Friday, April 30, 2010

Go Coastal, young man, go coastal

Have you ever wanted to just chuck it all and head for the coast?  Say good-bye to the job, the dull routine and set out for a land where the sun is always shining?  Yeah, me too.  When I was younger and before life got in the way I had a plan to do just that. 

California, here I come.  It was simple, really.  I would take a job working in Alaska at a fish processing plant.  The work would be awful.  Smelly, backbreaking labor that would suck up 100 hours a week of my life and pay better than anything in the lower 48.  If a person could last the summer they would end it with a nice, fat bonus check.  A check that I would use to purchase a car for the drive from Alaska to sunny Cali.  What I would do in California remained murky in my mind, but I had high hopes.  Life would be better by the ocean.  I was sure of it.  Sneaky, sneaky life stole that dream from me.

The details remain unimportant but I never made it to Alaska.  Never made it to California.  Unless you can count a family vacation my husband, son and I took a couple of years ago.  And that's o.k. because I am right where I am supposed to be.  Couldn't be happier or more sure of it.  But, I'd be a liar if I said I never think of Alaska and wonder what if.  What if my plan had come to pass?  Would I have made it the whole fishy summer, taken my money and never looked back?  Who would I be right now?  I'll never know and I guess it doesn't matter.  The truth is I don't often go to that what if place in my mind.  It's rather pointless.  But,  something happened the other day that took me back to that time.

An email from my nephew brought me  back to those days of California dreamin'.   He will be graduating from high school on June 4th and has been mulling over which college to attend.   Not an easy choice when you're eightteen and the future stretching out before you seems so, well, so hard to comprehend.  One day it's what hoodie do I wear? And, then just like that you are asked to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life.  His email was typical until he threw out the line 'maybe move to the coast'.  Oh, to be eightteen again.  Maybe move to the coast indeed.  My advice to him?  If you're going to do it then do it while you are young.  There may never be this chance again.  Sorry, big brother, but I didn't tell your boy to stay in town, work hard, and save his money.  Where would be the fun in that?  Instead, I offered up this bit of advice.  Head to the coast.  Work on the beach this summer.  Have fun.   Soak up the sun.   Head back home in the fall and take up the school books again.  Life is all about weighing your options and picking the one you can live with twenty years down the line.  Regret is a waste of time and if you have to experience it at all, it's best to keep it at the minimum.  Tuesdays at nine is when I get a taste of mine.  Deadliest Catch is on and sometimes watching those Bering Sea fishermen I can almost trick myself into believing I could have made it that summer. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why I'll Never Be Mother Of The Year

     Mothers around the world, Unite! 
     I'm not sure why, it just sounds good, doesn't it? Oh, wait, I know why moms should unite.  To take this solemn oath:
     "Dear Fellow Mother,  I vow not to stare at you in the grocery store aisle, when my kid is at home with his dad and your kids are crying over in the cereal section.  I vow not to wear a smug look of superiority when my kid leaves the park as soon as I tell him to and your own through fits.   I promise not to judge when you let the kids skip a serving of vegetables and have ice cream instead.  I will recognize that whatever trying time you are going through with your offspring out in public, I have either been there myself or will be one day in the future."
     Let's face it.  If your child has never embarassed you with their behavior then it is because they are enrolled in a boarding school in some far off, distant land  miles from where you live.  I challenge you to find me one mother who has never left a half full grocery cart abandoned in the middle of  frozen foods when she couldn't get the baby to stop screaming and the toddler to quit pulling boxes off the shelves.  Motherhood is hard.  The training Navy Seals go through?  Would seem like a dream vacation most days.  You want a terrorist to spill his guts?  Make him take a two year old grocery shopping on a Saturday morning when the store is packed.  He will beg you to listen to his confession.   
     So, why are we moms so hard on each other?  No one will ever judge a mom as harshly as the mom one kid over in school, the store, the pew behind you in church, etc.  You get the picture.  Why do we moms feel the need to pretend we have a handle on it all?  To show off for our friends?  To deny the fact that we have no clue what the heck we're doing half the time?  So we feel better about ourselves when it is someone else's kid everyone is looking at for once?  We have all been there.  Either we are the ones with the kid crying that is disrupting the quiet or we are the ones watching a mom struggling with a tiny, temperamental tot and thinking, "This lady has no clue what she is doing."
     So, in the effort of uniting moms around the world I would like to confess why my son will not be nominating me for mother of the year this year.  Or any other year most likely.
     On occasion I have forgotten to do laundry and sent him off to school in a pair of jeans that I've rescued from the hamper and deemed "the one that most likely can pass for clean".
     I have pretended to be asleep when he comes poking my shoulder in the middle of the night, hoping he will give up and just go back to bed on his own.  He never does.
     The other day at dinner my son told us he knows that "son of a b-word" is a cuss word.  When questioned how he came to know this phrase he gave a simple answer.  "I learned it from Mommy.  Remember, the other day when we were driving and you said 'son of a b-word, could you old folks go any slower?' "  Oops.  I thought he couldn't hear my mumblings.  I was wrong.
     Sometimes, I hide candy in a kitchen cupboard he can't reach because I don't want to share any of it.
     Once, when my son was only a year and a half  we were at a local aquarium and he was acting up horribly.  I was exhausted from trying to keep him corralled.  He ran off and was climbing on a display which was not allowed.  A lady passing by asked me where that little boy's parents were.   "I have no idea.", I replied.   It's a good thing she moved on before he betrayed my lie.
My list could go on and on.  I hope I have leveled the playing field when it comes to the sport of mommying.
     The truth is that every child has a list similar to mine for their own mom.  The next time I am in a store at ten o' clock at night and I see a mom dragging two kids through the aisles I will fight my first inclination, which is to ask myself why she has her kids out this late on a school night.  Instead, I will try the nonjudgemental approach.  After all, for all I know she could have had a tragic family emergency that has her scouring the city in search of medicine or bandages.  I'll remember the time I was in a McDonald's with my young niece.  She didn't get her way and responded by screaming at the top of her lungs and hurling straw wrappers and napkins at my head.  I tried to grab her to leave and she crawled under a table.  Out of nowhere came a gentle touch upon my shoulder.  A kind lady had left her family and spoke quiet, sweet words to my ear.  "I just wanted to let you know that I've been where you are.  I said a prayer for you today." 
Much, much better than the dirty looks I had been getting.  Understanding and compassion.  It immediately diffused the situation.  Choked up with gratitude I looked her in the eye and said, "Lady, this ain't even my kid." 
But the truth is that it could have very easily been and a little understanding and compassion goes a long way.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pancakes and Memories

Food, glorious food!  I love food and if you ever saw me you would know this is true.  To me food is the great equalizer.  Everyone needs food to survive and I've yet to meet someone who doesn't like to eat.  People come together over food.  Dinner may be on the menu, but memories are the main course. 

Not just dinner, though.  I can never walk past a pack of Nutter Butter Cookies in the grocery store without thinking of my irish grandma.  She always kept those on hand.  I bought a pack and fed one to my son and told him of how I would sit at the round, wood table in her kitchen and she would treat me to these cookies.  I loved them.  My son did not.

One thing he does love is how I serve up food.  Blueberry pancakes are all well and good, but pancakes cut into the shape of pigs are so much better!  It is a rare occurance when I don't make my pancakes into fun shapes.  And it's not just pancakes.  My husband has started a low cholestrol diet so when I made some biscuits that fit within the diet's guidelines they were shaped like what else?  Hearts.  I spell out our intials with the pepperoni on pizzas we make.   Paint smiley faces onto the bread of bologna sandwhichs with mustard and shape my meatloaf like shrek.

My son found this so much more amusing when he was younger.  Now that he's getting older I think he finds my culinary delights somehow beneath him.  He's become intrigued with the idea of being cool.  And sugar cookies resembling snakes are not cool.  So, I'll stop it all soon.  Maybe.  But, I know that even if I do stop there will come a day, down the road, when presented with a lovely stack of flapjacks my son will say to himself,  "If my mom were here these would look like the sun and stars." 
I hope the memory makes him smile.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sibling Revelry

There are few relationships more complex, more enduring than that of siblings.  If life is a play then we are the stars standing in the spotlight, center stage.  Suddenly, there's a new co-star stepping onto our stage and stealing the light.  No one asked if we wanted to share the stage and nobody had us take a screen test to see if we even had chemistry with the newcomer.  Just a "Here you go.  New cast member.  New script.  And no we don't care whether or not you like the direction this is going."  So we rearrange our ideas about the play and by the end of the first act there is a flow to it.  By the end of the second who can even remember what it was like before the cast expanded?

So it is with our siblings.  They are there when our story begins.  Those built in playmates our parents bequeth to us.  They are our best friend, staunchest supporter, arch enemy and person to point the finger at when things go wrong.  Usually, all in the same day.  If a friend snuck into your bedroom, wore your clothes without asking, snooped through your diary and stole your cds you would drop that friend quicker than you can say, "see ya".  Let a sibling commit those crimes and they will not only get away with it, years later you will give a speech at their wedding reception recounting the violations, causing you both to laugh hysterically over all those good times.  Your parents will sit there shaking their heads dumbfoundedly.  This is the mystery of siblings.
It's a mystery how there could be a person in your life through no choosing of your own, whom you have nothing in common with, wouldn't even be someone you would hang out with if not for your shared dna, and yet you don't hesitate to drop everything and come running when they call.  While you might stab them in the hand with a fork to prevent them from getting that last slice of pizza, you would hand over one of your kidneys to them without even giving it a second thought.  Our siblings are the ones that stand by our sides when we marry and then stick around after the reception to help clean up.  They are the first people you call when the parents annoy you, because only they can truly understand.  A sibling will drive miles to come take care of your dog when you are out of town, brave an icestorm to pick you up from work because your car broke down, babysit your kids all weekend for free and never once say, "you owe me".   Or, if they say it, they never really mean it. 

There are few people in our lives that can be counted on at all times, for anything.  A sibling is such a person.  It is a relationship that will outlive marriages, flourish though seperated by many miles and transcend time and understanding.  My own mother loves to tell the story of the "year of the forgotten birthday".  Her birthday started off without a single birthday greeting.  As the day progressed she expected to hear "happy birthday" every time the phone rang.  No such luck.  By the end of the day it had become clear to her that she had been forgotten.  Forgotten by her children, spouse and mother.  She was getting ready for bed when the ringing phone pierced the silence.  "Happy birthday!  Sorry I didn't get a chance to call earlier."  It was her sister.  The only one who remembered what everyone else forgot.

When the world moves on without you, it is a sibling that will meet you right where you are.  They know things about your past that you have forgotten.  They will sometimes make you wish your parents had practiced abstinence more often.  They will love you with a love that doesn't have to be earned, returned or appreciated.  It's there whether you want it or not.  If you're wise, you will never take it for granted.  But even if you do, that's okay.   The true mystery of siblings is how they are able to overlook just about anything and love through everything.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Most Fun I've Ever Had

     There was a time when I was sane, rational and capable of logical thought.  That was before I became a mom.  Proof of this occurs one day in February, several years ago.  For some odd reason I decided that a Saturday afternoon at the mall shopping for my mother-in-law's birthday sounded like a perfect way to pass the time with a two and half year old.  While I was on board the delusional express I also left the stroller at home figureing that he would simply walk next to me and wait patiently while I looked at sweaters and perfume.

     In no time at all I was kneeling on the floor, whispering furiously into the crotches of jeans hanging on a circular rack.  Whispering so as not to draw attention to myself.
"No, we are not playing hide and seek.  Get out here now!"
He giggled delightedly and took off for the next hide out.  I, who once won ribbons during track and field day at school, had no hope of catching up.  I bided my time and snagged him while he was climbing up a mannequin's leg.  We fled that store under the glare of an angry sales lady.  You would think that I would have learned my lesson, but no.  We sped circles around browsing shoppers, racks of clothes and shook hands with every manniquin we passed.  He stole the hat off a display in mens and I tossed it onto a pile of purses in womens as we beat a hasty exit.  Somehow, along the way I did manage to purchase a birthday gift.  And as I walked through the mall hauling our coats, shopping bag and squirming toddler I came across my salvation.  The cookie kiosk.  No, he certainly didn't deserve any treats, but I desperately needed one.  So, I bought us some brownies and sank onto a nearby bench. 
"Mommy, this fun!" he smiled up at me.  A smile not quite enough he dragged himself over our coat pile and wrapped tiny hands around my neck.  "Squeeze hug!" he says into my ear. 
Only, I'm looking at the chocolate hand prints on my new wool coat.  And I'm thinking there are matching stains on my blouse now, also.  And I'm thinking that somedays I'd like to just sit in peace and quiet for ten minutes.  I'd be thrilled with five. 

     That's when I see her.  The lady walking by and looking at me and my little cookie monster.  She has such a look on her face that I can't look away.  Such sadness mingled with sweetness.  Then she looks away from us and casts a quick glance over her shoulder.  That's when I see him.  He's about fifteen, swinging a Macy's bag and looking up at the ceiling.  If he moved any slower he would be standing still.  It's obvious that he's trying to distance himself from the lady in front of him.  A teenager trying to pretend he hatched upon the earth spontaneously free of parents.  The lady gives me one last look.  A look that clearly says "enjoy it while it lasts". 

     The chocolate stains are forgotten.  There will be a day when I don't have to worry about sticky, little fingers and what they touch.  One day I will have all the time in the world to spend at the mall peacefully window shopping.  That day will be here much to soon. 

"Squeeze hug back.  This is fun." I say. 
Because it is.  The most fun I've ever had.