Sunday, December 31, 2017

Memories and Mistakes

This morning's sermon at church was about mistakes. Sometimes, good things come out of them, of course. Sometimes not. The one thing I tell my daughter is that if you make a mistake, just own it. If you've wronged someone, apologize (even if you don't think you're entirely at fault). I'm reflecting on two recent mistakes I've made, and kicking myself quite a bit.

We have a roller rink in town (well, there's a church that sort of doubles as a roller rink, but there's only one "real" roller skating joint that I know of). The rink gets abysmal Google reviews. A lot of people around town have a lot of anger aimed directly at the owner. As far me, I know the rules of the establishment so I basically just abide by them. You have to put your gear in a locker. They will give you part of your change in quarters just so you can't say you didn't have quarters for the locker. I'm sure that they've had people (on skates) trip over errant jackets and boots (plus the occasional theft, I'm guessing), so that's the policy. If you get caught with gum in your mouth, you might end up in a headlock. I assume that the owner has spent time scraping gum off the skate floor, so there ya go. And for the love of God, if you know what's good for you, you will tuck in your laces when you return your damn skates. So yeah, it's a bit strict around there.

The kid and I were looking for something to do yesterday, so we decided to go rollerskating. Unbelievably, one woman was working. She would let a few people in, collect their money, and give them tickets for skate rental. Then she would run over to the skate rental and help a clump of people. Then back to the front door again. "Here comes another shitty Google review," I thought to myself. The place had been open 1/2 hour and we still didn't have skates. The session only runs from 1-3 p.m. Eventually another employee showed up and started helping with the skate rentals. At one point yesterday, they turned off the music until the people who left jackets sitting around a) admitted to it and b) locked them up. "Locker Nazi!" I heard one guy mutter.

A few minutes later, we had our skates and were having a good time on the skate floor. I heard a commotion and then saw a young woman lying on the carpeted area. I heard someone say her wrist was broken. Yikes. She stayed there until a man came into the building and led her out. I tried not to stare but she looked pretty wrecked. I'd be surprised if it wasn't broken.

There were a lot of younger kids there for the afternoon session. The rink offers those PVC pipe contraptions on wheels to help new skaters get around.  I spotted a couple of girls shooting those plastic wheeled helpers across the skate floor to each other. An adult was with them and I was surprised that he didn't put a stop to it. It was clearly stupid and dangerous. About an hour later, as the skate session was winding down, I was doing a few last laps around the skate floor. I saw these same two girls, about to whip the wheeled pipe thing from one to the other. It was going to cross my path directly. I decided I would just lean down and try to grab it. Apparently no one else was going to do anything about it. However, something went wrong and my feet went out from under me. I ended up running into a little girl who was skating nearby. She was also clinging to a training apparatus (but was not involved in any of the shenanigans of the other girls). I knelt down near hear and offered to help her up. "I"m so sorry!" I said. I exited the skate floor. I saw that the girl's mom had retrieved her from and had her sitting in a chair. I clip-clopped over to them, doing that awkward skates-on-carpet thing.

"I'm so sorry I ran into your daughter," I said. "I was trying to stop the wheeled thing from whipping across and hurting someone, but I fell. I feel terrible."

She was not having it. "You hit her hard! I saw what you did!" All I could do was to apologize. I had made a mistake and I did in fact topple her daughter. Honestly, if I were her, I'd be mad at me, too. She didn't see the other stuff that was going on. I'm not in the habit of tattling on children but in retrospect I should have made one of the frazzled employees get out there and stop it.

The mom then proceeded to round up her other mom friends, exclaiming loudly and stabbing her finger in my direction. I felt terrible. She doesn't know me. She doesn't know that I'm not the type of person who run into someone on purpose, particularly not a child. I still feel shitty about it. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning.

The second mistake of the weekend happened this afternoon. My daughter and I served a meal at a local homeless shelter along with some friends from our church. Because A is under 13, she can't be in the kitchen area serving. However, she can serve desserts from a table in the cafeteria. Today's lunch included nachos, so I was serving cheese and sour cream, while the kid was doling out brownies and cookies.

A youngish kid came through the line. I don't know how old - late teens, maybe? He seemed to be on his own. He was wearing a McDonald's visor and a big black jacket. He pulled out his phone and started talking to my daughter. He said he was putting together a musical and wanted A to audition. He started talking about a movie that's currently playing, "The Greatest Showman." I could see that my daughter was flattered that he was paying attention to her. I smiled politely and said, "Thanks, but she's already in two productions plus a touring choir." He said something about how I was getting in the way of her dreams.

Finally, he sat down to eat but then he came back once the shelter's meal supervisor called for seconds. He kept wanting to show my daughter various pictures on his phone. I glanced over to make sure it was nothing that seemed inappropriate. We were trying to serve people while he was talking. Then he started telling her how he is going to take this big production on tour and that he will be traveling the world. The story was getting bigger by the moment. I heard him say that she'd get free tuition and that she could bring her parents when they tour out of the country. He also seemed to be talking about the movie Moana for some reason.Then he said she should find him on YouTube. Um, no.

As our shift neared its end, my daughter and I went back to the kitchen to dispose of our serving gloves. We were both covered in sour cream spatters. "Mom, is there a back door we can go out? He's still out there."

It was then that I realized that I should have done more to protect my child. While she had been flattered at first, I had let it go on for too long. We headed back into the cafeteria to cut through and walk back to the parking lot. He swooped towards us immediately, waving his phone at us. He started to say something but I cut him off. "She's 12. She can't talk to you anymore." He started to protest but I guided my child out the door. Once again, I had done something stupid and was feeling awful. If this ever happens again, I will throw politeness out the window and fix the situation ASAP. I probably should have been more like that mom at the roller rink who was so mad at me for hurting her child.

My daughter and I talked about it on the way home. I had become distracted with serving food and hadn't fully seen how uncomfortable she'd become. "I think he was harmless," I said, "But I'm very sorry that I didn't do a better job of protecting you." I tried to explain that I think the young man was probably a bit delusional. I didn't want to say, "He's being served at a homeless shelter - I don't think he's about to tour Europe." And yet, odds are that he's not working with famous artists and putting together a massive production. Maybe talking big is how he copes.

Tomorrow is a new day and I'm going to do my best not to stew over these incidents. Like I tell my daughter, all you can do is to apologize and try to do better next time.

2017 is winding down pretty quietly for the most part - at least in our home. I'm currently doing laundry and, I don't mean to brag, but I just ran the steam cleaner over all the carpets. P is working tonight and the kid is having a friend over for a slumber party. Here is a piece of good news: it's been exactly one year since our girl Glinda joined us. She has been such a wonderful addition to our family. Sure, she has allergies and is awfully clingy, but she's really just the sweetest dog.

For about the past week, I've been painstakingly downloading over 1500 images and videos that I had stored on Photobucket when my daughter was a newborn/toddler. I no longer store anything there (or at least I don't add anything new), but the site has become full of ads and spam and is impossible to use. I guess I can't complain - I got about 12 years of free storage out of it. I wanted to download everything before I lost access to it altogether. And wow - what a walk down memory lane! I kept finding myself thinking, "I remember those shoes! I remember when she only wore dresses and called her dad 'Father'!"

Anyway, just for my own amusement, I'll add a few of my favorites here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

After you get a tattoo, I recommend getting hit by an uninsured motorist

My mom flew in for a visit on December 7th. She was here until the 16th. The first few days of the visit went swimmingly. We attended a festive Holiday Pops concert at a local theater on Friday. The next morning, she and I headed to my favorite (well, only) tattoo artist lady. We got matching tattoos of Bobby Shafto from the Richard Scarry Mother Goose book. When we got to the shop, I opted to go first. I wanted to get it done so that I could run to a nearby shop and do a little Christmas shopping while my mom was getting inked. About an hour and a half after I climbed into the orange tattoo chair, Bobby Shafto came to life on my left ankle, forever waving to his love on the shore as he embarks on his sea voyage.

Then, it was my mom's turn. She got situated in the orange chair and Tara got started with the needle. The look on my mom's face put me in a bit of a panic. Clearly she was not expecting this level of discomfort. I was worried that she'd bail on the process and then be left with a couple of random (and very definitely permanent) black marks on her leg. "Keep breathing," I suggested. "In through the nose and out through the mouth." She gave me a look that made me wonder if she was thinking of taking away my ability to breathe permanently.

By mid afternoon, we had matching tattoos. My mom was glad she did it - just a little surprised at how sharp the pain is. It's very difficult to describe the pain of a tattoo until you've had one.

Later that evening, we headed to the annual winter concert for the city choir of which my daughter is a part. It was a beautiful show and made all of the driving to/from rehearsals worthwhile.

Sunday was when things took a turn. The kid and I headed to church that morning. My mom wasn't up for it as she was tired from being dragged all over town by her daughter. After church, the kid and I drove home and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out again - this time, with my mom in tow. We had 1:00 tickets for a Christmas show about 30 minutes from home. I bought the tickets back in October to make sure we had great seats (fourth row). I'd been looking forward to the show since then. At a few minutes past noon, I was running out of time to finish my sandwich so I threw it in a baggie and we headed out.

Just steps from my house, there is a fairly sharp curve in the road. The neighbors who live on that curve mostly hate the damn thing. Drivers tend to miss the curve and take out mailboxes. People drive far too fast coming through there. I rounded the curve and straightened my wheel. After the curve, the road is a straight shot until the next intersection. I could see a white car coming towards me from the other direction. As he got closer, I could see that the car was moving way too fast and would never make the curve. There was a little bit of snow on the ground from a recent snowfall. This was a residential street with no shoulders, nowhere to go. As the white car crossed over the yellow line and came right towards our car, the best I could do was to brake and bank right into what little space was available there.

The impact came immediately, hard and fast. The white car hit my Equinox head on, forcing my car to jump the curb and plow into a mailbox post. The three of us were stunned. I had a jumble of thoughts all at once: Was my baby okay? My mom? Why hadn't the airbag deployed? We were going to miss the show. I started to exit the vehicle. The bulk of the impact came on the driver's side (head-on for the other car). The metal crunched as I struggled to open the door. I tried to make eye contact with the other driver. He looked young. Maybe 20-22, with dark hair. Skinny. Suddenly, he threw his car in reverse, backed up, and then drove forward. He looked up at me and held up one finger as if to say, "One minute. I'll be back in one minute."

Meanwhile, one of my neighbors ran outside in her bare feet and yelled, "GET HIM, STUART!" at another neighbor, who happens to be a retired police officer. Stuart jumped in his Jeep and drove after the kid. Moments later, the white car (with its wrecked front end) and the Jeep came back to the accident scene. I'm not sure if the kid was going to come back anyway, but I appreciated that my neighbors were so quick to pitch in. To be honest, the mister and I tend to stick to ourselves so I felt especially grateful that they came to our rescue even without knowing us very well.

I called my husband and then called 911. Or at least I think I did. It's a bit of a blur. My attention turned to my daughter, who was crying her eyes out and shaking. She was physically okay but was inconsolable. At the moment of impact, her first words were, "Mom! Are you okay? Are you okay?" I get on her case about being self-absorbed, but she really is a caring person when it comes right down to it.

While we were waiting for the police to come, my ex-cop neighbor guided me into taking photos of the accident scene. The snow told the whole story - the tire tracks from the other car crossed WAY over the line and headed straight for my car, which was currently in rough shape. The windshield washer fluid tank had been punctured and was spewing the blue stuff into the snow. The front wheel on the driver's side was bent inward, meaning the car could not be driven. The people whose mailbox had been hit were standing in their driveway. I felt bad for them.

Meanwhile, my mom and daughter were ushered into my neighbor's Jeep so that they could keep warm. My daughter had stopped crying by then. I was glad we were mostly uninjured. My neck hurt from my head snapping to the right when the impact happened. My mom was developing bruises from her seat belt. My daughter had been sitting behind my mom. I was glad that the point of impact was on my side instead of theirs.

I could hear the kid who hit me wailing about how he doesn't have insurance and is screwed. Honestly, I might have felt a little bit sorry for him (I mean, he is young, and young people make mistakes) if he had not tried to leave the scene of the accident. That was the part that seemed unforgivable to me. Apparently, he had been driving his girlfriend's car. She walked up to the scene and read her boyfriend the riot act. She then surveyed the damage to my car and apologized. She was crying, so I gave her a hug. She seemed nice. I felt like telling her that as far as boyfriends go, she could do better.

The police came and made their report. The other driver was given tickets for no insurance, and for driving too fast for conditions. Much to my surprise, he was not ticketed for leaving the scene. After the police were done, we managed to pull my car off the broken mailbox post and pushed it so that it was parked near the curb.

Still stunned, I walked home and started the claims process with my insurance company. They said that a tow company would come in a day or so to get my car and haul it to a certified collision center. The rest of the day passed pretty quietly.  Our day had been ruined, but I decided to give my mom her Christmas gifts just to lighten the mood a little.

At around 7:30, I took a shower and put my pajamas on. At just after 8, I heard a hard knock at the door. I didn't plan to answer it but thought I'd better check the peephole. It was the neighbor who had run outside in her bare feet eight hours earlier. "Your car's been hit again," she said. I was having trouble processing what she was saying. Nonetheless, I got dressed, threw a hat on my head, grabbed my license and phone, and walked back over to where my car was.  The tow truck, clearly, had not come for it yet.

I saw another car attached to the back of my car on the driver's side. A young woman was nervously pacing and puffing on a cigarette. "My insurance was just canceled," she said. "And now I'll probably be fucking sued."

I'd had a couple of drinks that evening in order to calm my anxiety after the first accident. This may be why I was relatively calm at the second accident scene. It was just surreal at that point. I basically just stood on the periphery and waited for everything to be done. I did have one bitchy moment. In talking to the police officer, it started to sound like the driver wasn't going to be charged with anything. I asked, "Shouldn't she at least be charged for driving with no insurance? This is the second time today I've been hit!"

"I'm getting to that," he said. He looked annoyed. He then had me exchange contact information with the chick who plowed into my car. Before he left, he asked me to confirm that my name is Claudette. Okay, whatever. I was just over the whole scene.

I walked back home through the snow and called Allstate again. I had to file a second claim. The woman who took my claim could not believe what she was hearing. Twice in one day?! At about the same time, I realized that I'd lost my driver's license in the snow after the second accident. The next morning, it dawned on me that the missing driver's license was going to cause a big problem. First, I called the collision center and suggested that they tow the car sooner than later. I wasn't at all convinced that it wouldn't be hit again. Next, I called Enterprise to find out about the rental car. They informed me that it would be a no-go without the physical driver's license even if I could supply the license number and proof that it was valid.

It was at this point that I finally lost it. I burst into tears and called my husband. I really did not know what to do at that point. He came home from work and searched the road between our house and the accident in hopes of finding my license. I had done so as well. We gave up and he carted me over to the DMV. I had been crying all morning, so you can just imagine how sexy I look in my new driver's license photo.

Once we had the license, we headed to Enterprise (the insurance company works directly with Enterprise, so using this company seemed like the easiest way to go). They didn't have any cars in stock. At all. Honestly, at that point I wasn't even surprised. They told us to come back at 2:30, so we did. I am not sure how they had no cars at 10:30 and a full assortment at 2:30, but logic means nothing to me anymore. I ended up renting a Hyundai Veloster. It's a weird little car. It has one door on the driver's side and two on the passenger's side.

The accidents happened on a Sunday. By Wednesday, I'd received the verdict: my car was totaled. Now I'm just waiting for the paperwork to finish churning. Allstate will pay off the lien holder and then send me what's left, which I will use as a down payment on a new vehicle. I test drove a car last night and have decided to buy it. I decided to go with another Equinox. I really liked the car that was demolished. And, of course, I had just spent $250 on the brakes (a mere six days before it was hit). The new one has a couple of features that the old one didn't have, like rear camera and remote start.

Once my mom and I were mostly over the shock of the car accident, we made the best of our time together for the rest of the week. We attended a school choir concert (my kiddo had a solo) and visited a cat sanctuary. We went out for Ethiopian on Friday night.

There's a whole other sub-plot to this story. It involves my husband's car and a flat tire and a harrowing experience on a busy road. However, I've decided to suppress the memory for now and just focus on the fact that we are physically okay and that I will have a car shortly. My daughter has struggled a bit since the accident. She's afraid to walk to the bus stop because she thinks a car may come careening down the road and wipe her out.

After so many crappy things had happened in a row, I'd started to wonder if I was cursed or something.  I got a salad from a grocery store salad bar the other day. When I saw that they had my favorite dressing available, for a second there I wasn't even convinced that I deserved the good fortune brought about by balsamic vinaigrette.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


I keep hearing about anti-bullying campaigns in communities and at schools all over the country. Some schools have even initiated "sit by me" programs to make sure that no one is ostracized in the lunchroom. Schools claim to have "zero tolerance" policies in effect. Awareness of bullying is at an all-time high.

You know what, though? I honestly think bullying is worse than ever. I was bullied in middle school but at least I could go home in the afternoon and be done with it until the next day. These days, social media allows kids to engage in bullying behaviors 'round-the-clock.

One of my nephews is heavily bullied. He's in 8th grade. Why is he a target? Who knows.

My nephew is kindhearted and impossibly good-looking. He's got green eyes that melt his mama's heart (his crazy Aunt Claudia's heart, too!) He's tall and thin. He loves legos and is a good brother to his other siblings. He's very bright and has developed a passion for theater. He just had a performance over the weekend and received rave reviews (from his mother, but I'm sure they were legit).

Like many middle school kids, my nephew walks the line between conformity and self-expression. He likes to wear bow-ties. He's not opposed to wearing a pink tee shirt to school from time to time. His clothing choices have somehow resulted in a handful of boys believing they have the right to yell "FAGGOT" at him in hallways and the cafeteria.

They tell him he's too skinny. They tell him he's a faggot. They say he must be gay because all of his friends are girls. They tell him he should just kill himself.

These despicable little cretins tell my nephew that he doesn't even have a right to exist. What. The. Fuck.

My sister was beside herself on Friday. She had to drive to the school and pick him up because the bullying was so bad in first period gym class that he couldn't take it anymore. I kept picturing my nephew sitting in the school office, still in his gym clothes. The image broke my heart. My sister called me as she was headed to the school to get him. I could hear the anguish in her voice. She always demands to speak to an administrator but it seems like nothing ever gets done.

Normally, bullied kids don't like to name names. They worry about repercussions. This time, my nephew named the students who have taunted him. So . . . Xavier, Joe, Charlie, Erik, and Ian . . . I sure hope your parents are proud of the fine young men they've raised. Imagine the things they'll be able to brag about in the future! Maybe you'll be able to reward them with a free soda from the vending machine in the visiting room at prison someday.

I couldn't help but feel a little vindictive towards these little punks. I talked to my father on Friday and suggested he go old school on the boys. My dad said he would rip out their guts and then feed their guts to Grover (my dog). I think my father is particularly pained by this situation because he, too, was once a tall, skinny boy who loved comic books.

As much as we'd all love to shove these kids in their lockers and dish out a little justice, I know my sister has to follow the proper channels to try to make things better for her son. The other thing that always bothers me is that bullied kids inevitably try to fight back at some point. They are called a name and respond by calling the bully a name. But the power never shifts - the bully keeps the power, always. But, someone can point at this minor attempt at retaliation and say, "Well, he did it, too." And that's bullshit.

I hope parents will commit to asking their children periodically, "How are things going at school? Are you getting along with other kids? Do you struggle with any kids in particular?" I think the idea is to find out if they are being bullied but also to find out if they are doing the bullying. If I ever found out that my daughter called someone a faggot and suggested that they kill themselves, she'd be in a kind of trouble that she doesn't even know exists yet.

I wish I could do something to fix things for my nephew. I know my sister has considered homeschooling him. That's its own kind of injustice, though - why should those little mothertruckers get to stay and he should go?

One day, my nephew will get to college and he will find his tribe, his people. He'll find more theater kids to befriend. He'll find that not only will no one on campus care if he wears bow-ties, he'll find that many of them roll out of bed in their pajamas and attend class just like that. I know adults who love Legos, so he never has to give that up.

In the meantime, I guess he just has to hang in there and hope that karma swings its head around and notices Xavier, Joe, Charlie, Erik, and Ian soon. I wouldn't want anything "bad" to happen to them, but surely it wouldn't be the worst thing if their zippers broke at some inopportune time or their eyebrows fell out or something.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Tin Box (Sub-title: my grandma is better than your grandma)

Monday's child is fair of face
Tuesday's child is full of grace
Wednesday's child is full of woe
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.

My church recently moved into a new building. It's been an exciting time for all of us. We're still working out a few kinks with the new joint and with the flow of our Sunday services. For example, there are approximately a hundred thousand light switches in the building and we're not sure what all of them do. We're afraid to flip some of them lest we inadvertently release the hounds of hell or something. (Oh, so that's what that switch was for!")

The church's stuff (chairs, piano, etc.) sat in storage from late 2016 until the spring of 2017. We still haven't found a few things, including tools. Our administrative assistant needed a screwdriver the other day and couldn't find one. Our mutual friend, Michael, offered to bring one in. He said, "I’ll bring an 'average' screwdriver. If we need an above or below average screwdriver, I’ll run home quick and get one." My friends are a clever lot.

All this talk about tools got me thinking about the supply of tools we have at our house. My husband inherited tools from his father, which is tragicomic because my guy doesn't fix stuff. We have lots of tools sitting in our basement, including below average and above average screwdrivers. My favorite tools, however, live in a decades-old tin.

When I went away to college nearly three decades ago, my grandmother gave me a gift right before I left. It was a square tin box that I imagine once held cookies. It was filled with things she thought I might need when I moved into the freshman dormitory at Texas A&M University in Galveston. She'd laid a patch of green felt at the bottom and then had filled the tin with a small hammer, a couple of screwdrivers, some nails and screws, and other sundry items that have been lost or forgotten over the years. I still have that tin and some of the original contents still reside within its slightly dented walls. 

The lid bears the words from a Danish proverb: "The road to the house of a friend is never long." The four sides each bear two verses of an old nursery rhyme. "Monday's child is fair of face . . . " I was born on a Saturday which, I'm sure we can all agree, is the very best day of the week. 

I've always loved the tin because it reminds me of my grandma. I'm hoping to pass the tin to my daughter when she leaves for college. It currently lives on a shelf in the basement, next to the dryer. And since at least one member of our family changes her clothes eight times a day, I am down there a lot. 

My grandmother is my stepdad's mom. I first met her when I was 9, after my original set of parents had split up. Elaine was kind and loving to me and my sister (our youngest sister wasn't born yet) right from the start. She never made any distinction between us and other family members who shared her DNA. I wish I could say the same for other relatives. My stepdad also had an aunt who was worried sick that my sister and I would try to use the family name (our last name remained the same as our father until we each got married). Elaine has always just been . . . my grandma. 

Elaine has many wonderful qualities - she is a skilled gardener and is one of those Christians who reads the bible and actually practices what Jesus taught. She's also fairly practical in nature. One year she got my mom bathroom rugs for Christmas, which went over about as well as you'd expect if you know my mother. We used to spend Christmas Eve at Elaine's house. We'd have a big dinner and then open gifts. To this day, I feel a bit wistful when Christmas Eve rolls around. Of course, we have our own traditions now with our little family of three, but sometimes I wish I was still that kid sitting by the tree at Elaine's house, waiting for wrapped gifts bearing my name to be slid across the carpet in my direction. 

When P and I got our first apartment, my grandmother was the first to donate a piece of furniture to us - an orange chair that we ended up keeping for years. After I embarked on the harrowing journey to parenthood, I sat down with her after my third or fourth miscarriage. Elaine has attended Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia since well before I was born. As a matter of fact, I found her photo on a page celebrating members of 50+ years. Back then, I was looking for some spiritual guidance and she answered the call. Whenever I visit "back home" in Northern Virginia, a trip to Elaine's house is always first on my agenda. Her health has become more precarious in recent years and hospital visits have become more frequent, so I call from time to time just to hear her voice and to check in on her. 

"I just wanted to see how you're feeling," I say.

"Well, aren't you just a doll?" she responds. Before we end the call, she always requests that I give her love to my daughter and husband. She always asks how we are doing and seems genuinely interested to know what we are up to. In nearly four decades, I've only heard my grandma speak ill of one (and only one) person. And even then it's only if you really press her on it. Let's just say that her ex-husband was not on her list of favorite people. He might have been on some other kind of list, though.

Elaine's birthday is coming up next week. For the past few years she's been purging things from her home so I know it's pointless to buy her knick-knacks she doesn't want or need. Instead, I send her a Kringle for her birthday just about every year because who doesn't like a Kringle? 

I hope she knows how much her love has meant to me for all these years. From the weekends spent at her house to visits to the five and dime to dinners at Anita's . . . I am so lucky to have such a wonderful person in my life. My mother's mom died when I was very young and I didn't see much of my father's mother after the divorce. Elaine has always filled the grandma role in the best of ways. 

It'll be just six short years before I turn the box o'tools over to my daughter (who was born on a Tuesday, by the way). I hope she'll appreciate it like I always have. You just never know when you'll need an average or even above average screwdriver. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

These are a few of my favorite things

I wrote a blog entry about stress and anxiety and how I've been feeling lately, but then I decided to give it the ax and start over with something more positive.

There is a quote that often guides me in my life. It's from The Handmaid's Tale (the book - I haven't seen the series on Hulu):

“We thought we had such problems. How were we to know we were happy?”

My personal interpretation of these lines has always been that these might just be the happiest days of my life. I shouldn't bother chasing some future state of bliss. Things are pretty damned great right now. 

In the year since we accidentally elected a buffoon into the White House, I've been focusing more on little things, happy things. And maybe reading the news a little less. I thought I'd share a few of  the ways I distract myself from the fact that a mentally ill person is leading our country.

  1. Watching my kid perform on stage. I attended a performance last night (her touring choir performed with our local civic symphony) and will attend another tonight (show choir performance). She recently landed roles in two musicals. She will play Brigitta Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. This is her middle school's production. The high school needed a couple of younger kids to play roles in Les Miserables. My daughter was cast as young Eponine. I am very proud of her and her musical talent. Yes, it's a lot of rehearsals and driving, but I'll take that over shivering on a soccer field any day!
  2. Watching stand-up comedy. I love stand-up comedy. I am constantly digging around on Netflix or HBO for a new routine I haven't seen. Recently I re-watched all of Sebastian Maniscalco's comedy specials. I highly recommend it if you, too, are looking to escape reality.
  3. Eating baked goods. Going vegan kept me away from bake sales, but instead of giving up baked goods altogether (which would have been a good thing for my waistline), I simply figured out how to veganize everything. Get in mah belly, chocolate chip cookies.
  4. Listening to loud music in my car (and sometimes singing along). "And the ground's not cold, and if the ground's not cold, everything is gonna burn, we'll all take turns, I'll get mine too!"
  5. Wine. Duh.
  6. My doggies. Glinda and Grover might not be the brightest bulbs, but they are a lot of fun and they're both pretty darned cuddly.
Did I tell you that I got my nose pierced recently? I had been thinking about it for a while. At my last job, piercings were specifically prohibited in the dress code (the chapter in the employee manual was lengthy and very specific). At my new job, I think the dress code just says something like, "Wear clothes." 

So, on a recent Thursday night, I dropped my daughter off for a rehearsal and headed to the piercing place. This joint specializes in piercings. That's all they do. I almost talked myself out of it but then I parked my car and willed myself to walk inside. I had to show my ID and sign my name in a three-ring binder. For each customer, there was an entry for name, date of birth, signature, and type of piercing. I couldn't help but scan the other entries that were visible. Many of the other piercees were born in . . . wait for it . . . 1999. I started to wonder if I might be eligible for some sort of senior citizen discount.

I chose a tiny stud from the options that were presented to me. A piercing technician took me into a room that looked just like a sterile medical exam room. I guess that's good news. She wore latex gloves and was very professional. Before I knew it, she had a clamp on my schnoz and I was pierced. I was surprised at just how little it hurt. My right eye ejected a single tear . . . just for dramatic effect, I think. I didn't actually see what went through my nose to create the hole. It might be best if I don't know.  

The next morning, my husband kissed me good-bye and left for work without noticing the piercing. Sometimes I wonder just what it would take to get that guy to notice me. Speaking of which . . . I'm getting a new tattoo in a few weeks. My mom and I are getting matching tattoos. It's going to be so much fun. I can't wait!

Let's see. What else is knew? I got new glasses. My eye doctor said that my vision had deteriorated "two clicks" and suggested that I think about some new glasses. :::sigh::::  So, I got new glasses. They are similar enough to my old ones that no one noticed the change. It was fun to try on different styles. One of the opticians kept handing me different frames and saying, "Try these." I think she gave me far too much credit as far as being someone who can pull off wacky frames. Who does she think I am? Elton John, circa 1975? I liked the ones from Bebe's collection best. I got these:

I have to sign off now in order to get to the choir performance on time.  You know I gotta sit close so that I can yell, "That's my baby!" as often as is needed.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Mom Confessions

Is it June yet? I'm already tired of yelling about what time one should leave for the bus stop, why someone needs more than cookies in her lunch, and how hoodies really do need to be washed from time to time. It's gonna be a long year. On a more positive note, the tween is doing well in her classes so far. I stay right on top of her by checking the parent portal daily. I've already emailed several of her teachers just to confirm that my kid isn't full of poop when she tells me that some assignment "doesn't apply to her." Right now she has all A's and B's. She also got into show choir, so she has that for an after-school activity. When she's not at school or at show choir rehearsal (or at guitar lessons), she mostly just watches Glee reruns or Facetimes with her BFOTW (best friend of the week). I continue to check her phone periodically but the texts are all "IDK" and "FT?" It all seems pretty darned harmless as far as I can tell.

I'm glad that my daughter's middle school spans 6th-8th grades. My school was just 7th and 8th. I think that extra year really helps with the transition. Plus, at her school they keep the 6th graders segregated quite a bit so that they can get their bearings without scary 8th graders sitting next to them at lunch. My daughter is in 7th grade so she's already got that transitional year under her belt. Sometimes, I can't help but think of how miserable I was in 7th grade. I can't even pretend there was anything good about it. Awful from start to finish. I try not to make comments like this around my daughter, though. I don't want her to think that middle school sucks, even though every stand-up comedian on the planet will tell you that it kinda does once you have it in your rear view mirror.

Because of the bullying and nastiness I experienced in seventh grade, I suspect that I try just a little too hard to make sure that my kid has an easier time of it. Sometimes I feel guilty about it. When I was in seventh grade, the must-have item was Jordache jeans. They were around $40.00 at the time. It was crazy-talk. It wasn't happening. I am not sure that having them would have helped me too much, though. I remember wearing a pastel oxford (something that seemed to be "in" at the time) to school one day. Maybe I even popped the collar, which was a requirement in the 1980s. However, I made a mistake: I wore a necklace outside of the collar. I don't know why - I guess that's how I thought one should wear accessories? Amy in my home ec class did not waste a moment in advising me of my sartorial misstep. "Why are you wearing your necklace on the outside of your collar?" she asked in a tone of voice that made it sound like she was asking me why I'd just crapped on my desk.

These 35-year-old memories drive me to save my kid from my fate. If she wants Nike shorts (and she does), I buy them. She has Nike shoes - and Adidas as well. Converse All-Stars? Yep.

I am not proud of myself for giving in to these little indulgences. I do rein her in a bit when it comes to clothes. She doesn't get anything that's not on sale (Kohl's Cash for the win!). It's hard for her because she's so petite (her feet grow but the rest of her barely bothers). Her friends are able to shop at American Eagle and Aeropostale and wherever else teenagers spend their parents' money these days. She's still in a size 10-12. Even an XXS at American Eagle is too big. I know it bugs her that she can't always wear what her friends are wearing.

Mostly, she just wears leggings and hoodies (a formula not so different from her classmates, maybe). A whole closet full of clothes and she wears about five different things over and over. Sometimes I beg her to change it up a little. "How about this one?" I'll ask, holding up a shirt that I bought with a Kohl's coupon. Her expression tells me that it's a no-go.

"Just change it up a little," I suggest gently. "People are going to think we live in our car."

Anyway, if you are wondering what to get her for Christmas . . . I'd say that hoodies and leggings are a safe bet. She's all set with the over-priced shoes.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Let me tell you about this amazing woman I know

“It is because I think so much of warm and sensitive hearts, that I would spare them from being wounded.” ― Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 

My youngest sister stepped out of the truck, a dying butterfly held gingerly in her hand. "I found him at the gas station," she said. "I didn't want him to die there." I hadn't seen her in a year and was anxious to hug her. Our two families met in St. Louis last week (which is roughly halfway between our home and theirs) for a long weekend. My brother-in-law was competing in an enduro bike race while we were there, too.

I gave her a quick hug and then she deposited the dying butterfly, its torn wing rippling in the breeze, on a grassy patch near the hotel where we'd spend the next three days in adjacent suites. Her three boys tumbled out of the truck right after she did. My brother-in-law was already inside the hotel, getting checked in. I subjected my nephews to hugs and noogies.

We settled into our suites. I sat with the three boys in their room while everyone was unloading (which makes me sound super lazy but my child and husband were able to handle our stuff without my involvement). As I sat with the boys, it struck me that boys and girls really are different sometimes. The boys immediately started testing all of the furniture to see what they could and could not lift. They examined a nearby rooftop through the window and concluded that they could all jump that far, should a rapid escape become necessary. My eldest nephew, the most talkative one, starts every sentence with, "Can I tell you something?" It's an endearing trait. I always think he is about to tell me something really revelatory, but it's usually a random comment like, "One time, I climbed a tree and I couldn't get back down." Someday, he may figure out some of the big mysteries of the universe but will still approach me with the same tone of voice and ask, "Aunt Claudia, can I tell you something?"

The eight of us went out to dinner shortly after our arrival. We took two of the boys in our car. We are used to having only a moody tween in the back seat - it was definitely a change of pace adding her cousins to the mix. Believe it or not, we proceeded to drive to two different restaurants (both with the same name). It was like a bad sitcom. Once we were reunited, we had a nice dinner. My sister is vegan (she followed me into vegetarianism when she was just a kid; I followed her into veganism just a few years ago) so it was nice to bounce "what are you gonna eat?" ideas off each other.

The next day, we drove to St. Louis (again, in two vehicles) for some city adventures. Believe it or not, we had no idea that there were protests raging on in St. Louis that day. I guess we hadn't checked the news. We didn't see any protestors, though - I assume they were in a different part of the city.  The eight of us did the obligatory Gateway Arch excursion (A and I did it last year, but her dad was with us this time so we wanted him to see it, too). After the arch, we gathered at a pizza place across the street from the blues museum. I sat next to my sister so that we could share a pizza. She and I were in heaven - we had multiple vegan options! Side note: the up-charge on these things is annoying. I think our pizza ended up being a hundred million dollars after we added our "premium" toppings.

After lunch, we headed to the blues museum. My sister and brother-in-law had to head back to Farmington (south of St. Louis, where our hotel was located) to get his bike inspected for the race. So, we took the two older boys to the museum with us. The youngest one looked like he was about to fall asleep anyway. It was a long day for a little guy. The blues museum was great - we really enjoyed it. My husband has about 200 Sirius XM channels in his car but he only listens to the Blues one, so I knew he'd enjoy it. The kids had a great time, too. There are a lot of interactive displays that gave them an opportunity to play in a jug band and learn about sound engineering.

After we left the museum, I made a quick stop at at bakery that was getting ready to close. I was trying to score some vegan brownies for me and my sister. They were out of the brownies, but they did have some vegan cupcakes left in the bakery case. Our final stop for the day was at an ice cream shop. I really need to move to a bigger city because I was able to get some mint chocolate chip ice cream, which was basically a dream come true.

That night, the kids swam in the pool. My husband took one for the team and went with them. My sister and I ran to the grocery store to buy some stuff for a potluck we were planning for the next day. We knew we'd be spending the next day at the race track (I honestly don't think that's what the racing people call it, but I am sure it will not be a surprise to you that I don't know what I'm taking about) so we wanted to bring some grub along. She made chili dogs and I made chick pea salad (on Ritz crackers).

The next day, my sister and her family headed to the race location early in the morning to get set up. We followed along later that morning.  This type of racing is an interesting sport because you can't really spectate. The riders go off into the woods (often for several hours at a time) and you don't see them until they come back. My nephews also compete but were not entered in this particular event. We ate our potluck lunch under a tent and mostly just hung out. A gust of wind came through and threatened to send the tent off onto the course to check on the riders. So, since rain seemed to be headed our way, the mister and I decided to head out and go to a flea market for which we had seen multiple billboards. It was my youngest nephew's turn to ride with us, so his presence was a given. My sister flipped a coin for the older two boys. My red-headed, comic book-loving middle nephew won the toss. I watched my other nephew's face. He was trying to put on a brave face but his actual expression tore at my heart. He climbed into the truck so we wouldn't see.

The junk shop was, um, interesting. If you need a velvet Jesus painting, look no further. Bedazzled denim hats? You've found your source. The boys picked out some Matchbox cars and comic books, and selected some for the absent brother as well. My daughter selected two things: a metal musical note and a coin bank shaped like three stacked doughnuts. "You can only have one or the other," my husband told her. Moments later, I saw him at the check-out purchasing both items. That guy of mine . . . what a hardass.

Later, after we got back to the hotel room, I called my sister to ask if I could pick up my other nephew (they were still at the race) and take him out for ice cream. I just couldn't shake the feeling that I had let him down by not being able to fit him into my car. My sister assured me that they were going to take him out for dinner and/or a Slurpee on the way home. Plus, he got to spend some time without his younger brothers poking him. That, I suppose, was a gift in itself.

That night, we had one final swim in the pool. You should have seen my guy with four kids hanging off him in the deep end. He really is a good sport about that sort of thing. My sister and I sat in the whirlpool and talked. I found myself feeling sad that our time together was almost over. Living so far from both of my sisters hurts my heart.

If you met my youngest sister, you'd know that finding a final resting spot for a dying butterfly is a perfect representation of her personality. Even as a kid, she was introspective. She carefully observed the world around her. We used to drive from Northern Virginia to Myrtle Beach for summer vacations. We often joked that we might accidentally leave my youngest sister at a rest stop because she was often so quiet in the back seat. She is almost 12 years my junior, so it was an interesting dynamic.  Looking on the bright side: there's not much for two siblings to fight about when they're that far apart in age.

That red-headed girl with the deep brown eyes grew up into a beautiful auburn-haired superwoman. Effortlessly cool, she's physically beautiful and also whip-smart. She cares deeply about animals and the environment, and gets pretty riled up over injustice of any kind. She raises her rough-and-tumble boys to see the world through her thoughtful lens. She lives in the country (on a "street with no name") but still manages to keep up with all the indie musical releases (plus, imagine how hard it is to eat a vegan diet when you don't have any stores in your zip code). Oh, and did I mention that she's a kick-ass writer?

My sister can be a hard person to know. She's not one to call you on the phone to chit-chat, but she'll humor you if you call. She doesn't often share what she's thinking on a deep level and if she's mad at you, you will probably never know about it. She's still that introspective girl in some ways. As her husband quickly learned, her deep thinking sometimes prevents her from doing things like cleaning up whatever exploded in the microwave. But hey, she's got a house full of dogs to clean up anything that hits the floor.

To my wee baby sister . . . if you are reading this, please know that I love you with all my heart and it was wonderful to spend some time with you. Let's not let too much time pass until the next visit. Also, I forgive you for that time you drew all over my middle school yearbook with a pen.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Six years doesn't seem like a lot of time

My niece recently went off to college. It's kind of a big deal in our extended family because Blondie was the first-born grandchild, niece, etc. She's currently a freshman at Penn State (more specifically, she's in the honors college - we're all very proud of that). My sister has three other kids at home to drive her insane take care of but I know she misses her college kid desperately. I cried right along with her when she had to leave her daughter in the dorms and turn around and head back home.

Having my niece head off to college got me thinking . . . I only have six years before my kid leaves, too! I am pretty sure that she'll go to an in-state school (unless some college in New Hampshire throws a bajillion dollars at her or something), so she probably won't be more than a few hours away. But, still. I know she wants to study music but I may encourage her to choose a minor in something else. As talented as she is, the pool of talent is quite large and I don't want her living in a van down by the river. A few weeks ago, I stopped to have a drink at a local bar. A small bluegrass band was playing. They were so talented and yet, there were only around eight people in the bar listening to them. It's gotta be hard to make a living that way. I once heard a talented folk artist sing a song with the lyric "there's no stage too small." That's true, of course, but rents must be paid and all that jazz.

I feel like there is so much to teach my kid before she leaves for college. I keep meaning to teach her how to do laundry. How to mince garlic and peel potatoes. How to level a teaspoon when baking. How to make yeast rolls. What bra to wear with what type of clothing. How to merge into traffic properly (I can assure you that her father can't teach her this one). How to balance a checkbook. Why white leggings should not be worn (and probably shouldn't exist). There is much to know.

I think I've mostly been focused on sending a decent human being into the world but I should probably start working on those other parental obligations, too. Last week she surprised me by grabbing one of my cookbooks and making (vegan) french toast muffins. They were perfect! Yesterday she tried to make snickerdoodles for church and I don't know what went wrong, but something definitely went very, very wrong. I assured her that I've ruined more than a few batches of cookies along the way. Maybe some lessons simply must be learned the hard way. It's kind of like taking a little bite of baking chocolate because your eyes have not convinced your brain that it really is not edible in its original form. But, everyone tries it and everyone learns.

I took her to the middle school for registration last week. She received her schedule and had her photo taken for her student ID card. She dismissed the photo almost immediately. "I look like I have a spray tan!" she wailed. I saw something different. If you compare her sixth grade ID photo and her seventh grade photo, it's easy to notice some differences. The girl in the new photo has the confidence of a young woman who has already tackled her first year of middle school. She's a girl who has learned a few things about mean girls in the cafeteria and teachers who are not messing around. She's a girl who makes friends easily and sometimes loses them, too. She knows she has talent but remembers not to get too cocky. She knows that others are talented, too, and that she has to work hard.

School starts next week. I know I'll have to replace that school ID at least once (at five bucks a pop). As always, I'll tell her that I'm adding it to her tab.

Friday, August 25, 2017

August was good except for the whole nazi thing

Our little clan recently returned from a week at the beach. It takes about 18 hours to get to my dad and stepmom's condo in Ocean City, but we had six glorious days of sun and sand before we had to turn around and head back. A co-worker let me borrow his toll thingie (that's the technical term) and let me just say that this was a game changer. I think it cut at least an hour off our trip. The mister and I didn't have to waste time fighting over where the toll ticket was, how many quarters we needed, etc. We just sailed right through. My co-worker will just let me know how much we owe him. Easy-squeezy. We've now ordered our own toll thingie. We can't believe we've lived without one for so long. We've been driving cross-country at least once a year for 22 years.

We didn't drive straight through on this trip, of course. We left our house on Friday the 11th and stayed at a hotel that night. We finished the drive on Saturday the 11th. When it was my husband's turn to drive, I checked the news app on my phone. My heart broke over the events happening in Charlottesville that day. I don't think of myself as a naive person, but I honestly didn't think that many boneheads would turn out for a show of "white pride." It makes me sick to my stomach.

From what I've read, the overlord of the neanderthals told them to dress nicely for this event.  I guess the effect worked because now I am legitimately scared that neo-Nazi buffoons and/or white supremacists are everywhere - selling me appliances at Best Buy and sitting next to me at the movie theater. Gross.

As tragic as the events in Charlottesville were, I raise my glass to the "we won't let hate win" people who came out to protest the alt-right people. Thank goodness for the people who speak up.

As I understand it, the special white people planned the protest because of the upcoming removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville. Here are my thoughts on that: if something upsets a group of people for good reason, maybe it's just fine for it to go. I attended Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia. I never thought twice about the name. (In my defense, I was just a teenager and was mostly concerned with getting a ride to the mall.) There is a movement underway to change the name of the school. Fine with me. As a child, I thought the confederate flag was, essentially, a symbol of southern pride and not of oppression of minorities. However, it seems that I was wrong about that, and that's great. I don't mind being wrong about things. I'd rather be on the right side of history in the long run.

Anyway, back to the beach. We did a couple of things this year that we hadn't done in the past. We booked ourselves on a speed boat tour.  It was a lot of fun. The boat zooms down the coast and then the captain stops when he spots some dolphins. I didn't get any great photos of the dolphins, but it was pretty darned exciting to be near them. I've always been fascinated by the ocean, which is why I initially set out to be a marine biologist oh-so-many years ago. I wanted to learn more about what's in there. I guess humans have done our level best to make sure the answer is: mostly, our garbage. But, I digress.

We also took a tour boat to Assateague Island. You may have heard of Assateague (Maryland side) and its sister Chincoteague Island (Virginia side).  The island is known mainly for its wild ponies. We did get to see one! My bestie and her family drove down from New Jersey so they joined us on the boat tour as well. Her youngest son (my Godson) is not a fan of boats, as it turned out.  He was a pretty good sport, though.

Something new that I tried this year: yoga on the beach! My middle sister and her family were in town for the first two days that we were there, and she joined me for yoga on Sunday. It's definitely a different sensation. The sand shifts under your mat so you don't feel as grounded, but some poses (such as balance poses) are a little bit easier in the sand. And of course, there is nothing like being in savasana and hearing the waves crashing on the shore. I went back for another class on Wednesday. I would have gone to another class after that but my kid gave me a cold mid-week and I didn't want to leave snot all over my yoga mat. I also rented a bike one morning and cruised up and down the boardwalk. I'd never done that before either.

Let's see . . . what else?  We did some back to school shopping because Maryland was having a tax-free week. We ate Thrasher's fries. I also went back to the boardwalk on the last day to get one some fries just for myself - no sharing. What I usually do is to put vinegar on them (don't worry - this is a thing) and then my husband and daughter don't want them. We played games at Marty's Playland. We rode rides at the amusement park. We drove go-karts, of course. We toured a Spanish galleon (tall ship that was visiting). We celebrated my dad's birthday with a too-large ice cream cake that I think he is still working on.

So, now that I've taken two vacations in a row, I'll be at work for the next 50+ weeks in a row. Here's to next summer!