Friday, September 6, 2019

I miss group texts and other strange things that happen when your kids go off to college

My son went off to college a few months ago, and I thought I was prepared. I did all the things mothers do in advance of their youngest leaving the nest – I planned graduation parties, bought gifts, doted on my “baby,” commiserated with other moms in the same boat, vowed we’d keep in touch even more with the kids gone even though we knew we wouldn’t and spent an entire Saturday driving around crying. I was ready.

But, just to make certain, I made plans – lots and lots of plans. I would clean out every closet. I would clean the garage.  I’d redo the backyard, the front yard, heck, I would even clean out the attic!

“The house will be spotless when you come home for Thanksgiving,” I told my son. “I’m going to clean every nook and cranny, get rid of things, paint …” the list went on and on to which my son responded, “I’m glad I’m going to school,” followed by what I thought sounded like “poor Dad.”

And then in the midst of all the planning and preparing and buying cleaning supplies – for him and me - the day came. The day I would hug him and say good-bye – for now. I prided myself on staying positive all the way home and didn’t break down inside Bass Pro Shop and accuse my husband of leaving me lost and alone after I went to the ladies’ room and couldn’t find him after I got out as I did when our daughter went off to school. I’ve got this, I thought.

Then came the text. It said simply, “You have been removed from the youth group list.”

That stung.

“Wait, what? He’s only been gone a day. Isn’t he still in the youth group?”

The answer is, of course, and he is still a vital part of the church, but I was no longer the mom of a youth. I didn’t need to know every function they were having and at whose home and who would bring the potato salad. For the first time in 24 years, I did not have a youth. My kids were and are, for all intents and purposes, grown.

So, I tried to recovered from this hurt by walking around naked since I no longer had to worry about privacy. Frankly, for those of you with kids still at home, it’s overrated.

My mood was upbeat, however, the next day until I got another notification, “You have been removed from the football notification list.”

Oh. Oh. Oh, wait, but I’m still on the board. Don’t I need to know when practice is cancelled and when the team meetings are?

And, just like clockwork, I heard a ding on my phone. The high school was removing me from their group text list.
“Wait, hang on, not so fast,” I thought. “I’m not ready.”

Then it dawned on me; I mean REALLY dawned on me. I do not have a high school kid.

Of all the things that could trigger tears, the irony of it was not lost on me. I hated group texts! While I appreciated the information, I complained the loudest about all of the texts that I got - the vibrations during important meetings, the alerts going off in the middle of the night with unnecessary information, the endless reply alls!  

But now, I missed it. I missed all of it. I missed my son. I missed my daughter who is now a senior in college and will be out on her own soon. I missed spending more than I earn at the bulk food store. I missed the shoes on the floor, the dirty laundry, the stinky knee pads and shin guards and all of the things I swore I never would. Those things, those every day, mundane, sometimes - OK, often - annoying things? Well, those are the things I miss the most.

But, alas, time marches on. If I were a member of a group text, I’d send one out now to tell you just how great my kids were doing and how incredibly proud of them I am and how they’ll always be my babies. But, I am not a member anymore, which is probably just as well. I will soon be too busy organizing and cleaning to chat– summer is gone and Thanksgiving will be here before you know it. I’d better get started.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The bear went over the mountain

I've always heard that if you're lucky enough to have one true friend in a life time, then you're lucky enough. My friend Carol makes me the luckiest person on Earth.

We first met 26 years ago when are then boyfriends - now husbands - were neighbors. We made an instant connection over our love of the South or more like our hatred of cold weather up North. We both shared bathrooms with our sisters (plural in her case) as teenagers. We could relate to Alanis Morissette’s songs (that has passed), and we worshiped Prince (that remains). But, the best part of being friends with Carol – then and now - is that I can always be my true self, my silly, happy, fearful, sometimes neurotic self, and she still loves me.

Carol is the type of person whom when they threw a party, and I had terrible migraine and not be able to lift my head up from the couch, would come over and hang out with me, so I wouldn't feel left out. We would go on to be pregnant with both of our children at the same time - twice. And, after they were born, we would walk miles and miles pushing them in strollers together, solving all of our problems and the world's in the process.

Carol eventually moved across town, and our kids went to different schools. It’s hard to fathom, but we lost touch for around eight years, only seeing each other here and there when our paths would occasionally cross. It's hard to believe I made it that long without her now.

We blinked and our children started high school, reuniting like long-lost cousins while Carol and I picked right up where we left off. Since that times, she's been there for me at my highest of highs and lowest of lows. My kids are like hers, and hers like mine. Our friends are all mutual, and our enemies? Well, they’d better watch out. With the two of us combining forces, those against us don’t stand much of a chance.

Now that our youngest children are now young adults and will be off to college soon, Carol and I have grown to realize more and more just how lucky we are. So much so, that during a recent girls’ trip, while we were on an early morning hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we began talking about our friendship and just how valuable it is, especially the older we get. As we hiked, we talked about our hopes and dreams for the future and how we never wanted to stray apart again.

"We will always be best friends, no matter what,” I said. "Even when we are old and gray, we can spend our days in the nursing home side by side."

"I'm fortunate to have a friend like you," she said.
“No, I’m the luck ... EEEEEEEEEEE …

About that time, I heard a very low growl from what could have only been a bear cub guarded by its angry and ferociously protective mama. So, it was then I did what every best friend would do ... I stuck my arm out to block Carol from taking the lead, and I ran like hell!!

To my which my best friend who heard what she thought was a bird, and not a bear, chuckled and said, "I've never seen you move like that before."

Needless to say, I have a lot to learn about friendship, but, fortunately, I have Carol to show me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Born to ride

My husband and I cruised into town and slid to a stop on our bikes yesterday. Bikes as in bicycles. An older man soon rode up on his bike, very similar to ours, and asked how we like the fat

“We love them!” we said. “We can go anywhere.”

 To which, he looked down, and I saw his friendly smile begin to disappear.

“Wait a minute,” he said, sounding outraged. “You have some kind of motor on yours. That’s, that’s, that’s ….CHEATING!”

Mind you, it was not the first time since we got our new electric bikes that I’ve heard someone 
say that, which is why I responded swiftly by
saying, “But, it’s better than sitting on the couch, don’t you agree?”

He begrudgingly admitted it was.

I then walked off while my husband explained our bikes’ many advantages. 

We can peddle as much (or as little) as we want … It’s just peddle assist. We can turn it off (we never do) … We can go as far as we want without worrying about having to get back (this is true – unless our batteries are down to two bars as mine was the other night).

I could go on, and he did, and before the older man left, he said, “Well, my wife doesn’t really like to ride that much. She might go for this.”

We should get commission.

But, instead of feeling satisfied that we’d made another imaginary sale, I got mad. And, the more I rode, the madder I got. It wasn’t until I was flying down the hill, wind in my hair, hands on my brakes, when I suddenly exclaimed, “If only I had this bike as a kid!” that it dawned on me THAT is why I am so defensive or sensitive (or both) about my bike.

Everything really does relate back to childhood.

Here I am, quite the adult, and I still recalled the sting of being teased about my bike like it was yesterday. It was old with a banana seat and more than likely a rescue from the dumpster up the street. It didn’t have brakes, so I had to jump off and let it fall while I ran to a stop. My neighbors always had the latest and greatest models. I had my little old faithful Rusty.

Now, do not get me wrong. I loved it. I parked it under the house in the creepy crawl space just to keep it dry. But, I did get tired of being last because I was afraid of going too fast down the big hill near my house without brakes.

My neighbor’s teasing finally got the best of me one day, so I told him if he said one more word about my bike, I was going to punch him in the face.

He said one more word.

I don’t remember what the word was, but I do recall the punch. Only he hit back, and before I knew it, we were in a full on fist fight in the ditch in front of my neighbor’s house. It went on for what seemed like hours. I remember thinking, “For God’s sake, won’t someone come and break this up?” It was the dinner bell that finally did, and, boy, was I glad of it.

Fate was looking out for me, though. Not long after, my dad came home and said, “Leigh, there’s a Huffy at the recreation dept. (where my dad worked), and if no one claims it in six weeks, it’s yours.”
I am sure my dad wished he would have waited until the 5th week to tell me because I asked every single day, “Did anyone claim the bike?”

At the end of the longest six weeks of my life, I went to the rec dept. to check it out. It was all that I could imagine and more – a Huffy with a square puffy seat and cushy handles. And, best of all – brakes.

My neighbor pointed out it was a boys’ bike because of the location of the bar, but I disagreed. She was a she, and she was mine, all mine. I brought her home and felt like a queen riding her. She even had a kickstand. I wouldn’t need to find a tree to prop her against. I could park her anywhere. But, best of all, I
could ride her anywhere - even down the big hill.

That’s how I feel now when I ride my electric bike – like a kid on my “new” Huffy.

At one point during our ride, my husband turned around and said, “Why are you smiling?” I couldn’t explain it then, but this memory is why.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The power of the force

I grew up in the 1970s surrounded by a bunch of boys who never ceased to remind me what they could do better. And, in my case, it was most everything. I didn't measure up to the girls either, for that matter. You see, I couldn’t run fast and do backhand springs and pull ups like my little sister. I didn't know karate like the little girl across the street. I wasn't drop-dead gorgeous like my best friend who lived five house down.

Nope, I was awkward, and I liked to read. I really liked to read. It made me different. It set me apart, and in the 70s, as a child growing up on a country road, that wasn't a good thing.
Thank God, I had Princess Leia. When the boys started saying how much girls sucked, I had Princess Leia. I could be her, and I could win whatever contest, whatever challenge, whatever game we were playing.
I saw Star Wars for the first time with my dad. We got into his air-conditioned blue Ford sedan that his office bought at auction from the local sheriff's office and rode the five minutes into town to the Alamo, a movie theater that's now converted into a bar and, mercifully, spared its demise.
Dad and I settled into seats on the right hand side toward the back, feet sticking to the floor from the years of spilled Cokes. I can only recall seeing one other movie prior to that, and it was The Aristocrats. I'll have to check the dates to see if my memory serves correctly in that regard, but I vividly recall what happened that night as the camera rolled, and the film flickered, and the magic that was, and is, Star Wars, began. I was mesmerized from the "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," opening crawl, to the trash compactor scene, to music that accompanied the final credits.
In a world where "You throw like a girl!" was hurled at me daily, I was suddenly empowered. I could be Princess Leia and not just the braids. Princess Leia was a tough smart ass. No one told her to be quiet or watch her mouth, and if they did, she'd respond in a way that I'd always wanted to. The neighbor boys were both in love and afraid of her, a combination I secretly longed for - and had - when I pretended to be her. That went a long way for a girl with a strong imagination who was teased unmercifully for being who she was.
As an adult, I read Carrie Fisher's book Wishful Drinking and learned my early idol was different. She had a drinking problem and a history of mental illness. The queen of all princesses went through electroshock therapy multiple times and lived to write about it, humorously. Beyond that even, she was the person scriptwriters called in the middle of the night to fix the mess they had written. She was smart. Brilliant, maybe. Who knows what she could have accomplished without those albatrosses hanging from her neck? Perhaps it’s because of, or in spite of, them that she did the things she did. I don't know. I just know that I'll miss my heroine, and I'm glad my children got to know her through Friday family nights spent watching the epic space saga.
May the force forever be with her and those who are a little bit different.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Erma, we need you (still)!

I read an article about the timelessness of Erma Bombeck’s books and columns in which Bombeck, in case you aren’t familiar, humorously describes what her wikipedia entry refers to as “a period of intense homemaking” in the suburbs. It was as if she submitted the entry herself.

 And, therein lies the everlasting appeal of this Ohio “housewife,” who would go on to pen 15 books, most of which became bestsellers, 4,000 newspaper columns picked up by almost a thousand newspapers in addition to major magazines. Bombeck went from earning $3 a piece for her columns to $500,000 to $1 million a year in the mid-80s, all by sharing the frustrations and joys of daily life – in a funny way.

What made her so popular? I say it’s because she reminds you to laugh, not just with her, but at yourself - no matter how tired you are or how messy your house is or how much laundry you need to fold. No matter if the local wholesale food store calls and leaves a message that the frozen veggies you recently purchased (and are cooking for dinner) MAY be contaminated with listeria, and you should bring the receipt – not the vegetables – back to the store. No matter if the part of the listeria-filled vegetable message that bothers you most is the fact that the store has a list of who buys them. No matter what kind of mother or father you think you are – good, bad, somewhere in between – you have to laugh.

Speaking of mothers, I was first introduced to Bombeck at age 8 when my mom asked for a copy of her books. Now this caught my attention for two reasons. One, my mother, for all of her many talents, was not a voracious reader. Perhaps it was because her child, who was one beginning at a very early age, burned her out on it. I can recall sitting next to my mom and having her read me an Archie comic book over and over again, and her saying, in a fit of exasperation at the chronicles of Jughead, Betty and Veronica (BTW, wasn’t I too young for that?), “I’ll be so glad when you learn to read!”

Needless to say, I was delighted to look for and buy my mom these books, especially due to the second reason, their titles, for example, "The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank" and "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?"

I can recall knowing they were funny but not exactly certain why. I remember asking questions like, “What is a septic tank? And why is it greener?” and “What does the pits mean?” If my mom had an exasperated reply then, I don’t remember it. Perhaps it was because she had Erma to share it with.

By the way, Erma had kidney disease since she was in her 20s. She was told she couldn’t have children before having two of her own (having already adopted one). She worked two jobs to pay for her college but then failed her literary classes at Ohio University and was rejected by its newspaper before running out of funds. She later enrolled at the University of Dayton, where she worked 2-3 jobs, including one at a department store where she wrote humorous material for the company newsletter before graduating with an English degree and later becoming a lifetime trustee of the institution.

Why am I telling you this? I’m not. I’m telling myself. Today, I had a hard day. One friend described it as a post-Mother’s Day hangover where you realize that you didn’t pick up any clothes because it
was your day off, yet they are still on the floor, and although it had only been one day, you’d already gotten spoiled having the kids get along so well and willingly making you dinner.

I had come home after a very long work day that included a 30-minute commute to the interstate which is ACROSS THE STREET (Sorry, no road rage here …) to tired kids and no dinner. Worst of all, we had no tuna, a fact that drove my son to his brink and me to mine. Somewhere around that time, came the listeria call.

It was then that I remembered what I had read about Erma Bombeck. Sometimes you just gotta laugh. Or write about it and let others do so – either way, the result is the same. Both of us feel better. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Bon voyage!

As I sit here and read about one of the world’s largest cruise ships heading back to port after a massive storm that injured passengers and left thousands of others confined to their (very small) rooms, I am reminded once again why cruises remain – and forever shall remain – on what I’m calling my “Hole in the bucket” list. 

These are things, simply put, that I never want to do.

Cruises top the list. I once had a good friend and avid cruise goer spend her entire New Year’s Eve trying to convince me that I should give it a try. Finally, I broke down and – no, not agreed – told her that even if she talked for the rest of the following year, I was never going to go on a cruise. 

I have a number of reasons for feeling this way, though I feel as if any one of them could stand alone. 

Let me count the ways:

One, I get motion sickness. Please do not tell me you get used to it! I had another friend who days after her return said she still felt the ground moving. This is not for me. I spent the majority of my childhood vacations asking mom and dad to pull over after riding in the backseat of our Chevy, and, sadly, I didn’t grow out of it. 

In fact, when I met my very first editor, whom I thought was the coolest person on earth, I got miserably car sick from riding 45 minutes in her sporty convertible. And, if that wasn’t humiliating enough, several years later, on the first day of MY job as editor, I found myself lying in the backseat of my manager’s car with the bus boy putting a wet washcloth on my forehead while the folks I really wanted to impress were inside packing up my fries. And, that was after a 15-minute ride across town. All of this to say, I WILL NOT GET USED TO IT!

Two, I do not love swimming. I know I’ll be in a boat, but anytime one travels in such a way, he or she must face the realization that she could somehow, someway, end up swimming – in the ocean - which lends itself to a whole other set of dislikes. Not to mention, I’m clumsy. If the boat doesn’t sink, then I could very well fall overboard. Did I mention I don’t like heights?

Three, claustrophobia. Enough said.

Four, food buffets. I am sure I’m wrong, but the thought of the food on a cruise reminds me of my son’s favorite restaurant – Golden Corral. I am gluten-free, and despite the numerous buffets of food there, I can rarely find anything to eat. Furthermore, I have never there left their thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait to go back for breakfast, lunch and dinner!” 

Five, germs. From salmonella to norovirus, cruises have been known to spread them rapidly among passengers. Talk about captive audience.

Sixth, the Carnival ship that was stranded at sea because a fire knocked out the power and the plumbing was compared to “a floating porta potty,” and the ordeal was broadcasted live. I watched the passengers’ horror for days on the news channel at work every time I went to the refrigerator or elevator. I have never felt such relief as the day they were rescued, which, by the way, took a very long time, long enough to make my bathroom breaks feel like a luxury.

Some people counter my argument by saying, “Well, I would like to take an Alaskan cruise.” I agree. An Alaskan cruise is better, far more appealing than being in the heat, but it’s still a CRUISE! Not to mention, all of the things you’d miss while on a boat. For example, buying beef jerky from the guy on the side of the road, spotting a bear playing with a lost glove as you ride the rail car up a glacier, checking out the view of (not from) Sarah Palin’s backyard in Wasilla and getting four parking tickets because you are so excited to see your sister that you don’t notice the signs. Oh, wait a minute, perhaps there is a benefit to a cruse after all. 

I guess in the end, it’s whatever floats your boat. Just don't try to get me on-board. 

Bon voyage!


Friday, September 25, 2015

A writer's life

Being a writer is like having an assignment that's always due. No matter how much fun you're having, in the back of your mind, there's a voice that says, “You still need to do that paper,” except, unlike in school, you aren’t given a topic. 

Being a writer, at heart, means you always have a nagging feeling that you're leaving something undone, incomplete. Like a hungry child who's forced to leave food on the table or an alcoholic who has to leave wine in a glass, that raw nagging, gnawing feeling, the yearning, remains.

Being a writer means no matter how materially successful you are, how cushy your "real" job is, how many weeks vacation you have or the size of your boat, you feel a fraud. You can't relax. You don't take a deep breath and look around and sigh, “Ah, I've made it!” because you know, just below the surface is a story that must be told, that must burst forth, that in your mind, your fingers, your soul is a story that might somehow, someway touch someone and make your life worthwhile. For why else, would God, the Higher Power, the Master of the Universe, why else would He or She enrich you with this gift, this drive to put words on paper or font to the screen? It's a calling that must be followed or forever regretted.  

And it's an odd one. Musicians seem to pick up a guitar and let it play, to make music and joy, but writers are a different lot. We fight it. We want it, yet we are terrified we’ll lose it. It's our identity, yet we resist it. We downplay it. We force it to be quiet when it compels us to pull out an envelope to jot down a phrase, or when we are introduced to a person, and we roll her name around in our minds to see if it would fit a character. A character we have in our heads, as we appear here but not here, living in a world all to our own, feeling guilty for not sharing it, the stories we make up as we go. We see the couple in front of us at a concert and come up with ten different scenarios for who they are, why the wife seems so weary, why the husband seems to be trying to hard, their background, their future, we see it, all in a span of a song. Yet we push it away. We do the laundry, cook breakfast, nag ourselves and make plans to do it tomorrow while the compulsion bubbles beneath the surface threatening to erupt.

Then, suddenly, we look at the screen where we passively sit and watch other people’s lives, and we see that one of our writer friends has done what we only dreamed, they published something, a book of essays, a work of fiction, a newspaper column, and we profess happiness, but, deep inside, we hear our voices saying: I can do that. I should be doing that. Why am I not doing that? Am I lazy? No, the effort it takes to resist writing is far more than it takes to actually put pen to paper. Is it fear of failure? I don't really think so because it's not success I care about. It's getting it out, it's telling it, so I can be free and breathe and know that when I meet my maker that He'll look at me and say, “Well done.” 

Because, to a writer, hell would be getting to the end and having God shake his head in disappointment, and my having to look down in shame, knowing that I squandered it, this special gift He entrusted to me, and others like me, and that my story, your story, our story would be buried with me.

That would truly be a life unlived – and nothing to write about.