Sunday, December 4, 2016

Junior Great Books

In the grade school I attended was a program called Junior Great Books.  It was the earliest of book clubs when there wasn't even a thing called book clubs, and my parents, more specifically my dad, thought this would be a good thing for me to join.  Junior Great Books catered to Smartypants and High Achievers - two groups that up until that point I neither belonged to nor was included in. Ever. My dad signed up to be a group leader and so I had an *in* when I would have much preferred an *out*.   Dad, however, knew I loved to read and I'm pretty certain that he hadn't agreed to be a leader unless his daughter was part of the package.

In an era when Mom would dig in her purse and magically come up with a dusty Kleenex to bobby pin to the heads of her daughters to wear inside God's house, the likes of Harry Potter or The Fault in Our Stars would be far into the future as the books of choice for middle-school readers.

No, Junior Great Books was about the classics and from day one this book club was a struggle for me.  Like it or not, though, that is where I was once a month on a Thursday night with a few of my classmates beside me (none of whom were my friends) and my dad to discuss my skimmed over knowledge of a Junior Great Book.  Added to this coming-of-age-anxiety-cocktail was a generous helping of a yet to be diagnosed speech impediment.

One month our book was Treasure Island - a book I found myself even more uninterested in than the others. Pirates, buried gold, a boy named Jim?  This adventure story wasn't even close to being in the dreams of my thirteen year old self.  My dad started off the discussion questions and the usual extroverts jumped in with their thoughts and opinions, but after a few minutes Dad asked a question and said, "All of you put your hands down and let's give Kathy and Betsy a chance to answer this one."

Kathy and Betsy?

The silence was deafening as me and Betsy, with every pair of eyes in the room on us, kept our heads down and our mouths clamped shut for what seemed like an eternity. I don't know about Betsy but the earth swallowing me up at that moment would have been a welcome sight.

"Nothing?  Neither of you have anything you want to say," Dad asked in the gentlest of ways and I couldn't look up and I couldn't open my mouth.  I shook my head and tried not to cry and Betsy did the same and I knew then what it was like to disappoint your dad with a dozen other kids looking on.

In the front seat of our station wagon driving home in the dark Dad said, "I think you're a smart girl and I know you love to read.  What you think is just as important as anyone else at that table." And for just a minute I thought that maybe, just maybe, I didn't disappoint him as much as I thought.

It would be many years before my voice didn't shake when I voiced an opinion in front of a group of people, but I kept reading and I kept thinking and what I will always remember from that night, besides my burning eyes and my red face and the stare of classmates whose names I can't even recall save one, is the gift his words were to me.

One voice does matter.  One voice can be the treasure that everyone is seeking.


My current stack




Friday, November 11, 2016

Womensplaining An Election

If you've read this blog for even a little while you would know that I am a proud liberal and fierce supporter of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign so this week sucks.  It sucks in a way that I can't even wrap my head around.  As one of the kids at the campus I work at said, "I keep checking news sites for a correction to this.  That it really went the other way and any minute they'll tell us that and it will all be okay."

If only.

I have moments of anger that border on rage which rather than scaring me makes me think that at least I still care.  Mostly, though, I am sad and tired.  I have known a lot of Hillarys in my life.  The kind who work ten times harder than anybody in the office because that is what women who dare think they can claim a space on the management team in the boy's club have always had to do.

I also have two daughters and a gay son so my fear of what has been unleashed is real.  My inner conversations convincing myself of their safety are now as erratic as the behavior of the person who has been elected.  The color of their skin is no comfort but instead a betrayal to every friend without that privilege.  I now know (though I would claim I didn't prior to the election) plenty of women who voted for this man which is as mysterious to me as what happened to Amelia Earhart.  This guy this guy is every girl's bad boyfriend.

He is the guy your friend can't wait for you to meet and at the end of the night you want to hide her away before it's too late. 
He can make a racist joke as easily as he says "Pass the salt."
He stands too close and his hand brushes against your breast and you tell yourself your friend's boyfriend wouldn't try to cop a feel when she's in the bathroom. Would he?
He's got kids from three different women.  She knows that, right?
He tells you nobody has more respect for women than him but the way he looks at his daughter creeps you out.
When the subject of faith comes up he drops a quote from Two Corinthians.
He claims climate change is a hoax and asks you if your air is on.  In November.
The only people in his circle are varying shades of white.
He frequently talks about the size of his hands as if you're too stupid to know he's really talking about the size of something else.
He's old, overtanned, overweight, and out of shape yet rates women's bodies on a scale of 1-10.

After a long year you feel whip-sawed by this bad boyfriend that your friend fell for.  He's abusive.  He's ignorant. You've never known anyone more vulgar. He takes gaslighting to a level you've never seen before.  You feel for her but she won't leave.  You decide to take a break for a good long while but before you do you tell her one more thing because you love her and want her back.

Honey, he doesn't even like you. He never did.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

In The Bleachers

The last time I was in Wrigley Field was twenty five years ago.  I went with my sisters and our husbands (or soon-to-be) for a game in the middle of the week.  Baking in the sun with all the other Bleacher Bums could be deceiving, for as warm and bright as those outfield seats were, a different seat in the upper decks could be thirty degrees colder with nary a ray of sun and lakefront breezes to chill you to the bone.  We rolled the dice at the box office that day and shined like the sun with everyone else who decided to play hooky from real life.

*****

Dad started taking us girls to Wrigley Field when I was about ten.  It was hard not to be a Cubs fan in our house, and even though we lived in the southern suburbs and were closer to Comiskey Park, Dad's devotion was to the north side and the Cubs.  Every summer he would take vacation time to work on the house but always kept one day reserved for Wrigley.  That one day usually centered around Ladies Day.  What that meant I can't remember but knowing Dad I'm sure it had something to do with a reduced admission price.

Back then you could bring a cooler into the park, and so Mom would tuck sandwiches, fruit, and candy into glittered Styrofoam where it would rest on the ground between her and Dad.  Believing a trip to Wrigley should always be an experience, we would leave the house by 9:00 a.m. for a 1:10 p.m. start time.  There was traffic and parking to consider, but mainly it was because Mom and Dad believed in making a day of it and thought we should be there when the players came out for batting practice.  They'd tell us girls to get down in front where we leaned over the third base side, waving programs for autographs that never came.  When the Cubs finished their practice and went into the clubhouse we'd return to our seats and have lunch.  One time Mom broke a tooth eating a Tootsie Roll and to this day she will bring it up as if it was yesterday.   "Remember that game against the Astros when I bit into that Tootsie Roll and half my tooth broke off?  That was an expensive game."

It was during those games that Dad showed me how to keep score, how to watch for signs.  "First base coach, third base coach, keep an eye on them, keep an eye on the infield players, kiddo. Big hitter, move your outfield back.  Man on first, watch for the bunt. The signs are always there." 

In 1969 the Cubs were oh so close to winning the National League but by mid-August the wheels started falling off.  We were there for one of those games when every blunder that could be made was done so in a spectacular fall from first.  The bullpen tried to save them from themselves but they were better than average pitchers not miracle workers.  Dad's job was running safety training programs for lineman at Commonwealth Edison and at the end of one of his training sessions the group gave him a coffee mug.  A Fire King beauty with the names of every relief pitcher from the bullpen that year.  He gave it to me.  "You keep it, Kath.  You're an even bigger fan than me these days."

I would return to Wrigley year after year.  Once I went with my brothers and their friends who insisted we leave in the 8th inning to beat the traffic, and even though the Cubs were trailing far behind I couldn't believe we were walking out before the game ended.  Dad would have never done that.  We turned the radio on and listened on the way home as the Cubs tied and eventually won the game.  I was so mad at those guys and when I told Dad what they did he said the two things you should never leave early are church and baseball games.

When Dad got sick and spent the summer at home the Cubs games kept him company.  Whoever was around would wander in and out of the bedroom, checking on him, checking the score.  Those were hard days, especially when September rolled around and the season for both Dad and the Cubs was coming to a close.  The background sound of the t.v. and the ball hitting the bat in the crisp, autumn air, though, sounded like home even as Dad was preparing to depart his.

******

The last time I was in Wrigley Field was twenty five years ago.  While my sisters and our husbands (or-soon-to-be) watched the game our Dad was at an appointment to find out if the tiny, black dot on his cheek was the return of melanoma that started behind his retina. Our optimism that afternoon waned like the sun - if it was bright and warming us we were positive it was no big deal.  If it went behind the clouds we darkened like the sky over us and were sure it was cancer.  By the time we got home what loomed over us had been confirmed and I have never gone back to the place that held some of the fondest memories of my life. 

There have been decades of wait-until-next-years for the Chicago Cubs but finally they have made it to the World Series.  The World Series, Dad!  And if he were here for this he would say what he always did on Ladies Day at Wrigley Field, his wife on his right, his girls on his left, a bag of peanuts passed between us, and a beer tucked next to his feet. 

Watch for the signs, kiddo.  The signs are always there.  


Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Kiss Is Just A Kiss

For the first few years I worked in Chicago I took the bus.  It picked me up at the end of the block and would make its way through the south suburbs where our family lived, picking up passengers along the way before eventually merging onto the expressway and then Michigan Avenue.  My friend got picked up before me and she would save me a seat next to her towards the back of the bus.  Three blocks past my stop was an older man who boarded the bus each morning - a man relatively unknown to me but friendly with both of my parents.  He would also sit near the back towards me and my friend and spent his bus ride reading the Chicago Tribune.

Riding the bus back and forth to Chicago was not the preferred method to get to work.  In perfect weather anything could make traffic back up, and if a little rain or a few flurries fell during rush hour it could easily double the length of the trip.  If there was an opportunity to get downtown fast a working guy/gal would always take advantage of the offer.

And that is how I found myself in the front seat of a gas guzzling Buick with the guy from the back of the bus who lived on Elm Street.  He had called my parents house and told my mom that he was driving to work later that week and would be happy to take me.  There was no question I would go to avoid another long bus ride and so at 6:45 a.m. he picked me up.  I can't remember what we talked about on the way down since he was my dad's age (late fifties) to my early twenties.  I don't, though, remember it being awkward or uncomfortable. 

We sailed through every usual bottleneck and in no time he was stopping in front of the Art Institute to let me out.  As I gathered my purse and my lunch he said, "Don't I even get a kiss for giving you a ride downtown?" And I thought, oh yeah, sure, geez where are my manners because I guess that's what you do when somebody does a favor for you.  Right?  You give a kiss to the guy who is as old as your father because he let you ride along to the same place he was going.  And so I leaned over to kiss him on the cheek (because that's what he meant, right?) and he maneuvered his head until his lips were on mine and he was putting his tongue in my mouth and in the front seat of that Buick I could not register what in the hell was happening to me. 

I pulled away from him and said "thank you" again because if I was anything it was polite when somebody did me a favor.  I got my things and got out and watched the car of a man who was friends with my parents pull away.  Under one of the lions that flanks the entrance to the Art Institute I stood on the sidewalk watching the "walk" sign change many times over before I remembered I had to cross the street to get to work.

My mom would ask that night how my ride was and I told her it was fine.  "He said he's going to start driving more and that you could go with him anytime," she would tell me and I never, not once, even considered it.  I would have inhaled toxic, choking bus fumes on a completely stopped Dan Ryan Expressway every day of the week rather than get in that Buick again.

A few years ago Mom called and told me she had gone to a wake for So-And So. "I don't know who that is," I said.  "Oh you know him, Kath.  That nice man from Elm Street that would drive you downtown sometimes."

Once, Mom.  He drove me once.

"He always asked about you when I would see him."

Everything from the moment the car stopped remains vivid in my memory but I never talked about it.  After hanging up the phone, though, the same question rolled over and over in my mind.

What kind of man makes a mother believe that her daughter is perfectly safe with him when she's anything but?

And over and over in my mind the same answer rolled back.  The kind that is better off dead.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Crack

I fell a few weeks ago walking around the block.  It would be a much better story if I said I was training for a half-marathon and was running so fast I pitched forward over the finish line like the women's 4x400 team at the Olympics to win gold.

But, alas, I was leisurely walking and stepped in a gap between someone's driveway and the sidewalk and lurched forward onto the ground.  I remember watching my hand as it stretched in front of me to brace my fall. Next thing I knew I was oh-so-slowly pulling myself up off the ground using the same outstretched hand to feel the blood on my lip that had smacked the pavement - all while I gingerly moved my banged-up knees.  I slowly made my way home and when I walked in the door Mark appropriately said, "It looks like you've been in a fight."

I put an ice pack on my lip, checked my front teeth for any cracks, cleaned my knees, and though I felt like having a good cry, did not thanks to a mom and three brothers who taught me long ago that being overly dramatic when injured is not a positive attribute.  As the day went on, though, my elbow started throbbing and I moved the ice pack off my lip and onto my arm.

At Sunday dinner that night I related my tale of woe to the kids who come every week for a family meal.  They could see the fat lip and the bloodied knees and when I winced when I tried to put my elbow on the table they said all the right things, but I am the mom after all, and sucking it up is #1 on the job description.  Even as banged up as I had gotten that day I managed to make most of our dinner for six so just how bad off could I be?

Every movement of my arm that week hurt and Mark said, "You probably jammed it."  I wasn't getting enough sympathy for my jammed arm as far as I was concerned.  I still went to work, I still made dinner (but left grocery shopping to my husband), I still threw towels in the washing machine even if it was at a slower pace and with one hand firmly on the handrail every time I went up and down the stairs.  At the following Sunday dinner my left arm was old news replaced by something else and when I put my elbow on the table without wincing that must have meant I was getting better. But if I dared to reach or lift with that banged-up appendage it hurt like crazy.  I kept dosing with Ibuprofen and icing it but after ten days of it not getting much better I finally made an appointment with the doctor.

When you go to a teaching medical center for your care you are often seen first by medical students - little Doogie Howsers that look like they are a week out of middle school.  They can either be incredibly enthusiastic about your problem or terribly nervous basket cases.  I got the former this time.  In the family med office I am sure that anything outside of a cold, allergies, or stomachache on the last appointment of the day must be a thrill for the medically young and eager.  My Dr. Doogie did all kinds of exercises on my arm and concluded that it was "probably jammed" but, thankfully, it was not his call to make but the real doctor who would come in after him.  The Real Doctor pushed his thumb into a few spots until he hit the magic one that brought tears to my eyes and said, "I think you just jammed it but I'm going to send you for an xray anyways.  Go get it and come back here and we'll look at it."

Thirty minutes later the three of us were looking at a picture of a fracture in the bone above my elbow and to these men in the room and the one at home I wanted to shout, "YOU GUYS AND YOUR JAMMING?  WELL, LOOKIE HERE.  I'VE BEEN INJURED. INJURED BAD."  This kind of hairline crack requires no cast (thank you thank you thank you) but a convalescence of babying it while it heals.  No lifting, no pushing, no vacuuming, no pulling, no pressure on it at all and a recheck in two weeks.

After I left the office I called my husband to report the findings gloat.  To tell him that once in awhile the Mrs. around this place gets knocked flat (literally) and it should come with a week off work, meals delivered and some kind of "B" team prayer chain. The next day I told Mallie Bee who looked a little stunned when I said that my fall had caused a fracture.  "Really," she said. "Really," I answered.

And then she spoke these words of pure gold, "I kind of think this family owes you an apology."

"Because this family thought I was faking?"

"Maybe.  Yeah."

I already knew that but I took that consideration of an apology and hid it in a secret place like the jewel that it was, so that the next time I take a hit and jam-who-knows-what I've got something to fall back on.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Surrender Dorothy

I am not the kind of person who handles change very well.  More specifically, I go kicking and screaming into change like a toddler having a meltdown.

In the years we've been married we've moved to three states, a studio apartment, a basement apartment overrun with roaches, a townhouse with wall-to-wall apple green carpet, a better townhouse, another townhouse that had no natural light, and our current home.  I always put on my cheerful face, so excited to be partaking in another "adventure in moving."  That face never lasted very long as my resentful face was longing to show itself to the world.  After the newness wore off, the pictures had been hung and the path to the nearest grocery store figured out, I would get pissy and stay that way for a good long time.  I didn't like having to make new friends, and after a couple of moves I figured out that the first woman in the neighborhood who knocked on my door to introduce herself to me was probably the craziest person one the block. Two experiences with that made me keep my guard up and ready.

The same goes for starting new jobs. I observe for a good long while and keep my eye firmly trained on the red EXIT sign.  When I'm done observing I start to look for reasons to leave, and since most jobs come with a gold mine of crazy and dysfunctional it's not hard to come up with a solid five excuses to bolt on any given day. 

My husband can attest that when I am in one of these transition periods (that can go on for months and months) that I'm a delightful peach to live with.  You would think that since I know that about myself that I would avoid job hopping but it's just the opposite.  I start getting antsy and bored and think I need to find some greener grass and off I go again.  When I find myself in another new environment I look around for somebody, anybody to blame but the finger only points back to me.

When we made our last, big move to Kansas I literally thought I was going to die.  I couldn't believe I was nowhere near water.  We moved from a place that was thirty miles from the White House to Kansas of all places. Who does that?  Whenever we would take the subway and get off at the Smithsonian stop, go up the escalator and see the Capitol I would gasp.  I probably gasped fifty times over those five years.  I never got tired of seeing that.  On the weekends we would leave early in the morning to drive to the Delaware Beach, Chincoteague Island, Annapolis.  When I got off the train when I worked in Chicago I walked two blocks to my building which was across the street from the Art Institute and a short walk to Lake Shore Drive.  Every day from my office I saw the water of Lake Michigan. 

Kansas seemed like a hard, waterless fall from the grace of where I had come from and there was no water to cool off, no red EXIT sign to point the way out.

At some point I finally surrendered, likely from exhaustion of the battle I had created in my own head.  I stopped comparing it to my imagined life somewhere else and let it stand on its own sturdy feet.  It faltered often but then it showed off its Flint Hills and I thought "okay this might work."  Or the limestone buildings of Kansas State University, the funky college town of Lawrence with its impromptu parade on a Saturday afternoon of people who want the governor ousted. The hokey roadside attraction of The World's Largest Prairie Dog.  Or the farmer not far from where we live who started planting sunflowers years ago as an experiment in biofuel that never panned out.  He kept planting, though, thousands of sunflowers.  Forty acres of sunflowers.

It took twenty four years but I found the sea in Kansas when the winds on its plains whispered to me to look elsewhere to find what I was missing.  That's when the dream that I dreamed of really did come true.



Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Accumulation

It was a dark and stormy night...

Actually it was an overcast Friday and I had no car and was stuck at home.  What to do? What to do?

I started with a coffee from the Keurig.  That was the intent but instead boxes of coffee pods came tumbling out onto the floor from a messy, disorganized cabinet that could barely close.  Pumpkin spice, chai tea latte, hot chocolate, espresso, mocha latte, mocha lessa.

Since I was grounded from going anywhere fun or spendy my agenda was set right then and there.  I looked at that pile of pods and decided that since we may move someday (or never) that the load around here needed to be lightened (personal weight issues excluded).  I strapped on an armor of use-it-or-get-rid-of-it that refused to look back, look over, or keep looking into the ever growing black bag that sat beside me as I sat on the floor.

Sitting amongst one's treasures useless crap can be revealing:

I have never met a candle I didn't think needed to come home with me.

I haven't used a tealight in at least five years but I have dozens of them.

At some point in my life I had grandiose plans of dinner parties with said candles, tablecloths and cloth napkins.

Every beat up pair of shoes I've ever owned got retired to the front closet to become garden shoes.

Anorak?  Now there's a jacket that can make any suburban mom look cool. I would know. I had four.

During my gap year when I was unemployed and searching for my passion I thought I needed to take fish oil, magnesium, iron, potassium and B-12.  Day after day my passion eluded me so I watched Dr. Oz instead.

I got into stamping and I don't really even know what stamping is.  Boo. Joy. Thank You So Much.  Texas.  Texas?   

Ink pads for stamping.  Black, black, black, black, black, red, red, red, red, gold, silver, distressed blue.  I could literally stamp Texas to look like a pair of blue jeans.

A collection of corrugated, cardboard sleeves from Starbucks cups that could be made into, made into, made into WTF?

Tub & tile caulk?  2

Latex caulk? 4 

Vacuum cleaner bags?  10 

Bottles of Ibuprofen? 3

Frontline for an 80# dog?  2 boxes  Years since we've had an 80# dog?  2.5

Gloves with no mate? 6

Whilst in Target (but not in the candle aisle) my neighbor called me to tell me about an ESTATE SALE I HAD TO GO TO NOW.  I hustled out with my cat food and toilet paper (since she said it all in caps) and headed over to the sale.  That's when I saw what accumulation looks like when it goes to the dark side.  Piles of stuff, thousands of books, three sheds in the backyard, a kitchen that barely had a path. 

It made me a little sick - this woman who bought and bought, and how did she even walk in this place?  Did anyone come and visit her?  Where did they sit?

There was no doubt that she was a hoarder, that she probably drove her family and neighbors nuts, that she bought dishes and glassware and garden pots and Christmas decorations by the dozens.  She saved decorating magazines from twenty years ago.  She saved ribbon and fabric, and calendars that were fifteen years old.  She saved toys and games that her kids must have played with decades ago. She saved hat boxes by the dozens.

She didn't know how to stop but if you saw her stuff you would know that despite some serious mental health issues she had damn good taste.

Nothing was priced.  Depending on who was working the money it was either a pile of stuff for $5.00 or $5.00 for each item.  I drifted to The Pile of Stuff guy with my garden urns.

Then I came home and opened every drawer and closet that I had already cleaned to see if I had missed anything else that could go, certain that I didn't want to be the lifelong caretaker of regret.