March 22, 2010

Go Fish

Growing up on a farm in a small town, I was asked by my sophisticated city cousins and friends, "Don't you ever get bored?" Alternatively, "What do you do for fun?"

My grandparents had a small lake and a rowboat and many summer evenings after Grandma had cleaned up the dinner dishes, she would grab her tackle box and walk down to the lake. She would take the rowboat to the middle of the water. As the ripples gently lapped the side of her boat, the sun cast a fiery glow on the placid water as it set behind the pine grove. Grandma would cast out her line. The red and white bobber would float gracefully on the surface of the water and Grandma would just watch for a nibble. We lived nearby and sometimes we would go visit in the evening. I loved when we got there before Grandma went out in the water, but if I did not, I would wait patiently on the dock until Grandma was done.

The times I was able to go out on the boat with her, I would chatter up a storm. Grandma would just smile and keep watching the bobber. One day she told me how fish would not bite if there is talking. I understood. This was a time to be quiet. Most of the time we never even caught any fish, but we never felt cheated. Rowing the boat back to the shore, cleaning up the tackle box and walking through the field back to the house, I learned the importance of silence in my life.

Today, when the noise in my world threatens to overwhelm me, I pause and reflect. When I find myself running from one lesson to another, to the grocery store and then to the cleaners, I mentally row out on my grandparent's lake and cast out my line. I still rarely catch any fish. However, it never has been about the fish.

I row back in renewed and fresh.

Thank you, Grandma.

When I was a young married adult, my grandparents split their farm into saleable lots. My spouse and I thought about buying the lake, but without the path to and from the house, it felt less than authentic. It was more important to let someone else create a new magic on the lake. I pray they did.

I dedicate this story to my grandmother, Gertrude, who would have been 96 today. She was one of the most incredible women my life ever touched.

She didn’t end her life on the farm with the lake, but I doubt she ever needed the lake to know the importance of fishing. Thank you, always, Grandma. We love you and will always hold you close. You are our matriarch.

March 19, 2010

Hermit crabs and other assorted family pets

Is there any request harder to resist as a parent than, “Can we get a pet?” The nurturer in us wants our children to learn the responsibility of caring for a living creature; the overworked parent in us is unprepared to take on yet another responsibility.

Couple that with a spouse who simply has no desire to have an animal in the house and the path to pet ownership is a difficult one. The pet faction in our house is affirmative by 75 percent. However, that 25 percent negative vote is a strong one. Majority does not rule when the 25 percent is adamantly negative.

My children have gone to great lengths in an attempt to sway the decision. I can never forget the play they performed where the younger one crawled around barking and panting in a makeshift costume comprised of paper puppy ears and socks on her hands. The older one pretended to care for her, of course taking a little too much joy in yanking her sister around by a collar. The demonstration being that they were well aware of the intricacies of pet care, not that the older child likes yanking the younger one around.

I became an accomplice with my daughters last winter. I began with bird feeders scattered throughout the yard, progressing to butterfly gardening in the spring and feeding a stray cat in the early summer. Finally, it became apparent that I too was part of the conspiracy to have a non-human living creature become part of our household. We’d take clandestine trips to the pet store and window shop, spending a few moments holding and petting assorted pets.

It reached a fever pitch when I finally persuaded my husband to at least consider a fish tank. A weak compromise at best, as there is a certain art to keeping fish alive. After about six flushed fish, we realized that the chemistry involved in aquarium ownership is far too complicated for our family. The carnivore fish-eating snail in the tank did not help matters any. Eventually, and we learned far more about the circle of life than ever intended. Many tears and fish funerals later, we decided that a snail was not an exciting pet, sending us back to the pet store for possible alternatives.

There we spied the perfect pet. A hermit crab. No water or chemicals to balance, no fur to shed, no waste to scoop, no noise. But a pet nonetheless. Thus, Hermy became a member of our family. Hermy is a rather shy fellow but occasionally he will get out and crawl around, munching his assorted foods. We discovered that Hermy likes fish flakes, which is quite a blessing since we had a plethora of those, and no living fish. After about two months and a pet that was still living, we decided Hermy needed a companion. We brought home Raindrop, another hermit crab. Raindrop makes Hermy seem like a party animal, as she primarily burrows into the corner and we never see her move. We’ve brought home two more hermit crabs and learned again about the circle of life via their deaths, yet Hermy and Raindrop persist.

I was a little sad for my girls that their hermit crabs weren’t traditional pets. Hermy and Raindrop will never play fetch or snuggle on a lap. In fact, Hermy pinched my daughter one day and I thought she her heart was going to break in half. How could her pet that she loved bite her?

With many kisses and reassurances from me, as well as a really colorful bandage, my daughter came to forgive Hermy and loved him even more. She’d cautiously warn anyone who wanted to hold Hermy that he gets scared and may bite. She protected Hermy like a mother bear with a cub.

I still feel my children are a little shortchanged in the pet department. About the only time we ever see our crabs move is immediately after their baths and then they crawl around for a few moments. Then I hear the gleeful giggles as Hermy and Raindrop scamper down the hall. I know they love their pets.

One day I commented that our hermit crabs don’t do very much. Very seriously, my 5 year old looked at me and said, “Mommy, they are nocturnal aminals”, (yes that was the pronunciation, though nocturnal was said correctly). With amazement I raised an eyebrow asking, “Nocturnal?”. Matter-of-factly she continued, “That means they are active at night.” Still in bewilderment I asked, “Where did you learn that word?” My 8 year old piped in, “I told her all about nocturnal aminals,” she continued, “like bats and owls too.” As my amazement at my little biologists faded, I realized that not only are they happy with their pets, but they are learning more about unconditional love than I ever imagined.

Last night, when I went up to bed, I heard a rustling in the cage. I crouched next to the hermit crabs and saw them crawling around and playfully chasing each other. I wanted to wake my daughters immediately and tell them that Hermy and Raindrop did something. But then I realized my girls already knew that. They already knew that our crabs were nocturnal and had told me so. My girls wouldn’t need to see what the crabs were doing to believe that they did it. They went by what they knew and believed.

The faith and patience of children. The littlest amongst us teach us the greatest lessons. I’ve learned from my children how to better be a parent. They accept their pets for what they are and what they do and love them unconditionally no matter what expectations they may have had. They’ve learned that it isn’t about what their pets can do for them; it is about what they can do for their pets. Each day they have a new food that they’ve read hermit crabs may enjoy. We have the best-fed hermit crabs on the planet. Today they sampled some cat food, left from feeding the stray cats, of course! They love knowing that they keep two miniature creatures alive and thriving. The rewards are limited, yet vast. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

At one time, our family had seven happy hermit crabs. They were charming. My favorites were Forrest and his Jenny, because we bought them at the same time. We have since become dog people, but I still miss not having to pick up after hermit crabs. Nor did they need brushing, walking, or intense affection. Neither did they bark incessantly when I was trying to talk to someone important on the phone. But I still wouldn't trade our misnamed dog, Einstein, for anything. Except maybe another hermit crab.

March 18, 2010

Best. Day. Ever.

Yesterday, I posed the question on my Facebook page, asking my friends to describe their "best day ever".

Considering the average age of my friends, I was asking them to choose one day out of approximately 15,000 days.  Heck, I was asking myself to do as much.

My friends were generous and thoughtful in their replies. One friend was so silly I literally snorted as I read his reply. We all have touchstones with a great day, the day we'd like to replay/relive/reenact. The majority of my friends cited their wedding day, with a close second as the birth of their child or grandchild.

Without doubt, such days are special beacons of light in my own life. But if I'm being brutally honest, while special, I cannot claim them as "best days". My wedding day was shadowed by nerves about a life changing choice, bickering divorced parents, and a gown that rubbed my shoulders raw from the tulle that made the sleeves puff. The birth of my first child was fraught with fear, because she was 5 weeks early and had trouble breathing. I won't even mention the pain of natural childbirth. I don't denigrate such examples to take away from the fact that both days were glorious and wonderful days in my life, but rather to suggest they weren't my "best. day. ever."

No, my dearest readers, I rather would like to tell you about a day in my life that hasn't been topped yet. I hold out faith that the best is yet to come, but when I look back, this particular day is about as close to perfect as I can remember. I wish I was writing then and had taken notes, perhaps with the ill guided belief that I could possibly duplicate such a day. I am not hopelessly mired in the past. This is just a day I will never forget and can honestly say, everything about that day was perfect.

I humbly present : my own personal Best. Day. Ever.

I was in college and we were on one of the last ever family vacations at the Jersey shore. I had made friends with some locals. My friend MC arranged for us to come up and spend a day at his parents' house so we could head into NYC to see our first ever Broadway show.

My brother, my best friend, and myself were all guests of his family. We slept at his house (where we could walk to the top of his street and overlook the skyline of NYC) and got up that day and went into Manhattan. We had a hearty breakfast that can only be prepared by a mom. (love you Mrs. C, still all these years later!) We rode the bus into The Port Authority. We spent the day exploring the city, our two streetwise friends trying not to laugh at their Ohio bumpkin guests. We went down 42nd street, where I was baffled by the man standing outside an adult theater bawking like a chicken. My streetwise friend explained he was actually selling crack. Crack crack craaaaaaaaaawk.  Yeah, I was naive.

We shopped in Greenwich Village, where my other friend told us Ric Ocasek from The Cars complimented her earrings. We laughed, ate dinner, and headed off to the show. Did I mention that our tickets were free as the result of a friend of the "mom who cooked us breakfast" making a phone call. Does it get cooler than that?

We saw the show Dreamgirls. Yeah. That one. The show that later became a movie and the vehicle for Jennifer Hudson's fame. But this was way back. This was Dreamgirls in 1987. It was spectacular. The original production before anyone knew how huge it could be. It was incredible.

After the show, our seasoned, somewhat blase tour guide suggested we do "that tourist thing" of a ride around Central Park on a horse drawn carriage.

We paid the man and did the "tourist thing" much to the indulgence of our native friends. It was ... unforgettable.

We rode the bus back to my friend's parents' home. Our day ended as beautifully as it began.

I still consider this day magic, over 20 years later, because I am still friends with everyone involved. It was a spectacular, love filled day with friends who will never forget each other.

Jackie, Mike, Doug. Thanks for being there.
I love you, always.

I look forward to making the best better, I never settle, but still remember the day everything was perfect.

March 16, 2010

What I do not like about certain talk show hosts

I have decided not to use his name, because the talk show host I reference already approaches demi-god (demagogue) status in popularity. I prefer not to build on that. I’ve used his name several times on my Facebook page in an attempt to understand his appeal, and few of his fans have accepted my invitation to explain his appeal.

The best/only answers I received are “he is funny”, “why does he make liberals so mad”, and “liberals have the rest of the media”.

If mocking those you don’t agree with and ridiculing them instead of engaging in sincere dialogue is funny, he is indeed funny. I think that is why I am most angry. My views are reduced to a scornful, scathing label. I am now simply one of those liberals. I am angry at the lack of respect that is encouraged by such media kingpins. I feel defensive around family and friends in ways I never did prior. My friends are encouraged to speak up in such a way that attacks me personally. I cannot tell you the amount of hateful forwarded email and posts I receive with the demand that I answer these charges, because I am one of those liberals. The contempt for my opinion hurts. Instead of dialogue, it is about name-calling. Political differences have taken friends away from me. I would blithely like to reply that “they weren’t that good of friends anyway” but that is not true. They were, it stings, and I miss them.

I have a lifetime of experience that predicates the way I lean and the values I hold close to my heart. I do not insult other peoples’ walks in life; mine is no less valuable than theirs is. In college, I ran for a student government office. A good friend of mine was managing my campaign and advised me to learn to keep my temper under control, that anger and disdain for those who didn’t agree with me would hurt my chances. I learned that lesson years ago and even though I did not win the election, I won something much more important. I won the ability to listen to and respect everyone’s view.

As far as the having a lock hold on the “rest of the media” goes, I beg to differ. That implies that only one side uses the media, buys television time and appears in the newspapers. Our current administration is in place largely due to grassroots efforts, not mass media. Absolutely, as the stories gained momentum, the media reported them, but the media reports what is happening. The same thing has happened with the tea party movement. I do appreciate op/ed pieces and I read both sides, but when one side continually engages in divisive behavior intended to turn us against each other, I stop listening. Incidentally, I no longer listen to Michael Moore, either, because I found the title of his book Stupid White Men to be utterly insulting. To borrow from Forest Gump, stupid is as stupid does. Moore engaged in the same disturbing behavior and subsequently lost my respect. I am not interested in listening to anyone who uses insults to pull us apart.

What most stuns me is his attack on religions that support social justice; the straw that broke my back. I take my faith very seriously. Slight and belittle me, but when my core belief is insulted, watch out. I want to throw my hands up in disgust. Instead, I will try to repair my broken back and build a bridge. My upbringing as a Christian indeed emphasizes social justice, yet I do not feel anything close to a Communist or Nazi. Such statements insult the real spirit of Christian generosity. As a Christian, I know not to store up riches on earth, to share with the poor, and to help my brother or sister however I can. I do not view such choices as a ticket to eternity but rather instructions how to make the world we live in today a better place.

My faith gives me hope in what at times seems to be a hopeless world. But beyond that, what if we substitute the word nice or kind for Christian? What if we just are nice and kind to those we encounter, in every step of our daily walk? What if we do such things not in the framework of an organized religion, but simply as a member of the human race?

March 11, 2010


My lovely friend and writing colleague, Absolutely*Kate has featured one of my pieces on her writer's blog, AT THE BIJOU.

I'm so thrilled to be on her marquis, pop over and say hello...

Thank you friends!


March 8, 2010

*wink wink, nudge nudge* it gets better...

as soon as you buy my beachfront land in Arizona.

I follow this hilarious mom blog written by a few mothers of preschoolers and young children. At first, it was an older, wiser look back of "thank goodness" I'm past those days. But suddenly, as I read today's post and wanted to patronize the writers with kindly pat on the head and assurance it would improve, I knew I was full of sh**.

I am the parent of two daughters, 6th and 9th grade. They've outgrown Hannah Montana (and I'll never tell anyone that on occasion they haven't because on the off chance that their friends somehow or another discovered my blog (as if) and read this... THEY HAVE OUTGROWN THE MOUSE*EAR CHANNEL AND ALL ITS OVEREXPOSED STARS).

They have outgrown Mommy and Me outings, unless it includes a credit card with unlimited dollars but extremely limited input from said Mommy.

And, they are in school "allday" which really amounts to 4 hours to myself in which to run the errands that make their lives go smoothly. And try to freelance write.

So, we start with the guilt laden question from the day they were potty trained. "When will you go back to work?" This question was usually met with the incredulous stare of "what do you mean back?" For 24/7, I was on diaper then potty, feeding, cleaning, and entertainment duty. Assuming it was until both children were in school "allday", that is approximately 28,200 hours, 705 weeks, 13.5 years (based on a 40 hour work week with no vacation schedule), of solid work and you have the flippen nerve to inquire WHEN I WILL GO BACK TO WORK?

Nonetheless, I felt compelled over the past several years to attempt that "back" stuff. I sold kitchen gadgets, I worked at the church, I wrote about men's shirts for a catalogue, I used to get up at 3 AM every morning to work as an editor for a European website. (3 AM because there were no interrruptions and because it fit in well with their start of day timezone).

Now, I'm back to work as an unpaid taxi driver and staff to two kids, a dog and a spouse.

Yeah. Back.

Oh I was supposed to talk about how it got better, right? (s'cuse me, there's something jamming my fingers, knuckle crack) ahhh yes.

Don't worry mommies, it gets better.

Don't mistake my sincerity for sarcasm.

You can look forward to the day your child barges into the bathroom, not to help you pee, but to rummage for the hairspray that works better than hers.

You can look forward to the day that you graduate from the eyeroll to the simple glare of somehow or another behaving inappropriately in public. Public can be defined as anywhere anyone who may know someone who knows someone and text back can be. Inappropriate can be defined as picking lint off the sleeve, saying hello, or even worse, greeting a friend of theirs. It makes no difference if you've known this friend since preschool and they once sang Barney songs together. (attempt to be cool mom disclaimer: they did not watch it, mom just had the TV on that channel!)  If that friend and your child are no longer in the same social strata of middle or high school, it's an unforgivable crime to greet them. Unless your child greets them first.

You are required to master the art of texting, because a phone call indicates the dreaded, I have a parent sign. Yeah, because your peers, like the Disney icons before them lead completely parent free unsupervised lives. Uh huh.

You are subjected to demands of "absolutely nothing to wear" the minute you've finished the last load of laundry. Made me long for the days when dad dressed them. I cannot believe I used to cringe at the get ups. Dad actually once took daughter to dance lessons with the tights OVER her leotard (like pants?).  I should have celebrated them so they didn't have such a ridiculous sense of fashion that there are varying degrees of appropriate jeans. Last year, after such an announcement, coupled with a demand, I made it easy on said child. I took all her clothing with the exception of five outfits. I figured that she would be less overwhelmed about her choices of what to wear. She was allowed to choose the five. I'm not THAT mean.

In fact, I'm so nice that instead of getting up to write for Europeans (for pay) at 3 AM, I get up to make sure the last load of laundry for your sporting event is finished before said offspring goes to school. And she better not flippen dare tell me she has nothing to wear, or she'll wear that clean sports uniform. Ungrateful one!

You are required to color code charts and overlaying calendars to make sure every child is at the required place at the appropriate time. Heaven forbid you suggest they find a ride. Even worse, I've discovered are the times you offer to drive another child home (in the hopes of reciprocation) and decide to stop at the store because you're driving right past it for that loaf of bread, deposit said child at doorway 5 minutes late with a parent pacing the driveway wondering where their precious offspring could be.

Pour me a glass of wine.


School all day also means your child will receive DARE education, which is noble but also means that if you so much as have a glass of wine in the sight of your child, you will be lectured by said child about the evils of alcohol.

So yeah, moms, it gets better when they go to school all day and you go back to work.

No, that is not my nose growing. It's my wallet, getting stretched. Because I haven't figured out a way to be paid for all my nonwork hours of taxi driving, laundry doing, and errand running, yet. But I'm a writer. Really.


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