Thursday, May 30, 2013

Be Careful Where You Bike

Sometimes when The Big Daddy goes biking with The Gravy Train, they will go to Lawrence.  That is where the campus of Kansas University is, and a destination for hard-core bikers.  From here it is about 45 miles, so a round-trip with a couple of rest stops could take a few hours.

It is a big deal when a Lawrence ride is planned.

In the middle of a conversation with the neighbors, let's say about the progress of the tomato plants, The Big Daddy will randomly say, "Yeah, biking to Lawrence this weekend."  Then the guy neighbor will say, "Lawrence?  Geez, on a bike?  Hell, that's a haul."

"Awwww, it's not so bad,"  The Big Daddy will say, and then the men will talk about more fascinating macho stuff while me and the other Mrs. slip into a Boredom Coma. 

When the ride is over and The Big Daddy is showered and changed, he pretends to feel great, but his ass is whupped and dragging and we will end up watching a movie on pay-per-view for an exciting Saturday night in Marriageville.

But this biking to Lawrence thing got a lot more interesting when I heard this...............

I ran into an acquaintance who was having work done in her house by someone I was familiar with.  I knew that this guy had taken up biking a few years ago and that his wife was irritated that he was gone so much and leaving her home with the kids.    

One day he took the infamous ride to Lawrence with some of his biking buddies.  That's when his wife sent him a text that she was leaving him.  In fact, she had already bought a house and her and the kids would be moved in by the time he got back.

She left him by text when he was on his bike?  All the way in Lawrence?

True story Gravy Trainers.  Don't shoot the messenger.



Monday, May 27, 2013

Rim Shot

Saturday was moving day for Will.  It began the day before when he called and mentioned something about me reserving the U-Haul.  Me????  No.  Not me.  You.  You were supposed to do that. graduate, adult, legal age, taking care of big kid stuff?  I said I'd pay for it but you were supposed to secure it.  We went back and forth about who said what for awhile, each of us raising our voice a little higher.  This wasn't getting us anywhere.

He got online in hopes of finding a truck to rent on Memorial Day weekend.  Did you know more people move on that weekend than any other time of the year?  Neither did we.  After a few hours, he found one that was forty minutes away from us which wasn't so bad because we pass that way en route to his campus.  The was-so-bad-part was that it had to be returned to that location and not at a U-Haul lot in Kansas City when we were done.

Knowing how irritated I was by the whole situation, Will had nearly everything ready and stacked in the parking lot of his apartment by the time we got there.  Loading was a piece of cake.  The truck was being shared with a friend whose parents live near us and her load-up went even quicker.

We made the two hour drive, unloaded her stuff and then came home to unload Will's stuff.  Mark was backing the truck into the driveway and I got out to be the Monback.

Monback, monback, monback............Whoa.  Whoa.  That's good.

The Big Daddy Truck Driver was concerned about hitting the basketball goal so I was the guide.  And as I was Monbacking and watching the net, the roof of the truck was hitting the rim and bending the entire goal post.

Whoa, whoa, stop, I yelled as I pushed on the post to straighten it back up.  To no avail because it's steel ya big dork.

Mallory was watching all of this unfold in front of her and hysterically laughing at me.  The Big Daddy was not amused.  He jumped out of the truck - yelling and flailing his arms and said, "The only job you have all day is to make sure I don't hit the basketball goal and you're standing there watching me hit the goddamn basketball goal.  What kind of Monback are you?"

Are you talking on a scale of 1 - 10 or like a school grade?  Are you even talking to me at all right now?

We no longer have a use for that basketball goal anyhow and so I said, "Why don't you keep going and knock it all the way down?"

"Because this is a rental truck.  We can't return it with a big dent on the top of it because you think we should do home improvements with a U-Haul."

Oh yeah.  I forgot about that part.  And the rim. 

If your shots hook to the right then this is your basketball goal.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Goals & Graduation

When Will was in kindergarten, his teacher told me that she thought he had ADD.  "He seems to have trouble staying focused after a few minutes.  I thought I'd bring it to your attention."  Really?  I never noticed.  "Not in a bad way.  He isn't a behavior problem, but his mind tends to wander.  Give him this little test.  Give him directions to do three different things and see how he does."

I took our project home and made a game out of it.  Get your shoes out of the closet, empty the bathroom trash can and practice writing your name on this piece of paper.  Tell me when you're done and then you can pick out a popsicle.  I'd show that teacher that my kid didn't have ADD.  He came back with his shoes and the paper with his name on it and said, "What was the other thing I was supposed to do?"  Oh geez, honey, I can't even remember what the heck I said.  This game isn't very fun for either of us, is it?

And that's how it went with he and I and the school system.  He struggled with reading and I would do flashcards with him before he went to bed - dog-tired and sick of school work.  In 4th grade his teacher told us that he needed to work on his fluency in oral reading and maybe he could practice reading out loud to his kindergarten sister.  That lasted three nights because the five year old read better than the nine year old.

Because of his reading his test taking always had lousy outcomes.  He'd come home every year with the results of the standardized test taken months earlier and my heart would sink when I saw the score.  "How did I do Mom?  Was this a good one?"  It was great, buddy, I'd tell him and shove the envelope in a drawer never to be looked at again.

I signed him up for a reading class at a nearby college and the results weren't even close to the money we spent or the testimonials on the shiny brochure.  Added to the mix was the occasional bullying at school for a host of reasons, and my full-time job became propping him up with praise and motivation and sending him into the den for another day.  The nights were for the school stories, some that felt like a dagger through my heart.

Sometime in high school when another test score came in I put up the white flag.  You know what?  You aren't a number, a percentage or a dot on a graph.  You are capable of great things in your life and this test has nothing at all to do with your future or that creative spirit you've always had.  You just keep working as hard as you can every single day.  That's the keep at it.  

Which was all well and good until it was time to take the ACT.  He took it twice.  The crappy score my brother's kid got was Will's high score and we knocked wood and lit candles that it would be enough to get him into the program he wanted.

Last weekend when we were at his graduation all those things played like a newsreel in my head and I could have had a weeping good sob at any given moment.  When he got his diploma we watched him walk past his professors and hug them all.  "That's when I almost cried," he said afterwards.  "They told me how talented I was and they couldn't wait to see where the future would lead me."

The valedictorian was proficient in Latin, Spanish and Chinese.  Maggie leaned over and whispered how self-absorbed she was, but that's the way it can be with high achievers.  They're very impressed with themselves while the rest of us are at the mercy of their long bio on our uncomfortable bleacher seats.

When the pomp and circumstance were over and we had gone back to Will's apartment, I noticed this list of goals on his bedroom door.  The things he wanted to accomplish this year................

Looks like he made it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Let's Move

Long before Michelle Obama took on the epidemic of childhood obesity, The Big Daddy and I were doing our own program called Let's Move.  We are not as high profile as FLOTUS (and suddenly I have developed bingo arms) so nobody was aware of the program, but anyone can participate.  Let's have an overview, shall we?

Eight years ago, we moved Maggie into her first dorm room in August.  It was on the 9th floor.  In May, we moved her out.

In August, we moved Maggie into a different dorm.  It was a suite with two other girls in the lower level.  In May, we moved her out.

In August, we moved Maggie into a campus apartment complex in which she was an RA.  We rented a U-Haul.  It was on the 1st floor.

Two years later, we rented a U-Haul and moved Maggie out of that apartment and back home.

The following summer, Maggie moved out of the house and into an apartment in Kansas City.  It was up several flights of stairs with no elevator.  Guess who helped her move?

The summer after that we helped Maggie move into a new apartment on the 2nd floor with Nathan.  We loaded our cars, they rented a U-Haul and we helped them move.

The summer after that they rented a small house and a U-Haul and we helped them move.

This week they will find out if the offer they made on a house will go through.  They may be moving.

Four years ago, we moved Will into his first dorm room in August.  It was on the 2nd floor.  In May, we moved him out.

In August, we moved Will into a different dorm with a different roommate on the 2nd floor.  In May, we moved him out.

In August, we rented a U-Haul and moved Will into an apartment on the 2nd floor.

Two years later, we will rent a U-Haul (Saturday if you want to help) and will be...........(you guessed it) moving Will back home.

Last August, we moved Mallory into her first dorm room.  It was on the 3rd floor.   In May, we moved her out.

In August, Mallory will move to a house that she is renting with three other girls.  We will rent a U-Haul and help move her in.  Wait until her Dad sees the stairs.

And what has happened to us over these past eight years, two different colleges and more apartments and dorm rooms than we can even remember?  Are we more fit?  No, we are not.

We are older and we have grown weary.  We think the thousands of dollars we pay for college should include strapping young frat boys with pickups to take care of mattresses and microwaves.  Instead it's good ol' Mom and Dad who drop ef bombs when we see flights of stairs and unpacked piles of shit.  Oh sorry you guys.....ran out of boxes.  The kids accuse us of being cranky and negative. 

We are all of the above, but especially we are free laborers who get mail from AARP on a weekly basis. Something isn't adding up here.



Monday, May 13, 2013


When I was a little girl, I would spend a good part of my summer day killing flies.  They liked the side of the house where the sun would beat down and I'd go out with the flyswatter and kill them.  48, 49, 50............

I'd run in the house and give Mom the casualty count and she'd say, "Good for you.  Now get back out there and don't stop until you've killed them all."  Looking back, I think she might have been trying to get rid of me.

I'd run back outside and there would be more flies on the sunny side of the house and I'd swat and count for hours.  Apparently, I lacked friends.

Even as a kid I hated those things and since getting married The Big Daddy has given me a detailed scientific account of what flies do after they've sat on a poo-poo platter.  It's disturbing.

That early experience of killing flies was a precursor to what our first home was like after we said, "I do."  We lived in the basement apartment of a complex that catered to students.  You could say that it lacked charm but it was cheap and I got used to looking out the window and seeing dirt.

It wasn't long into the honeymoon period that I found out we weren't alone.  We had The Cucaraches and they were everywhere.  Like my fly-killing days, I'd go on the hunt for them with a can of Raid and spray them to kingdom come or with a swatter and beat them to a smeary mess.  Before long, I'd see another one and jump to action with my killing tools.

They never stopped coming in and Mark said he could smell the Raid in the parking lot when he got out of the car.

I would rather lay all night in bed awake than have to go into the bathroom and turn the light on and see those disgusting things scurrying everywhere.  We ended up having to put baggies over our toothbrushes because they'd sit on the top of the brush and eat the dried toothpaste.

I was teetering on a nervous breakdown.  Eyes darting looking for signs of movement, cans of Raid in every room, calls to the landlord constantly.  If this was the married life I wanted out.

The Big Daddy told me to calm my frantic ass down and put down the damn can of Raid.  Hell, he said, everything we eat around here is starting to taste like Raid.

Mom, who'd only heard of roaches but had never actually seen one, said he needed to get me out of there - that was no place to live.

We were only months into a year long lease when one night I was awakened by something.  I flung my arm over and that something landed in the chest hairs of The Big Daddy and he jumped out of bed, jumped up and down and started screaming.


He stripped all the sheets and blankets off the bed and was beating them up and down on the floor over and over, and if there was still a roach amongst the percale it was going for a ride.

He went on like that for awhile before he calmed down and we put the sheets back on the bed.  All that screaming must have worn him out and he was soon sound asleep.  Those summer days of swatting flies had prepared me for that moment and I stared at the walls and counted the, eight, nine.............until the sun came up.

Within the month we'd sublet the apartment to two unsuspecting students, left all the cans of Raid under the sink and lived happily ever after.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

How My Brothers Tried To Kill The Babysitter

Of my parents half-dozen kids, five were born over a six year period.  You would think that having that many kids would put a dent in Mom and Dad's social life but they frequently went out, and so Mom was always beating the neighborhood bushes to find a babysitter.

After some trial and error, Mom found a reliable one in Sheila who lived a few blocks away.  I wasn't so sure about this Sheila.  She always seemed nervous and her hands would shake when she tried to pincurl me and my sister's hair after our Saturday night bath.  She kept coming back to babysit, though, and our complaints to Mom about her lousy hairdressing skills fell on deaf ears.

On a cool, October day Dad started getting prepped for winter by taking down the screens from all the windows.  He had been working his way around the house installing the storm windows but wasn't quite finished with the job before he and Mom had to get ready for a night on the town.  All handsome and beautiful, Dad put a final splash of Old Spice on and Mom's lipstick square of toilet paper smiled from the bowl.  A little peace and quiet without their kids was imminent and sure enough Sheila and Her Nerves ding-donged at the door.

All day the boys had been pestering Mom to go to a football game at the nearby high school with some of their friends that night but Mom refused.  "Sheila's coming and she doesn't need to worry about where you boys are so you're all staying home."  There was some groaning and protesting but she didn't budge.  "And you boys better behave," she said to them as her and Dad walked out the door to a few hours of freedom.

Jean and I took our baths and then Sheila started the painful, drawn out process of pincurling our hair with her shaky hands.  By the time she finished we both looked like a head full of television antennas with the bobby pins going this way and that. 

The boys went to bed soon after us and in record time the house was quiet as a church with Sheila at the helm.

But while Jean and I drifted off to sleep, some friends of the boys came to their bedroom window at the back of the house to get them to go to the football game.  The boys stuffed their beds with clothes to make it appear as though someone was in them, opened up the window (free of the screens or storms windows) and shimmied their way down the side of the house.  All according to plan, they were back in bed and fast asleep before Mom and Dad even got home.

The next day when we got up the boys were already sitting at the table bright and early with a notepad in front of them.  Dad was so mad at them that I thought he was going to drop them off at the orphanage like he kept talking about.  Instead, he told them to write down everything, and he meant EVERYTHING, that had happened the night before.  Jim's version (I think I left the toilet seat up.) and Terry's (I had a bottle of pop and might have left the cap on the counter.) differed greatly from Tom's who was filling up pages of notes regarding the alleged crime, including detailed drawings of the two neighborhood kids that crawled through the bedroom window after the game and hid under the bed until, Fritz, the blind dachshund sniffed them out and started barking.

Jean and I didn't know what was going on until Mom told us that when Sheila went in to check on the boys they were gone and she thought they'd been kidnapped.  By the time they got home she was beside herself, a nervous wreck shaking and crying over three boys in her care who had disappeared and then reappeared.

I couldn't imagine who would want those delinquents and I wasn't defending them, but I did tell Mom that Sheila was nervous long before they went missing as evidenced by my bad pincurl job.  "Oh for God's sake, Kathy, not now," is all Mom had to say about that.

Dad put the boys on a work release program that lasted for years and after that Mom said we were old enough to be on our own.  Well, that and because no teenage girl within a 30 mile radius of Chicago would agree to watch her godawful kids.

It wasn't long before there was a dinner dance at church and off they went - Mom all dressed up and wearing her lipstick and Dad smelling good and carrying the suitcase of scotch.  "I'm expecting you kids to be responsible now," Mom said.  "And you'd better behave yourselves," she added as her and Dad walked out the door.

And that was the night that the Indoor Dodgeball Tournament started.

Tom, our cousin Mike, Terry & Jim before they were delinquents.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Old Dog

We had to put our previous dog to sleep when the kids were young.  He was a bassett/beagle mix (quite a conversation starter in the park) who had lost his hearing, most of his eyesight and had arthritis in his back legs.  The kids cried and begged us not to let him go, but he was more than ready to move on beyond his misery.

A few months went by and we began to look for another dog.  I would go to the shelters and be overwhelmed.  All those big dogs barking at me felt like indigent beggars rattling their metal cups against the railings for a little porridge.

We heard about a dog adoption at Petsmart and loaded the kids in the car and went.  The kid part turned out to be not so well thought out.  They fell in love with all the dogs, especially the puppies, which is how we ended up with Henry.  A retriever/sheltie mix we were told that would end up to be about 40#.

Three kids and a puppy is a recipe for insanity.  The dog loved the kids and would cry and cry by the door as he watched them play down the street.  If the door wasn't closed all the way he'd bolt down after them and the whole neighborhood would give chase until they got tired and it was just me running and cussing at that damn dog.

He ate every pair of flip flops that were by the front door.  It was to my benefit that those are so cheap because I ended up buying every kid who came in to play in the basement a new pair.  He ate unattended chicken off the table or counter and whether it was cooked or not made no difference to him.

And all along he grew.  And grew.  And grew.

The 40# dog I was told I was getting was actually a retriever/chow mix that finally stopped growing at 85#.  I'd been duped and I looked at him with disdain.

You are making my life miserable you hairy beast.

He kept watch over the front door like he was a Brink's security guard and would lunge at it when the mailman or UPS guy came up the steps.  It would take years to break that habit.  One of the kids in the neighborhood walked in the door unannounced to get some water and Henry bit him in the stomach.  The kid freaked, I freaked, the dog chalked it up to a community service project.  I was sure we would be getting sued, but the parents were dog owners and instead of yelling at me yelled at their kid for going into somebody's house without knocking.

Henry's approval ratings had slipped into the negative.

With Maggie and Nathan close by now we walk him to their house when we're having people over, for he has never earned our trust around strangers.  It is a long, slow walk.  He is old now and like his predecessor is getting close to moving on.  He falls all the time, it hurts for him to get up, the steps to the backyard are getting too hard to go up and down, it is nearly impossible to get him in the car to go to the vet.

After the lab party we had here, Mark and I walked the few blocks to the kids' house to pick up our dog.  It was a beautiful spring night and Henry was in their backyard.  When we walked up the driveway every dog in the neighborhood started barking like crazy.

We let ourselves in the back gate and there was Henry.  His ears were perked up listening but he didn't get up and he didn't make a sound.  For the first time in thirteen years I finally had a crush on my big, hairy dog.

He and I are growing old together and are finally on the same page.....................having figured out that most things in life are rarely worthy of barking.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Coming Out & The Pursuit of Happiness

This is the story that's been begging to be written since I started this blog three years ago.  I wrote this months ago with thoughts that, depending on my courage, it may never see the light of day.  There are people in my family that I have never had this conversation with and all I can say is that I'm sorry.  I am sorry I haven't sat down with you and said all of this, but often it is easier to tell a  stranger than someone who loves this child.  

I can't explain why this is so.

Our son was born three weeks after my dad died.  I would have loved to have pulled the covers over my head and stayed in bed, and maybe I could have attempted that plan with his three year old sister.  A newborn, however, requires immediate attention and so I'd start my fatherless day caring for a hungry baby and a busy toddler, both of whom were counting on me to keep it together.

This boy baby required lots of keeping it together as he grew.   He was born with a surplus of energy and grieving for my Dad who was not around to know his namesake was a sorrow that often got put on hold.  For when morning broke, every single morning, that child would stand in his crib and bang it back and forth against the wall to let me know he was ready to start his day.

I slipped my dad's spirit into my pocket every day when I woke, and raised these kids and the sister that came later. .

I seemed to be living a rather charmed life (and yes I even had a white picket fence) until on a perfect fall day this son and his father were having an intense conversation that I walked in on in the garage.  He got up and scurried past me into the house and the charmed rug got ripped out from under me.

He had just told his dad that he was gay.

I let that revelation seep through me and then went in the house to find him.  Alone in the basement, he sobbed.  Heartbreaking, uncontrollable sobbing and when I hugged him he said, "I'm sorry, Mom.  I'm so sorry."

I held him tight and sobbed for both of us.

What followed next was my husband and I trying to make sense of our new reality when our first thought of each morning was that our kid was gay.  I always pictured myself as being the supportive, endearing friend of the mother of a gay kid..........much like a favorite sitcom.   He's great, you'll be o.k., there's worst things in lifeAt least you'll never have to deal with a  bitchy daughter-in-law.  Laugh track.  Instead, I felt like a mother whose kid had a target on his back and I was terrified for him.

I made an appointment with my priest friend.  As I looked out the window of his office at the fall trees while he talked, I wondered when the miracle of peace was going to descend upon me.  Or at the very least the handy, laminated prayer card I was going to need to reference when the court of public opinion had their say.  He had other plans for me.   He offered to call a mom who had walked down this path and who might be willing to talk to me, and within an hour of getting home I was pouring out my guts to somebody I'd never met.

She arranged for Mark and I to meet with a group of other parents like us.  All parents of boys.  All in various stages of acceptance.  At one gathering, one of the moms said to me, "You do know, you're the luckiest one here, don't you?"  That was news to me, but she said she found out her son was gay in the emergency room after he tried to kill himself.  "Your son talks to you guys.  He trusts you.  Don't forget that."

I clenched that observation of hers and never let it go, even to this day.

Learning to divorce myself from the Norman Rockwellish dreams I constantly replayed in my head was another story.  Every morning I drove him to school, often in silence.  "Are you and dad mad at me," he asked one day.  "No," I said wearily.  "We're not..  We're just trying to figure this out."  I drove home, walked in the door and said to Mark, "We cannot do this.  We cannot let him think for one minute that we're mad at him or that we are disappointed."  And so beginning that day we behaved differently.  In his presence we talked about school and cross-country and getting a drivers license.  When I dropped him off at school I'd cheerfully tell him to have a good day and beg God as I drove away to watch over not let some macho jerk give him a hard time.  Or worse. 

After that I'd go home and walk the dog.  Walking, crying and talking to my long-departed Dad was my daily routine.  Over and over I would mentally check off the names of every person I knew who was gay.  Are they happy?  What is their life like?  Why in the hell did I never ask them?  Or pay attention?

I thought of their mothers.

If I were to say that this journey was swift and easy, it would hardly resemble a real life.  Eventually, though, having a gay kid was not my first thought of the morning.  It was that I have three kids, and a new Norman Rockwell portrait began to take shape..

In the years since this has become part of our family story, I have changed in more ways than I could begin to count.  Profound ways.  I am fortunate to live in a time when even writing about this is possible.  My mother's generation or her mother's weren't able to be so open, and I know that I will owe these women for the rest of my life.  These women who dared not speak out loud of whom their son or daughter loved.  Women whose emotional health paid a heavy price because they were burdened by secrets.

I try to keep out the noise, but that is often difficult.  I have been more outspoken about politics that affect his life because he's my kid.  I know him.  He was born wild and kind with a third eye that immediately senses who is struggling and who needs the world to be more compassionate.  To be his friend is to know the most loyal person in the world.  On the rare occasion he gets a weekend free from school and work, he walks in the door and says the same thing every single time, "I'm so happy to be home."

These days I have the perspective of time to look back to when we struggled with all of it, and every day we would roam a labyrinth that led us to back to what we had always known.

He is everything we ever wanted in a son.

He is a shareholder in this kingdom.

He is our Will.