Lyrical Laughs

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Breaking the State of (Procrastination) Vegetation

Every year around this time S and I have a ritual. We talk about planting a garden. That is, he talks about it (because he plants it) and eventually I go along for the ride to make sure we don’t wind up with an overabundance of any particular vegetable that I will have to prep and store for the next four years in my freezer. I’ve avoided the torrent of tomatoes for the last couple of seasons, but then there will be a zucchini deluge or possibly herb overkill.

This year it is peppers.

Because we are the ultimate procrastinators and don’t get past the talking phase of planting (which started in early May) until late June, we are at the mercy of whatever is left in the Semi-Wilting, Abandoned Plants section. We stopped at the first place, a local nursery that always comes through for us when we are least deserving of having a garden. We scoffed up some good stuff – jalapeno and habanero peppers, Brussels sprouts, and I decided to try cauliflower this year. I allowed S a limited selection of tomatoes and we tossed different herb ideas back and forth before deciding on rosemary and basil. There were no green non-fire-breathing peppers in sight.

Relieved that anything was left at all, we felt invigorated and took a ride to a farm to hunt down more garden gems. We managed to latch onto the last six-pack of green peppers. Then it was time to go home and discuss the final process – planting.

After seven solid days of rain the clouds rested and we were able to get out there.  Usually this is my husband’s area. He is the digger. And the planter. And the garden tender. And mostly the harvester.

I cook and freeze.

For some inexplicable reason (delirium from 8 a.m. Zumba, dehydration from too little – or too much –coffee) I offered to help plant. Instantly my knees sent up a flare gun that whipped out a red flag emblazoned with the words, “This will not be pretty.” S took me up on my offer and shortly thereafter I found myself standing with spade in hand, staring at the blackness known as the Weed Warrior (large, black plastic garbage bags cut up) that he had covered the garden with.

Peppers in captivity
Let me just take a brief moment to explain the difference between how I l work on projects and how S works on projects. I tend to jump into things helter skelter, hoping to find (create) some semblance of order as I go along. I wouldn’t calculate, I would eyeball. I wouldn’t necessarily count how many plants I have so much as estimate. In other words, I would get it done, but one of the zucchini plants could end up between the tomatoes, and there wouldn’t exactly be rows… it would be more like groups… because my spacing was – shall we say – a little off.

On the other hand, S measures. And calculates. And counts and recounts, and counts again. He has that analytical engineer-type mindset thing going on. And so I went out to the garden where he had already set some plants down on what looked like specific spots. I was so very wrong. There was much to be done before those little suckers would ever touch the soil on the other side of the blackness they stood over. I stood for a long time in the steamy afternoon sun, baking and waiting. By the third revision of the garden layout I moved to the shade and waited some more. It took everything in me (that I hadn’t sweated out) to not ask:

Do you want me to move any of these plants?

Do you want me to keep standing out here and watch you mumble to yourself?

What are you doing???

Why would they put the C vegetables so close together?

At some point (I think I might have dozed off while standing in the shade) S had plotted out the garden. He explained the detailed diagram in his head and I tried to imagine the end result. At the same time I was also attempting to picture exactly how I was going to get to the ground and actually do the planting. My knees cramped up sharply in rebellion, daring me to throw down with them – or without them. I was keenly aware the end result could be The End of my planting days almost before they had begun.

Something he said caught my attention. It was the word cabbage. Immediately I questioned this.

“Cabbage? You got cabbage?”

“No, you got cabbage.”

“No – I got cauliflower, not cabbage.”

“No cauliflower here, only cabbage.”

“Well, give it away. We don’t eat cabbage!”

“We will now. We can use it for coleslaw.”

“I don’t want it – don’t we know someone who can use it? Can’t we just toss it?”

“We are not wasting it.”

Really? He thinks we’re not going to waste it just because we’re planting it? He thinks six cabbage plants are going to give us just enough for a couple of cookouts worth of coleslaw? More likely we will have such an abundance that we can supply enough for the local deli’s coleslaw needs for months.

S made slits in the black plastic and I grabbed a spade to begin excavating. That was kind of what it felt like because, having surrendered to direct orders from my joints not to push it, I resembled a misdirected backhoe. I leaned at the waist toward the ground, bending and angling my knees ever so carefully so they didn’t toss me into the mucky water-soaked plastic like a bucking bronco.



*Pop Pop Pop*

The all too familiar sounds of a revolt surged through the air, but I dug with the steadfast approach of a fullback at the 5-yard line.

After a whole lot of grunting and groaning, I had the first hole successfully dug and an eggplant placed firmly in the ground. I was on a roll. Five more of those, then half a dozen of those annoying cabbage plants (I swore I grabbed cauliflower), a few herbs and I was sweaty, soiled, and done. It was not an enjoyable experience and I did not release any stress or feel relaxed at the end, as some people claim to. I did learn quickly not to stay bent over with my head down in 97% humidity for too long. Things will start to tilt more than usual.

The pepper plants. Remember them? Fifteen of them, to be exact. There was no room at the inn (in this case, the garden) for the pepper plants. S had to dig up a chunk of yard on the side of the house to plant them, and he worked on this while I was chucking dirt, stuffing plants in holes, and shoving soil back in to fit under the black tarp. Once I was done, Lord help me, I went over to where S sat on the ground by the side of the house and asked if I could help him with anything else. In a somewhat dazed expression he stared at the area yet to be dug up. I could see he was starting to lose steam and it didn’t look like much more would get done that day. I was all right with that, since I had a date with YK to shop when she got out of work and it was just about time for me to de-grunge.

For the next few hours I forgot about gardening and shopped ‘til I nearly dropped. College and “stuff” shopping with a teenager is fun and exhausting. We made a pretty good dent in her list of things to bring with her at the end of August, along with a few other must have items for both of us. I was looking forward to getting home at the end of this very active day and relaxing with pizza and Iron Man 2.

We pulled into the driveway and I heard the not-too-distant sound of a lawn mower. No. It can’t be. He was giving up, ready to call it a day when I left three hours ago – what happened?? But there he was, pushing the lawn mower along at a pretty good clip. This was not good. This meant he was not done and there would be no relaxing until he was. The pizza would get cold. Movie hour would get late. Plans for a restful evening were quickly slipping out the window and down the street to some family with a perfectly manicured lawn and fresh vegetables at dinner from the garden they planted in early May.

Fortunately, YK graciously accepted being volunteered to finish up the very small amount of lawn yet to be mowed. I bit the bullet, donned clean grungy clothes on, and went out to help S finish up a little more planting while the mosquitoes had a feast day on my legs. At one point I thought he was going to duck when loud, snapping sounds akin to distant shots echoed through the air… simply my knees making it clear Advil would be my friend on this night.

The most important part of our mission was making sure the one spindly little tomatillo we bought was safely planted in the ground and stabilized with a stake next to it. The poor little thing almost seemed to shiver like a Chihuahua sandwiched between two Great Danes. Of everything we have in our garden, this is the one I am rooting for the most.

Who will help me eat my plants (or something like that)?

It won’t be long before we enjoy the fruits (well, vegetables) of our labors. I’m not sure we will ever be good at planting earlier in the season or picking out just the right amount of plants, but I can honestly say it was fun to be more involved in the process.

Grow, little tomatillo, grow!
On a completely different note (not really), I am truly thankful we have many wonderful friends and a thriving church community.... who will be seeing cabbage dishes at every function we attend for quite a while.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

In a state of vegetation

The blog will appear tomorrow because today, and yes, at this hour, we are planting vegetables which have been sitting in our backyard for a week crying for mercy after being pummeled by rain for 7 consecutive days. The eggplant is calling my name.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


A couple of years ago, before OK jumped ship and moved to Philly to be with The Boy, she and I decided to take Zumba classes. I’m not sure what part of me thought this was a good idea, but after just a couple of classes of sweat, much moaning and then heaving my battered self back out the door to my car after an hour of self inflicted agony, I began to pay monthly rather than per class.

Ask me why.

The answer was to pretty much force myself into the commitment, even though I was thinking at the time I should be committed. I was very thankful OK took on Project Feel Better or Die Trying with me, otherwise I can guarantee that commitment would have been squelched by nachos and a glass of wine calling my name. With this new way of fighting off more fat cells, it only seemed logical that I would stop eating the somewhat unhealthy foods I craved (like chocolate and peanut butter) in order to get even better results. Yeah… not so much. Truth be told, I sacrificed very little, assuming three days a week of complete and utter masochism would take care of it all.  This may be the reason why, during that period, the scale did

Not. Move. One. Ounce.

I kept telling myself (and frequently encouraged others to tell me) it was because I was replacing fat with muscle, and everyone knows muscle weighs more than fat. Completely logical. Then there was my method of ‘measuring’ Zumba classes. Let’s see… 2 Lime in the Coconut Margaritas - I’m thinking a class and a half of Zumba. All righty then, I could take care of that between Thursday and Saturday, and I would still have half a Zumba class worth of indulgence! Admittedly, this may have been my downfall. And then there was – of course – support from my spouse.

Be honest, really. No wait --

While I worked out I was constantly looking in the mirror for a difference. At the right angle I could definitely detect a tiny shift, an indentation where there used to be merely Jello. They say (don’t ask me who – just ‘they’) you shouldn’t worry about what others notice – you need to be your own cheerleader and have self-confidence. And so it is with this knowledge that I fully admit to the following fatal error.

I asked S if he noticed a difference.

True story.

It was a Saturday morning after class. OK and I had just crawled back home, hungry and sweaty. S was waiting for us to get home to have (i.e. make) breakfast, which is another way of saying he was very supportive but we should not expect anything other than coffee to be ready when the perspiration preceded us into the house every Saturday morning. While OK showered and YK remained asleep (the sounds and smells of breakfast are her typical weekend alarm), S and I decided to sip our coffee and cook breakfast together - a decent compromise in order to avoid anyone being thrown off the island.

I was feeling fairly proud of the fact that Zumba had become a regular routine for OK and me. She had done so well that several people in and out of the class were telling her just how great she looked, which truly made my heart smile. She’s already a beautiful girl, so it was great to see her blossoming and gaining new confidence. Even S commented on the difference in his girl. I, on the other hand, had not garnered such attention. This should have been a clue that it wasn’t time.

Oh, but in my mind it was.

S had been asking me if I felt any better or different, or if I thought I was losing any weight. I would cringe at the question but convinced myself I was taking it wrong (Which meant I was taking it as a dig. Which it sort of was, though he was obviously trying to tread lightly on the subject for fear of.... well, for fear). On this particular morning the question took a sharp turn down Head Slap Lane in my mind. I stood in the kitchen furiously scrambling the eggs until they could almost be mistaken for tinged meringue and grumbled that he obviously must not see any difference. Nothing. No response, no argument, no eye roll, nada. So, just like all the text books warn you not to do, then and there I point blank asked him,

Do you see a difference?”

The only sound was the sizzling of the eggs on the stove, quivering in fear. I give the guy credit - he recovered quickly and sputtered, “Yeah – yeah!” almost convincingly. “I can see a difference here.” He touched my waist. Giddiness ensued. He noticed, I thought – it’s working!  Then he followed up – with nowhere near enough hesitation. “The thing is, when you lose there, it makes this area look bigger.” I will not even mention what area – excuse me, areas – he pointed out. And don’t ask me what I put in his eggs after that.

Move, Shake, Drop – get up now….

Let’s get back to the reason I had to take Advil earlier today.

I went back to Zumba this week.

Zumba is not for everybody. For instance, it is not for those who have zero tolerance for uncoordinated people exercising anywhere near them (that would be me), or an instructor who encourages you to “modify if you have to, intensify if you want to” (I am of the former - not a shocker there) rather than preach uniformity. This basically means you are allowed to not be in sync with everyone else. My experience has been that most Zumba-ers are stepping, squatting, and kicking in sync. You might stand out if you twirl when they side-step or kick when they squat. What I do appreciate is that nobody rolls their eyes at you or makes you feel like you don’t belong there, no matter what you weigh or wear or even if you tip over... as long as it's not into someone else. Trust me, I know this to be true.

Zumba is not for you if you expect everyone’s workout attire to look like they’re filming an Exercise on Demand series. It is all about comfort, thankfully, because my outfits are mostly worn out Wal-Mart specials. They do sell some nifty workout clothing if you decide you want to add some fun color to your routine. Neon green is big there.

It is also not for those unsuspecting souls who think they’re going to just learn a few dance moves. If you do it right, you are a steamy mess by the time the cool-down song comes on, grasping your water bottle for one last gulp and twisting the sweat out of your towel. Come to think of it, it’s the same result if you do it wrong.

Zumba is perfect for somebody like me, which is why – after 2 years - I went back this week to give it another try. Having lost a decent amount of body mass through a weight loss program, along with feeling more confident with my second hip (I had hip revision surgery after a literal parting of the ways with the first replacement), I was ready to get my butt in gear and hit the exercise floor. All right, fine. I gained four pounds in a month and a half and completely freaked out, so I flew to Zumba to help beat back the gain and get a fresh start with a new routine. And for repentance.

When I stepped into the air conditioned hall Thursday night I made sure to work out with some caution in order to not have my hip relocate to places unknown. It was the ideal situation that night – a nightclub setting. The lights were low and disco ball colors bounced off the walls. This did not mean it was going to be an easy hour. If anything, Zumba Nightclub means you are John Travolta on steroids. At least I could be hidden in the shadows and keep an eye on others around me to follow (I say follow, I mean catch on by the final chorus of the song) the routines.

For some reason, probably because of the lively tempo, our instructor is a fan of Pitbull music (using the term loosely).  Fortunately, I couldn’t understand the majority of his lyrics, so I just bounced along to the beat. This week was the first time I heard “Move, Shake, Drop.” Someone should have warned me that the “drop” part was not to be taken literally. And why isn’t there a spotter to pick people up??

I think I enjoy Zumba (enjoy being a relative term) for the same reason I like mowing the lawn - Instant gratification. True, they are very different in that once the grass is mowed you can turn around and see the heavy, tall grass gone. I don’t lose five pounds by the end of each class, but every time I don’t fall down in a puddle by the other Zumba-ers’ feet within that very long hour, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It still doesn’t make me want to climb the 39 steps to my office, I just don’t get the shakes thinking about it.

Machete is a scary word

The most embarrassing thing about Zumba for me was that I had refused to get new shoes for the class two years ago. I kept saying I would, but dishing out big bucks for good workout shoes stopped me in my tracks. Literally. Not having the right shoes  (that would be anything better than the 7 year old pieces of rubber that were falling off my feet) prohibited me from doing my all-time least favorite Zumba step - my nemesis, the Machete.

This movement entails shimmying in a half circle back and forth with your inner foot being the point of pivot. My sneakers at the time did not pivot. They simply squeaked and stuck like glue to their spot. I semi-hopped, marched, tried to give the vague impression I was machete-ing right along with everyone else. It looked more like someone had stapled the sole of my sneaker to the floor and an invisible force was pushing me around. This week the machete was nowhere in sight on my first night back. I was at once relieved and disappointed. After all, I have new(er) sneakers this time around, and I was almost looking forward to shimmying without sticking. No, I take that back. I didn't miss the Machete for one second, and besides, there were other forms of torment awaiting me.

Hey You, Get Off Of My Sweat

This morning I headed back for a Saturday Zumba class, eager to test my pain threshold. The temperature inside the workout area was akin to a meat locker. I knew this to be a good thing because we would be guzzling our drinks and gasping for air before the hour was up.

Class started out pretty well. I had even remembered a few of the moves from Thursday and I didn’t particularly mind having the lights on so that every misstep – and I made plenty of them – would be very obvious. What I had not anticipated was a space hoarder.

Claiming a space on the Zumba floor is a lot like having your favorite pew at church. You’ve sat there for years and everyone knows this is your pew. Then one day you’re running a little late, and lo and behold, someone has taken your spot. Panic sets in and you start to feel dizzy as you try to navigate to a pew not too close to your regular seat because it would be too upsetting to have to witness this offense. And yet, picturing yourself seated in some other random area of the church just feels so wrong. It’s a violation of the pew code.

That’s Zumba. You have your spot on the floor for every class and everyone else works around that out of respect. If you happen to come in a few minutes later than usual and your space has been taken, it can totally mess with your concentration, not to mention where you put your water bottle.

Apparently I was treading on someone else’s Zumba space, because as class went on I felt rather than immediately saw a presence looming. At some point I found myself distracted when wildly kicking legs appeared a little too close in my peripheral vision. This person wasn’t actually that close to me yet… but she navigated toward my area a little more with each song until I had to stop myself from turning around and giving her The Look. Because I consider myself new after a two year absence and didn’t want to come across as the Alpha exerciser, I thought reversing the situation might be better. The next time she went to take a sip of water between songs I gravitated toward the back of the room so that she could fully utilize the space we had been more or less sharing. I was fine with giving her lively approach to Zumba the room it needed, and I established a new space behind her. Case closed, right?

No sooner had I stopped swearing in my head over the teacup move, which still eludes me two years later, when this same person started to slide back toward me. Really?? Had I worn the shorts with the hole in the butt? Crashed into anyone during a Pitbull number? Sworn out loud during the teacup move? Nope. This person was just one of those exercise enthusiasts who took big steps across the floor and flailed her arms a little farther than most, and I would have to learn to deal without believing she was programmed to kill me.

Successfully Sucking It Up

It honestly felt good to start my day off with a strong exercise routine (followed by even stronger coffee at home, thank you). I am leaning toward deciding Zumba is worth the investment, especially if I’m going to continue to crave chocolate and peanut butter. I have the right shoes now, so I’m running out of excuses to not go. Even with creaking knees and aching arms, I came home willing to help mow the lawn and take the dog for a walk during the day. So yes, I would say this Zumba thing could become a regular occurrence.

Now…. how to convince the instructor that Barry Manilow would produce the same result as Pitbull.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Entertainer

My dad loved to make you laugh. Or sing along with him when he played the keyboard. Or counter his quick wit with similar humorous asides. He didn't try to seek an audience, anyone who got to know him even briefly was quickly aware that he was just a likable guy. As a dad goes he could be funny and affectionate, strict and inflexible, and freakishly intuitive when it came to knowing what I was up to.

He was self taught in many areas - reading music, running a business (from mom and pop store to night club), adapting to the computer age, to name a few. He had grown up with street smarts rather than academia. The son of Italian immigrants and the youngest of three, he dropped out of school at a young age to help support his family. That didn't stop him from wanting to learn, and it certainly didn't keep him from jumping in to help me with those last minute elementary school projects. I am convinced he looked forward to delving into new ways to turn popsicle sticks into some type of structure... though probably not the night before it was due. My dad was also an army veteran who didn't talk much about his experiences, saying only that he didn't really see heavy action in his position as company clerk. I do remember a couple of his stories, one in particular about a barracks pillow fight and a sergeant stepping in to feathers flying everywhere.

Unfinished Chapter

A year and a half ago, at age 85, he was suddenly gone. It has been a long, sometimes difficult year for my mom, my sister and myself, muddling through decisions to be made, suddenly understanding just how much he took care of. The burden falls mainly on my sister, who lives just minutes away from our mom, whereas I moved four states away 15 years ago. It was the best decision my little family ever made - Maine is such a great place to raise our daughters, and we found a calmer, kinder sense of life that didn't seem to have a fighting chance in many other places. But it came at a cost of losing that physical connection with their grandparents and our other relatives still in Connecticut. While we are blessed with strong family relationships, we can't just pop over for a quick visit.

He was not happy when we moved, though he never came right out and said so.  His eyes said it all. Up to the last year and a half of his life when he was beaten up with medical issues, there had been the perpetual glint of a mischievous little boy hidden behind an aging face - until something made him unhappy. His baby girl moving away made him unhappy.  In a touch of irony, my parents had relocated to Connecticut from New York when my sister was very young (long before I was even a twinkle in their eyes) for some of the same reasons we left Connecticut. He understood that we saw our move as a way to give our children a better way of life... and he fought internally with losing us. Over the years I tried to visit as much as possible, but I knew it could never be often enough. I'm not sure the real distance hit me until I got that call from my sister late on a Sunday night. I was suddenly a million miles away from where I should have been and nothing could change it. There would be no do-over.

Funny thing about my dad - he often knew me better than I expected him to. He understood my restlessness, and to a point, I felt he saw some of himself in me. As the youngest child, which he had also been, I had a tendency to push the envelope and (something YK also excelled at over the years) wear them down easier than my older sibling did. And I happened to get into a little more trouble (as trouble was defined in the '60s). For instance, there was the time I bit my sister in the stomach. Hey, it was her own fault - she had a halter top on and she was shaking me by the shoulders. How much more obvious could a target be? There was screaming and yelling and the exasperated threat of, "Wait until your father gets home!" from my mom while my sibling fled into her room to survey the damage. When I did hear him arrive home after a long day of work, knowing my mother was retelling every detail of my misdemeanor, I listened at my door to catch pieces of their conversation and awaited my punishment. Then I heard him laugh. He tried not to (especially because my mom was definitely not laughing) but I knew the fates were on my side. I vaguely recall a stern talking to from my dad as he held back the snickering.

Limits (or not) and the Second Child

What I mean by "real threat" is that, no matter how riled I could get my mom (and oh, I was proficient at it), I did not - I repeat DID NOT want my dad mad at me. Was I afraid of him? You betcha. Not for the reasons one may assume. Our house was not big on physical punishment. It was "The Look" that you wanted to avoid at all costs - that "I'm so angry at you right now, I can't even look at you" expression - that disappointment.... that "Aaahh" type of sigh he would let out as he waved you off and turned away.

It. Was. Devastating.

I'm pretty sure my dad knew the power he wielded. I will admit I was subject to it more than my older, wiser, more cautious sister who had nobody ahead of her as a guinea pig to test the limits. To say I tested them was somewhat of an understatement. I redefined them in many instances, taking advantage of the fact that there was a nine year age difference between Sis and myself - and let's face it - my parents were tired by then.

When I was in my early teens during a stretch of time when he and my mom owned a business and he would come home for a quick dinner, I thought I would show off my cooking expertise by making pancakes for him. The first problem with this was that I had not a shred of expertise in cooking anything. This was in the days of adding several ingredients (not just water), so I followed the directions to the letter. Except for the part about the flour. Instead of using the pancake flour - in the box that I was reading the directions from - I used regular flour. The difference in the pretty, fluffy pancakes on the box and the pieces of simulated cardboard on his plate was obvious, and a little frightening. He didn't want to upset me but you know he had to ask exactly what I had put in the pancake batter. Through my tears I explained the process. That man sat and ate every one of those flat, tasteless pancakes, thanked me and gave me a kiss, and headed back to work. Here I was mortified at my mistake only minutes before, and then consoled by his simple sacrifice. I didn't even care that he may have stopped at MacDonald's on the way back to work.

As a semi-rebellious 18-year-old (in the context of an 18-year old in an Italian household with a curfew of midnight) I had an opportunity to audition for lead vocalist in a local wedding (slash bowling banquet slash volunteer firefighters Christmas party, which by the way, they left for a fire in the middle of) band, unbeknownst to my parents. My desire to follow through with this opportunity wasn't much of a stretch. My sister and I had been raised to sing practically as soon as we could stand. My father played dozens of tunes on the keyboard from his well worn fake books, (which I believed as a child was illegal to have and you didn't tell other people about it because someone might arrest your parents - don't ask me where I got that), adding effortless harmonies once we would learn a melody, and over time honing that same natural ability in my sister and myself. We both grew up 'thinking' in harmony, often learning that part of a song before the actual melody would stick with us.

The band audition was with a local wedding band, and I had a week to prepare. I cocooned myself in my bedroom and stood in front of my mirror for endless hours, belting out tune after tune along with my Donna Summer 45's, clutching my hairbrush turned microphone. It wasn't until the night before my audition that I got up the nerve to talk to my dad about it. This was an important step in the approval process, as he would be the one to convey the information to my mom in a way that wouldn't send her into a tizzy. Let this be a lesson to you kids: Always, always go to the parent with the most pull first.

Here's the thing. He already knew. While my mom carried on without a clue, my dad had zeroed in on my extended stays in my room and my slightly louder-than-usual vocals practically breaking the sound barrier. He also noticed I was quieter that week - something I hadn't tried to be, but since I was wrapped up in trying to form the perfect reasons for wanting to sing in a band I'm sure I was off my game a bit. I did get the job and sang for a time in a couple of different bands. My parents were truly my biggest fans and came as often as possible to see me on those occasions when we played a public venue.

" Now the Curtain is Going Up..."

Once in a while my dad would talk about what he wished he could do, or had done. In the last 20 or so years computers were his obsession and his nemesis. He often said he was born just a little too late to grasp the knowledge needed to really do something with computers, but he forged along to learn a little programming and he constantly tried to create new ideas from already established web successes.

He also expressed more than once that he wished we had gone public as a duet many years ago. He would smile and say, "We could go on as Daddy and Me. I could introduce us. I would say 'I'm Daddy and she is me'".... lips comically pulled in, laughing eyes turned toward the ceiling. I love that memory to this day, even knowing it never came to fruition. The fact that he had wished it to be so was enough for me to comfortably claim my Daddy's Girl title.

Whenever Dad sat down at the keyboard he would play "The Entertainer." He might play it several times, pressing buttons and testing out various sounds to accompany him, seemingly seeking perfection. It could be the first thing he played, somewhere in the middle, or the last piece before closing down, but it was always part of his repertoire. This was such a big part of our life with him that my sister and I requested it as a part in his funeral. The priest (after explaining this was not exactly 'funeral' music and we shouldn't count on it) kindly slipped a recording of it in at the end of his homily, much to the bewilderment of just about everyone else in attendance. It only mattered to the two of us who were struck by its intimate meaning, sitting tearful and smiling in the front pew of church.

I miss calling him on April Fools Day when we regularly tried to trick each other by fabricating some unusual circumstance. Once in a while the joke would last for a few minutes, but mostly it was simply a ritual that gave us cause to laugh together.

I miss him calling me "Neen," and to this day allow only a chosen few to use this nickname for me.

I miss his breakfasts that he thrived on making whenever we visited. My kids loved the way he cut and arranged their slices of french toast as if they were in a restaurant. It was all about bringing us together for a time, and he did so lovingly, even when he badgered them about not eating their crusts.

I miss harmonizing with him.

My girls have a very close, strong, thoroughly imperfect relationship with their dad. On some days it reminds me of my own fascination and frustration with my father growing up. I love knowing their memories in years to come may not be of an extraordinarily exciting life, but they will be of a family life. It will be knowing they were always loved, even when they didn't like him very much, and in recalling that, in between the times they thought he was too hard on them, they were deeply aware he would do anything for them.

It will be in savoring the fact that they were both Daddy's Girls. And that's all a Daddy really wants.
"The Entertainer is taking his bow...."

Newangled Contraption Delay

The blog - a Father's Day tribute of sorts - will be up as soon as the iPad, the Droid and I come to some sort of mutual agreement.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Exciting, Unnerving, Inevitable: Change

This past Sunday was my baby girl’s high school graduation. Chaos reigned last week as we worked on tidying up the house (calling the HazMat team, alerting the neighborhood to ignore tumbleweed size chunks of animal fur rolling past), preparing meals and shopping last minute (is there any other kind of shopping?).

With much anticipation and excitement we awaited the arrival of OK and The Boy Friday evening. Because of the timing of baccalaureate we weren’t home when they were due to arrive. We did, however, provide them with a car parked at the bus station to travel by – along with directions. Hey, it had been a while and I didn’t want them jumping on the highway the wrong way and winding up in North Wingpit.

While I admit it would have been fun to greet them with a big “Welcome back” sign at the bus station, it was especially sweet to arrive home and find them here for the first time in a year and a half, when OK had hopped on a Philly-bound bus to be with her true love. The weekend’s conversation swirled with familiar laughter as we relished just being together again.

Of course, before that OK had to send me into mild hysteria at the beginning of their trip last Friday. Feigning illness and a late start to the bus stop via text (I understand this was at The Boy’s suggestion – he has much to learn), at 10:07 a.m. she alerted me that they were “almost at the bus station.” The bus was scheduled to leave at 10:15. Not a good sign. A few minutes later her text announced, “Ummm… I think we just missed the bus.”

I’m not sure what part of her thought I would laugh heartily at this prank when I found out that they were really on the bus and had been at the station for close to an hour ahead of departure. Apparently her father’s warped sense of humor reigned at the time – before she found out that I was sitting at my desk in tears, my computer screen immediately filled with information on bus, train and flight schedules (yes, flight.... S was only slightly amused by that part) to get them here by Friday evening. Note to children in general: Do not…  hold on - not enough emphasis.

DO NOT EVER attempt to joke about missing an important event with a mother who:

#1 has not been able to watch any commercials displaying the slightest parent/child sentiment without melting into tears for the last three months;

#2 has been pouring over baby pictures since September to capture just the right one for A) the yearbook, B) the senior photo slide show, C) social media to use on “The Day.”

#3 has not been able to have a conversation with any other mom of a graduating senior without seemingly gasping for air in order to not bust out in tears.

More than just Mommy being Mommy

I’m going to slip back in time a bit here to get the full effect of what this whole weekend meant to me personally. Five years ago I had just gone into remission after a battle with Leukemia (AML - the "best" - i.e., most curable - kind of Leukemia to have, we were told in the beginning). The diagnosis threw all of us into a complete tailspin, but the fight itself to recovery was shockingly arduous and terrifying, even more so for my family than me, since I was not conscious or particularly alert through a chunk of the time I was receiving treatment. It is obvious that I am far from the only parent with real fears, especially based on this type of health scare, of not being there for her children on their most important days. It is what every parent fears no matter what that child’s age. What I did find as time went by is that a bond has since formed through just a look, a nod, a hug, when I come across others who have faced similar situations. We crammed into shiny bleachers with other parents who had similar experiences and were now squirming in close to 90 degree weather (with a touch of cyclone thrown in, deceptively convincing some students and attendees there was no need for sunblock), searching across a newly turfed football field hoping to distinguish their child from the other maroon and gold caps and gowns. Thankful to be here for this day? That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the emotion cascading through me.

In a New York Minute – no matter where you live

On Sunday we slathered ourselves with SPF-50, listened to speeches (ranging from meaningful to… not so much), discovered who received scholarships (including YK – yay!), and generally tried not to kick the person sitting on the bleachers in front of us. Then my baby walked across the new turf of the football field along with 366 of her classmates and received her high school diploma, graduating magna cum laude. To say it was an emotional moment sounds so cliché. The whole week had been one of blurred vision (especially through the senior song, which I heard at no less than five events, and teared up every time), nearly tangible excitement for “The Day,” and a small sense of dread because I know the next step is dropping her off at a college eight hours away in August.

Commencement is followed by a tradition at this high school – the hug line. In the shape of what looks like a giant centipede, maroon and gold caps and gowns hug for what will be the last time (and actually, in most cases, first) in a final congratulations to each other.  It is fun to watch and of course it got to me, but it was also a bit comical witnessing how YK had different versions of ‘hug.' There was the full on hug, reserved for good friends and even the kids she didn’t hang out with but knew to be likeable. Then there was the touch on both shoulders in a sort of “how’re ya doin’” motion for the ones she knew of and may have shared a class with. Finally, there was the single arm hug that she swiftly slung over and removed in one quick motion, not so much in disdain as “Oh yeah, you are so off my Facebook by tomorrow.” She had all the bases covered.

Funny how in one minute everything changed.

About a half hour after ceremonies ended I was driving by the now deserted high school to the store to pick up a cake I had ordered. Passing the front entrance, I felt an odd emptiness, and something that felt a bit like panic. YK would no longer have any reason to enter these gates, to walk through the halls or step into a classroom. This was no longer her world, and I suddenly realized it was no longer mine either. Yes, we might go back during concerts and plays, but it will never be quite the same again. This was a strange rush of melancholy I was unprepared for.

There has been more going on than just a graduation here this past week. OK and The Boy chose to incorporate a few visits to wedding venues into their trip. This was a first for them – and for me. Not that I went with them. That would be obnoxious and unnecessary. And they didn’t ask me (very smart). Still, the idea that someone was talking to them about a ceremony and a guest list and all those “firsts” definitely triggered some butterflies even for me. A couple of times I did offer (hopefully in a non-mother-in-law-to-be way) suggestions about how they might want to go about their search, and S and I let them know we want to help them as much as possible once they establish what they want. And where they want to have it. And when.

Now I get it

When I was just two weeks away from my own wedding (lo, those many years ago), my mom went to a hairdresser to have her hair cut and colored. In my mind to this day is a strong picture of my mother standing in front of her mirror at home afterward with tears streaming down her face because she hated the cut and the color was darker than she had wanted. Funny, I remember thinking how she looked so glamorous on my wedding day.. but at that moment she was inconsolable. It was all wrong.

The morning of YK’s graduation, OK and I ran to the dollar store (where all wise parents shop for celebrations) to get the balloons I had pre-ordered (fine - the day before - but at least I did it) so we could get home and tie them to the mailbox while YK was in one of her marathon showers. The minute the clerk handed them to me I realized the colors I had chosen were haphazard at best, a weird mixture of orange Mylar with "Congratulations Grad" (it is one of her new school colors), yellow, white, blue and red, I believe. I don’t know what I was thinking when I ordered them, but as we shoved them into the car I was thinking, “What was I thinking???” I knew OK wouldn’t say a negative word about them (even though I was sure she was very curious about my choices) and that YK would be just plain happy to see congratulatory balloons in front of her house. But I knew it was all wrong. There was additional irony in the fact that the Mylar balloon with “Congratulations Grad” – in the only color that made sense - was literally ripped off by the wind while we were at the ceremony.

Between graduation and dinner I ran to pick up the cake I had ordered. At least this couldn’t go wrong, I thought. The colors were to be maroon, gold and orange for trimming – a combination of maroon and gold for her high school, and maroon and orange for the college she will be attending. I had it covered! When the bakery clerk brought over the cake I was sure my face dropped. The message had been written in yellow (it had looked much closer to gold on the other cakes I had seen). Yellow? Really? They didn’t ask me what color I wanted the writing in? They couldn’t have figured that the orange or maroon would have shown up better? Just so wrong.

I'll bet you're catching on about now, and so am I. It wasn’t about the color or cut of my mom’s hair. It had little to do with my choice of balloons or the writing on the cake. It was – and is - about knowing change is inevitable, ready or not.

Play it Again, Mom

I can easily replay in my head the dozens of times their dad and I held our children’s hands and ‘flew’ them over a puddle. Colorful scenes of kite flying on the beach, searching for falling stars at night in the backyard, our crazy after-Christmas gingerbread houses, even the alphabet game on road trips (which we still do, but I know in my heart, that is about to end… probably on our way to PA in August) compose a revolving panorama through my mind these days. There is a genuine heaviness in keeping from tearing up on days when I’m driving down the road thinking of nothing, and find myself unexpectedly reliving a day in the life of parenthood.

Change is exciting. S and I are going on a date Friday night. He made plans for us that will be a surprise to me. The fact that he made plans is enough of a surprise, but as long as I know the dress code I’m game for whatever he’s got rolled up his sleeve. There has been no reason for us not to go on dates more often. YK is 18, and has been striking a chord toward independence since birth, so she cheers us on when we have ‘couples’ plans, happy to have control of the TV remote. I just have not been very interested in being gone for any length of time whenever one of my kids has been here, though I wouldn't say we've been hermits either.  But knowing very soon it will be “just us” I can honestly say I am ready to ‘go out’ – with my husband.

Change is unnerving. By summer’s end my children will be a minimum of seven hours away from me. Philadelphia is not the world’s safest city, though OK is in a pretty decent area. YK’s college is an hour from the Harrisburg bus station - which I have been warned isn’t the greatest area – and at that point she will still have a haul to see her sister. We will have to celebrate YK’s birthday a week late when we go to Family Weekend. I don’t even know what’s going to happen with Thanksgiving (other than that I will not be fit to live with if I’m not with at least one kid). I’m scared, plain and simple, to be that far from both of my girls. But they are both so happy with their choices that I know in my heart we will figure it out, and it will be all right.

Change is inevitable.  The beauty of that is in choosing to be truly grateful that we’re along for the ride. At 50-don’t-ask years old I know I am still changing, evolving, recreating who I am and where I’m going. Life is all about facing - or fighting - change. We are each trying to defy gravity in our own way. So as inevitable and sometimes heartbreaking as change is, the supressed rebel in me is does enjoy seeing the adventuresome (and somewhat impulsive) side of my offspring being unleashed. Don’t be fooled, though, by these declarations. It was still bittersweet to hear about OK's conversation with a co-worker about coming to Maine where she referred to this as “my parents’ home” instead of just “home.”

I don’t try to picture OK in her wedding dress - partially because my spaghetti brain goes from wedding dress to location to family visiting to people walking into my house to We Have to Get New Kitchen Cabinets Before The Wedding (yes, that is the typical road my mind travels). My mind won’t wander (yet) to the day we drop YK off on her home away from home for the next four years. This is partially self-preservation, knowing if I focus on that day too soon it will be a very difficult two and a half months. I also believe YK is over the top excited but also a tad nervous about being so far from home. This is the kid that zeroed in on finding her family after the graduation hug line, leading to a small admonishment from classmates who had tried to find her for photo ops. It’s some comfort to know she’s not packing just yet and that every time she says (with a touch of sauciness), “You’ll miss me” she is also saying “I’ll miss you, too” in a healthy, completely secure way.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s hard to know how to end a blog about a story that’s just beginning. So I will end it with two pictures, one for an ending of sorts, one for a beginning.

The night before OK and The Boy boarded the bus back home we came together for a bonfire in our beautiful backyard fire pit (constructed with great care by S). I won’t say this is the last time we will sit together and admire the dancing flames (and try to keep our almost blind dog’s tail out of them) as a family, but it is very likely the last one we will have as this family in this way.

Orange is one of the school colors of YK’s college. You don’t often see it in a rose, so naturally we had to have it for her at graduation (thank you, vendor under the bleachers). Whether the significance struck her the same way is still up for debate, but I can tell you the weight of its meaning went straight to my heart.

I know this to be a time of change, taking chances, and being thankful for being here to witness it all. I just hope you don’t mind if, for just a few minutes, I step back in time to small hands clutching mine and one more leap over the puddle.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Just a minute! Sheeesh...

Due to family visiting, YK's high school graduation, cleaning the house, and folding laundry - this week's blog is delayed just a tad. I will return within the next couple of days and regale you with tearful tellings of emotionally charged moments from the past weekend... I am sure Hallmark will be calling to hire me on the spot soon after.

Thank you for your patience.