Sunday, March 30, 2014

Losing Shoes and Saying Goodbye to Softness

Today, we had to buy Nick a new pair of shoes. We had to, I'm telling you.

Yesterday, Nick put his shoes on top of the car before getting in. Why wasn't he wearing them, I wanted to ask him. When did he start putting important things on top of the car, I wanted to ask. What was he going to do without shoes, I wanted to ask.

I didn't even bother. I didn't go looking for the old shoes along the road either. Nick said that a homeless man could find a really great pair of shoes. In reality, a homeless man would find a dirty pair of well-worn shoes, shoes that are seriously wide. I mean seriously wide.

Today, when the woman at Wide Shoes Only measured his growing feet, they measured a men's nine, EEEEEE width. Yes, he's a hexE width. That is just nauseating, isn't it? I think, like puppies do, he's growing unevenly and he hasn't gotten the length in his feet yet. I'm hoping that's the situation. Can you imagine trying to find shoes for the rest of your life that are an EEEEEE width? Well, thank God for Wide Shoes Only, huh?

That's not the only thing that has me a little sick. My son now has hairy legs. Oh, it's not abnormal or anything. It's just that he's not a little boy any more. He has a light mustache too. It's not thick yet, but if he were a girl with that much hair on his upper lip, he'd start waxing it. He loves his mustache and his hairy legs. I am nostalgic for the little boy that I knew. I'm not ready for him to look like a man. I love his smooth cheek, but I'm going to be saying goodbye to that soon too.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Nailed It

Nick has a karate test this afternoon. It's for his brown belt. I know. Can you believe that? I'm so proud!

His sensei said to expect something entirely different than the tests he's taken before. He'll be mixed in with adults. It will be longer and more intense. He's nervous. Shoot, I'm nervous. I keep wondering if he's going to be okay. I'm trying to figure out the best way to feed him so that he won't run out of steam in the middle of the test.

I don't even know how long it's going to take. An hour? Two? Three?

So, I'm working with Nick to do some carbo-loading this morning. For breakfast, I gave him oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins. I even stirred in a bit of unsweetened cocoa and vanilla. Then, for lunch, he'll probably have half of a sandwich and a small salad. I thought it should be smaller than his usual lunch because it would suck to have stuff coming up during the test. I told him that he should have a small protein and fruit smoothie about an hour before the test. That was my guess for a good nutritious workup toward supporting him all afternoon.

Plus, I just gave him a sixteen ounce glass of water and told him to sip enough to finish it in the next hour. He doesn't know that I plan to put another eight ounces in front of him for the next hour. I know he needs to be hydrated.

So, how does my plan look?

I figured I could just hop onto the Internet and see what was what. I found an article by Rebecca Scritchfield. Is she an expert? I hope so, because if she is, I totally nailed it!

Wish me luck. Well, actually Nick is the one who needs luck. I'm just going to be walking the dog in the rain this afternoon. I don't need to carbo-load to do that.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Europe on Four Foibles a Day

It looks like I'm going to Europe in June. Oh, I am so excited.

I used to hate my friends when they told me they were going somewhere good. Yes, I actually hated some of them and their smug little stories of where they went and what they ate and how delicious it was. As one of those people stuck at home for too long, I can tell you that the rest of us do not want the travelogue of your trip, unless you're willing to tell us an embarrassing story about your first encounter with that little sink for washing out your clothes in the bathroom that you found out was a bidet. Four or five pictures of pyramids or cathedrals or ruined castles on your Facebook account is plenty. When you post eighty pictures at one time, even 80 pictures of interesting stuff, we're all too pissed off to click on your comments. Besides, none of your photos can really capture the awe and grandeur of what you've seen. Even if it could, it would only serve to piss us off even more.

Now that I'm going, I sort of want to hear those stories so that I know good places to go. Okay, I want to hear those stories from my good friends. Those other people, acquaintances, really, with their smug little stories about where they dined and what they ordered can go suck eggs.

See, it's all in the delivery, folks.

I'm telling you right now that I'm not going to Europe to impress you. I'm going to be the biggest idiot in the group. First off, I tend to laugh too loudly. Then, I probably talk too loudly too. I'll be the ugly American in my group. Add that I'll probably be the only one who isn't fluent in at least one of the languages we'll need. Actually, I'm a monolingual. Is that even a word? Spellchecker didn't ding me. Oh good.

Don't get me wrong. I can 'vamos a estudiar a la libreria' with the best of them, but that's not really knowing a language, now is it? My lawn guys are very kind not to laugh when the main guy has to leave and I'm standing there saying 'The fire is to be put in the not right school' in Spanish which doesn't mean anything. The worse thing is that it might not come out all that much better if I were saying it in English.

I know where I want to go, but I don't want to be an expert on these places. I'm not a foodie. I'm not a francophile. I like history, but I'm not going to quote dates of massacres. I love art, but I don't know enough to be intellectual about any of it.

So, basically I'm going to be just like I am most days. I'll mess up. I'll figure out stuff. I'll find all kinds of beautiful and amazing things to look at and to experience. I hope I can still write to you while I'm there. I promise not to send too many pictures. I also promise there will be foibles. What good am I if there aren't any foibles?

Thank you for listening, jb

How to Push Them Out

I think I got some people arrested yesterday. I’m not sure because Nick and I left just as the police arrived. By the time we turned left out of the parking lot, Nick said he saw at least one guy in handcuffs. I didn’t get a good look because I was driving, but there were two police cars and about six officers. One person had his arms held up away from his sides and was getting frisked.

I did that.

See, I often stop at the library when Nick is at karate. It’s cheaper than going to Starbucks and I can browse for new books. In the past year, I’ve noticed a huge decrease in my sense of security as I walk from my car into the library building. Stuff happens right at the entrance there, people fighting, others cursing and obviously delusional. The police are there almost half the time when I drive past.

Yesterday, on the way home from the karate, I needed to return a couple of movies. Nick said he needed to go into the bathroom, so I dropped him at the door of the library and drove around to find a parking place. Teenaged boys like having that little bit of freedom to walk into a place by themselves.

After I parked and walked to the entrance to the library, I decided to wait for Nick outside. A large group of people were congregated near the main entrance. They were loud and scary looking. I sat down at a bench. One of the group rode a little bike over to where I sat down to wait for Nick. Little bikes spelled drugs to me.

“Hi, do you need anything?” he asked.

“What?” I said.

“Do you need anything?” He was a little less certain once he looked me in the eye. “I mean, there was a kid looking for his mom.”

“I’m fine,” I said a little more confidently than felt. He didn’t move away, effectively blocking me with his bike if I had wanted to rise from the bench.

“I’m fine.” I stared him in the eye until he rode his bike back over to the group of six or seven people standing in a circle.

I pretended to read my book, though I kept my eyes and ears open as I waited. People coming to and from the library grabbed their children’s hands and held them tightly as they exited the building. People walked quickly and deliberately, like they were in Newark or something. One lady looked at me gratefully as if I were a lifeline to her safe passage into the building.

In between pretending to read, I kept one eye on the hallway where the bathroom was. A lot of roughhousing was going on down there.

Then, I heard one of the people in the loud group bragging about his ‘kit,’ about having a razor blade. They were passing what looked like a small bong from person to person barely concealing their activities. One guy dropped a box full things along with what looked like joints or hand-rolled cigarettes. I got nervous as I waited for Nick. What was taking him so long? I wanted to get out of there. Suddenly, I didn’t want him to be alone in the restroom either. He’s thirteen and not small, but I was seriously uncomfortable about his safety. Eventually, I walked into the building to see if I could find a library employee to yell his name into the men's room to see if he was okay. I was talking to a librarian about the problem outside when my son returned.

“Can’t you do anything about those people outside?” I asked her. “It looks like they’re doing drugs right at the door.”

“Are they in the building?” she asked.

“No. See, there. They are standing right there by the bench." The librarian held up her hand for me to wait and disappeared into the office. Another librarian came up and stood with us. If she hadn't, I would have considered leaving.

“Mom, there was a seriously scary guy in the bathroom. He …”

“Did he do anything to you?” I interrupted.

“No. He looked just like those meth guys in the pictures.” Nick had shown me a website the kids had looked at in Health class of before and after meth photos. The after pictures were pretty wicked looking. Zombies, really.

“Did he try to talk to you?”

“No Mom, he but he was in there for a long time and he …” The librarian came back out of the office.

“We can’t call the police unless they’re in the building. Will you call 911 for me, please?” she asked.

“Really? You’re not allowed to call yourselves?”

“No. Would you mind calling them, please?”

“Sure.” I hate calling the police. I always feel like one of those busybodies when I call 911, bugging them about stuff when they have more important things to do. But this librarian was standing there looking at me.

I dialed 911.

“911,” a woman at dispatch said.

“Hi. Uh, I’m sorry to bother you with something that may not be a total emergency, but there is a group of people in front of the Redmond library who seem to be doing drugs right out in the open. They asked me if I wanted anything.” She switched me to the Redmond Police and another woman continued asking questions. I tried to answer as clearly and as calmly as I could.

“What kind of drugs are they doing?”

“I don’t know. I’m not all that familiar with drugs and its paraphernalia,” I said. I went on to describe what I had seen them doing.

“Do they have any weapons?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything like that.”

“Mom, tell him about the guy in the bathroom.” I tried to relay information to dispatch about the guy in the bathroom, but from what I could tell, looking like a meth user wasn’t actually a crime.

“Do you want to talk to a police officer?” dispatch asked. Nick was saying something, but I didn’t catch it.

“No. I hope you don’t mind, but I need to get home with my boy.” I didn’t tell her that I’d really rather my teenaged boy not see any more of these people than he needed to.

“Thank you for calling, ma’am,” she said. It was a relief to hear that. I didn’t want to be that irritating person who called the police too often.

“The scary guy in the bathroom? He left a little package by the sink,” Nick repeated. Shit! Now, that could have been a crime.

“That man smelled terrible, Mom.” He went on to tell me about how the man smelled like chemicals, not just normal stink as we walked out of the library.

As we crossed into the crosswalk, a female officer walked quickly toward the entrance, keeping close to the side of the building. I gave her a thumbs up and mouthed a ‘thank you.’ She put the hand sign for a phone to her ear and I nodded. Nick was very excited. I just wanted to hustle him into the car and get the hell out of Dodge.

By the time we pulled out of the parking lot, there was a crowd of police surrounding the group of people in front of the library.

“Mom, can I have your phone? I want to call Dad.” I handed my phone to Nick in the back seat.

“Hi Dad?” There was a pause. “Guess what? Mom got a bunch of druggies arrested.”

This is not a normal thing for me. A normal thing is making lunches, assessing homework, and taxiing Nick from one activity to another. So, this thing that happened yesterday has been on my mind.

On the way in to drop Nick at school this morning, I suddenly knew the answer.

I needed to own the place. I needed to write an editorial and challenge good people to take five minutes to sit down at the entrance to the library when they came and went. There should be a forum and it should take place right there where the drug dealers do their business. People who cared about the community should congregate.

There should be music.

Girls Scout should sell cookies.

Cheerleaders should hold a car wash. The fire department should have a bake sale. People should let their dogs meet and greet and stand there talking while they play.

If all of us moms who want our children to be safe should own that place. Children and friends welcome. No drug dealing allowed.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Season for Illness

It's hard when you have a kid who actually has a season for illness. I want to tell his teachers that Nick is a good and intelligent kid and to have patience with him. I want to tell them that Mike and I agonize over whether to send him to school in the condition that he's in. Well, Mike doesn't agonize. I'm the only one who does that. Mike is the picture of confidence when it comes to those decisions, but I'm the one who has to deal with the teachers' complaints. I'm the one who works with Nick to make up all that school work. I want to tell his teachers that I frequently feel cruel when we do send him to school because I know he feels like crap and will barely be able to learn.

I had assumed that they could tell when he was sick, but they can't. One of his teachers complained that he was listless and seemed to be disinterested lately. I must be dense because it just now hit me that what she's talking about are those days when we sent him to school anyway. On those days, we tell him to realize that he won't be doing his best work but to be gentle with himself and try to manage anyway. I had assumed that his teachers took one look at him and said to themselves, as I would, 'that boy should not be here at all, but he's trying.' Instead, they are impatient with him and complain to me whenever I ask how he's doing after he's been sick.

I want to scream at them that he's an honest and intelligent kid who simply has a weak immune system.

So far this year, he's missed thirteen days of school. It's more than last year when he got down to 11 days, but less that other years. His average is 15 days. His worst was 17 days. If I were to add up the days we sent him to school for which he was really too sick but we sent him anyway, it would probably add five or six more days to that total. It sucks.

It totally sucks. His grades have tanked yet again. He struggles to keep them up. The poor kid is so stressed, always having to make up all that work. They actually expect him to be able to work anyway when he's at home and sick. When Mike and I talk about sending him, our rule about keeping him home is that he's too sick to accomplish any significant work. So how the hell am I supposed to get him to work at home in those circumstances? I've tried. It doesn't work.

When did seventh grade get to be so important that his whole career would be impacted over something like this?

Oh hell, I've been getting complaints from his teachers about his attendance since he was four years old and got pneumonia for the first time. I do admit that we took him out of preschool for a week to go to Ireland when he was five. And there was one day in September in fifth grade when Mike and I let him go to the state fair with a friend. We told his teacher what we were doing and he said it was a great idea. By April, however, we realized that one day really did mean something to this teacher and the man wasn't so cheerful about any of it all through spring when the boy was actually sick. Even the woman who worked in the elementary school office nagged me to send him to school anyway.

I should have. I should have bagged up his nebulizer, the five different medications he was on, the meds schedule, the meds log, the oxygen sensor, and the peak-flow meter and left them at the office for her to manage.

The only thing that stopped me was that it would have been so incredibly cruel to Nick. And dangerous since they wouldn't have time to pay enough attention to his breathing.

Can you tell that I'm just a little angry about this?

I wish I were that dreamy kind of mom who managed to shield her child from these kinds of problems no matter what people are saying, the mom who stays confident that she knows what's right for her own child. When a teacher tells me something, I take it seriously. I know their jobs are to challenge their students.

But in moments of clarity, I just know that my boy is a good kid, doing the best he can. When he's struggling to even be at school and they continue to challenge him, when they're impatient with him, it's only succeeding in making him feel bad about himself and stressing him out more thoroughly. I wish he had even one teacher who could see that. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Making Rice Pudding in the Wee Hours

It's 2:56 am and I'm making rice pudding and trying to figure out how Pinterest works. So, you probably can see that my Nick is still feeling sick, though his self-proclaimed vomit cannon has shut down. He's still nauseated and weak. That's why I'm making rice pudding at 2:58 in the morning. It's five minute rice, so it'll be ready in about three more minutes.

The thing about stomach flu rice pudding is that you have to keep it simple. No raisins, no cinnamon, no vanilla, just rice, milk, and sugar. Well crap. Nick says he wants the raisins and cinnamon and stuff, but I really don't want to see all that again. I don't. On the other hand, since rice pudding is one of my carbohydrate nemesis's - what is the plural of nemesis, nemesii? - maybe hanging around as rice pudding comes back up and disposing of it will put me off it forever.

That happened to me once. I got a nasty stomach flu and the last thing I'd eaten before it hit was a tuna sandwich. Couldn't eat tuna for six years after that and it still doesn't smell good when Mike makes a tuna salad sandwich in the morning.

By the way, the plural of nemesis is nemeses.

So, I'm probably not going to set the alarm for school tomorrow. You could probably have guessed it, but the boy - remember the boy? - says he is tired and weak, but not sleepy at all. Not. Sleepy. At. All.

Just shoot me now.

How many more movies can we watch? Technically, I'm not watching, but he is and the noise has been going constantly since Sunday minus a couple of hours this afternoon. Oh, I long for the quiet sounds of the refrigerator and the ticking of baseboard heaters. It gives me a chance to think. I don't mind music either. It's not constantly changing my story.

So now, it's 3:27 am. The rice pudding is done and hanging in there pretty well. I don't hear too much groaning from the spot in front of the television. We've had a change in DVDs and Nick informed me that his stomach muscles are sore. Well, no shit Sherlock. I forget, sometimes, that he hasn't suffered through enough of these vomit cannon episodes to know how they work.

I'm going to leave him to his own devices now. He can come get me if he needs me. It might put me in the realm of 'bad mom,' but he's kept it down since this morning and can stand to feel sick in the room by himself while I sleep in a real bed. This recliner napping just doesn't work all that well. I'm never warm enough, the volume in the room is too high, and the cat always sees it as an opportunity to lie on my knees.

Alright then. Wish the poor boy some luck.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, March 24, 2014

Getting Back Up

I've been hanging around at home all weekend. Didn't do anything. That's what happens when your kid gets sick.

I need to do something creative. Draw in the dark? Hell, it wouldn't matter if I drew in complete darkness, the picture would still be awful. I still love to draw. Why is that?

The problem with sitting up at night with a sick kid is that you put them in front of the television, turn down the lights, and hope they'll sleep. Then you sit in the dark twiddling your thumbs. I tell you, I get so tired of watching television.

Nick is finally dozing. No school tomorrow though. They won't want him there with what he's been doing, but they'll make his life miserable with schoolwork anyway. I just know they will. I really want a break from the homework. I do. Imagine how Nick feels. It's the end of the term and they have simply loaded him down with four hours of homework every night for over a week. What the hell is the point?

He's talking in his sleep now. Poor kid. He's going to be weak when he's done with this. I had it last Monday and I felt okay after a day, but I was weak for three days. What kind of a week is he going to have being wrung out for three days at the end of the term? I hope this week's homework isn't like last week. Last week was miserable.

It's my fault he's this sick. I accidentally gave him a mocha with caffeine in it yesterday and he was up last night with the jitters. I had ground the wrong kind of beans. Oh, he might have gotten sick anyway, but I doubt it would have been as bad with a good night's sleep.

He was watching 'Karate Kid' and it's still on. I wonder what he thinks of when he watches a movie like that. When I watch that movie, I think that no kid would ever get that competent in just a few weeks of training, even in a few months. Nick has a karate test on Saturday for his brown belt. Damn! He's going to be a brown belt! That impresses me. He's been learning karate since he was in kindergarten, eight years of training. I had ten years of piano lessons when I was a kid. I hope this stays with him, all that dedication, all those dreams. What am I worried about? Something of it will stay with him.

His sensei tells him that once he achieves a belt, he'll never lose that rank. He tells him that a black belt is a white belt who never quit. He tells him to keep getting up even when he falls down. Maybe that's what Nick will carry away with him.

So, after three days of being wrung out, he'll get back up, he'll practice his forms, and he'll do his best on Saturday even if he doesn't feel one hundred percent. He says he might not get the brown belt. His sensei has told him that brown belt testing is with the adults, that getting the belt is not guaranteed. Life is like that. There are no guarantees, but you can keep getting back up when you get knocked down.

If that's all he gets from karate, it will be enough for me.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Looking Death In The Eye

My friends lost their dog. It was very sad. He escaped from their yard and was hit by a car. It's such a tragedy. I can't stop thinking about him.

I can't write about this. It just makes me want to ask, yet again, why there has to be so much pain in one lifetime. This dog was so sweet and so young. And he was loved. It's a heartbreaking story. He was only two. Why do bad things have to happen to sweet dogs and their families?

It's been a recurring thought. Many people have tried to explain suffering to me. I just can't always take in what they're saying. I keep asking the question over and over again. I must be in denial.

It's as if I never heard the saying, 'Life sucks and then you die.'

Seth caught another mouse tonight. Even that act is fraught with tiny tragedy. Oh, this one survived being caught and carried in Seth's mouth. When Seth made a big noise in the kitchen, I just knew. I hate when they're in my kitchen. I'd cut off more than their tails with a carving knife. 

I sound so mean, don't I?

But I really hate that mice might get into my cabinets. I have to do so much cleaning and throwing out when they get into my house, especially when my kitchen is at stake. I hate it.

So, I got a plastic tub with a tight lid and stood there, petting Seth and hoping he'd drop the mouse for me. He ran with him into the living room and let it go in front of the piano. Damn. I caught Seth's gray foot instead of the mouse he dropped. The mouse scampered off.

Both the dog and the cat stood at one end of the piano looking at the gap behind it. I moved the box of dog toys away from where the back of the piano met the wall. Seth struck a pose, but there was no mouse. Teddy pranced back and forth behind us. I played a couple of notes. Nothing.

I went into the bedroom where Mike was still up reading.

"Seth caught another mouse."

"Good!" he said, looking over the top of his glasses.

"Then he let him go under the piano."

"Can I get the pellet gun and shoot inside your piano?" he asked with a grin.

"No! Seth will get him. I know he will." And I left the room and closed the door. That man is going to put little pellet holes all over my house if I let him. My vacuum cleaner doesn't like to pick up the BBs either and I pulled three of them out of my carpet since the last time he got going after a mouse.

So, I sat back down to my friends on Facebook and had nearly finished catching up for the night when Seth got to rooting around in the computer cables at the other end of the piano. Usually, I shoo him out from there, but not tonight. He had free range tonight.

There was another scuffle and - Bingo! - he had it again. I grabbed the little plastic tub and Seth walked casually back into the kitchen.

'No, not my kitchen,' I thought. But there we were. I carefully turned on the light and looked down at Seth.

"Good kitty. Good boy, Seth," I said. I put the lid down so I could pet Seth. That had worked one time. When I told him he was a good kitty and petted him, he dropped the mouse right at my feet.

Yup! He dropped it again!

And I had it. I slammed that plastic tub down on the mouse. Only the mouse was almost too fast and I caught it at the waist.

I was not going to lose this bastard in my kitchen. I pressed down hard. I held it.

Carefully, I got the lid to the tub and slid it toward the half-in and half-out mouse. When I pushed it toward the mouse, it wiggled away, back into the tub. I got the lid onto the tub and closed the lid tight. I took the whole thing into the bedroom to show Mike.


"Way to go Seth!" he said. Seth jumped onto the bed, Teddy pranced back and forth, and I stood there with this mouse in a little clear tub. I get no credit, do I?

He had big eyes.

"It looks like he's hurt," Mike said. The mouse's legs were splayed out behind him.

"I squashed him when I caught him with the tub."

"Seth may have broken his back when he caught him. Good boy, Seth." Nope. No credit.

We both looked at his big eyes. I knew I should probably put him out of his misery, but I couldn't with those big eyes. Mike didn't say it. I didn't say it. Neither of us wanted to kill him this way. Mike could put a BB into one under the couch, but he couldn't look into the eyes of one in a clear plastic tub and kill it. Why is that?

As we watched, the little guy got his feet under him.

"He's going to feel like shit in the morning," Mike said.

"He probably feels like shit right now. I'm going to take him down to the baseball field before he escapes back into my kitchen."

"Bring Teddy. He'll want to go for a ride."

It was cold out. I wish I'd been wearing more than my pajamas and a jacket. As I parked in the lot of the baseball field, the dome light came on and I looked into the mouse's big eyes again.

"I'm going to put you outside," I told him. "You're going to have to watch out for the mowers and the little kids waiting for their brothers to finish the game."

He didn't answer me. He just stared right at my face. He was a very brave little mouse. He didn't beg. He didn't shiver.

"It's cold out here, so I'll put you into the tall grass." I said as I stood in my own headlights. I must have looked ridiculous, as always, but this was too serious a moment to think of what people were thinking of me. This was a life that I held in a clear plastic tub, a life that had nearly ended in my kitchen.

I opened the container and tipped him into the grass. He didn't move. I felt bad about the cold. I really did. I felt bad about squishing him with the plastic tub.

In the morning, when the little kids arrive for baseball practice, there might be a tiny dead mouse lying in the grass. There might not. Dead or alive, no one else will never know how brave he was as he looked me in the eye.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 14, 2014

Insomnia, Loud Music, and Fighting Fat Jokes

Mike was home today because he didn't sleep last night. I'm back to the days during which I worry.

Can you die of insomnia? It sounds like a stupid question, but it's not. I know that heart disease is linked to insomnia, so I guess I answered my own question. Mike got a bad case of insomnia because of some medicine he was on. Then, he had a heart attack. Now, he's having trouble with one of the medicines the doctor put him on, his beta-blocker. The thing is that he says he can feel the benefits of the beta-blocker. Yet, it doesn't allow him to sleep.

It sucks to worry.

In the meantime, we're trying to keep things fairly normal for Nick. He had some friends over tonight and they played about four hours of video games. At one point, they asked me to put the radio onto their favorite pop station. Then they asked me to turn the sound up. The sound went up.

It's interesting to note that I'm more deaf than I've ever been, but I get so tired of loud music. I have no interest in going to clubs, to bars, or even to hear live music. Oh, a guitar or acoustic music would be okay, but an electric guitar and the accompanying drums, bass, and distortion would drive me away.

Why is that? I used to love loud music. Sometimes I still do, but most of the time, it feels like too much work.

Why would it feel like work?

I can see that it's a good night to complain. Sorry about that.

I'm listening to a new audio book, 'Skinny' by Donna Cooner. It's a young adult novel. So far, I like the story, one about a young girl who is overweight and is overwhelmed by the terrible things she thinks people think about her. I just want to jump right in there and tell the author that it's so real and so hard, but she has to get the girl through without making her 'triumph' by losing weight and thus getting back at all her tormenters. I want to make her write a better ending to the cliched story and instead write the story where she figures out that people love her whatever way she is, that people love her enough to see her pain and help her heal that instead. Oh, I have such hopes for this book.

Will I be overjoyed or disappointed? I don't know yet. The funny thing is that I hate spoilers, so I wouldn't be able to tell you even when I finish the book. That's why, most of the time, I write these reviews while I'm still in the middle of the book.

The good thing is that I love these characters that Morton has created. I love the voice, a voice that rings true to what a girl in that situation would think. In fact, I almost remember a voice like that ringing through my head when I was a girl. It told me all the things that were wrong with me and what bad things people could be thinking about me. Does every girl hear that voice? Oh, I hope not, but I suspect that many do.

Oh, I'm losing it here.

I just wish I could start a cultural revolution, something like the Dove real beauty commercials, only with size sixteen and eighteen people in the ads instead of tens and twelves. Since when is a woman who's a size ten fat? Have you been listening to all that? People are saying that Jennifer Lawrence is fat. There is no way that woman is fat. She's perfect. She's incredibly perfect.

I want to see more women like Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy in the movies, only I don't want to see them making fun of themselves. I've had enough of that. I've always loved Kathleen Bates for the roles she plays. She didn't make fun of herself. Why can't more people be like that?

Why is it okay to make fun of people who are fat? Why is that funny? Why?

As far as I can see, it's bigoted and cruel. That's all.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Failed Merit Badge Counselor

So, I failed my first job as a merit badge counselor.

I thought things were going well enough. We were working on Citizenship in the Nation. I had printed out the requirements. I had reviewed the possible answers. The answers I had found on the Internet were interesting and wide-ranging. They made me think of what my answers would be, some the same, and some different than what I had found. It was an interesting subject.

The first requirement? What does it mean to be a citizen of our nation? What does it take to be a good citizen? I love that second question. It made me think of my grandpa, the one who liked to talk about rights and responsibilities, the one who loved American history so much that we discussed it over Sunday dinner. And here I had the same opportunity with a Boy Scout.

The Scout was reluctant, at first, but I worked to get him talking beyond the rote answers. The single word he had written down on the first requirement of his worksheet was 'vote.'

So, I need to tell you something. I was nervous. I had never been a merit badge counselor before. I told Mike that I wanted to make this one good, that I would work with this boy as though he were my own, as if he were my favorite kid in the Troop. It took some planning to get ready, but I thought I had begun well.

"This is the first time I've done this, you know," I had said to the boy as we sat down in the glassed-in foyer of the church. He said nothing in reply. I went on. I knew I shouldn't follow my impulse to fill in the silence like I usually do when I'm nervous, but it's a hard impulse to fight. As the boy opened his binder, he sat hunched in his chair staring at me with a look on his face. Teenagers.

He pulled out some papers. When we'd talked, he'd said that he wanted to get me to sign off for Citizenship of the World and of the Nation. It turned out that he'd already gotten Citizenship of the World signed and instead wanted to cover Citizenship in the Community. I told him I hadn't prepared for that, that we could work on Citizenship in the Nation if he was ready and do the community next week. I picked up my papers and looked briefly at them.

"I believe the first question is the most important, so we're going to spend most of our time on that," I replied to his silence.

It wasn't a good beginning.

I smiled. He didn't. He looked at his worksheet.

"So, explain about being a citizen of the nation," I went on.

He mumbled, but I thought I heard him say 'vote.'

"What was that?"

"They have the right to vote," he said a little louder.

"That's a good start," I said, "but how do you become a citizen of the nation?"

"You are either born here or you take a test and become a citizen."

That was a start.

"Okay, so you're a citizen of the nation. What does that mean?"

"You get to vote." Okay, I'd go with this train of thought.

"Do you get anything else?" I asked. There was silence while I waited.

"You have freedom of speech too," he said. I really wanted to talk about responsibility in addition to the privileges, but I managed to get him to talk about some of the rights a citizen had. His answers were from the book, well, the Internet. This kid hadn't thought a thing on his own, but I was willing to keep going.

"So what do you have to do to become a good citizen of the nation?" I asked. I wanted him to talk about how many of the rights were also responsibilities.

"I don't know," he answered.

"Well, try to think of something," I countered. He looked at his sheet with the one word on it. Vote. That would be a beginning.

Eventually, he said, "follow the laws."

"Good!" I said. His brain had engaged. I wanted him to think of more. Then, with more encouragement, he came up with paying taxes, going to work, not being a deadbeat like the people who signed up for Obamacare.


I really wanted to argue with him about the Obamacare statement, but that wasn't why I was sitting where I was. I took a deep breath. I held up my hand.

"We're not going to debate politics here tonight," I said. I was proud that I hadn't taken the bait. I made him go on. I wanted to hear something more about citizenship.

"How do you define someone who's more than just a basic citizen that follows the laws, goes to work and pays taxes? How do you define a great citizen?"

"I don't know."

Oh, I hate that answer.

"So you're working on your Citizenship in the Community merit badge too, aren't you?"


"What do you think constitutes a great citizen in the community?"

"Someone who's active?"

"Can you be more explicit?"

"Someone who does things."

"Like what?"

"Like my Eagle Scout project." This boy was surrounded by men and women who gave every Tuesday night and many weekends, I thought, as I looked through the glass at more than seven adults who could very well exemplify a great citizen, of the community and of the nation. I wasn't ready to talk about this boy's Eagle Scout project. He seemed as though he wanted something from me. Maybe I should have validated his attempt at being labeled a great citizen, but I didn't. When he had described his Eagle Scout project at an earlier date, I'd thought he could plan a more comprehensive project. It was a minimum plan. Mike and I have discussed how some boys strive to do a great Eagle Scout project and some just do the minimum. That wasn't the scope of this meeting either.

"So, is there a connection between someone who's a great citizen of the community and of the nation?" Was that a leading question or what?

"Yeah." Oh man. Someone give me a pair of pliers. I was pulling teeth.

"So, what things can a man do to be a great citizen?" I asked again. He looked at his sheet of paper. I wanted him to think of himself, to think of the man he wanted to become. I wanted him to think of the men who invented things, the women who fought for the right to vote, the people who built libraries and universities, the people who wrote plays that made statements against bigotry, the people who wrote books and painted and struggled to learn how the universe works. I wanted this boy to think of the people who chose to serve. We stared at each other for a few seconds. It seemed so very much longer than that.

"They vote?" he said as he looked at his sheet. And then, as I often do, I began to fill in the silence with my words. I suggested that voting was a beginning, but that using your freedom of speech might be a way, that volunteering your time was a way, that joining the military was a way, even serving on the school board or the PTSA were ways people could show good citizenship. I went on to add a thought about writing letters to your politicians.

"I did that."

"Good! What did you write about?"

"I had to do it for this merit badge." Why did it mean so much less to me that this boy was forced to write a letter about something he didn't seem to remember in order to be given a merit badge than if an individual was passionate about a subject and wrote a letter in order to be heard?

"This isn't just an assignment for you to complete, you know."

"Yes, it is." Was I beating a dead horse? Apparently, I was.

"Let's go onto the second requirement," I said. I was still trying to make this work.

"So, you were supposed to visit a historic site or research one. What did you do?" I said.

"Sue told me to visit the Panama Hotel." Sue told him?

"And what was it like?" I asked. He looked at his worksheet.

"I don't know. It was built in 1905." Next to the number two, I could see, even upside-down, he had written 'Panama Hotel, 1905, Japanese.'

"Would you put your worksheet away for a little bit? I just want you to tell me what the hotel was like."

"I don't know."

"Oh, just describe it to me," I said and I smiled at him.

"I don't remember," he said. His eyes were going dark, his mouth narrowed.

"Surely you could tell me a little about it."


"Why not?" I asked.

"I don't remember."

"I thought you went there to visit it?"

"I did."

"So, tell me something, anything, about the hotel. Okay?"

"I don't remember."

"Why not?"

"It was a long time ago, about a year and a half."

"I went to the Grand Canyon when I was nine for twenty minutes and I can remember that. I'm 54 now." He just stared at me. Okay, maybe I shouldn't have said that about the Grand Canyon. I decided I should backtrack a little.

"Maybe it would have been good for you to do something that had some meaning for you instead of something that someone suggested. This isn't an assignment."

"Yes it is."

"I want this to have meaning for you and not just be something you do because you have to."

"It is an assignment. I did this worksheet. Why can't I just read you what I wrote on my worksheet?" He stared at me then. His face went red. This time, I stared back a little.

"Because I want it to mean something. I want you to be able to discuss this, to think, to ..." I trailed off. I wasn't going to get anywhere telling him that it was a subject worthy of debate over Sunday dinner. He stared at me, slapped his binder closed, jammed loose papers into it and zipped it closed.

"So, are you done then?" I asked. He didn't answer me. He just stared.

"How can we move forward with this thing?"

"We can't," he said. He stared some more.

"There isn't anything we can do to work this out?"

"I'll get Sue to sign it."

"Look, do you want to look this over and meet again next week to discuss it?"

"You were looking at your papers. How come I don't get to?" he blurted out.

"If you want to do it that way, I'll be prepared to talk about all of this next week without looking at any papers. How does that sound?"

"I just want to look at my papers."

"And read stuff from it that you have no recollection of at all."

"Yeah." And he sat there staring at me with his hands on the outside of his binder. I noticed that his knuckles were white.

"So, I'll call Sue and discuss this with her and we'll see what happens next. Okay?"

And he didn't answer me. He just stood up and left the foyer. Nick told me he heard him gun his engine as he drove away. For the rest of the meeting, I stood behind Nick and next to one of the Assistant Boy Scout Leaders, a man I considered to be a great citizen after getting to know him during the past year. This man had served in the military, worked as an engineer designing technology, and regularly volunteered his time to his community with patience and kindness. This was the kind of man I hoped my son would emulate, the kind of man I hoped the Boy Scout I'd just interviewed might strive to become. So, I'm telling you that I failed somehow tonight.

At least I didn't cry until I got home.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Good Slow Books for Insomniacs

I can't sleep. I really can't.

Here's what I do when I can't sleep - I drink a glass of milk. I turn down the lights. I put little lists of things I need to do on Post It notes.  I turn off the television and the computer. Okay, I'm not following that rule right now, but I'm about to. I have a lovely day planned tomorrow and I don't want to miss it. Then if it's late, I go to my guest room where I won't bother my sweet husband who can't sleep either sometimes. I turn on the desk lamp over the bed and read a boring book.

I have some favorite boring books.

You know, I can't go on calling these books boring. I can't. It's not at all nice. They're not boring books, really, but they are slow reads, if you know what I mean. This type of book is good for falling asleep when you need to sleep, but they're also good for reading one or two paragraphs at a time. Those paragraphs are really good, yet quiet paragraphs. That's important in a good sleeping book. What's the point of reading a truly boring book anyway?

So, these books are slow reads, but I really savor those bits when I read them.

Anything by Henry Petroski is good for slow reading. He's a good writer, an engineer and he likes to write in English. Most engineers - and I know and love engineers - don't write in English. My favorite of Petroski's books is 'To Engineer is Human' but I also liked 'Engineers of Dreams' quite a bit. Oh, I just googled his books. He has a bunch more that look interesting. There is so much time in the middle of the night for that.

I'm reading 'Bird by Bird' by Anne Lamott in the night too. It doesn't quite qualify as boring, but I read it a paragraph or two at a time and I'm still entertained.

If you're an insomniac and into children's books, try reading 'Charlotte's Web' at night. A bunch of the chapters end in sweet good nights and sleep. It's almost like being sung a lullaby. To tell you the truth, I'd read anything by E.B. White, even 'The Elements of Style' though I'd rather read parts of his letters. The man must have been related to Fred Rogers, his style of writing is so calming and pure.

Another author I like for nighttime reading is David Quammen. He's a biologist that convinced me that life on earth depends on worms. Check out 'The Flight of the Iguana.' It's not jump out of your shoes kind of writing, but Quammen loves biology and he's quietly funny. I like guys who are quietly funny, but I'm old, frumpy, already married, and already happy, so I'm totally content to read books by quietly funny men at 1:00 in the morning.

Wallace Stegner's 'Marking the Sparrow's Fall' was a very good slow book, though I found I needed to read a few pages at a time with him. He took a while to get to the point and if I only read one or two paragraphs I'd lose track of the build-up.

I tried to read Nathaniel Fick's 'One Bullet Away' in the middle of the night. Oh, I should have known better. That book kept me awake for hours. No. War books, as good as they might be, just won't let you slip off into easy dreaming. Fick's book revved me up, got my adrenaline pumping, look out PTSD. I'm coming. Even if I did sleep, my dreams were a battlefield. Oh man, I really thought this was an excellent book, but don't read it before you try to sleep.

Michael Chabon's 'Manhood for Amateurs' was a good slow read. Oh, there were lovely descriptions of people in his book, but unfortunately for Mr. Chabon, I was very tired when I read his book and I don't remember what it's about except that I loved it and I loved him for it.

The nice thing about this, however, is that I can happily read it again! Don't you love that there are good things to say about insomnia? And isn't it lovely to think of reading a book you loved as if it were new to you?

I'm going to my guest room to read now. I have another book by Michael Chabon. I don't remember the title. Poor Mr. Chabon. I did just remember, though, that I got it from the library and it's overdue. I'll have to add that to my little Post It note for tonight, to renew it in the morning.

Thank you for listening, jb