Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Drawing Names

As the kids got older they started buying Christmas presents with their own money. Not only did they buy for Mark and I, they'd also buy gifts for each other. They went on to get real jobs and one got a husband, and while we would always buy gifts for them I thought that the rest of the gift giving needed to be reined in. That's when our Secret Santa started and for many years it has been the highlight of the season for me.

Because Maggie and Nate usually travel to see his parents for Christmas, Secret Santa has been held before they left town.  It is an exuberant celebration, usually after a Sunday dinner that includes real napkins and lit candles seeing as how it is a special occasion. Like the exchanging of gifts, the name picking done weeks beforehand is equally exuberant.  The two married couples in the group cannot pick their spouse, you obviously can't pick your own name, and a toss back is allowed if you had the same name as last year's pick.

You would think that the drawing of six names would not be so difficult but draft day is one long drawn out affair - sometimes taking a dozen tries before it is settled.

Last year our celebration was on a Sunday morning as my nephew and his girlfriend were spending the night on their way to Illinois.  Doing Secret Santa in front of them would have been awkward and so the timing of our annual tradition got moved.

Maybe that's why things went awry. Or maybe it was because I didn't light any candles.

We gathered in the living room and like years before there was much excitement on Secret Santa Sunday. Who had whom? What did they get? Did they go off the list or go rogue? Was there going to be a shocker gift? The kind that makes the giftee squeal and jump and yell "HOW DID YOU KNOW I WANTED THIS????"

As the passing and opening and thanking went along we were down to two people - Maggie and Mallory. My son-in-law stood up, faked a move towards Maggie and then walked over to Mallory with his gift. Before he got to her I stood up and said, "NO NO NO NO NO NO. THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!!! I HAVE MALLORY!!  YOU CANNOT HAVE HER! SOMETHING'S WRONG HERE, PEOPLE. PEOPLE, DO YOU HEAR ME?? WE'VE GOT A PROBLEM." We all looked at each other and then at Maggie, who by then realized she had no gift from Secret Santa to open, and I wanted to fall on the floor and have the kind of meltdown my kids often had on Christmas day when they were toddlers. But I kept my tartan together and clenched a smile so tight I thought my porcelain covered molars were going to shatter in my mouth.

Maggie, stoic and six months along (the Mary so to speak) said, "It's okay. I don't need anything anyways."  To which I replied, "Well if this were about needs we wouldn't even be doing this because none of us needs anything," which is exactly the kind of Christmas downer you would expect from someone who had suddenly misplaced her ho.

As is our habit around here when shit hits the fan, we couldn't let it go.  No, we had to pick this cluster apart and analyze it to death. Both my son-in-law and I swore we had the right name. Could Mallory's name have been put in twice by mistake? Were we thinking of draw #8 or #9 instead of the final draw? Who the heck knew but by then the only person without a gift kept saying it was okay over and over until she started to cry which made me cry. Will, in an effort to lighten the mood, said, "You guys, just think, next year we'll be doing Secret Santa with a baby." Then he started crying and with that the Secret Santa train made its final descent.

After Maggie and Nate had gathered their things (which didn't take long considering...) and left, I stood up and said, "I don't care what anybody has to do this afternoon. I don't care if you are sick of shopping, sick of lines, sick of spending money, and sick of mall parking lots. I don't care if you have other plans, a football game to watch or Elf for the twentieth time. Everybody is going out and getting Maggie a present TODAY so that when those guys come back for dinner tonight with the cousins there will be gifts for her to open. Anybody got any questions?"

And there were no questions because the remaining Secret Santas were terrified of me.

We scattered to all points retail and that night when the blessed mother and her husband arrived on their donkey there were four gifts for her to open which really embarrassed her but we didn't care. We had made it right.

This year nobody screwed up thanks to Will (the official chair of Secret Santa and finder of drawingnames.com). There were squeals and surprises, and a few rogue gifts.

And there was a baby.






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.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Minus One

A few days before the birth of our first baby, Mark and I took a walk around our apartment complex. Tired of being pregnant, we walked a lot in those last few weeks in order to move things along with my labor.  This time we walked to a creek with a little wooden bridge over it.  We were leaning over the railing trying to find signs of aquatic life when a group of boys came barreling up on their bikes. Jumping off their Huffys, they all crouched down along the muddy bank and Mark asked them what they were hoping to find. "Crawdads," they all said.  "There's crawdads in this creek." They spent a few minutes poking around until most of them got bored and rode away. Two boys stayed behind keeping up the persistent search until one screamed, "GOT ONE!!!!  GOT A DEAD CRAWDAD PINCHER!" It was a like a call to arms and from every direction the boys who had abandoned the search came pedaling back to the creek to see the dead crawdad pincher for themselves and roll it around in their hands..

"I don't know what this baby is," I said to Mark, "but I've gotta have a boy before my baby making days end."

That first baby was a beautiful girl and a few years would pass before a boy entered our life.  He was a lot like the boys that we saw that day.  He brought home every crawling, slithering, hopping, flying and creeping thing that crossed his path, and our basement and backyard was a temporary nature center for the kinds of living creatures that I would have preferred to have been left where they were found.

*****

Two weeks ago we were eating Sunday dinner when Maggie told us about an accident that she had heard about a few hours earlier at the Schlitterbahn water park.  It happened on the Verrucht slide - the tallest water slide in the world and an ominous presence that all of us have seen dozens of times from the highway.  We read about it before it was built, saw it as it was being built and then the final product.  That final product made my stomach drop whenever I passed it.  There is another water park in town that we had taken our kids to a few times but by the time this one was built our kids were old enough to go on their own if they wanted to.  There were no takers for that kind of thrill seeking.

The initial details of the accident sounded horrific and I chose to believe that they couldn't possibly have been as bad as what people were saying.  The local news media reports were vague about the cause (and to date there are still ongoing investigations) but subsequent reports of the severity of the boy's injuries seem to be as awful as had been initially stated.

I can't stop thinking about this ten year old boy, his mom and dad who left their house that afternoon with four children and came home with three, the two women in the raft with this boy, the lifeguards at the top and bottom of the slide, the older brother who went down the slide first and was waiting for his younger brother to follow, the people in the park who saw too much on their way out, the police and fire department who responded to the accident.

A few days after it happened I was at work heating up my lunch when I said to one of the grad students in our office, "I can't believe what happened on Sunday to that little boy at the water park." And he said, "Geez, thank you.  It's all I can think about and nobody is talking about it around here. I can't even stop with the questions and the wondering and what the heck?  How did this happen?  How did they think that somebody wasn't going to get hurt on that thing?"  Every day that was the daily discussion between us until we exhausted ourselves on velcro straps, weight distribution, metal bars, nets, water slides vs. rollercoasters, a funeral, lawsuits.

Everywhere I have gone recently I keep seeing little boys.  At Target I overheard two boys talking about the pros and cons of a gaming system, on the drive home I passed some boys on their bikes headed to the public pool, at work a little boy came with his mom while she got her new school i.d., the boys up and down the street in my own neighborhood.

It was as if the Universe was saying you need to pay attention to our boys.

A few days after that accident happened two boys in Kansas City were shot and killed in their own home. They were cousins - one eight, the other nine and their grandmother said of the still unknown killers, "They have destroyed us." And then there is the heartbreaking photo of the shell-shocked and bloodied little boy in Syria whose picture will haunt most of us forever.

*****

About a year ago I came across something on a walk along the creek near my house. I didn't know what it was but I stuck it in my pocket and brought it home.  When I showed it to Mark he smiled, handed it back to me and said, "It's a dead crawdad pincher."

We need to pay attention to our boys.


Monday, August 8, 2016

The Innkeepers

Mark:  I'm going to take the extra soap and shampoo.

Me:  Why do you do that?  We don't need mini soaps and mini shampoo bottles.

Mark:  Yeah we do.

********

Mark has been going to Vermont for a bi-annual meeting since 1992 and every time he comes home he tells me that I need to go with him the next time. This summer was next time and he booked us at an inn in the town of Chester. Green, rolling hills and mountains, fresh air, peaceful lakes smooth as glass with not even the whisper of a boat motor or skidoo.  That state is a showstopper in the looks department.

We got into Boston, picked up our rental car and drove to Vermont via a few stops along the way including a fish and chips lunch on a coastal town in New Hampshire.  Land locked in Kansas, we are giddy as soon as we get a glimpse of water.  When we get out of the car and can smell the salty air we are ecstatic.  Things were off to a good start.  Our estimated time of arrival to the inn got delayed a bit by a driving rainstorm but I called to let them know we were on our way and would be there soon.  The inn is owned and operated by a husband and wife and the husband checked us in.  We walked up to the 2nd floor thumping our luggage behind us with each step and opened the door to Country Living circa 1980 and a full-size bed.  Decor wise there was plenty wrong with this room but the most glaring problem was the bed.  We weren't staying with relatives.  We paid for comfort.  "You didn't book a full-size bed, did you?" I asked Mark.  "I don't think so," he said in a manner that conveyed that he had no idea and didn't care.

The next morning we went downstairs to a breakfast buffet of bagels, fruit, waffles and scones.  Oh the scones!! They were fabulous.  We met Mrs. Innkeeper who was running the food show.  The Mr. showed up a bit later and told us that they take Sundays off and we wouldn't see them around after breakfast but that if we needed anything to ring the bell.

Mark had to make a trip to the conference center, register and pick up his packet.  He came back and picked me up and we went back to the opening night happy hour and dinner.  We let ourselves into the inn that night with our front door key and it was quiet.  Very quiet.

The next morning I drove Mark to his meeting and puttered around the small town we were in - going to all the shops and antique stores.  When I came back it was very quiet.  Mark had the afternoons off but he needed the first couple of days to get ready for his talk so we stayed around the inn and not once did I notice anyone else except Mr. Innkeeper who had decided that week to fix the roof that was outside our window. The following morning I drove Mark once again and came back to shower and head out for the day. It was eerily quiet again and when I ran into Mrs. Innkeeper I asked her if there were any other guests staying.  "Nope, you're the only ones.  There's usually not much going on the beginning of the week and then we start getting more guests closer to the weekend."  Oh, so that explains why it feels like we're squatters.

I picked Mark up and told him it was just us and Mr. and Mrs. Creepy Innkeeper.  "I don't like that guy," I said.  "He's not the least bit friendly.  He can't even make small talk.  Who owns an inn and doesn't even say good morning to his guests?"

The next day I overheard the innkeepers talking and he angrily said to his wife, "I'm never using that again. These people didn't even pay full price.  We got ripped off."  Was he talking about us?  I repeated to Mark what I heard and asked him how he booked our room.  "Booking.com."  "Was the rate really discounted because I think it's you and me that that guy was talking about."  Mark couldn't remember as the room had been booked and charged to our credit card months ago.

Going out the following morning there was a breakthrough at the front desk.  Mr. Innkeeper talked to me!!!!  "I have to go up on the roof again today.  Do you  know how hot it is up there?"  I looked at him.  He looked at me.  "I can only imagine," I said but upstairs my head was having a different conversation. What is your problem?  I didn't cause your roof to leak, I didn't put a discounted rate on booking.com and if I were going to complain about somebody who paid to be in my EMPTY inn I'd do it where they couldn't hear me.  How about you tuck that attitude back into your sweaty, innkeeper pants and take an online charm school class. Buster.

After those initial, awkward days we kept busy (and away) from the inn until well after dark - the last day being an incredible drive to Maine.  Upon checking out of the Bates Hotel, Mr. Innkeeper said to us, "Come back again and next time call me direct to book your room."

We flashed him a smile - the kind we usually reserve for door-to-door solicitors and thanked him for his hospitality hostility. On the way to the car Mark said, "That son-of-a-bitch was talking about us."

I patted my purse with its pilfered mini shampoos and soap and the extra scones from breakfast I had taken and wrapped in a napkin to be eaten later.  If the toilet paper wasn't prison grade I would have heisted a couple of rolls of that too.





Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Essentials

Before my daughter gave birth in March to Mabel, I accompanied her to Buy Buy Baby. Out of the newborn business since 1994, it was like stepping off the plane into a foreign country where the language, customs, and terrain were something hinted at in a book I once read but which now only vaguely resembled what I recalled.

I wandered the aisles of that baby megastore in amazement.  A humidifier in the shape of an elephant that blew a cool mist from its trunk, strollers in every shape and size (with a price point equal to the down payment we put on our last car), a warmer for baby wipes, diaper bags with a built-in changing pad, a motorized hammock that played music to lull bambino to sleep, a breathing monitor to clip on to the baby's diaper, a camera that mounts to the crib to watch the baby sleep.

I found myself saying, "I don't think you need that" over and over.  Me, the expert on baby essentials - a product of the 50s before even the most basic car seat had been invented.  While this seems ludicrous and dangerous now (because it was), most homes only had one car that Dad drove to work.  When Mom was home with the kids, Mom was home with the kids.  On those rare occasions when she did finally get to go out she made sure to leave her offspring at home with their father, and while he stood at his workbench in the garage organizing screws and washers into baby food jars, his kids kept busy by shoving things into outlets until they shocked themselves.

Things had changed drastically by the time my firstborn came along which, like me, amazed my mother.  Disposable diapers?  A box of wipes just for cleaning the baby after a diaper change?  A listening device to put in the baby's room so you can hear her while in another room?  What was this? The Jetsons?

In the work of bringing up baby things change fast, and I bet my daughter will feel whip-sawed by the available new breed of baby products in a few short years.  Despite the pressure and heavy marketing, most of the extras - used for a few months over a few years - will be sold for pennies on the dollar at the neighborhood garage sale.  Just as thrilling as it was to unpack the newest gadget to try out on baby, it is just as thrilling to unload it from the basement or garage.

And while all of those things make raising a baby easier the essentials are -

  • A wildly optimistic sense of adventure and humor
  • The ability to roll with the unpredictable
  • A standing agreement with your spouse that being on time for anything ever again is a ridiculous endeavor
  • The steadfast belief that you and your baby (even on your most challenging days) will grow alongside of each other in every way

Everything else ~ like wisdom ~ will get passed on.

*****

Me:  You need to take a long nap this afternoon because Grandma was up too late last night watching videos on YouTube.

Mabel: 

Me:  We'll nap together, bambino!

Mabel:

Me:  Mabel, are you listening?

Mabel:

Me:  Listen, kiddo, I promise you that your activity chair will still be there when we wake up from our, you know, nap.

Mabel:  *big smile*

Me:  Oh geez, Mae, let's skip the nap.  That thing does look pretty fun so I'll just keep staring at you until your mom gets home and thank all the baby stars in the sky that I get to watch you grow.





Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Hot Zone

Two years ago Mark and I took a road trip to Montana.  He was attending a meeting in Hamilton, where nestled in a small town in the Bitterroot Valley is the Rocky Mountain Laboratories.  Highly secure from the general public, it is where diseases, like salmonella, anti-resistant bacterial infections, MRSA, and Lyme are studied. Included in the research done at that facility is bio-terror threats.

Every night there were social events with the conference attendees and their significant others and we met scientists from all over the world.  On the patio of a French restaurant we ate dinner with a Canadian researcher whose team regularly travels back and forth to small African villages to collect samples when there is an outbreak of the Ebola virus.

After the conference was over we began to make our way north to Glacier National Park.  Our first stop was Missoula.  Maybe it was our inner cowboy/cowgirl bubbling to the surface, but it didn't take us long to start imagining ourselves living there one day.  With a farmer's market and summer fair in full swing that Saturday morning, we were smitten.  We parked the car and started hunting for a place to eat breakfast. When we stopped to look at the menu posted in the window of a coffee shop, a guy sitting at a table on the patio said, "If you're looking for the best breakfast in town you've arrived at the right place."  We stayed and he was right.

When we finished eating we wandered into the shops and art galleries and bookstores.  We wanted to stay longer but we had many miles to cover to make it to Glacier by dinnertime and so we headed back to where our car was parked.

A few blocks from the main drag we stood at an intersection waiting for the light to change and I noticed a guy (not much older than high school) standing on the other side of the street waiting to cross.  It looked like he was wearing a uniform and I assumed he was a security guard on his way to work.  When the light changed and we got closer we saw much more - a gun holstered on each hip and the brown uniform of a neo-Nazi.  Mark and I said nothing and walked quickly to the car where we locked the doors and looked at each other with a holy-shit-was-that-what-I-think-it-was-and-where-was-he-going look.

Amid the memories of that trip with its breathtaking landscape and the dozens of scientists committed to eradicating or preventing deadly infectious diseases, was the lone figure of that kid we passed who was no older than my own son.  In beauty and dedication the former should far outweigh the latter and most of the time it does. Sometimes, though, I go back to that crosswalk in Missoula and wonder how somebody gets up in the morning, puts on a uniform associated with Hitler, straps a gun onto each hip and heads towards the Saturday morning farmer's market.

How hard the good and the holy in this world have to work day after day to atone for the destructive.



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Old Guard

About this time last year we got a save-the-date card for a wedding the following May.  I had no idea who these people were.  There was no return address and only the first names of the couple were on the postcard.  I showed it to Mark and together we studied it for a good long while.  "I got nothing on this one," he said.  It took some digging and with the help of one of Mark's coworkers (who got the same card and was equally perplexed) we found it was the grandson of someone Mark has worked with for years.

The grandson Have we ever met this kid?

This spring the wedding invite came and I balked.  To be present to celebrate the nuptials of two people we didn't know seemed crazy to me.  Mark disagreed.  "This is important to Allen and his family and we should be there." I balked some more.  "You do know we have to get a gift, right?  We have to buy a wedding gift." Mark dug his heels in and since he rarely does that I mailed back the response card saying we would be more than happy to attend.

There we found ourselves with a table full of strangers in one of the loveliest event spaces in Kansas City.  We mingled and said our hellos to Allen and his wife.  Mark's previous boss and his wife, now retired, were there and when he saw his former roofer turned assistant professor hire from 24 years ago he said to me  "Shouldn't your old man be out fixing somebody's roof this summer?"

The food was fabulous, the bride and groom young, gorgeous, happy, and clearly crazy in love.  "What's your connection to the bride and groom?" was the round robin question around our table.  "Actually we don't know either of them but Mark works with his grandfather," I said, and then added, "but they sure seem adorable." If nothing else you can plop Mark and I in with a table of strangers and we can yak our way through the awkwardness.  We got up and danced when Stevie Wonder started playing, ate too many M & Ms off the candy table and had a great time.  Allen thanked us twice for coming and his kind eyes have always conveyed far more than he says.  Before he left, Mark's old boss stopped by our table and asked where Mark had gone off to.  "The bathroom I think."

"And he left you here alone?  That shithead."

These two are but a host of many key players in the early years of Mark's career and our first resources in navigating a new life in Kansas City.  They are brilliant, funny (oh so funny), still crazy about their spouses and their kids, proud of a career that has spanned decades, and proud of their contributions to science.

A few weeks later Allen retired and there was a party in his honor.  We have been to a few of these and often they have a funeral feel to them.  Mark put an end to that when he did a power point presentation that was hilarious and the highlight of the night.  I got a glimpse of the energy he brings to his workplace on a daily basis.

We were one of the last ones to leave the party which gave us a chance to talk to the grandson whose wedding we had just been to a few weeks earlier.  It was apparent how much he admires his grandfather and how much he resembles him in mannerisms and quiet strength.

With Allen retiring the old guard that has shepherded my husband through the trials, tribulations, and politics of a career in academia are mostly gone now.  Though it hardly seems possible Mark is now the old guard and I see in him some of the same traits as his mentors - brilliant, funny, crazy about his spouse and kids, proud of a career that has spanned decades and proud of his own contributions to science.

It has taken me this long to recognize that Mark believes that showing up on a Saturday night is part of his job, and that being present for the personal celebrations of the people who put their faith in him is dotted with fondness, gratitude and respect.  I will pick out a party dress, buy a gift for the young and darling who are madly in love, splash on some perfume, and stop complaining.

And I will remember to glance over my shoulder now and then to take note that his career has been paved with the gold of friendship.



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ordinary Summer Days

                                               ** Motor boat motor boat go so slow**
                                               ** Motor boat motor boat go so fast**
                                               ** Motor boat motor boat step on the gas**

In the summer when the kids were little I took them to the public pool every afternoon.  If the day's forecast was hot and sunny (but hot and overcast was never a deal breaker) I'd plow through the housework and laundry at a breakneck speed.  My wee ones would would scurry around picking up their toys under the threat of "We're not going to the pool unless you do your chores."

Who was I kidding?  The pool was as much for me as it was for them.  One time I ran into another mom who said her kids would just as soon not go to the pool and I thought "Not go to the pool?  Then what in the world are you supposed to do with them every day?"

It seemed that just when one Fisher kid graduated from the toddler pool to the main pool another pregnancy would send me and the newest bambino back a grade.  I learned from another mom that freedom for the older kid would come only after finding and buying the brightest colored swimsuit so that you could easily spot them from the confines of the baby pool.  When I was pregnant with Mallory, I befriended another pregnant mom that summer - her with baby #4 on the way to my #3.  Every afternoon we'd talk while entertaining our toddlers while simultaneously telling our older kids "No you absolutely can not have anything from the snack bar and didn't we talk about this before we left."  I wondered if she'd had her baby when a few days had gone by without seeing her.  A week later she was back with her newborn in a stroller parked in the shade.  By the end of July I'd follow her to labor and delivery and by early August my baby was parked next to hers. After that summer I never saw her again until twenty years later when I ran into her at a restaurant. "You probably don't remember me," she said.  "We were friends one summer at the pool."  Who forgets who they shared the foxhole of a summer pregnancy with?

Through those summers I bounced my babies in their floppy hats up and down in the water, held onto chubby toddler fingers saying "kick kick kick" while they proudly wiggled their legs back and forth, caught kids jumping off the side into my arms, heard "Mom watch this" a thousand times, tossed quarters from the side so they could dive for them, was Marco to their Polo, grabbed them when they came up choking on water, and played Motor Boat - twirling them round and round, faster and faster, until they motor boated right out of my hands.

"Again," they'd say over and over.

When it was time to leave we'd pack up our wet towels, sunscreen, and empty baggies of goldfish and drive home in a stifling hot car - bloodshot eyes and a trail of chlorine wafting behind us.  Exhausted from the sun and swimming, the three of them would flop on the floor and watch cartoons - too tired to argue over whose turn it was to pick.

Sometimes we'd go twice in one day - our standing afternoon date and then again after dinner when their dad could come along. He would play monster or dinosaur, chasing them, grabbing a hold of them and flinging them in the air. "Not so high," I would say. "Higher," they'd say and he could motor boat those slippery, little, squealing kids right into the deep end.  Swimming their way back to him they'd tap him and say, "Do it again, Dad."

One by one they peeled away from me and our trips to the pool  What kid in middle school wants to be seen anywhere with their mom and siblings?  My daily appointment with three kids got reduced to two and then one until eventually we stopped going all together.  You would think such a momentous occasion as the last trip to our favorite summertime place would be something I remembered but I don't.  The end came like many ends do - quietly and without a proper farewell.

I went back once more - by myself this time to the adult pool where the grass wasn't nearly as green as I had been led to believe. From where I sat I could see a new group of moms bouncing babies in floppy hats, pulling a toddler by their chubby fingers reminding them to "kick kick kick", all while keeping a watchful eye on the older ones who were step by step inching their brave toes into the deep end.

Take a snapshot, Mama, of these ordinary summer days I was tempted to say.  You don't know it yet but time is the fastest motor boat of all.




Monday, June 13, 2016

A Band of Mothers

"We have to be aware that there are people out there that would kill him for who he is."

"I know that but I am his mother.  If I dwell on that I'd never be able to get out of bed every day."

When our son told us he was gay I held on to that information for quite awhile.  I had to kick it around in my head and come to terms with what that meant for my plans for him.  Eventually, I realized that my plans had nothing to do with any of my kids and that their lives and futures were for them to dream.  Sure I could participate but being Head Planner was never my job. A few years ago I wrote something about that time in my life that got a bit of attention.  His coming out seems like eons ago so I tend to forget about it until I am jolted out of the ordinariness of having a gay kid.

I occasionally get calls from mothers asking for advice on coming to terms with the news they're processing that they have a gay son or daughter.  My first reaction is to cry for them because I know how hard those days are.  I might take it for granted for myself that this is not that big of a deal any more, but that day only came after a bucket of my own tears.  I listen to these moms with their worry and their fear and I get it.  Oh my God do I get it.  But after they've purged all that I tell them something else. 

I tell them that having a gay kid will be the best thing that ever happened to them. 

That this kid that's causing all this anguish at the moment will be the one that will open their eyes to a world that they could never have seen before.  I tell them that this son or daughter will point a very bright light on their preconceived notions about love, about faith, about commitment.  This child, I say, will show you in a thousand different ways how closed-minded you have been about a lot of people.  How quickly you judge, the faint smile of dismissal we are prone to give to someone we just don't care to know, the eye rolls and the heavy sighs because we don't approve.  You will be shocked, I tell them, at the regularity in which you do that, but when it's your own kid that could easily be the subject of that kind of behavior you start to pay attention to how you interact with everyone.  It will shove you so far out of your comfort zone you will think you're on another planet.  And then you will begin to change in ways that will one day make you proud of how far you have come.

Through a comment I made once on a blog, a teenage girl found me and what I had written about my son and started emailing me.  "I saw what you wrote.  Do you really think I can like girls and not go to hell?  My mother asked me once if I liked girls and when I didn't answer no fast enough she slapped me across the face."

"Oh dearie, I promise you that you will not go to hell.  I don't believe that's how this all works."

"I locked myself in my room to read what you wrote about your son and I cried so much.  I wish you were my mom."

We emailed a lot for awhile and then it stopped.  I will never stop wondering what happened to her.  Did her mom find out?  Did she get kicked out of the house?  Is she okay?

I will never know the answers to any of those questions.  I only know how I have chosen to live my life.  I understand the prayers of mothers in the beginning to not have anyone know their kid is gay.  I also know that this sends missed signals because I was guilty of that myself.  "I love you but for the love of God don't tell anyone."

There are some things I would do differently now with my own kid if only I could rewind. With the screw ups, though, comes the learning.  Recently a mom asked me, "How did you handle it with your friends and family? How did you tell them and not succumb to their disapproval?"

"Here's the thing about me:  I think I give off this vibe that I will not put up with that shit with my kid.  It has never been intentional but it's there.  I know it and so nobody has ever given me a hard time or tried to convince me that my kid made a choice that he can get bible-thumped out of.  I do not go there with anyone.  Ever.  My advice would be to do the same.  Don't ever entertain a conversation that isn't completely supportive of your kid.  You betray him when you do and that seems to me to be an especially ugly thing to live with."

The body count in Orlando stands now at 49.  That means forty-nine mothers got the worse news of their life.  Maybe they accepted their kid without hesitation, maybe they slapped them in the face when they didn't renounce their attraction to the same sex fast enough, maybe they didn't even know their kid would go to a gay bar.

The world for mothers in this club just got a lot more dangerous and that is a terrorizing thought to live with. When my son is going out with friends I always say "Please be careful." I say this to my girls, too, but when I say it to him it is code for "Please, please be aware of where you are and who is around you.  Don't get yourself into a place you can't get out of easily."  In other words, be very careful about how gay you are when you are in public.  Chalk that up to another mixed message and a dose of reality.

Will living his life, freely and safely, will always be a worry for his dad and me.  I have learned to live with that fear most of the time.  In Orlando there will be decisions for forty-nine mothers to make.  Funeral homes, pall bearers, the clothes to pick out for their kid to be laid to rest in.

It's not difficult for me to imagine being in their shoes.





Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I'm Not Your Girl

Before I got married I worked in Chicago processing insurance claims for a utility company.  There were four of us out front and we were referred to as "the girls."  We literally had stacks and stacks of bills rubber-banded by day on top of the filing cabinets.  If we could get through a couple of days a week we were doing okay but by the end of the year we were bombarded.  December, January and February were all six day work weeks.  On Monday, the boss would come in and say, "How'd you girls do Saturday?  Did you get a lot done?"  The girls pushed thousands and thousands of dollars in claims out the door every day.

When Mark was in graduate school I was the breadwinner and worked in a bank.  I'm sure I got the job because I waited two hours for the interview.  I was desperately seeking employment without much luck and had nowhere else to go that day.  I think they hired me out of guilt.  Whatever the reason I would stay there for four years until we moved to Maryland.

When I started I processed auto loans and would later move to mortgage loans.  Over on the mortgage side I would work for a real go-getter.  A young loan officer out to prove himself meant I was piled with an incredible amount of work to balance, type, copy and prepare for closing.  It was during that time that I got pregnant and my first trimester was a doozy.  Every day between 10-10:30 you could find me on the bathroom floor dry-heaving until I finally barfed into the toilet.  It was like clockwork every damn morning.  One time, Mr. Go-Getter knocked on the bathroom door, stuck his head in and said, "Are you almost done?  I need you."  When I came back to my desk he said, "I hope you're using that time for your break."

For two years I was the treasurer/VP of finance for the PTA.  Thousands of dollars passed through my hands from fundraisers to carnivals to the annual auction.  It was at the auction when we were closing out and trying to get everybody settled on what they owed that one of the dads said to me, "Let me take over here, honey.  I think I know money a little better than you do."

At my last job all money in and out came through my desk.  Thousands of dollars every day were my responsibility. I paid every contract and bill from the heating to the toilet paper for four buildings. I reconciled thirteen staff credit cards every month.  Every check for a donation, grant, membership renewal, or rebate from the electric company for switching to LED lights was my responsibility. When someone new joined the staff and my boss was taking her around to meet everyone, she said about me and my supervisor, "These are my girls."  I was 57 years old.

I have been a one-person crusader in my home these last few months for Hillary Clinton.  I argued with every person in my family on her behalf.  They wouldn't budge and neither would I.  You would think five against one would sway me (and maybe make me feel the bern) but it didn't so last night when she sealed the deal and gave her speech I was a weepy mess.  When she said, "This is because of you," I knew exactly what she meant. This was for the young woman on her first real job working six days a week shoving paper through a hopelessly clogged system.  For the puking mom-to-be trying to get through morning sickness and hold onto her paycheck nearly thirty years ago. For the volunteer treasurer being pushed out of the way by the man who knew money better than she did. For the woman who has worked for decades but was stunned into silence when introduced as "my girl."

That are many uncertainties in this election going forward but I think one thing has been settled.

We're nobody's girl.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Under Pressure

"If I die and wake up in the middle of a meeting in a room with florescent lights I will know that I am in hell." ~Fr. Matt

"I highly doubt that's going to happen but preach on, Padre." ~A Speckled Trout

Every Tuesday morning I have to go to the weekly staff meeting.  Since I mostly push paper and am not a decision maker of anything more than when I should take my lunch break most everything doesn't apply to me.  My presence, however, is required.  The beginning of each meeting starts with everybody sharing their highs and lows.  This was confusing to me during that first week of employment as I had nothing to report.  A comfy chair and an office Keurig could be a high, I suppose, and so I decided that would be my response when it was my turn.  Imagine my surprise when this was not business highs and lows but rather personal ones.

This exercise instantly got better because now I could learn a little something about my new coworkers and they about me and my exciting life.  Normally one to prefer to not speak up and have all eyes on me, I instead embraced this opportunity to tell everyone what was going on outside of my office life.  A daughter having a baby, another one about to graduate college, the Listen To Your Mother show in May....  I could go on and on with the highlight reel of my life, and being a team player I mostly kept it all high.

Driving to work every Tuesday I would mentally go over my weekend and think about what I was going to say to charm and entertain during my five minutes of highs and lows.  When I was two-timing and also doing my retail job over the holidays my coworkers loved my stories of crazy customers - especially the one who insisted to me that angels were not religious.  Sometimes it felt like I was doing stand-up for a new career path and maybe I was.  So imagine my surprise one Tuesday morning when instead of being asked to relate our highs and lows it was decided to switch things up and inquire....

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE DAY?

What?

Going first one of my coworkers said, "At night when I get to go to bed.  I am not joking."  She totally took what I was going to say as the first thought of many mornings is calculating how many hours of adulting I have to fake before I can call it good and climb back into that tempur-pedic.  I was in a pickle.  The high and low I had practiced had to be trashed and I was under pressure to come up with something different and so I said, "It would have to be the morning.  First thing when I wake up and the birds are singing.  They have so much to say so early!  Secondly, would be the first slug of coffee and how it courses through my veins like a blood transfusion from the American Red Cross.   Lastly, my flower garden that is right outside the front door that I pass on the way to the car to get to work.  All of a sudden it has sprung to life."

My coworkers smiled and nodded.  "Oh that's good," they said.  "Especially the coffee part."

And I smiled back and thought, "That might have been the biggest line of bullshit I've ever said out loud."  I hate the mornings.  If the birds wake me up I want to yell at them to PIPE DOWN.  If they don't beat the alarm in waking me up I want to throw that beeping thing that practically gives me a heart attack every morning out the window - quite possibly at the chattering birds.  The coffee part was true.  The garden?  That was an unnecessary flourish to a mostly false answer.

I dreaded the next meeting and what was suddenly going to be asked in the getting-to-know-you-question-of-the-week.  Fortunately we u-turned back to our regular routine and I was in my comfort zone.  "My high was a relaxed weekend puttering around the house, getting caught up on laundry and grocery shopping.  I do have a low this time, though.  The Good Wife ended and that has been my Sunday night ritual for years."

Cue the sad, pouty face.  I was back in the high/low business.

The next week we had our regular staff meeting - smaller in attendance and in a different conference room and I was ready.  "My high?  Going to my mother-in-law's 85th birthday party where we saw people we hadn't seen since we got married over thirty years ago.  My low?  You guys, the security line at Midway Airport in Chicago.  It snaked clear to the parking garage and it was at the crack of daylight on a Sunday morning."  They might ask me a few questions about TSA and my mini-trauma and then we'd move on to my right and another employee with their own set of highs and lows.

Imagine my surprise when once again the script was thrown overboard.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS SUMMER?

Who is reading the HR manual all of a sudden?

I s.c.r.a.m.b.l.e.d.  "I would have to say that I am most looking forward to the sun since it's been so cloudy and rainy lately and the heat.  Definitely the sun and some good 'ol summertime heat."

It was an out-of-body experience this big, fat lie of mine.  It sounded like it was coming from the deepest recesses of a lying heart that resembles you-know-who-Trump.

I hate summer.  The sweat, the frizz, the relentless droning of the air conditioner, the stinky sandals. But mostly I hate summer because so many women seem to pull it off so well with their sundresses, casual ponytails, sun-kissed skin and perfectly minimal makeup.  Why do they taunt me and my beady sweat 'stache with their coolness?

"Huh," a coworker said,  "I wouldn't have guessed you to be a summer person."

This would be true because on every other day of the year I am neither a summer person nor a morning person - just a working girl whose only decision is when to eat the salad she brought from home and the big, fat lie she's going to pull out of her pocket when the highs and lows are no longer a priority on Tuesday morning.

"If I die and wake up in the middle of a meeting in a room with fluorescent lights I will know that I am in hell." ~Fr.  Matt

"I make shit up." ~A Speckled Trout



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Closing Circle

For as long as I can remember my mom has been a frequent wake and funeral attendee.  As kids, we were going-to-church-clothes-regulars at the Fred C. Dames Funeral Home, where just above the casket hung a bunch of water-colored grapes on the wallpapered walls.   Back in those days a wake would be at least two full days and my parents believed that loading up the station wagon with all of us was an essential learning experience in life and death.  Since I was freaked out just by walking in the door of Fred's place, I kept my eyes glued on the grapes for fear that whoever was in the casket that year would pop up and scare the sweet jeezus out of me.

Whenever Mom tells me about a recent wake or funeral that she has been to I will always ask, "And how was it?"  She predictably says the same thing every time, "So-and-so looked good and you'll never believe who I ran into there." One time she went to a wake and on the way out passed a room that was empty except for the person in the casket.  "I decided to go in there and sit for a bit," she said, "because I couldn't imagine how anybody could die and not have a single person there to pay their respects."

"Well, Mom" I said, "maybe the family went out to get something to eat."

"Somebody should have stayed behind," she answered.  She would later add in almost a whisper "Kath, he was a professor." I didn't know if this was a simple fact she was passing along or a warning to share with my professor husband that he better start working on his people skills or he'd end up in a funeral parlor alone save for a stranger passing by.  "I stayed for a bit and said a few prayers," she said.  "It seemed like the least I could do."

*****

A few weeks ago I was driving around running errands and thinking about the father of my childhood friend.  Nancy and her dad had a falling out when her mother died that was never mended.  About that wake Mom said, "That might have been the worst one I've ever been to.  Nobody was talking or even looking at each other.  You could cut the tension with a knife."

Many years would go by after that when Mom told me that she had heard from Ed who had called to tell her that he had reached out to his daughter.  He was in the throes of a deep depression and his therapist thought that writing a letter and trying to repair his relationship with his estranged youngest child would be helpful to his recovery.  Nancy called me after she read the letter and was livid.  I listened once again to her litany of accusations but for the first time I didn't let her off the hook.  With my own dad gone even longer than her mom, I couldn't imagine having a father still alive but acting as if he were dead.  Sharing those thoughts with her would end our friendship as my perceived allegiance to her dad was enough for her to cut ties with me as well.

Since he was like a second dad to me growing up I decided I'd respond to him with my own letter.  The specifics of it will stay on those written pages, but I wanted to thank him for many things including being so good to my mom and dad when my dad was so sick.  He called me when he got the letter, and on a trip home awhile later he and Mark and I met for breakfast.  He carried a Ziploc bag with him that included old photos of him and Nancy's mom, the second wife he would be married to for a few short years before she would die of cancer, photos of grandkids, and the letter I wrote him.  "This is my important stuff," he said.  "You see what's in here, right?"

With Ed on my mind so much that day, I decided that since we were going to Chicago soon I'd call him and see if he wanted to meet again for breakfast.

That afternoon Mom called.  "I have some bad news," she said.  "I just got a phone call.  Ed died this morning."

Ed died this morning?

All morning I had been thinking of him on the very day he died?

A few days later Mom would call back to tell me about Ed's wake.  She would say that my childhood friend was a no show but that she talked to Nancy's older sister and her husband.  About Ed she said "He looked good" and then added, "he looked like he didn't suffer."

Those words stung because my mom had never said anything like that before, but at 88 she's grieved for more than her fair share of people who have suffered on their way out.  I don't know anyone who has lost more people in her life - her husband, friends from church, friends from the old neighborhood and the new neighborhood, friends from high school that would always go to reunions with her, two full-term stillborn babies, a niece and nephew, a brother-in-law, two sister-in-laws, cousins, the spouses of cousins.  The list goes on and on, and instead of being sad about Ed, my sympathy suddenly turned towards my mom and her circle - a bigger-than-life tribe throughout my life that has gotten smaller and smaller as the years go by and the deaths accumulate.  How she must miss them all.

When the last of my mother-in-law's brothers died she said, "I can't believe I'm the only one left.". My grandmother, who lived to be 97, once said to me, "You don't want to live this long, honey.  You don't have any friends left."

No friends left?  Whatever in the world must that be like?

If it's true that when someone dies their energy dissipates into the world, the dearly departed, including Ed and a professor whose name she never knew, have been keeping Mom company for a very long time.....

......and while it certainly isn't the same as having them here in this life it is how she has lived without complaint.





Monday, May 2, 2016

The Show

When asked if I would consider being part of the team to bring Listen To Your Mother back to the stage in the Kansas City area, I said "yes" when I had no idea what that "yes" would entail.  My own experience when I was in the cast, however, was so life changing that to not consider doing that for other storytellers seemed selfish. 

A hundred times in the months leading up to the show I said to myself, "Oh, honey, you are in so over your head." Every Friday on my day off I cold-called businesses, pitched the show and practically begged them to consider sponsoring.  I heard "no" so much that after a couple of hours of that weekly rejection I would hold my head in my hands and think "how in the hell are we going to pull this off." I made in person cold calls and follow-ups that didn't go much better, but I asked them to at least consider going to the show to see for themselves how wonderful it is.  A couple of months later when the posters were done I called on them again saying, "Here you go.  Here's everything you and your customers need to know about this show."

When it was time to get those posters and then programs done I thought that there was no way I could deal with graphic designers and a printing company without looking like an idiot.  Sometimes that was exactly how I looked because even now I have no idea what a pixel is.  They didn't hold it against me and instead walked me through what they needed so both of us were satisfied with the end result.

Through it all I had a partner in Greta - someone I barely knew when we started.  It was a blind date that quickly turned the corner into an engagement.  We bounced ideas off of each other.  She would prop me up through my weekly sponsor rejection.  When the graphic designer emailed with a question or problem, Greta would jump in and take care of things if I wasn't able to respond right away.  Most importantly, it seemed when one of us was feeling the stress the other would instinctively know and help carry the load.

We also had a national team behind us that was phenomenal.  If you had a question there was an answer within minutes.  If you felt like things were going south there was a phone call.  If you wondered how teams in other cities did things you need only ask the Facebook group and you would have a dozen people weighing in with their thoughts and unending cheerleading.

We went into this without any idea of the kinds of stories that would show up when we put out the casting call.  Nobody told us how hard it would be to decide what pieces would be in the show. We heard so many good stories that we easily could have doubled the size of our show.  Ultimately, we put together a cast that would spend nearly two hours taking the audience through the hills and valleys of motherhood in the most spectacular way.

It would be impossible not to love this cast.  They are funny, gregarious, soulful, complicated, smart, wise.  They are kind.......the sort of kindness and gentleness that catches in my throat whenever I think of them.  They laughed at the funny stories and cried with the sad and tough ones every single time.  They are everything you could ever need or want in a girlfriend.  When they came back onto the stage at the end and the whole place erupted in cheers and a standing ovation, I was so proud of them.

After the show when we were having dinner, my son asked, "So what did you learn from all of this?"

I learned that I am capable of doing far more than I give myself credit for.
I learned that all of us feel connected by the stories we hear and share.
I learned that being part of being something bigger is an honor.
I learned that, like motherhood, providing the means for someone else to shine might be the most satisfying thing I have ever done.

I learned that I love to keep learning.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Say Something....I'm Giving Up On You

The Kansas City version of Listen To Your Mother is this Sunday.  It has been a labor of love - months and months in the making.  I have met a dozen new and amazing women - all the gypsy kind of souls I am drawn to.  

I have written many stories in my head but have had no time to get them written here between work, a beautiful new granddaughter and getting this show to the stage.  Please don't give up on me.  After this week this little space won't be so neglected and we will meet here again on a more regular basis.

xoxo
k.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Smell Test

A few weeks before I left my job last year, I had to go to Office Max to get 1099 forms to send out to the contracted providers we had hired the previous year.  As I had a legit excuse to play hooky for a bit, I wandered the aisles looking at pens (oh my GAH the pens!!), notepads and organizers.  It was a dreamy field trip for a Girl Friday who loves organizational tools but wants somebody else to pay for it.  Seeing as how I was sent on a mission by the The Man, however, I eventually stopped pining for what I couldn't have and got my boring tax forms and made my way to the checkout line.

Ahead of me were three businessmen.  I don't know what their business was.  Wait, I take that back.  Their business was to put on a suit and tie and look businessy while bathing in nicotine.  It overpowered the Please Wait Here For The Next Available Cashier line like a nuclear cloud and made me want to gag.  I breathed through my mouth while waiting - one snafu after another at the register that lengthened my time in line.

I didn't know how much more I could take when somebody came and stood behind me in line.  It would get worse.  His body odor was so bad it made the nicotine seem like a dodge through the Perfume Lady Patrol at Macy's in December.

I was the filling in an Oreo cookie of stink.

Maybe that was the final assault in an already fragile work situation because a couple of weeks later I'd be out of that place for good.  I took a lot of baggage out the door with me when I left, including a lasting memory of that stinky line that will not go away.  

One year later it is still tailgating me.

When I get home from work I walk in the front door and take a deep breath.  In the event that something funky has gone down in the village while I've been gone I start flushing it out. Garbage?  Dog pee?  Towels left in the washing machine?  Litter box?  A potato gone bad?  I hunt Smelly down like Elmer Fudd, and if toting a shotgun over my shoulder and ka-blamming the daylights out of it would take care of the problem I'd get one. 

"Don't you smell that?" I always ask Mark.  He shakes his head, sinuses so packed he'd be a case study for any Ear, Nose and Throat doc.

"How can you not smell that??!!  It's so gross," I say, nose to the ground like a bassett hound.  Sniffing, sniffing, sniffing.  "It's in this general vicinity," I tell him waving my hand in a circle and sheesh, why hasn't anybody thought of a radar and a Clorox drone for this kind of thing?  Cleaning supplies at the ready, I rejoice when I find the Culprit of Odor.  "Success, people!! I have saved us once again."

One time Will told me that his friend said our house was the only one she'd ever been in that had cats and didn't smell like it had cats.  "She really said that?  Oh geez, Will, I think that's the nicest thing anybody has ever said about this house.  Really.  Tell her that I said that," I say tearing up while simultaneously patting myself on the back.

The other day Mark and I were at Target looking for floss when it settled over Health & Beauty.  The dreaded Body Odor in the toothpaste aisle, taking me back to that memorable day in Office Max.  "Oh geez, I can't do this" I whisper to Mark.  "It smells so bad.  Tell me you can smell that?" Packed to the gills with pollen he looks at me and says, "It's April.  I got nothing getting through until the first hard freeze in November."

I stand alone in my misery and cannot figure out how these shoppers in Target can go about their business like there isn't the smell of locker room in the toothpaste aisle.  I pull my shirt up to my nose and take a deep whiff.  Is it me?  Negative.  I work in an office.  The only time I sweat during the day is when my boss walks by my desk and sees me on my phone for the thousandth time.

I notice two hipsters are at the other end of the aisle.  It has to be them.  Those hipsters might brush their teeth but they probably don't do boring, conventional stuff like bathing or washing their clothes.  "I see you hipsters," I say telepathically.  "Thinking you're so cool and all feeling the Bern.  Well, here's a bern for you.  You're smelling up my Target."

They don't seem to connect telepathically.  Weirdos.  They mind their own business, get some toothpaste and move on.

I go after them.

What? 

Yes.  I follow them to housewares.

I had to find out if they smell so I stalk them until I find some cute, and I mean really cute dishes.  Our dishes are at least twenty years old.  Why don't we ever think about replacing this crap?  Where did Mark go?  I start to go look for him and then remember why I'm there in the first place.

Oh yeah, confronting smelly hipsters.

I trail behind them once again and pretend to look at dishtowels and am surprised by what I discover.  The hipsters do not stink.

It's 8:30.  The store announces that it's closing in thirty minutes.  I go find my husband.  I feel like a failure. I have not rooted out this smell, and doesn't Target know that all the cute housewares and Who What Wear in the world won't save them if they smell bad?  I mull this over on the drive home and realize that in the next emergency (and there will be another because this is a trend) I must first place the oxygen mask securely over my own nose and mouth before worrying about that of another. 

My husband is a lucky man.  He can't smell a thing.  I'm a proud woman.  My house doesn't smell like cats. 

At the end of another smelly spin around the sun the only people we can save is ourselves.