Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Facebook Papers: Finding Love

Suggested topic #7:  Finding Love... how you keep each week from being your last with a husband and older kids

OK, these Facebook blog topic suggestions are getting tougher. Truth is, I don't how how to find or keep love. I just got lucky. 16-year-old Jess met 17-year-old [Beforehebecame]Senior back in high school. I barely remember those two kids. She was the do-gooder in a family of cynical liberals and he was the rebel in a family of faith-centric conservatives. But the same traits that made us the square pegs in our own family dynamics meshed beautifully when we met. I read something recently that said that it was easy to fall in love; the hard part was learning to like the person you were left with after the initial attraction wore off. Fortunately for me, I like Senior. We balance each other, although somewhere along the way we traded personalities. I think a lot of people who meet so young can grow apart, but we grew up together. He taught me to be spontaneous and positive, and I taught him to appreciate the little things. We had common goals, a strong sense of humor, and the blessing of good fortune. And I think pulling up our roots and moving a few times helped our little family grow stronger because we learned to rely on each other in every new situation.

As for keeping love alive with older kids? I guess that depends on what age you are talking about. If you have teenagers all you can do is hunker down and hang on for the ride. My kids, now in their 20's, are actually pretty fun to be around. A couple things that worked really well for Senior and I over the years was to make sure we took vacations together without the kids, even if it was just a weekend trip. It helped us focus on being a team, working towards a common future. And when we were home and the kids got in trouble, regardless of what age they were, Senior and I would take the time to talk out the crime and the punishment together before we disciplined them. We were a united front. Luckily we didn't have to practice this too often. Oh believe me, the kids got into all kinds of trouble, but basically they were pretty respectful of our rules. In fact, the only time I can remember wanting to trade both our kids in for a pair of goats happened when they were pre-schoolers. It started with a trip to the grocery store. It ended with a cop. 

It was always a challenge taking the kids along when I went grocery shopping at the local Tops Market, especially before the invention of cool race-car grocery carts and digital media distractions. Before the advent of 24-hour mega marts, stay-at-home moms like me didn't have a lot of options. Once in a while a neighbor invited one of the kids over for a play date, or maybe Grandma would drop in and babysit. But typically I hauled them along and hoped for the best. I liked to go in the morning before they got too cranky, but one day I got sidetracked by other tasks. Before I knew it, it was early afternoon and there was no food in the house. I had planned to try a new recipe for dinner and needed to get the ingredients, so I made a list (organized by aisle to minimize the time spent in the store) and loaded the kids into my little pickup truck. Unfortunately I didn't realize that they had spent the morning watching Barney videos backwards, and now were brainwashed into misbehavior.

I spent the first half of the shopping trip using one hand to keep The Boy stuffed into the little seat at the top of the cart while he tried to thread his huge fat feet back out through the leg openings, and using the other hand to corral The Girl so she didn't pull all the coupons out of the electronic coupon dispensers and stuff them in her pocket. When they weren't whining about the confinement, they were singing their version of the store's jingle "Tops never mops, look at their floors!" at the top of their lungs. My patience was wearing thin when The Girl said she had to go potty. I gave her the standard mom grilling: "Now? Are you sure? Can it wait?" Noticing the insane glint in my eyes, she told me she was okay and could wait until she got home. 

I turned back to the cart and found that The Boy had removed the lid from a carton of yogurt and was eating it with his hands. What didn't go in his mouth was in his hair or on the cart handle. In hindsight, I should have let him finish it, but at that time the acceptable response seemed to be to yell at him and take the carton away. I rummaged through my purse for wet wipes (a mom staple) and cleaned him up. That's when I realized that The Girl was no longer anywhere in sight. I called her name twice and she appeared, popping around the corner from the paper product aisle. I warned her to keep one hand on the cart for the rest of the trip if she wanted to make it out of the store alive. That's when I noticed her shoes were damp. This couldn't be good. I asked her to explain and with tears in her eyes she said she couldn't hold it anymore. I whipped the cart into the paper product aisle and found… nothing. The Girl calmly showed me where she had crawled up on the bottom shelf behind the bulk rolls of paper towels to do her business in private.

I seriously considered just quietly rearranging the paper towels and walking away, but I figured karma would hunt me down. I called a stock boy over and pointed out the puddle. He looked at us, speechless, and called for a cleanup. (I guess Tops does mop their shelves). We slunk away towards the dairy aisle, where I paused to explain to The Girl why she could never, ever, ever do something like that again. As this was going on, The Boy decided he was being ignored so he might as well look for another snack. He turned around in his seat and rummaged through the items within reach. A carton of eggs was in his way, so he grabbed it and flipped it out of the cart. It opened and landed upside down, breaking all dozen eggs on the floor. Time stood still.

One of the other shoppers took pity on me and offered to find someone to clean it up so I could get out of the store. I thanked her profusely and started toward the checkout. Before we got more than a couple steps away, The Girl handed me a big hunk of expensive cheese and asked if we could buy it because she liked it. I told her she had never had that kind and we weren't getting it. She turned the hunk over and showed me where she had bit into it and found it delicious. I put the cheese back on the shelf.

I made it through the long line at the checkout lanes without sobbing and headed out to the truck. I buckled the kids into their car seats, stacked the grocery bags in the truck bed, and got behind the wheel. Suddenly it struck me that with all the drama, I forgot to buy Parmesan cheese in the dairy aisle. At that moment, having Parmesan cheese seemed like the most important thing in the world. I needed Parmesan cheese. I was not going to be able to make it through another day without Parmesan cheese. It was a key component in the recipe I planned to make for dinner, and something was going to go as planned that day, even if it meant that I had to go back into the store. I looked at my children and realized that it would be a Very Big Mistake to take them back in with me. They were safely strapped into their seats, so I locked the truck and dashed back into the store solo. I was gone less than two minutes. They were both crying when I got back. Nothing had happened, they were just tired and cranky and under the influence of the anti-Barney. So we headed home, which was only a few blocks away.

I turned off the main street, passing the middle school just as the kids were being dismissed. That's when I noticed the patrol car behind me with his lights flashing. I pulled over, much to the delight of the pre-teens leaving the school. As the officer walked up to my window, I laid my head on the steering wheel and closed my eyes. When he got to me, I rolled down the window.  He looked at us quietly for a moment. Then in a compassionate voice he said, "I have kids too."

It turned out that one of the other shoppers was passing by my truck during the two minutes I was in the store alone. She noticed the two crying children (but apparently did not notice the eight paper bags stuffed with groceries in the back of the truck) and assumed I had abandoned them while I did my weekly shopping. So she called the cops. We lived in a small town with a local police force. It only took a few moments for the officer on patrol to get to the store, but by then I was already in the truck and headed out of the lot. 

I told him my story - that I realized after loading up the truck that I had left my purse at the checkout, so I ran back in to get it. That sounded better than admitting that I had a Parmesan cheese meltdown. He said that was okay, he could see the kids were fine, and that he knew I was probably annoyed but I should appreciate that I lived in a town where people looked out for each other. "Appreciation" wasn't the emotion I was feeling, but I smiled wanly and thanked him for not arresting me, then pulled away and headed home to naps and probably a big glass of wine.

Postscript:  I did ask The Girl if it was okay that I tell this story to the world before publishing this. In spite of her mother, The Girl turned out to be an amazing young woman with a great sense of humor. She said it was fine, and that she would be staging a re-enactment on Tuesday at the local Kroger.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Facebook Papers: The one with the really long title

Suggested Topic #6: "You have traveled to different did that affect you? What did you like or dislike? What was the strangest thing you saw? Where would you like to travel if money was no object and why that place?" 

I have had the good fortune to travel a lot. I've been to most of the US states and Canadian provinces, and had my feet on five continents. The majority of the international trips have been work-related. It's a curious blend of good and bad - the good is obviously the fact that someone else pays for it, and the bad is that it can be crushingly lonely. I'm not a good explorer on my own, and when I do strike out to see the sights, I usually end up at a sidewalk cafe looking at the "real" tourists with envy.

Whether traveling for work or play, the best times are when I've been able to experience something off the beaten path, guided by someone who lives there. I've toured a hobbit house in the German hills, explored downtown Calgary with an off-duty fireman; crashed a South African wedding; played trivia at a Brit pub (I aced the Motown questions); drank from a coconut in a city park in Brazil; participated in an elder ceremony in Thailand, and shot at (and missed) a clay pigeon at a Rod & Gun club surrounded by Iowa crops. I've shopped in markets and bazaars from Tequisquiapan to Shanghai, and have been honored to be invited for home cooked meals around the globe.

I've seen strange-awesome, strange-awful and strange-awkward things. Want to see my pictures from the museum dedicated entirely to potatoes? How about the one of a slug the size of my finger? Or I wish I could show you a video of the time I was hit by a bird! 
I've seen the rain sweep through the mountains in a swinging curtain and shakily crossed a gorge on a narrow swinging bridge. I've held lion cubs and walked with elephants, interrupted a moose's lunch and seen eagles soar. I've sampled exotic foods and local wines poured by the winemaker himself. One fabulous day I renewed my wedding vows with the love of my life at the crest of Niagara Falls.  But the most memorable and enjoyable trips, short or long, have been the ones where Senior and I are on the motorcycle with no particular destination. I'm still planning my dream vacation, where the two of us explore New Zealand in just such a fashion. I want to see if that country is as breathtakingly beautiful in person as it is in pictures.

In case you're reading this and feeling a twinge of envy, I'll confess that I have travel amnesia. I try to forget all the times my stomach flip flops because I have to go on the road again, the crowded flights and missed connections and trying to navigate where I don't speak the language without getting hopelessly lost. I've spent many days trying to work while fighting jet lag and many nights in dingy hotels smack in the middle of industrial parks, wide awake at 3AM and missing my family. I've been on the other side of the world when I've received a phone call telling me that one of my children is in the emergency room. I've flown with an ear infection when I thought my head would explode, and I'm on a first name basis with Montezuma. But no matter what happens on a trip, I'm never back home for long before I get the itch to hit the road again.

So all this travel - how did it affect me? I love it. I hate it. It humbles me. The world is so big and so beautiful and so varied. And there is no place like home.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Facebook Papers: Writer's Block

Suggested Topic #4: "Writers Block"

Well, I just couldn't think about anything to say on this topic. So I did what I do best: I googled it. Google is awesome. In 0.37 seconds I had 106,000,000 results.

The first link was for a Wikipedia page, which started off with disclaimers, making me assume that the person who Wiki'd this page did NOT suffer from writer's block:

This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style.
The next link was to the Purdue's Online Writing Lab (OWL). It had a lot of encouraging tips designed to motivate slacker students to go write the papers that they had put off until the last minute. Frankly I was too enamored with their cool logo to read much of it.

The third link was to a page about overcoming writer's block by the Capital Community College Foundation. Remind me to never enroll at CCC, or "U Downer" as I like to call it. I wanted to cry after reading the first paragraph:

For many writers the worst part of the writing experience is the very beginning, when they're sitting at the kitchen table staring at a blank sheet of paper or in front of that unblinking and perfectly empty computer monitor. "I have nothing to say," is the only thing that comes to mind. "I am XX years old and I have done nothing, discovered nothing, been nothing, and there are absolutely no thoughts in my head that anyone would ever want to read about."
The next link was to a blog written by Charlie Jane Anders called The 10 types of writers block and how to overcome them. I clicked on the link, but sadly (because I was googling on the job) our own corporate Big Brother blocked me:
Access denied! The page you requested was blocked automatically because of content that is potentially not supporting the corporate goals.
Ok, busted - I guess I should not be surfing the Web at work. Instead I should be in the break area watching the Tiger's opening game like most of the other employees. So I emailed the link to my personal email account so I could check it out when I got home. It's actually a very thoughtful and cleverly-written blog. And it has super-cool pictures! So since Charlie Jane did all the hard work for me, I'll consider this topic complete.

The Facebook Papers: Coffee

Suggested Topic #3:  "Coffee"

Ever since my teenage days, I've adored a good cup of coffee. Right from the beginning I drank it black, the stronger the better. It was a badge of honor before there was a Starbucks or Caribou on every corner. Out in the boondocks where I lived, you bought coffee at a diner or you drank it at home. Coffee was served black at our house. If you wanted it, you drank it that way. I felt infinitely cool when I downed a cup of thick black mud while all my friends gagged at the thought.

In my 20's and 30's, coffee was a bonding experience. When we went to our family cottage, one of the cherished rituals was to have your 2nd (or 7th) cup of coffee sitting together out on the front porch. My in-laws still made coffee with a percolator on a stove burner, and it was delicious. I shared many, many cups with them on weekend afternoons while cousins gathered and football ruled the TV. And as any pre-schooler's mother desperate for adult companionship can attest, having a friend over for a cup of coffee is like taking shelter from a storm.

By the time I was in my 40's, trendy coffee shops were all the rage. I can clearly remember the first time I had a cup of the burnt dirt known as Starbuck's morning blend. I quickly became a fan. I was still a black coffee purist, and a total coffee snob. No milk, no sugar, no cheap grocery store blend, and no flavored beans. The only exception I would make was to occasionally sprinkle some cinnamon over the freshly-ground beans before brewing to get just a hint of exotic taste without any extra calories (or to order one of those fancy after-dinner coffee drinks with three kinds of liquour that overpower the accompanying splash of Folgers).

And now I'm in my 50's, and somehow over the years I've been sucked into the fray. Those fancy coffee drinks were a little indulgence; a reward after a hard day. It started off innocently enough, just a small vanilla latte or a soothing chai tea here and there. I'd ask for fewer pumps of syrup to keep the sweetness down. I knew I could stop any time. I probably would be off the junk today if it wasn't for that insidious crack known as Coffee-mate. It comes in innocent little packages of decadant goodness like peppermint patty, Belgian chocolate toffee, caramel macchiato and about 20 other flavors. And they're everywhere - at the gas station, in the cafeteria at work, on the shelf in my kitchen cupboard...

If I'm going to make it to my 60's without a spare tire or clogged arteries, I am going to have to go back to my coffee roots. I just have to find a stove-top percolator.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Facebook Papers: Warmer days

Suggested Topic #2:  "Warmer days"

Many years ago Senior was offered a job outside Cincinnati, so we packed up our kids and made the move from New York to Ohio.  It was tough to move away from family and friends, but we were excited to start a new adventure and put some distance between us and the infamous WNY winters (and taxes).  

While we really liked our new home town, one of the hardest things was just not feeling like we were "home". Our neighbors were pleasant, and one even brought us cookies to welcome us on the day we moved in, but we never made quite the same connection we had with our close knit neighborhood in NY. I'd spent my whole life in a 90 mile radius, and now I would drive past roads and have no idea where they led. I couldn't wait to see a familiar face, and can still remember the joy I felt the first time I recognized someone at the grocery store. (The poor woman, the mother of one of The Boy's new classmates, must have thought I was slightly mad when I ran up to her cart with sparkling eyes and said "OH HI!! IT'S GREAT TO SEE YOU!!!" She smiled back and slowly edged her cart away behind a display of canned peas.) But what really made it tough was when Senior's father was diagnosed with leukemia. We made the 16-hour round trip back home as often as we could during the months of his illness until the dreaded phone call came saying he had passed away.

After the funeral we headed back to Cincinnati and tried get back into a normal routine as soon as possible, even though we were struggling with the fact that we had been so far away from home during that difficult time. The next afternoon our doorbell rang, and I opened it to find my neighbor, the cookie lady, standing there with tears in her eyes and a big bouquet of flowers. She had heard via our kids about our loss, and just wanted to offer her support and a hug. I can't tell you how much that meant to me. Cookie lady was this stylish, athletic, all-American blond with three small children and a bevy of family and friends vying for her attention. The fact that she took the time to make this small heartfelt gesture made me feel like I had finally come "home". So never underestimate the power you may have to warm up someone's day like she did for me.