensed something was amiss. The only person in Billings who would be calling us did not know we were here. Fifteen seconds into the call and I had determined we were involved in whatever was going on outside.

“I’ve got to go downstairs and meet a police officer,” he said. “Apparently a bull hit our car.”

“What?” I said, jumping out of bed. He repeated himself as means of explanation.

“I’ve gotta see this,” I said.

I started pulling on street clothes while the boys began grilling their dad about the phone call. Steve was anxious to get downstairs so we rushed out while I was still pulling on my sweater and boots. We headed down the stairs, four people armed with three iPhones for photos and social media updates.

We popped the fire door to the parking lot and saw a fire truck, wet, soapy pavement, and the rental car we had left in perfect condition looking no longer perfect. The hood was dented, the grill was cracked, and the plate had been knocked askew. Damn. Should have sprung for the rental car damage waiver. An officer approached us and told us that a bull had gotten loose from the stockyard downtown, run amok for miles, and ended up in the parking lot of the Hampton Inn. They had to put the frothing beast down. After they shot him, the bull lurched and fell onto our car for a moment before his last bit of adrenalin kicked in and he took off running around the corner to the other side of the hotel where he eventually died on a grassy lawn. You had to give it to the bull who saw the writing on the wall in the stockyard and stubbornly determined he would rather not end his life in a slaughterhouse and chose one last adventure instead. I tried to imagine us explaining it all to the rental car company, though. Dog ate my homework. Bull fell on my rental car. 

Went out with a bang and not as a steak

Fire personnel were hosing off the sidewalks and parking lot, leading us to discern that the bull left a bloody trail before succumbing to his fatal wounds. The officer gave us a business card with his name and a case number, and we headed back inside to figure out how we’d be paying for the damage to the car. Steve waives insurance coverage every time we rent a car, citing that our credit card will insure us if necessary. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if that is true. In the meantime, we finish our trip here with a big, old bull-dent in the hood of our Nissan Sentra. And to think we’d fretted about the little paint scrape over the gas tank when we conducted the vehicle once-over before driving off the Alamo lot. 

When I woke up on Friday morning, I could never have guessed that our rental car would be a victim of the running of the bull. Life is stranger than fiction…or at least as strange. I am convinced that things like this happen once in a while to remind you you’re alive. If only occasionally, life can be unpredictable. Pay attention, people. You just never know.

If You’re Not Hungry Enough To Eat An Apple….

Some fine table manners right there.

Some fine table manners right there, I tell you. Come get him, girls. 

Dinnertime is frustrating for every mom. I think that’s just a universal reality. If you’re lucky enough to belong to a family where your children sit at the dining table and eat all the food you cook (or microwave or pick up at the drive-thru window) without complaining or begging to watch television or texting or playing video games or burping the alphabet, if you belong to a family where mealtime each evening is a pleasant affair where your family calmly and politely discusses the events of their day over the mutual breaking of bread, well, then throw yourself a frigging fish. You’ve got yourself and your family trained better than circus seals.

I spent the first eight years of our sons’ lives desperately trying to make dinnertime a good experience for all. Nearly every evening, somewhere between Luke’s penchant for puking at the sight of any food of which he does not immediately approve (which narrows the family menu down to chicken nuggets, steak, or pizza) and Joe’s ADHD-driven inability to sit for more than three minutes, our dinner routine would downward spiral its way into cajoling, shouting, bribing, and eventually crying, most of the time on my part. Around the time the boys turned seven and nine, I decided that I’d had enough. I’m a slow learner, but I eventually catch on. I gave up trying to make our boys well-rounded eaters who used manners and ate everything on their plates without argument. I figured their wives could figure out how to do that someday. I had less frustrating things to focus on, like teaching them math facts and educating my husband about proper shoe storage. If I take the time to teach my boys everything polite society would have them know, when would I have time to drink wine?

Eventually, the boys did learn to eat more foods just as I suspected they would. And I figured out some meals that I could prepare that all four of us could ingest without anyone puking or swearing or even crying. It has taken me many, many years, but I’ve finally gotten dinnertime running nearly as smoothly and reliably as a 10-year-old Honda. Tonight, for example, I served grilled chicken (courtesy of my husband), pasta for the boys, quinoa salad for hubby and I, steamed broccoli, and fresh strawberries. We had a brief flirtation with polite conversation before Joe spilled his entire glass of ice water all over his brother. Somehow, once that was mopped up, we still managed to have 10 minutes of cordial mealtime. Because the boys are growing and sucking down food with the unbridled ferocity of our Dyson vacuum, our table time is minimal, but I don’t care. When it’s over, if all the food is gone and we managed more than few grunts in between scarfing bites, my goal has been successfully achieved. The kitchen gets cleaned, the table wiped down, and I slink upstairs to our bedroom where I hope to become like the Cheshire Cat and fade into the bed so that I won’t be noticed for the rest of the night. My work is finished.

Or is it? Every night between 8:45-9:30, Joe decides he’s ready for “second dinner.” Now, I never planned to condone the notion of second dinner. Dinner is served just once. That’s how it was in the house where I grew up, and that is how I planned for it to be in our home. Life, however, laughed at my plans. Joe takes medication for ADHD, and that medication is a stimulant that deeply reduces his appetite while it’s on board. Because he doesn’t eat much at lunch, consuming approximately the daily caloric intake of a waif-like, chain-smoking, Diet-Coke-swilling runway model, he is famished by dinner. That hunger is merely pacified by the full meal I prepare at our usual dinnertime, which leads us to second dinner. Second dinner, it was long ago decided, is his problem. By the time second dinner rolls around, the cook has gone home for the night.

Tonight I went down to refill my water bottle and found Joe staring longingly into the stainless, silver box in our kitchen, both doors wide open in an effort to cool the room, apparently.

“I think I am going to make this salmon,” he announced, hastily grabbing a frozen fish steak from the lowest tray in the freezer.

“Ummmm….no,” I replied. “You’re not flash-thawing salmon and then cooking it. That will take about 45 minutes. What other ideas do you have?”

He dropped his head, begrudgingly returned the salmon steak to its home, and closed the freezer door. He then inched his way closer to the open refrigerator side and peered in.

“You could make me some sautéed kale,” he suggested.

“Ha. Good one,” I replied. “I’m not cooking anything. The kitchen is clean and it’s closed.”

“I could do it myself,” he said.

“You’re going to wash and chop kale and sauté it on the stove and then eat it?” I said with a bit too much incredulity.

“I could,” he replied.

“You could if the kitchen wasn’t closed,” I reminded.

I was getting annoyed by this process. Why couldn’t the kid eat a bowl of cereal like his father would be doing in an hour? Why does everything have to be a production? He should just plan to head to Broadway after high school. I’m sure he would fit right in there.

“You know, Joe? Eat some baby carrots. Eat an apple. No cooking.” He stared me down with his steely teenage glare. He’s practicing his intimidation, but he’s not quite tall enough yet for that to be working for him with me. I continued, “Dude, if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry. Period.”

He shrugged, picked his iPad off the counter, and headed up the stairs. Game. Set. Match.

I was pretty proud of my brain for coming up with that appropriate little nugget of wisdom, discovered just this week courtesy of a Facebook meme, and perfectly echoed in this clutch situation. Sometimes, Mom, you’ve still got it, I told myself. Now, if I could convince myself to live by that phrase, perhaps I could be swimsuit-ready by the time pool season gets underway.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Dead trees tell no tales

Dead trees tell no tales

It was with great joy today that we slayed the ghosts of Christmas past by dismantling our holiday decorations. Few things delight me more at the beginning of a new year than boxing up baubles and stashing stockings, organizing ornaments and gathering up garland. As tedious of a task as it is, paring down after a season of excess is exhilarating. I love putting things back to right, restoring order, and returning to ordinary time.

Some people love Christmas with unbridled enthusiasm. I am not one of those people. I do my best to live in the moment and revel in the excitement of my children during the season, but I could do without the trappings of the holidays. I’m happier without all the overdoing. I prefer to practice random gift giving and card sending. I like buying things for someone when the mood strikes me and not when the calendar says it’s time. I enjoy that smell of pine more in a summer forest while I rest in a hammock. If someone parked a red-bow Mercedes in my driveway on Christmas morning like the holiday ads imply some people do, that might increase my seasonal joy. Still, it probably wouldn’t stop me from grousing about the wasted hours putting up and taking down lights. Every Thanksgiving, as I turn my face toward New Year’s Day, I lie to myself as I repeat this mantra: “Five weeks of insanity and then it’s over.”

It’s never truly over, though, is it? We removed the dry, dead carcass of our Christmas tree from our house this afternoon. The drag marks from the front door made its disposal look like a crime scene. Its needles on our walkway told a grisly tale of one cut down in his prime, held hostage, tortured, and cruelly left to die far from home. I might be able to muster a bit of melancholy about it all if I wasn’t sure that I’ll be finding its errant needles in our home until next Christmas. It’s hard to miss a holiday that never truly leaves.

Snap Out Of It

This is what you do with untrodden snow.

The beauty of untrodden snow

“We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and to love the wrong people and die. I mean, the storybooks are bullshit.” ~Moonstruck

It’s a new year. And, although I understand that every day is a blank whiteboard upon which I can write the story of my life, there’s something about a new year that sucks me in. It’s not simply one 24-hour revolution. It’s a 365-day, brand new trek. There’s a faint whiff of that new year smell. There’s potential and promise and possibility rolled out before me. It all starts now.

When I was a child, my mother stubbornly forbade us from running through freshly fallen snow in our front yard. We could run around the back yard or in the neighbors’ yards to our hearts’ content, but our front yard was not to be disturbed. There was something about the appearance nature’s immaculate whitewash in front of our house that appealed to her. I knew it was some sort of sacred space she needed, but her unwillingness to let us weave patterns with our boots and leave our personal marks vexed me. Snow is meant to become snowmen and snow forts and snow angels. Eventually, these flawless white yards became folklore as I grew older and stopped playing in snow because boots and coats were uncool. It became a vague memory that I decided I fabricated or embellished to tell a better story. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my sisters confirmed my truth. Our childhood had a boundary, and the perfectly snowy front yard was it.

As I headed out with the dog today for a New Year’s Day walk, I stopped to appreciate the snow in our yard. It wasn’t the yard my mom cherished. The boys had been out there, and it was cacophony of uproarious footprints, not an untouched spot in sight. I thought about my mom and her need for that clean yard. I can relate to her sense of beauty and the pleasure she must have derived from the serenity of tidy snow. Motherhood is, after all, a sloppy endeavor, and the front yard was something she could control. It was the part of our home life that could be unblemished. Our flawless front yard granted her a facade of order and some semblance of peace. But, at the end of the day, virgin snow is about as realistic as a clean house. No matter what you do, it never lasts for long. It’s the perfect family photo that fails to relay the chaos behind the moments just prior to its capture. Reality is messy. Life, like a snowy yard, is meant to be experienced. Trying to keep it neat is a waste of time.

As an adult, I see each new year as my childhood’s unblemished front yard. After years of avoiding messes, I understand the privilege inherent in making my mark. Decorum is optional. If 2015 is anything like 2014, I will leave circles where I chased my tail and lines where I dragged my feet. There will be angels where I stopped for fun, some snow critters where I was creative, and forts where I dug in and fortified myself for the long haul. I will leave this year as gloriously pockmarked and lived in as I left last year. Today, though, on a spotless 1/1, I’m gazing over that quiet, blank slate and trying to decide where to head first. Last year’s funk is gone. Time to snap out of it.

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Who would win? A ninja or Darth Maul? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Who would win? A ninja or Darth Maul? Discuss.

As we were driving home yesterday, we were discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Through the discussion, Luke realized that he was going to be missing out on one thing he wanted to participate in because he’d already committed to another get together. He was pretty bummed out about it.

“I wish I could be in two places at one time,” he lamented.

“You’re certainly not the first person to have that thought, Luke. I know I’ve wished for the same thing before.”

“You don’t need to be in two places at one time,” Joe retorted. “You just need a teleporter so you can go back and forth between the things you want to be doing. If you had a teleporter, you could be at Justin’s birthday party and then pop over to the hay ride for a bit too. You could go back and forth.”

“There ya go, Luke. Another solution to your problem,” I said.

It always cracks me up when my boys get into deep discussions about things that either will never happen or are situated precariously on the edge of unlikely to happen. Kids are great that way. Sure. Sometimes it drives me crazy when they get into a shouting match in the car about which superhero is better, Iron Man or Captain America, especially because I think someone should be weighing in for Thor in the discussion. Still…I love that they’re capable of sharing their thoughts and opinions and debating their points of view. It means they’re thinking beings, and that’s encouraging because sometimes I think the videos playing non-stop videos on their iPads may be sucking their intelligence dry.

“Nah. I think it would be better to be in both places. Then I wouldn’t miss anything at all.”

“You wouldn’t have the memories from one of the things, though, so it wouldn’t work,” Joe replied.

“Yes. I would. The memories would be shared,” Luke countered. Luke is great about imagining best-case scenarios. And, why not? If you’re going to be arguing about the impossible (or highly unlikely), you might as well get creative.

“Clones are bad, Luke,” Joe reasoned. “Do you really want two of you walking around? What if one of you commits a crime and the other one gets thrown in jail for it? I think the teleporter would be better.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then you could spend your day on a beach in Hawaii and your night in Iceland checking out the Northern Lights,” Joe said.

“Oooooh! I like that idea,” I told him. “I could totally get behind that. But if you teleport from one thing to another can you really be tuned into where you are or aren’t you always thinking about where you need to be next. It seems like with Luke’s idea you get to live in the present a bit more. You get to live in two presents. On the other hand, though, I think you’re right about the cloning thing, Joe. Not sure there should ever be two of me walking around. I get into enough trouble with just one of me.”

We talked like this for about five minutes on the way home, arguing possibilities and loopholes and scenarios. It was fun. Some of the best time I spend with my sons is in the car when they are my captive audience. Once I drove three hours with Joe and Luke with no electronics of any kind, not even the car radio. We talked non-stop and when we got to our destination the boys actually remarked that it was fun and that we should try it again on the way home.

It seems that I rarely have fun, energetic, and unrealistic conversations with my friends. We talk, but it’s nearly always centered around reality…how the kids are doing, how the remodel is going, what we’re doing for the holidays, how midlife is a nasty beast. Yawn. It’s all so adult and boring. When was the last time you asked your buddy to name songs that would play on a soundtrack for his life or to defend his favorite superhero or to debate the merits of time travel or to share his bucket list with you? While it’s good for adults to discuss reality and engage in conversations about politics and religion and current events, I think we’re getting out of balance in life if we don’t also confer about the random and the whimsical. I’ve decided that every Friday I am going to ask someone a question that has nothing to do with anything important, just for fun. We’re all getting older, but we can choose to think young.