Friday, April 29, 2016

Excess Zucchini and Patience

I don't know what to tell you.

It's been a hard day. A friend of mine died and today was her memorial. I have to tell you that when they called for people to say something about my friend, I could only think of all the times she listened to me. She was one of those people who didn't offer advice, but I wanted it because I knew she just knew what I was talking about. I asked her a lot of questions about parenting. She had five children. I only have one. Usually, her advice was mild and patient, as if I would figure things out if I just thought about them for a while. It kind of reminded me of my grandpa's advice. It was the best kind of advice, quiet and thoughtful, you-can-figure-this-out kind of advice.

She sometimes brought Nick gifts, a few stamps to add to his collection, food she had canned that she knew he would like, toys her grandchildren had outgrown. 

Instead of clumping with my usual cohorts after the service, I sat down with a woman who looked like my friend. I wanted to tell her how lucky she was to have such a solid mom, someone who was patient and understood the world. I wanted to hug her, to talk until I could see if she had inherited the same kind of view of the world. I believe, after my short visit with her, that she had.

There are five people in this world whose mom was even-tempered, who was down-to-earth, who was firm and honest and always friendly. And I saw that at least one of these people had been given those same gifts. I'm sure the rest benefited from them even if they weren't born with the same temperaments.

Hell, I benefited from her temperament. I'm sure I was more patient and yet still firm with Nick because I knew this woman and asked her for advice now and then.

And I ate some of the zucchinis that she grew. I loved getting excess zucchinis. I'm going to miss those zucchinis. I really am.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, April 25, 2016

Heaven Versus Reality

Nick walked into the kitchen while I was making his lunch. He looked ready for school. Then, I wondered if something was wrong when he hugged me really hard and said, "Mom, I love you."

Had I died? Was I in heaven?

"Do you smell my aura?" he asked. And I wondered if his contemplative nature had suddenly come into being.

And then he farted, laughed, and walked away.

Right. My boy. The Universe has not flipped upside-down.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sitting on My Butt

I am always inspired by the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I love the wrinkles in Sean Penn's face when they're on the mountain. I love that his character doesn't always take the picture when he's really in the moment. And I love that Ben Stiller's character gets out of his own way and finally does some things. But I have a couple of problems with the movie.

Walter Mitty would totally have died in the Himalayas at 18,000 feet, crossing glaciers alone while wearing his high school Jansport backpack with his high school sleepover sleeping bag. It annoys me that experience is glossed over as if you don't have to think before you keep going up when your Sherpas refuse to go any further and head back down the trail. I know they weren't making a movie about gaining experience in the wilderness, but it still bugs me.

There's this whole perspective in the movie that you actually have to go somewhere in order to be a complete person. Oh, I'm not saying going somewhere isn't great, but most of the time, I have to be satisfied with my ordinary life. I have to try to find that same kind of magic with the same scenes in front of me every day. That's a little harder than getting on a plane and flying to an exotic location. Try it sometime. Find the magic in the every day. And I did, just a little as I painted on the back deck this afternoon while hummingbirds jetted back and forth past me. It was small magic, but it was magic.

Or maybe I'm just jealous.

And there's that gorgeous scene with the longboard and the incredible hill. At least Walter Mitty had some experience on a skateboard before he did that, but how did he keep from getting into that deadly oscillation that always ends in a faceplant? Once, I decided I wanted to bike down a mountain. Mike drove me to the top and left me there with our bike. Big Sky, Montana. That has a ring doesn't it? It sounds so adventurous, doesn't it? I thought it would be like that longboard scene, graceful, gliding, wind blowing through my hair. I spent most of the time on my bike praying I wouldn't flip over my handlebars. My hands went numb clutching the brakes and I had to come to a walking pace to manage each gravelly switchback. It was a misery, not a graceful, gliding, wind-in-my-hair experience, especially with all that unguardrailed space in front of me. Still, that scene is one of the most thrilling of the movie for the simple distance you can see in it, kind of like what you see on a mountain in Big Sky, Montana. I never completed a skateboarding bucket list and now, since I get injured so easily from falling, I never will. So that scene sort of pisses me off.

But the thing that bugs me the most about that movie is that every single time I'm watching it, every single time, I'm sitting on my butt in front of the television.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Post-Apocalyptic Lunch Box

I just realized that Nick hasn't unpacked his lunch box since the Friday before two weeks ago. First, there was a weekend and he procrastinated emptying it. Then, he had the flu for a week and missed school. He forgot about it. Then last week was Spring Break and he forgot about it still. The lunch box is not my responsibility. It's not, but I have to tell you that it's hard not to get started bleaching and disinfecting it with ultraviolet rays and whatever other tools I have at hand. Can you put a cloth and plastic lunch box in the dryer?

A good mommy would clean that crap up.

A good mom wouldn't.

That's the difference. These days, I'm supposed to be working to be a good mom, not a mommy, a woman who helps her boy when he needs it and lets him fry when he doesn't. That means that I provide the space for homework but I don't tell him when to do it. I might wash his clothes for another year or so but don't fold them or put them away. I still make a healthy lunch but I let him unpack his own lunch box at the end of the day.

Yup, I said let him fry. It's mean, isn't it?

I feel awful. I hate seeing him stress. I hate talking to him about less than perfect grades. I hate letting that lunch box fester even one more night. It was easier being a good mommy and doing everything for him. Trying to tell the difference between what he should do and what I can still do is the worst part of parenting an older kid.

But he needs this, doesn't he? He needs me to let it fester more than he needs me to clean it up for him.

When I was in seventh grade, I left an orange in my locker over Christmas break. Oh, that was the year when my two best friends turned on me, bullying me until I wanted to cry. My dad had cancer and my family and I weren't sure then if he would make it or not. It was a rough time in my life.

But no one cleaned up that orange but me. By the time class started that January, the orange was solid green, mold green, the kind that could either kill you or cure your pneumonia. For weeks, my locker smelled like a horror-movie version of an orange if horror movies had smells. For years, I've remembered how my fingers squelched right through the skin of that orange when I tried unsuccessfully to use a lunchroom napkin to pick it up and dispose of it. Its garbage juice splattered my knee socks, my shoes, and finally the janitor stood over me while I wiped the drippings off his newly polished wooden floors. My lockermate, the girl who had begun to taunt me with my other ex-best friend, truly hated me from that moment on. It was as if I'd done this to the both of us with some kind of intent.

Yes, even though I was stressed by my life, bullies, illness, and the gore of my father's surgeries, I will always remember the smell of that rotten orange. I never made that mistake again. I don't leave food lying around.

This is the moment when I can almost imagine what it was like to be my mother. Almost. She couldn't stand my messes. I absolutely drove her nuts with them, sometimes intentionally just to keep her out of my room. She still can't sleep with a dirty spoon in her sink overnight. And will I be able to go to sleep with that mold-fest partying in Nick's lunch bag overnight? Will I? Will there be maggots? I hate maggots.

I'm going to go try to sleep like a baby. But in the morning, I'm going to work really hard to be out of the house and waiting in the car when Nick opens up that lunch bag and takes a big whiff of it. I might even pull out the garbage can for him to empty and put on the kitchen fan before I go.

I think I'm going to feel a little sorry for him. Who wouldn't after the forty-three year old memory of that orange came flooding back like it was real again?

Thanks for listening, jb

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tail Pipe Drivers and Glare

Don't tell Nick I said so, but for a half hour today, I took my life in my hands. Or rather, my life was in Nick's hands, not mine.

So far, he can't get into a parking spot without hitting virtual cars on either side. Not angled parking, not perpendicular parking and definitely not parallel parking. That's not what's risking our lives. It's the stop signs that are dangerous and interminable pauses as Nick decides it's safe to crawl out onto a cross street. Well, to tell you the truth, it's other drivers. Thankfully, we only had one angry driver behind us and, though he honked his horn, flashed his brights, and tailgated like a butt-licker, he didn't actually hit us before I had Nick pull off the side of the road to let him pass. In another life, that person who posed as a black ring around Uranus would be pulling his head out of someone else's tailpipe not that of a new driver turning onto the highway for the first time. There will be karma though. I'm certain that this guy is aimed to squeeze himself into a tailpipe soon. I just hope it's not my son's. After that, we got off the highway, even on the stretches that have a 30mph limit.

But then there was glare.

You don't notice glare when you've been driving your filthy car for the past twelve years, but when your boy can't see through the glaze on the inside of the windshield, you both can panic. My job was to sound like I wasn't panicked. We were driving up a steep hill with no guardrail and with little curves that hugged a hillside. Thankfully, the sun glared up the window for long enough that Nick hit the brakes and then we were out again, no longer visually impaired, and still on the pavement. Yay!

It reminded me of the time I neglected to clear the six inches of snow off the top of my Renault. About twenty minutes later, when I braked from 60mph on the Garden State Parkway to pause for an automatic toll, a six-inch thick sheet of snow slid down across my windshield. Wipers did nothing, wouldn't even move with the weight of it. I came to a swift but not too swift stop because I didn't want to get rear ended, prayed I wouldn't hit anything in the braking process, and then ran a Chinese fire drill around my car, swiftly scraping all the snow off my windshield as I ran. People in their cars on either side and behind me laughed as I worked. It made me laugh too, but I'm sure I looked a little crazy when I stood outside my car on the Garden State Parkway and laughed while my bloodstream was flooded with adrenaline. Adrenaline laughter is either creepy or crazy. Sometimes both.

After that, I never ignored what had originally been some ancient uncle's advice to clear snow away from the roof of my car as well as the actual windows. It's good advice. Believe me. I now know.

It's also good to periodically clean the inside of your windshield. I know that now too.

Do you know what that stuff is? It's poly-vinyl-chloride. It comes off of vinyl and cheap carpet in a gaseous form with heat and collects on glass as a thin opaque layer. The solution to poly-vinyl-chloride buildup on glass?


Vinegar works too. These days, I clean a lot with vinegar. It might be healthier. Either way, it's healthy not to have a gray glare on the inside of my windshield when Nick is at the wheel driving up a steep and winding road.

So, tomorrow before we drive anywhere, even on the relatively quiet streets of the next town over, I'm going to sit in one car after another until the windshields are all squeaky clean on the insides. I might clean my glasses too.

There's no sense in risking it since I'm going to keep my eyes open for our friendly neighborhood pipe cleaner. I don't want Nick to be anyone's hood ornament, even if he is moving slowly out onto the highway.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Funny or Not Funny

I've had the flu, so I don't have much of anything interesting to say. "Did you get a pain here when you had it?" I asked Mike and I pointed to my side.

"Nope," he said.

"What is that, my kidney?" I asked, pointing to my side again. 

"Nope," he said. I looked over my glasses at him as he sat next to me on the couch with his computer in his lap. "Your kidneys are in the back," he added helpfully.

We are coughing simultaneously. Isn't that romantic? Well, maybe not, but it conjures images of romantic. I can hear that he has the same sore and tickly spot at the base of his throat that I do because it's a short cough not a deep one. It's an annoying cough, but at least we share it.

What else?

I read a whole book in the past three days. The story line is a bit blurry since I sleep a lot when I get a virus and I don't remember who a couple of the characters were. It sucks because it was 'Good Omens' by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I loved the part about 'Famine' writing the diet-guru books and how all cassette tapes - remember cassette tapes? - turn into the Best of Queen if left in your car for more than two weeks. I'm pretty sure I have the Best of Queen packed away somewhere.

I read whole paragraphs aloud to Mike from this book even though sections of it are missing from my memory because I fell asleep in the middle of a paragraph because I was sick. Mike just looked at me and shook his head as I laughed.

"That's funny, right?" I asked.

"You have a weird sense of humor," he said. Or maybe he said I was never funny. I can't remember because I had a virus and have been sleeping a lot.

But at least there are a whole bunch of other readers and at least one writer left who has my same sense of humor, I thought. I don't know why I've spent the past twenty-three years trying to convince Mike that I'm funny when he thinks I'm really not. His humor, the stuff I say when I can't believe that rude shit actually came out of my mouth, is rather different, more existential. I always make a mental chalk mark on the wall when I finally make him laugh, but I worry too. I was probably rude. I know it. After I tried to compare pains and funny stuff with Mike, it was actually quiet in the room for a bit.

And then I spent some time looking at Facebook photos of funny dogs and cats and feeling bad for Gaiman because he lost his friend Pratchett last year. That kind of friend, the one that makes you laugh, is rare and precious. So, I was thinking that Gaiman could write a book about a universe in which Pratchett is still around influencing the world in his own funny way. I was thinking that would make me feel better because now I'm stuck with a finite number of Pratchett's books to read. There has to be something cosmic in that.

I stuck my finger into the part of my side that's been hurting. "It's probably your descending colon," Mike looked up and said.

So I've got gas. It wasn't the virus but the re-imagined refried beans that Mike brought me from the Mexican restaurant for dinner. That shit looks like poop going in. I read that scientists have found a way to test your wellness through your farts. Now, why would they want to do that? I've spent forty years working not to fart in the face of my GYN when she tries to determine my level of wellness during an exam. And the gizmo that that doctor has invented to test my gas has got to have mortifying written all over it. Can you picture that device? Can you?

It just might be better than a digital mammography unit.

Image result for mammogram machine

Yet, it might be very similar. Doesn't that simulated boob like it's about to burst? Yeah, I thought so.

I pressed my finger into the pain in my side again. My wellness was about to burst into the room unannounced. Sorry Mike. Not funny. Not funny at all.

Thank you for listening, jb