Saturday, March 27, 2010

All The Things I Never Knew

If I were to make a list of all the things I don’t know, then it could very well go on for miles. A simpler, easier list to make would contain all the things that I do know, but I’ve never been one to take the simple, easy route. So, if anyone ever asks me to recite all the things I don’t know, this is what I will say:

Before I met my husband I had no idea what it feels like to take a giant leap of faith. It takes great courage to stand up before the world and say, “I have no freaking clue what the future will bring. I only know that I want to experience it with this person by my side. We’ll take all the good, all the bad, all that life wants to throw at us and we’ll keep on going. We’re untested and unproven, but none of that matters because I believe in this person. I believe in us.”
Years ago, when I took a deep breath, leapt blindly into the unknown, believing in something I couldn’t see, I didn’t know what I know now. It was a smart decision.

I never knew what fear tasted like until the day my son stopped breathing when he was only 10 weeks old.
Now, I know just how primal and deep my mother’s love for this child goes. There is no way to measure it.

I didn’t know how much I love my dad until that day I picked up the phone and heard the words, “Your dad had a heart attack.”
I know that I’ll be forever grateful we’ve been given a second chance and we take advantage of it.

Until September 11, 2001 I never knew how much I sometimes just need to hear my mom’s voice. When the morning news broadcast the words that my generation had never heard, “The United States is under attack!” What’s the very first thing I thought to do? I called my mom. Just hearing her voice made me feel safe. I know she can’t really stop the world’s cruelties, but I feel better knowing she’s near by.

I have never known what it’s like to be alone in the world. Before I was even born I had a large family waiting for me to fill an empty spot. I have two brothers, one sister and I know we drive each other crazy sometimes (most times actually) but we’re there for each other when it really matters. I know that will never change.

I’ll never know why I have such good friends. I never call when I say I will. I frequently forget birthdays and I never show up on time for anything. Somehow, I’m tolerated despite my many flaws and I know I’m thankful for that.

If you’re still reading this then I don’t know how I kept your attention so long, but I know that I’m really glad I got the chance to say these things and I’m glad you listened.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How TiVo Saved My Marriage

All right, I'm exaggerating. My marriage hasn't needed saving, but TiVo has made watching t.v. a more pleasant experience for me and my husband. And by pleasant I mean that at least now we get to watch a whole episode of something. It's never been a question of which show to watch. We both like a good mystery. No, the differences lie in how we watch television. My husband was brought up to believe that you have to hear what the actors are saying in order to follow along with the plot. I have never subscribed to his theory.

Pre-TiVo it went a little something like this:

Me, "The UPS driver did it!"
Husband, "That is the same shot of a street in Vegas they always show during the opening song and credits. The UPS truck just happened to be there. Can we please just watch it?"
Me, "Sure" and then five minutes later, "He did it!"
Husband, "Nobody has done anything yet. Anyway, he's the star of the show. The whole thing revolves around him. Please, let's just listen to it while we watch."
Me, "Wouldn't it be a great a twist if he did turn out to be a killer? After so many years of trying to get inside the minds of killers it's made him into one. I like that idea. The writers should do that story once."
Husband, "Great idea. Why don't you go write them a letter about it? And if you do it now I might be able to hear what's going on."
Me, "Hear what? They're only talking about the crime scene and anyway I just told you who the killer is. See that person? She once played in this mini series about the civil war. I think her character's name was Ashton. It was really good. They should release it on DVD. Hey, where are you going? I thought we were going to watch this?"

Now, thanks to the magic of TiVo it only takes us an hour and a half to watch a one hour episode of Lost. Pause buttons are amazing. My husband loves it. He keeps his trigger finger hovering over the remote like a gunslinger ready to draw on an outlaw. Five minutes into an episode when I can no longer control myself and start shouting out, "Locke is good! No, wait, Locke is evil! Locke is a schizophrenic and these are characters in his mind! Oh, I know! Locke fell asleep after reading Watership Down and this is the world's longest dream!"
The hubby is fast on the draw. Paused until I run out of things to shout at the t.v. He may even have time to make a snack or build a set of shelves out in his workshop. Eventually, I'll notice he's gone and the t.v. is frozen.
"You ready to start watching it again? I'll stop talking." I tell him.
He recognizes this for the lie that it is. But, he's good natured, so he settles back down on the couch. Minutes tick by and suddenly I feel the need to try guessing what the actors are going to say before they speak.
"Kate's asking Sayid to help her. He'll say 'We took a vote while you were sleeping and no one likes you. Your turn to die.' No, he's not saying anything. Here comes, Locke. He'll tell her to go live on the other island. No, he didn't. What's wrong with these writers anyway? It's like they're just phoning it in."

And, Pause. And husband exits out the living room. And, wife is still talking to the t.v. And, cut, that's a wrap people.
Did I mention the rewind button is equally amazing?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ode To A Grandma

A group of researchers recently came together to conduct a study. They wanted to determine a grandparent’s worth in the life of a child. My family and I could have saved them a lot of time and money if only they had asked us. We would have told them about our grandma. Two daughters, eight grandchildren, seventeen great- grandkids and all their spouses have been lucky enough to have her in our lives.

As a young wife she held a baby on one hip and waved her husband off to war. There was no Internet in those days. No phone calls home either. Just some letters and care packages with long stretches in between. If Grandma found this stressful or difficult to handle, I don’t know. She’s never complained. The war ended and her husband came home. Other wars have come and gone since then. Her husband, son-in-law, grandson and grandson-in-law have all served their country well. Grandma still does. She donates items to her church, which they send to troops in Iraq. Nameless, faceless men and women benefit from the generosity she has always shown us.

Over the years she has given her family clippings from her garden, loaned out her car, money if we needed it, tools, Tupperware, clothes, lent us her ear, the shelter of her home and a shoulder to cry on. She has dried enough tears to have flooded Hoover Dam and still manages to keep a dry hankie rolled up her sleeve!

Grandma has a lot of tricks up her sleeve. She’s sewn ruffles on little red dresses so they last longer. Turned a tractor ride around the farm into an amusement park roller coaster, made zucchini a treat and a wooden fork into a treasure. She has patched holey jeans, replaced buttons, hemmed dresses, and outfitted dolls.

Across time and generations she's wrangled freckle faced cowboys, bathed royal princesses, cheered the M.V.P., doctored the bruised adventurer and partied like a pirate. She has sat through doctor appointments, recitals, soccer games, graduations, weddings and baptisms. Nothing, though, can bring out the best in our Grandma like Christmas. Who else would save a card her grandson made 40 years ago, and faithfully put it out year after year? She has been gifted with ornaments made of clothes pins, glue and more glue. They’re more precious to her than if they were diamonds and gold. Ceramic ornaments that have been scribbled on by tiny hands are hung out as if great works of art. Three generations crowd around her tree and the youngest ones are passed their presents first. Grandma knows it’s hard to contain a lot of patience in little bodies.

No matter the season, she has taught us to love and value our family. Most of the grandkids never got to meet Grandpa. She has made sure we knew him anyway. Through pictures and stories she has kept his memory alive. Grandpa’s family lives out west and Grandma made regular pilgrimages with us kids to visit them. She’s toured DisneyLand with us. Sat in the sand along side of us. More than one grandchild has seen the ocean for the first time with Grandma by their side. Along the way she gave faces to names we have always heard tossed around. Our Grandpa’s mom, sisters and brothers are real to us because of Grandma.

She has been our seamstress, nurse, short order cook, maid, chauffeur and General rallying the troops. She has baby-sat us, rang in the New Year with us, given us pony rides, kept our favorite foods stocked and stood ankle deep in the snow, yelling “be careful” as we sped by on our sleds. There have been bingo games, sleepovers, sandwiches at J.& J.s and yard sales. She has laughed at our antics, scolded us when we needed it, taken pride in our accomplishments, worried for us and loved us when it seemed like no one else did. One of the best things she ever did was teaching her daughters how to be the kind of Grandma she is.

Grandma has taught her family some important life lessons:
Tend your garden if you want to grow something beautiful.
Challenge your mind. Puzzles, cards and board games are just plain fun.
So is dressing up like a clown every now and then!
Love your family.
Honor the memories of the ones that are gone.
Mend what you can.
Give what you’re able.
Always gather your loved ones around a big table.
At the age of 80 Grandma remarried. The lesson that day:
Life goes by quickly. Grab hold of some happiness and love whenever it comes your way.

Why would anyone think they could put a value on that?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Looking For A Leprechaun

Did you know that leprechauns love to attend kindergarten class? Not every day. That would be boring and routine. No, the little green goblins only make an appearance on March 17th. And only if you're lucky enough to be in Mrs. Anderson's class. My son was just that lucky.

Around the end of February the paper came home putting us on notice. Leprechauns invade her classroom every year. Could we help our children with a special project? Anything to trap and keep a rascally leprechaun. It wouldn't be easy we were warned. They were pretty quick and nimble. My son loved this idea. He has my Irish heart beating inside him and the idea of owning his own leprechaun was like a dream come true. With big, fancy ideas of what to do with all the gold he would seize from his captive we began the project. Less thought and effort went into the construction of Fort Knox. He created a rainbow with a fake pot of gold. The idea was that when the leprechaun came over to check out the gold he would fall into the pot and get stuck. I volunteered in the classroom and I was there when my son warned his teacher that leprechauns were magic and it may not be possible to catch them. She smiled and looked over at me as if to ask, "Are you getting this?" His enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn't wait until he came home from school on the 17th to hear what happened.

With too much excitement to keep contained in his little body he danced around as he told me about the day the leprechauns came to class. They stayed hidden, as leprechauns do, until all the kids went out to recess. When the class came back in they could tell the leprechauns had been there. Chairs were flipped upside down. Best of all, the leprechauns left little, green footprints everywhere. The children's traps had footprints all over them. Clearly, the goblins had been tempted by what they saw, but were smart enough to avoid capture.
"I can't believe he left green footprints. I can't believe I know what a leprechaun's feet look like.", my son said over and over, with big eyes shining.

Sadly, the leprechauns only attack the kindergartners and in the first grade he was disappointed to find out there would be no more leprechauns. I bought a tiny statue of one for him to put out on St. Patrick's Day and he did so in hopes it would attract a curious leprechaun. A couple of years have passed since that day. The leprechaun statue sits out in my kitchen everyday. A reminder to embrace whimsy.

So, Mrs. Anderson, while I didn't say anything at the time, I was getting it. I was getting how you took a gaggle of kids setting out down the road of education and taught them more than the days of the week, how to spell and count to 100. You taught them to believe in magic if only for a day. You taught them to believe in things that can't always be seen and put a smile on the faces of a bunch of kids. Thank you.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Sight For Sore Eyes

If there is one thing that makes me happy it's the arrival of spring. I have lived my whole life in the mid west and you would think that I'd be used to the endless cycle that are our seasons. Cold, desolate winter followed by the hope that a new spring brings. Somehow, with the arrival of greens and yellows in my yard I feel as if this is the first time I am seeing color. Suddenly, everything seems a little brighter, as if things will take a turn for the wonderful because my crocus are blooming. I can't explain why this feeling persists every year. I only know that it does.

I have no green thumb. My style of gardening is this: A catalogue arrives in my mailbox. It advertises beautiful flowers and decorative shrubs. The words "Guaranteed Not To Die" and "Will Grow Anywhere" make confident promises. I order a few and then proceed to prove them wrong. If it were not for my husband our entire yard would be a brown wasteland where flowers go to die.

As it is, the front yard is beautiful. The side hill where our deck rests is a haven. He keeps it this way. The backyard, not so much. We have two large dogs. We have turned the yard over to them.

At first, my husband resisted this. He spent one fall slaving over that mud pit. He tilled the ground. He planted a grass seed that said it could withstand anything. He laid out a blanket of hay and watered it religiously. He kept the dogs chained in a small portion away from his precious crop. He forbid me and our child to walk out the back door. Hours were spent watching the grass grow. Regular reports were called in from his post at the window.
"The patch by the gate is about an inch tall now."
"Over in the back corner isn't doing as well. I should reconfigure the sprinkling system."
"The wind keeps blowing my hay."
Always, I would pretend to listen. That was the year I was glad when winter came and he abandoned his watch.

Warm weather hearkened in spring and fresh green grass. It was beautiful for about a day. The rains came and turned the ground soggy. The grass people were only joking when they said it could withstand anything. Before we knew it, the backyard was a swamp. Call me crazy, but I like to play fetch with my dogs in this environment. I love the first day that is warm enough I can get out there with them. I love to tromp around in the mud. I love when they run through it and the mud splashes all over their bellies and my ankles. I love the sunshine and a slobbery tennis ball and the look on their faces right before I send it airborne. I love that my husband loves us all enough to throw in the towel when it comes to the backyard.

Someday, the dogs will be playing ball in the big yard in the sky, our son will no longer have the neighborhood over to play tag and my husband will have the backyard of his dreams. I have promised him this. In the meantime, I'll keep to the back. I love to stand by the fence and reach over to touch the forsythia bush he planted several years ago. One of the first things to bloom, it's bright yellow buds are the signs of Spring I wait so long to see. Yellow goes really well with mud.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

In The (Sister) Hood

I have a sister-in-law. Actually, I have three. Two I've inheritated through my brothers and one I gained when I married her brother. Recently, I sent out a call to action for my family members. Could they all help me out with a new project I am working on? Almost immediately my one sister-in-law answered my plea. I was pleased and touched for a couple of reasons. She could have ignored me. We live thousands of miles apart and she wouldn't have to face me over awkward family dinners any time soon. But she's there for me when I need her.

Families are hard units to break into and I didn't make it easy on her. She was the first in-law I'd ever experienced. Much like a new parent with their first baby I waded into uncharted territory thinking I knew how it would go. I was wrong. I got some things right. More often than not, I got it all wrong. I try learn from my mistakes. I hope the two that came later benefit from this.

She shares the same first name with me. When my brother's proposal was accepted she took over the last name, too. I remember my mom telling me that with the both of us sharing the same name no one would be able to tell who was who.
"We need something new to call you", my mom said.
I was immediately resentful. At 15 years old I was reasonably sure that the world revolved around only me. It was my name first. We could just keep calling her by her maiden name. I didn't care that she took on our name. I only cared that she moved my brother out of my childhood, even as I was trying to escape it myself. He was my childish idol, my big brother. And while I was grateful when his bigger, better bedroom passed down to me, I didn't want to be left behind.

More than two decades have passed. We've shared holidays, meals, vacations, laughter and tears. We've battled royally and gotten past it. We've bonded over raquetball games, buying bread at the grocery strore and the love we share for the same three people. I'm proud of those two boys she and my brother have raised.
Recently, she did something special for my own boy. It was during a trip to an amusement park. I, on my ever loving quest to save a buck, was intent on denying my son all kinds of pleasures.
"Why should we pay five bucks to race remote control cars, when you can do it for free at home?", I asked.
"Those games are a rip off. Keep moving." I barked every few minutes.
She forked the money out all afternoon long for him. She shot water out of her gun and sent her stuffed animal to the top more times than I could count. She raced him at cars. She let the man guess her age within everyone's hearing. She kept up a steady stream of goofy hats, silly capes and stuffed animals
. In short, she made his day. I never guessed how much until we were back from our trip and I was going through his backpack one day after school. For an assignment he had written a paper about his favorite vacation memory. In childish scrawl there it was. The day his aunt won all the prizes at an amusement park. O.k. he took all the credit for winning the games but the sentiment remains the same. More experienced at motherhood than I, she rescued a wonderful memory that I would have unwittingly destroyed. Best of all, she never even let on what she was doing. She's there for me even when I don't know I need her. That's just the way it is with sisters.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Living The Good Life

Sometimes I think that maybe I'm not living the good life. You know, really experiencing life at it's fullest. Mostly, I think this when I am sitting on my couch, munching on chips and watching reality t.v. Deadliest Catch or The Amazing Race. These people know how to live, I tell myself. No boring, humdrum here. Unlike myself.

I have a good life. Don't get me wrong. Loving husband. Healthy, happy kid. Secure job. Roof over our heads. But, shouldn't there be more to life than this? Shouldn't I get the chance to ride a raging sea, or climb the side of a mountain only to find out I have to para glide down from the summit? Then, maybe I could say I had really done something with myself. A compelling story to tell in my golden years. It all sounds so good. However, where I live there is no angry sea. Only a river that occasionally floods during spring thaw. And you can forget about any mountain top.

Today, there is only me home from work, dog tired, and a little boy who wants to play on the hill. "The hill" as it is called around here is an empty lot in our subdivision where a house will someday sit. For now there is a massive pile of pea gravel and dirt. A boy's dream. I'm tempted to tell him no. I'm still in my work clothes. I'm tired. I have absolutely no desire to go stand in a pile of rocks and watch him and some neighborhood kids fling dirt around. I'm tempted, but I'm also feeling guilty. I work full time and miss out on so much already. We walk over to the hill and it's empty. No kids. Probably, home eating their dinners. Which is what we should be doing. Only he wants to play with his mom. And how much longer do I have before he stops asking me to play? A few years, at the most?

I suggest king of the hill. His eyes light up. He runs to top and prepares for battle. I make a half hearted run and he takes me down. The kid is serious. And before you know it I am too. We trade power over and over. We trip each other, shove, roll down the gravel and shout war cries like a pair of bezerkers. I'm not sure how much time has passed but I do become aware of a man walking his dog and staring at us. And we must look odd. I'm still dressed in my work outfit, complete with dressy shoes. And we're sitting in a pile of dirt. And the gravel in my shoes are digging into the soles of my feet. Only I don't care about any of that. Because my son is laughing. The deep, belly busting kind that lights up his whole his face. And when his face is lit up, then I'm happiest. This is what living is all about, I say to myself.

Let the adventurers keep their blue horizons. Forget the mountain. I'm afraid of heights anyway. When I'm in my golden years this is the story my son will tell. The day his mom and him had fun together.