Lyrical Laughs

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thinking Thankful

I am on a roll. There are ideas in my head and goals in my heart, and I'm on a bit of a cleaning/changing-it-up spree and feeling ambitious. Energized. Motivated.


This Thanksgiving is a bit of a hump because it's the first one as true empty nesters. While our girls spend the holiday together in Philadelphia (with The Fiance), we will head to a wonderful dinner at our church, visit a very close friend in the hospital, then finally stop and say hello to another friend and her family. It's a full day - no time to sit around and think (except for right now, because my partner in crime is still sleeping).

But if there was time, I would think about a lot of things.

Like the "I love you" texts I often get from both children. Whether they know how much their messages mean to me or not, Verizon does, since I saved so many of them that my phone went into a frenzy at one point.

Or the way a certain spouse made me laugh with his goofy way of apologizing the other day when he thought he ticked me off. He did, a little, but over the years and with much practice we have learned to disarm each other - often with humor - and come back to common ground.

What about appreciating our big, lunky Golden Retriever who can't see a darn thing but will search every square inch of the living room floor, banging his head against furniture and knocking over the trash can, until he finds a toy to bring to us when we get home.

And the cat. Oh yes, that cat. She is sleeping on my pillow at the moment... in fact, she is sleeping on three quarters of my pillow. But I don't mind because she is my connection to my kids at this point, and I happily give her the attention she will often demand. And I do mean demand.

I think about the fact that we have a home and food and friends and a church we love. Thankful that even though we are not with extended family today, as we have often been for this holiday, they are all safe in their own homes, hopefully feeling thankful in their own way.

My mother-in-law passed away at 93 in late September, ironically on my dad's birthday (he would have been 87), so we have had our tough moments also. A while back I had asked her to consider writing down some of her life adventures. She and my father-in-law had traveled across the country in a tiny Shasta trailer; she had done volunteer work for the Red Cross after he passed away and was assigned to some rough areas during that time; and she had done much charity work over the years, which I wanted my children and their cousins to know about. Her vast experiences were worth passing on to her grandchildren, I cajoled.

In her house we discovered that she had tried to honor my request. She had done so in not one but two different diaries, neither of which had many pages written on, sadly because by the time I had thought to request this of her, her health was failing and she was not able to write. She hid this fact for a while until she could no longer deny it, and within a year she was gone. But she did share some wonderful things that none of her children or grandchildren would have otherwise known about her life.

On the last page she was able to write, she talked about being thankful and blessed with four wonderful children who loved her, and that they were what kept her going every day. It was a sweet, perfect way to end what should not have been the end yet, but was.

I'm sure she didn't always feel thankful. I know I don't always feel thankful, and I'm guessing you don't either. But I'm finding these days that it's really very easy to find things to appreciate about life, not because I see people who are worse off, but because of the goodness around me.

For instance, I have a trunk full of coats that members of our church have donated for Coats for Kids, and another three bags sitting in the parish entryway to be picked up. People are good and kind and generous, and all we have to do is ask someone's help to find that out.

So on this Thanksgiving morning I want to end with a quote from Nick Vujicic, a man with no arms and no legs. Look him up - his story is worth your time.

"I have never met a bitter person who was thankful, or a thankful person who was bitter."

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Happy Thankfulness.

Friday, November 22, 2013

You call that multi-tasking?

My husband left his breakfast dish in the sink this morning. He was in a hurry to get ready for work because he wanted to start his day early today, so the 20 seconds it would have taken to rinse his dish off and put it in the dishwasher was - you can totally understand this - out of the question.

I should make it clear that my spouse does his fair share for the most part around the house. He will wash the dishes, do laundry (folding? let's not go there), feed the animals. He also handles many things I cannot, or rather, have no interest in, learning how to handle such as plumbing or electrical stuff (that would be the technical term). So this is not going to be a husband bashing post at all. It is simply being written to point out what every woman knows.

Men can not multi-task.

They call it multi-tasking when they have a beer in one hand and the remote in the other and they can't possibly concentrate on the conversation you're trying to have with them. All right, - that is selective hearing, I'll give you that. Back to the not-multi-tasking part.

They are stretching themselves too thin if they have to pick up a tool and a bunch of rags and then have to figure out how to open the door. That's what you are there for - those moments when your life partner needs you to push the kitchen door open and let him barge through, grunting that you're in his way as you dangle shoeless inside and outside, hoping not to get pushed onto the porch (which inevitably will be wet from rain or snow or something he spilled) on his way by.

Here's the thing. If men multi-task, then women multi-multi-task.

In the same scenario, a female would have mail and a Dunkin Donuts coffee in one hand and three bags of groceries in the other, and if she was not able to use her pinky to pry open the door, she would consider using her teeth.

You know I’m right. At this moment you are reading this blog, checking your email, folding clothes, and starting dinner. Look at yourself - and get the letter opener out of your mouth.

This morning as I was feeding the blind dog and screaming cat while the other pet owner rushed around the house to get ready for his 'early' morning, I suddenly saw the whole scenario clearly. There I was trying to pry the top off a can of cat food with two fingers while holding a knife in one hand and drying off a dish with three of my fingers while attempting to open the refrigerator door with one foot.

Fine, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. But the holding the knife thing and trying to pry a can open - totally true.

The point I'm trying to make and take full credit for is that women don't know how to put things down before they take on something else - and nobody expects them to. Whenever someone in the house is yelling that they can't find socks, shoes, a brush, the kitchen table - whatever it is - the (insert mom or wife or partner here) is wandering down the hall half-dressed, pulling the lost shoe out from under the sofa, waving the socks in the air that she found (and nobody else could possibly focus on) in the basket of  unfolded clothes that's been sitting in the living room for three days, and sweeping everything off the kitchen table into a box to be gone through later.

Oh, that fateful word, later. I believe we are on box number four of "laters" - hidden somewhere behind the seldom touched far side of the sofa.

And then she would finish getting dressed, hopefully without having toothpaste spittle working its way down her bra this time.

Not that I speak from experience or anything.

It's not just this day and age either - this has been going on since the stone age. A caveman would bring home a yak or a tree and the cavewoman would be responsible for chopping up dinner (without a freezer to store it in, mind you) as well as having to sauté the vegetables. In the meantime the cavekids would have to be entertained (no cable - remember?) and you can only send them to stone age survival camp so many times.

Even as a child I was aware that my mom was a multi-tasking fiend. The rest of the family would be sitting down to dinner for ten minutes before she even got to sniff the food she had meticulously prepared. She also managed to get herself in trouble a few times due to getting a tad carried away with tasks. Take the time I came home from school and she was stuck on top of some appliance – a refrigerator or freezer, something cold that was meant to hold food and not people - at the bottom of our cellar steps. The woman has never hit five feet, so how she got on there in first place is beyond me, even with the help of a chair which had since tipped over and made a semi-graceful descent impossible. This was not the time to laugh. And yet…

Maybe we were born to do several things at once and not whine about it. Or maybe we should start whining more and see how much help we get.

I’ll figure it out later - I have to go now. The stove timer is ringing. And the dog is crossing his legs. And the cat is eating the drywall again.

Where’s my letter opener?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Four (more) weeks

Have I mentioned that my only two children have taken to the far ends of the earth, by that I mean Pennsylvania, as their current address?

How ironic is it that both girls are learning to fly in unfamiliar territory, far from the protective wings of their mother? How odd is it that both girls ended up (or started, depending on how I choose to look at it at the moment) in Pennsylvania when I never spoke of such a place, not even in terms of Hershey.

But I have four more weeks. That’s when my sky will begin to lighten up. And no, it has nothing to do with the winter solstice (which is a week later, by the way – yay!). It has everything to do with the kids coming home, at least temporarily.

The last time I mentioned "four weeks" in this blog, I was attempting to prepare myself for our youngest child's foray into college life oh so far away. I cried while I was writing it... I cried when I received feedback from parents going through that same process of letting go, of struggling to reaffirm their willingness to let their babies grow up and move on. It was so much easier to feel that way when we were still cutting the crusts off their bread.

The past three months have not been completely without family time. We were able to slip a few 24-hour visits in and I was sort of satisfied with that. Now I just need to get past Thanksgiving, which will be – for the first time in 25 years – minus at least one of my girls here to watch the parade in their pajamas, scoff down a big breakfast, and celebrate with us in various ways (at home, or church, or serving dinner to others). They will be sharing the holiday together (along with The Boy, of course) in Philadelphia, where they will walk down the street to a huge parade followed the next day by the unveiling of holiday window displays, light shows, the works. I admit to being a teeny bit jealous. In fact, I am already plotting – planning, that should have said planning - our visit to Philly next year at this time.

Before anyone reading this has a picture in their mind of two lonely empty nesters sitting home with a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store watching NCIS reruns on cable (which, by the way, we just got back - and oh yes, that will definitely be a future blog post), we do have other places to go/things to do on Thanksgiving. We will not be sitting here waiting for our children to appear on Skype... well, not until that evening anyway.

Recently a friend asked me how the empty nest was, and my honest reply was a little laugh and a “Not bad.” No, really – it’s not bad at all. In fact, I am already aware that some adjustments will be tough when YK comes home in four weeks. For instance, S and I don’t talk quietly in the morning any more; this will have to be relearned because I am willing to bet that a certain college student whose first class this semester isn’t until 10 a.m. will not be receptive to being jolted awake by conversations that start with, “Did you feed the animals yet?” loud enough to be heard through the bathroom door.

Even my grocery shopping has changed – I haven’t bought a gallon of milk in three months, shrinking down to half gallons (and considering quarts) since it only gets used for coffee and the occasional bowl of cereal. This won’t fly when it’s more than just the two of us. We’ll need to have more milk and bread and definitely peanut butter available for the month of winter break.

I am willing to make these adjustments. More than willing – I can’t wait. Though it happens less these days, every once in a while this feeling of emotional urgency mixed with a legitimate sadness sweeps over me… as if deep down my heart is somehow trying to grasp at my children and pull them back to me. It is a fleeting but powerful ache that might be dredged up by simply seeing Facebook photos of friends whose kids who are able to bop home for the weekend, or hearing about parents heading to a college campus that’s within a few hours. I sincerely do not begrudge anyone those moments, but my own longing for the opportunity to see my girls a little more often has, I admit, impeded me from automatically “liking” some of those posts.

And yet… this countdown of four weeks allows me to prepare and anticipate, especially because in five - did you get that? - in FIVE weeks this house will once again be filled with family. Yup, the gang will be here for Christmas. Be thankful you cannot see my happy dance right now.

Now let’s get down to the reality of the days to come. Holiday stress.

Raise your hand if you've ever had to scoff down a piece of toast and a cup of coffee as you are standing in the doorway between the kitchen and living room while Christmas presents are being opened, rush out the door for a huge dinner precisely at noon at the home of Parental Set #1, and run across town (or state) to Parental Set #2 in time for more unwrapping followed by a huge dinner at 3 p.m., when you haven’t even started to digest that morning’s toast. The “joyful” holiday season can turn into a competition in which someone’s feelings are bound to get hurt no matter how you try to stretch yourself, agreed?

I am sure at least some of you have faced a similar scenario during holidays or birthdays (or anything that makes you wish your clone was with family while the real you basks on an island somewhere). I vowed not to do that to our kids. They would not have us dictating what day or time they should be with us on holidays. It should be up to them and we would respect their decision whether or not to be present.

I did say that. I meant it.

At the time.

Then last Christmas happened, and OK and The Boy spent it in Bora Bora with his family (where his dad, the manager for an incredible luxury hotel that I will most likely never set foot in, was assigned at the time). He set the perfect scene at dusk on the beach, produced a shell with a diamond ring hidden inside (thank goodness it was the right shell), and asked her to marry him. It could not have been more perfect.

Naturally, this meant only one thing. I called dibs on this Christmas almost before they arrived back home last year. As it turns out, I am getting my way… wait -- wish. I meant wish. Since then I figured out a way to transport the Love Couple to Connecticut the weekend before Christmas so we can rendezvous, visit family, then all ride together back Maine where they will spend the week. Unfortunately for them, coming here for Christmas has basically forced them to use every remaining minute of their vacation time, which I really did not want them to have to do. I feel bad. Oh… no, wait – not really that bad. I get them for A Whole Week (insert maniacal laugh).

This is also the Year of Wedding Planning. I am beyond excited that OK and her intended will be making a trip to what is likely the venue for their special day. I have to say, trying to picture my first-born, my beautiful, sweet, future ballerina-doctor (she was four at the time) baby girl, as someone’s wife (even The Boy, who we happen to adore) is… overwhelming, but in a very, very good way. I also never pictured her thriving in a place like Philadelphia when she grew up in a town of 19,000, and I am happy and proud to say city life fits her perfectly.

I am also aware, while this will be YK’s first actual college winter break, it could possibly be the last break she will remain home for. It would not surprise me at all if she either spends a chunk of time visiting newfound college friends during future breaks or arranges for a study abroad as part of it. Her school labels study abroad excursions “Go Long” or “Go Short” depending on the length (obviously). I am hoping to get one more year out of the holidays before YK will just be thinking, “GO.”

Last night our church sponsored a cookie bake to support today’s church fair cookie walk. A crew of kids decorated the sugar cookies, swiftly bringing back memories of my own kids joining in, sometimes bringing friends. Icing and sprinkles coated tables, and little candy balls are probably still rolling around the floor this morning. Simple fun. Sweet memories. I am so thankful to have them, just as the moms who were calmly directing last night’s craziness will be.

Of course, there is much preparation before we are gleefully ascended upon. So far my pre-visit grocery list (shells for stuffing, pumpkin pie, bread, cream cheese, and strawberries for stuffed French toast) is worlds apart from the last three months. We will have to clear out OK’s bedroom (which has more or less become The Spare Room - and we all know what that means) and wash YK’s sheets, since her cat spent the first few days of her absence vengefully shedding every possible piece of fur on her pillow and sheets.

We also get to include The Boy in our annual tradition of heading to the beach for sunrise Christmas morning. I’m thinking it won’t be quite the same as waking up to the sandy beaches of Bora Bora, where they didn’t have to worry about parkas, hats, and mittens. That’s not the point – it’s family time. And it makes you appreciate the hot coffee and cocoa waiting back at home, which you obviously wouldn’t get the full effect of in 80+ degree temps. Besides, it’s humid in Bora Bora in December – who needs that, right?

So there you have it, the reasons for my quest to gain control of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  I plan to cherish every exhausting minute of it. And I know it will go by quicker than I can say, “What about next year?”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Beware of the bear (but which one?)

I've been thinking a lot about bears lately. I believe it's safe to say we all know bears are dangerous animals that need little if any provocation to chase you down and have you for dinner (literally) and should be respected and, yes, feared. But what about when people turn into bears? What reaction do they deserve?

Recently I came across a bear of sorts, in an office setting of all places. This bear reacted to something I had done as if it had been a personal attack, which everyone else around knew it was not. He came at me with teeth showing, claws bared, ready to gnaw on my throat and throw my remains into the trash... or maybe the recycling. Either way, the bear was in the wrong, as bears can be in their assumption that someone or something is a threat to their manhood (or bearhood). Now, I will give a real bear leeway here - you can't very well explain or defend yourself when you're in the middle of the woods standing next to his favorite berry tree. You should, however, have the opportunity to explain or defend yourself when facing a bear in a suit and tie. If they will let you get a word in edgewise. That was not going to happen.

I respect bears, and in fact, any creature that might decide I would go well with a nice bottle of chianti. Respecting someone who acts bear-ish is another story. Who among us has not had someone "put them in their place" in a completely unacceptable way for utterly wrong reasons? It's difficult to respect someone whose approach is to demean and embarrass you, especially within earshot of others. Even when you are steadfast in the fact that you did nothing wrong, the sheer force of the attack can wither your will to stand up for yourself. Sometimes you need support. Which leads me to another type of bear.

The Mama Bear. Now there's a bear I can relate to and understand, because I am one. My girls know full well that someone might mess with me and get away with it, but try messing with one of my offspring and find out just how big of a mistake that was. While I believe I've taught them to be strong in their convictions, we all know standing up for yourself is just plain hard when you are being thrown under the bus. Mama bears tend to stand in front of the bus and stare the driver down. My kids would likely say that's my specialty.

What I discovered this week was that mama bears can be found in the most unexpected places. While I was trying to regain my composure after the initial onslaught, little did I know that a fire had been lit under someone who heard everything (it would have been almost impossible not to). So the next day when the person who would make the final call was back in the office from a road trip, she was given a blow-by-blow account by someone other than me that I'm fairly sure wrapped up with, "This was totally not okay."

Within minutes of the bear appearing that day (acting as if nothing had happened), he was briskly shown the error of his ways. Did he agree? Of course not - bears in suits don't have the capacity to think past licking their own... wounds. Mama bears, however, do have a distinct talent for making it crystal clear this will not happen again. Or else. Even bears have enough sense to not ask what "or else" means.

Two things strike me here.

The first is that this particular bear is an intelligent, somewhat successful, supposedly sophisticated person. I wonder if he realizes he came down a notch or two not just in my eyes, but in the eyes of others who had been witness to his unwarranted rage.

The second is that knowing others had my back made all the difference in how this scenario was dealt with. I did take some offense to the fact that, while this bear had absolutely no trouble berating me loudly in a totally inappropriate setting, he did not have the... the... I'll go with guts here - he did not have the guts, or the class, to apologize in the same setting. Instead he sent an email that was one third apology, one third justification (poor excuse) for his behavior, and one third "feel free to talk with me about it," which I chose to pass on. But because I knew by then someone else had stood up for me when she didn't have to, I was able to let it go. A mama bear had my back, and it meant more to me than she knew.

We are surrounded by bears on a fairly regular basis, people that seem to specialize in crushing you with their thoughtless, stinging words or actions. Thankfully, we are also gifted with mama bears, male and female, who don't hesitate to step up - and in - when they witness someone being weakened by aggression. Those are the bears that deserve respect.

So don't be afraid to let your inner bear have some input when necessary.

As long as that bear is your mama.