Sunday, May 9, 2010

stayed home for Mother's Day

Mother’s Day today. I decided to indulge myself and stay in my own home and celebrate myself today. I am trying to keep at bay the guilt about not travelling to my own mother’s town to take her out to an expensive lunch. I will actually see her in less than two weeks, when I will drive to her town and bring her back to ours for a few days to see the kids and watch one of them in a sports event. She does not like to drive and will not make the trip herself, so has rarely seen my kids doing any of the things that kids want their grandmothers to see them do. So, since I was the black sheep who made the choice to move a few hours away from the homestead, I will make the double drive and retrieve her to stay in the guest room (we actually have one now!) and drive her back over the weekend. Maybe I’ll even take her out for an expensive lunch.

But today I am celebrating my own motherhood. I have already been treated to breakfast in bed. Seriously! I think this is the first time I have ever had that. My son planned it, and he helped my husband cook it, and teen daughter got up early to tape a handmade sign on the bathroom mirror. But we realized that the problem with having breakfast in bed is that you cannot eat with your family. Either they sit and watch you eat while their breakfast waits and gets cold, or they eat first while yours gets cold. And so, being a practical women, I gave hugs and gushed thank-you’s all around and sent them back downstairs to eat while I stayed in bed with my lovely tray complete with fresh flowers.

I am never still in my bed during this time of day with the blinds open and the morning sun coming through the windows, and I looked around my bedroom and enjoyed the pale seafoam color of the walls against the green of the spring leaves outdoors. And then suddenly a rare beam of sunlight made its way through the windy May clouds and lit up the room. And I glanced up and noticed our peach tree, whose topmost branches reach up to these second floor windows. And as I looked, I noticed peaches! Cute little, soft as baby’s ears peaches barely an inch long. I swear those were peach blossoms only a couple of weeks ago—could it really have been a month already since Easter when an early spring heatwave set the blooming trees ablaze with pink and peach and pure white? Imagine, in a few months I’ll be able to reach outside my bedroom window and pick a ripe peach. Seriously—who wouldn’t have wanted to buy this house?

So I indulge in the perfection of the rich black coffee, and the sour sweet taste of the warm lingonberry popover and the luscious combination of strawberries and cream while I hear my family eating downstairs, low voices talking, and forks clinking against plates. I begin to mentally map out the day. I love them dearly but what I really want from them is not gifts, not presents to open, just a bit of help so that I may enjoy some peace and solitude that allows my mind to create. I plan out some chores that they can accomplish without my supervision, so that maybe for a couple of hours, I will be able to unlock the non-Mom side of my brain, and try to dream, and think, and create. To listen to the scary wild storm winds brewing outside, to soak in the seafoam of bedroom walls, to regain some balance from the helter skelter of daily mom-hood and become just me for while, so that I have a better chance of . . .

keeping a grip, Deb


5. spent all day reading my book club book

Well, not exactly all day. I went to work, performed my job, came home and walked the dog, arranged for a friend to come over and play with my son, and then I spent the rest of the day (except when my husband and daughter came home at dinner time and I heated up leftovers and ate with the family) reading my book club book. At least three hours.  Still, it seemed like such a sheer indulgence. I believe it had lots to do with the temperature that day. It was one of those perfect spring days when the air is warm, but not too hot, and there is a periodic breeze that has the cool refreshment of a drink of water. Spring flowers are blooming, and I should be working in my garden, but this book needs to be read by tomorrow’s meeting and I still have over 300 pages to read. Yes, yes, I know there is no possible way I can finish it. But I really am enjoying the book, it is one of those I would never have chosen or known about if one of the other ladies had not chosen for us, but now I feel I know the characters so well. I have lived with them and grown with them and suffered with them and I want to know if fate will ever be kind to them, or if they are doomed to continue the hard life that has been their lot so far.

It was simply delicious sitting on the back deck in the shade and I even painted my toenails and read while the coats were drying. This is only a once or twice per year procedure for me---a necessity at this time of the year when sandals are pulled out and toes are in the public eye. I am not a woman who is friends with nail polish. (first of all, to have that block of uninterrupted time when you are unable to do anything else at all for 15-20 minutes while your hands and/or feet are totally out of commission? Yeah, sure) I am a woman who is using her hands constantly and her feet nearly as often. A woman who loves to go barefoot, whose hands are either in water or dirt or touching fabric or children or paper or a keyboard. I am a sewer, a gardener, a typer, a cleaner, a cook, a craftsman, a deck power-washer, a drywall joint compound-sander, etc, etc, depending on the project of the moment. Who wants to worry about their fingernails?

In the end, I did not finish the book before the club meeting time. But I will some day. I met with my lady friends, mostly new acquaintances since this was our initial meeting. We talked, discussed, chatted and drank wine. We agreed, disagreed, voted and gossiped. We ate lemon squares and chose our next books and meeting times. And then a wonderful thing happened--as everyone was saying their good byes the hostess asked me to stay longer and talk. So I did. We drank another bottle of wine and talked and talked, and I felt like I made a new friend. Just the beginning, still getting to know each other’s stories, but we found some common ground, and found that we relate in many ways, both of us knowing we are more comfortable as part of a duet than a crowd.
 And then I walked the short distance to my home, and quietly snuck inside, feeling like a teenager who was out past curfew and does not want to wake his parents. But the kids stayed sleeping, and my husband was still up reading the newspaper in bed.

Getting home tipsy at 11:15 on a school night! My, my! It’s all part of . . .

keeping a grip, Deb

Sunday, May 2, 2010

gather ye rosebuds . . .

Ahhhh. . . May 1, May Day. I hope all you lovely ladies out there were up early to catch the morning dew and pat it on your face so that you will stay youthful and beautiful all year long. I remember reading about this old tradition during a British Literature class decades ago while we were reading poetry by Robert Herrick, “gather ye rosebuds while you may . . . Corinna’s gone a’ Maying. . .“

Well, it’s worth a try, right? So teen daughter and I try to keep the tradition alive. You never know. Hmm, this year May 1 falls on a Saturday, maybe I can lightly dampen her face while she is still in bed and allow her to sleep in and still get her beauty dew.
I, on the other hand, will be Yard-Saleing instead of sleeping in. Spring means yard sale time is beginning again after the cold, dark, cooped-up Mid-Atlantic winter, and there is no time to lose. The early bird gets the good stuff!. I actually was successful in luring my husband into the world of yard sales a couple of years ago. Sure, he'd had his own yard sales to get rid of unwanted items lots of times, but he never went to other people’s yard sales to buy. Until a couple of summers ago when we had just moved into our current house. We finally had space to spread out. And actually a lot of empty space for a while.  (Okay, a relatively short while.)  It started with me whining and complaining about missing out on some great pieces of furniture that I did not want to commit to purchasing without his okay.  The next weekend he came along just in case he was needed.  And then he kinda got hooked as well.  He was the one who started cutting the ads out of the newspaper and circling the times and neighborhoods, planning our defense to cover the largest geographic area in the most efficient route.  We started keeping the minivan backseats in the garage to free up possible storage space, to keep supplies of cash in the form of small bills in our wallets, to keep the alarm set on work week time even on Saturdays.  We would be up, washed, dressed with commuter cups of hot beverage and toast in a napkin and driving to our first location by 7:30.  We could cover 7 or 8 sales and be back before the kids woke up. 

And then?  Well, the new house started filling up and we needed to learn to slow down and think before purchasing.  Maybe only 3 or 4 sales per Saturday.  Keep a mental list of items we actually need, and try to avoid those impulse purchases.  The slower pace has worked pretty well.  We unloaded some unnecesaries at a yard sale of our own last summer.  We keep a limited amount of small bills in our wallet and stop when those are depleted.  We've learned to control our habit.  And now, the kids have even started getting up early some Saturdays to join us. 
Looks like we've started a new tradition.

keeping a grip, deb

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

planting seeds

Saturday did not begin as a great day.  I woke up very early because I heard the birds outside, twittering away.  My son was asleep in my bed next to me, the dog asleep at his feet, teen daughter asleep down the hall, husband away for the weekend.  All should have been right in my world.  I could stay in bed, it was not even 6 yet and I did not need to be anywhere for hours.  Yet somehow that lovely extra sleep eluded me, my mind refused to go back to the land of nod, deciding instead to go to a darker place.  You probably know that place.  The gears in your brain start turning, still not fully awake, yet beginning to remember bits and pieces: the things left undone, the things done too often, the things that should not have been said, the things said too loudly.  A beautiful, sunny, peaceful, bird-chirping Saturday morning of calm ruined by one plop of negativity that was now spreading, the ripples growing larger and larger.  And so, unable to stop the ripples, I finally got out of bed and began the day, going through the motions, completing the usual tasks, silently so the children would not wake. 

My dark cloud floated through the morning with me, and I tried to at least keep busy working in the garden,  making hay while the spring sun shone, before the April showers returned.  Work is good, keeps you busy, too many projects, where to begin?  I had just purchased a new shrub and began to dig the hole.  So many projects out here, so little time.  I actually got the shrub in, went to fill the watering can, and noticed my neighbor outside.  Still feeling like an outsider in this home we have occupied for almost 2 years, my initial introverted reaction was to hide.  For some reason, today on this dark cloud day, I decided to break the habit, to be bold and walk over to say hello.  I offered her some poppies that are spreading and need to be moved to a new location, as I remembered her mentioning that her daughter loved their color.  As we chatted, another neighbor walked his dog past and the conversation became a threesome.  A few minutes after this broke up, another neighbor who was driving past pulled alongside the curb and I offered her some raspberry plants that were spreading from last year's planting.  Later, the couple next door came by and we walked through their yard as they pointed out plants which survived the winter.  A teacher friend from school drove past and she and her husband parked and came out to tell me how they admired my phlox.  We must have walked and talked for half an hour pointing out specimens and promising each other cuttings of favorites.  And then I saw the newest neighbor, with a 2 year boy.  I was embarrased because I had forgotten their names when first introduced this winter during a snow shoveling marathon, and so had avoided them, not wanting to admit my ignorance.  My son had mentioned that he noticed the boy admiring our dog from afar on many occasions.  And so, I turned the moment into a teachable one for us both, crossing the street and striding up into the garage to say hello and make new introductions.  The visit brought them to our yard for dog petting and conversing and up into my son's room to find boy toys to share.  The  2 year old did not stay long inside the house alone with my son, as I had hoped his mom and I could work outside alone a bit, but I carried him crying back to his mother's arms, and my son brought the dinosaurs and cars, and he entertained the little one for an hour until those April raindrops scattered everyone back indoors.  Well, it was lunch time anyway.    It had been a good morning.  SO many projects, so little time, very little really accomplished in the garden.  But with the help of friends and neighbors, my dark cloud had lifted and I had planted some seeds, after all.  More seeds that I even realized that I owned.

Keeping a grip, deb

Saturday, April 24, 2010

4. made husband go to cub scout meeting while I met with my ladies book group

Alright, maybe this seems like a small thing, but it was a real choice on my part to do something for myself.  You see, I am the "assistant" scout leader for my son's cub scout den.  I have been the leader for the past 2 years, and this year I finally talked someone else into taking over the actual leader job so I could be the "helper" instead of doing all of it myself.  Three years ago I saw a table display at a school parent night and thought it would be a great idea for my son to join scouting.  I enjoyed being a girl scout as a youth, we are a hiking/camping kind of a family, my son loves nature and exploring the outdoors.  So when my son was beginning first grade and old enough to join scouting he and I attended the introductory meeting.  The leader in charge (the one wearing the crisp official boy scout leader uniform!)  explained that one of us new parents would have to step up and volunteer to be the leader of this new den. Silence. All the parents sat around the table, heads down, eyes lowered, trying not to make eye contact.  More silence.  Oh come on, said the leader, it is really not too bad, honestly, a time commitment of only about an hour per week.  Even more silence.  Finally, I snapped, I volunteered.  I couldn't take the pressure anymore.  I felt like I was back in first grade with Sister Maureen Peter at Sacred Heart Elementary School.  One of the many rules there prohibited talking in the halls and bathrooms.  Well, on one particular day girls were being girls and chatting was taking place in the bathroom and somehow Sister M. P. found out and upon returning to the classroom we were all lined up in front of the blackboard.  Silence.  "Who was talking?"  More silence.  "If nobody speaks up and tells me who was talking you will all be punished."  Even more silence.  Finally I snapped.  I  told.   I couldn't take the pressure anymore.  And that was my first lesson on catholic school justice--because after Suzie Debusky aka " the talker" had her date with the yardstick, I was beaten as well, "for being a tattle tale".  I guess it served me right.  At least I learned one lesson: that was the last time I would be Sister's stool pigeon.

SO as the silence in the cub scout meeting room dragged on and on, and I was caving under the pressure, one of my mom friends in attendance whispered, "No!  Don't do it!  You will be stuck doing it forever!"  (I can still hear her voice in slow motion being replayed over and over in my head)

 But did I listen to her?   Obviously I did not because here I am 3 years later still using my free time to plan a skit involving 12 third grade boys and myself which we will perform around a campfire in front of 200 people.  No matter how good the skit is, I already know the outcome--the boys will either refuse to speak, sing, or otherwise perform, or they will forget their part, or they will remember it perfectly but speak so softly that no one can hear them anyway and I will basically end up doing the whole skit solo.  Believe me. I have been here before.  Many times.

Now, I like that my son is involved in scouts.  I do not even mind being involved in some of the activities and doing some of the planning.  I'm a good sport, I'm an involved parent, I'm fairly organized and creative.  But the plan for tonight's scout meeting is a little different than the usual.  You see, the boys sell overpriced(!) Scout popcorn as their main fundraiser for the year (and I still cringe nearly every time I walk into a Walmart remembering the years of standing in front of the store in the rain and the snow with my daughter's girl scout troop selling boxes of cookies!)  and as a little incentive to spur on their salesmanship skills, the other leaders promised a special bonus for the top-selling boys.  Those who sold over 500 dollars worth of overpriced(!) Scout popcorn (honestly, how many aunts and uncles do some of these boys have?) would be awarded the privilege of throwing a cream pie into the face of a scout leader.  Now, I am a pretty easy going person most of the time.  I could see taking a pie in the face for the team.  But it just so happened that my ladies book group also meets tonight.  Through some unlucky twist of fate, both events are always scheduled for the third Wednesday evening of each month, are set in stone, and cannot be changed without special dispensation from the pope.  Knowing how busy he is, I usually just try to do the scout thing and then rush over to the book club thing half way through.  Not a perfect plan, but you do what you have to do.  Well, on this particular evening I did not really feel like walking into the coffee shop where the book group meets with whipped cream in my hair and since I started trying to wear make-up since turning 50, well,you can pretty much picture what I would look like at book group.  And I had actually read the entire book this time!  I really wanted to discuss it! 

Well, I have already given you the punchline--I made my husband take the boy to scouts.  And I did not even feel very guilty about it either.   Nine out of ten of you would have done the same thing, I know you would.  By the way, if anyone ever tries to tell you that something is "only an hour a week time commitment", hang tough.  Just keep your head down and your eyes lowered.  Do not, under any circumstances make eye contact.

Keeping a grip, deb

just an atom in the beaker of life

One of the things about turning 50 is the fact that you cannot go back and start over.  You are literally running out of time.  When I look back on these previous decades I realize that nearly every decision from young adulthood until now was the wrong one.  And now, it is too late.  There are some things that simply are not do-overs.  The problem with reaching this conclusion is that I am unsure how to proceed with "the rest" of my life.  Keep plodding along until one day is simply my last?  I guess so.  I can't think of anything else to do.  I am just too tired to make sweeping changes.  I don't want to rock every boat that I currently am balancing one foot on.  I have used up most of my gung-ho-change-the-world unlimited energy.  And how?  By putting my nose to the grindstone.  Pretty much THE exact thing I did not want to waste my life on.  Yet somehow that is exactly what I did.

What would I have done differently?  Pretty much all of it--marriage, career, college, location, all those biggies.  In fact, I have done do-overs on most of these and still have somehow made the wrong choices.  Maybe what this means is that it is not the choices  we make, or the things we do, or the people we encounter that help make us happy people.  Maybe it is just us.  Just us.  Ultimately we each are in charge of ourselves and our happiness and all the other variables are simply extra, something swirling around us, somtimes connected to us, sometimes breaking away, sometimes reconnecting in a different sense.  Rather like atoms in a scientific experiment.  Add a little heat, stir in a solution, and some atoms change, some mutate, some break away and create new molecules. 

So I continue to tread water, going nowhere, expending all my energy simply to stay afloat.  I am an atom being stirred in the solution of life, but somehow have lost whatever property allows me to adhere to other atoms to create a new element.  The giant spoon is stirring and stirring and the bunsen burner is heating and heating and pretty soon I will just rise to the surface of the beaker and be released as steam. 

Still keeping a grip, Deb

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

zen and the art of eric clapton

Whew, it was one of those days. A pretty good day actually, but school days are so packed and crazy that every day is one of those days, especially by the spring of the year. My day job is elementary school librarian (to be more realistic, it’s my evening and weekend job as well). Yes, I know what you are thinking out there: ooh, a librarian, wow, you get to sit around and read all day, gee, I wish I had that job. Yeah, right. Every week I see 680 kids in 34 classes at 2 different schools for a 40 minute library class each. Each class begins at an exact time, must flow through an exact series of events, and finish up at an exact minute because their teacher will be picking them up and another teacher bringing the next batch in exactly 5 minutes later. And on and on and on. I am in charge of submitting budgets and ordering books for 2 different libraries in 2 different buildings. On one particular day of the week I teach 4 classes in the morning at one building and then drive to the other building for afternoon classes. Neither building has the same starting or dismissal time periods, of course. I need to have new lesson plans conforming to the state standards in my principal's mailbox every Monday morning. I have recess duty, lunch duty, and bus duty. Nearly every minute of every day is accounted for. Lunch is eaten at my desk reading my emails.

Now don't get me wrong, I really do enjoy most aspects of my job. And I am definitely one of those people who would rather be too busy than bored. I am definitely NOT bored in my current job. And I realize it is not even in the running against stressful occupations such as brain surgery or police officer. Instead it is rather like being an actress in a 6-hour long performance. Or make that six 40-minute acts with a 5 minute intermission between each. And the play changes every week. And no one has actually paid for tickets (well, except the taxpayers living in the school district of course) so they may not necessarily want to be watching this particular play today. They may want to boo the performance. Or throw tomatoes (thank goodness actual tomatoes are not allowed anywhere near actual elementary school students these days!)

The interesting part of this metaphor is that I actually do get applause from the audience. Honestly, almost daily in one class or another the kids really break out in spontaneous applause. Now, I am not naive enough to actually believe this applause is for my stellar reading performance (well, maybe every once in a while). I prefer to take the credit in a more subtle way--a particular book was being applauded, and because I chose that particular book, then I, in essence, am being applauded for my selection skills. Either way, I will wholeheartedly accept the credit and take the applause as a positive statement on whatever level it may have been given. Feedback of any sort is slim in this profession, so I'll take what I can get. I believe the most important detail to take away from the whole applause situation is this: a group who belong to this modern generation of kids who have incredibly short attention spans due to their constant consumption of faster, more violent, and all consuming technology has actually noticed and appreciated the simple pleasures of a (shudder!) book.

And so, what, you may wonder was today's performance? Well, third grade is finishing a unit on the study of fairy tales by my sharing a selection from the
infamous "Stinky Cheeseman" by that dynamic duo of Jon (remember, it rhymes with Fresca) Scieszka and Lane Smith. This requires a multiple array of voices including: Jack, Giant, Chicken Licken, Queens, Kings, lying frogs, a being made from stinky cheese, and a sly fox (whose part simply begs to be read aloud in an impression of SNL's Jon Lovitz-"yeah, that's the ticket").

In fourth grade we are observing April being National Poetry Month and today I am reading an entire novel, "Love That Dog" by Sharon Creech, which is actually more of a novel-length poem about a boy who does not like poetry who is writing his thoughts about the subject in a journal for his English teacher. This is quite a lot to cram into one 40 minute class (and leave time for kids to select their library books!) but is so fulfilling for me because I get to read some great poems out loud and watch the kids faces as they slowly understand what is going on through the drama of the boy's journey. Suffice it to say that I have to work hard to not cry each time I get to the sad part.

In 5th grade I get to don my "Where's Waldo" hat as kids have a mission to solve clues using an atlas to find my location in a variety of states.

In Kindergarten we are making Stone Soup with plastic food (real stones and cooking pot!) after reading 2 versions of the story. Afterward I walk around ladelling the finished soup into their cupped hand "bowls".

In 2nd grade we are talking about Australia and I get to read an aboriginal dreamtime story and play didgeridoo music.

In 1st grade, we are studying the author Margie Palatini and I have time not only for "The Cheese", a hilarious take on the Farmer in the Dell, but one of my all time favorites, "The Web Files", a Mother Goose-meets-Dragnet parody in which I get to play the parts of the police detective (using Jack Webb's voice), a horse, a lamb, a hen who has had a peck of perfect, purple, almost-pickled peppers pilfered, and That Dirty Rat ala 1940's gangster speak (you can't pin this rap on me, I'm clean I tell you, clean!) The kids join me for the "Dum De Dum Dums".

Whew! That's pretty much the shortened version of today's matinee performance and I am exhausted just thinking about it. SO where does Eric Clapton fit into all this mess, you might ask. Well, I was driving home at the end of this day, and the classic Layla came on the radio and I spent 7 minutes and 11 seconds in a trance-like state of repeating the ohm-like track over and over and over and over and over again in an exhilirating musical purging that truly left me in a peaceful state of tranquility and bliss. Aaaaahhhhhhh. Ohhhhhmmmm. Laylaaaaaaaaa

Just in time to get home and start dinner . . .

Keeping a grip, deb