Friday, February 26, 2010

Top Ten Things to Give Up for Lent

10) Your once girlish figure
9) $450 bottles of Dom Perignon
8) Lima beans
7) Trying to adjust to the new Facebook format before they come out with a newer version
6) Triathlons
5) Financial security for your retirement
4) Scrubbing toilets
3) Chia pets
2) Taking any more phone calls from that relentless George Clooney
1) Any hope for spring

Any other foolproof suggestions?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Letting Them Know or Letting Them Go

She'd like to say she's excited about the engagement. That she has visions of a joyous and hope-filled wedding. That she anticipates a long and loving marriage. That her most troubling thought is finding the perfect mother-of-the-groom dress and a fabulous pair of matching shoes.

But her son is a college freshman struggling with a chronic, life-threatening illness. And his fiance is 17.

Pretending to be happy for them? It might be easier if she could pretend her concerns weren't real.

Are they committed to making their education a priority, amidst the giddy preoccupation of young love? If not, are they responsible enough to find and keep full-time employment, as few and low-paying as those jobs might be? Are they ready for the very real possibility of unplanned parenthood? Do they realize the words "in sickness and in health" carry extra weight when one spouse has a serious, lifelong disease?

Can they comprehend the possibility that the person they now think they can't live without might, someday, become the person they can't live with?

We cannot make every decision for our children, especially as they become young adults. If the desired outcome of raising children is that they become intelligent and independent adults, we must learn to let them feel their own way. As they grow, we inevitably loosen our grasp on their lives.

And even as they make what we conceive as mistakes, we hope their decisions or actions are somehow for the best--or at the least, are a learning experience.

Some of their choices make us cringe; others bring us to tears. Many mistakes are recoverable. Others carry lifelong implications, and lead to lifelong regrets.

As a middle-aged woman, I still dismiss much of my mother's advice. Yet I've come to accept pieces of it more easily than I did at 19. I'd like to think I have some significant impact on my own two young adult children. Even so, I know I'm not as strong an influence as I hope. I have to believe I've done the bulk of my job, and any advice I now offer--and surprisingly find accepted--is merely a bonus.

Still, a fine line exists between acknowledging our children's independent thinking and allowing them to set themselves up for a lifetime of regret.

When should we let them hear our words of caution and concern?

And when should we simply let go?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Incident of the Drunken Wench in the Night

"When you write the story," she begged, "do you promise to be discreet?"

I agreed, knowing of course that "discreet" is a vague enough term and that verbal contracts basically mean shit. But I am feeling benevolent tonight, with yesterday being Valentine's Day and all, so I'll acquiesce and not use her real name. Hereforth, I will simply refer to her as the Drunken Wench.

A nor'easter on the shores of Lake Erie, with a promised dump of snow, is nothing to reckon with. But we were four strong women, willing to sacrifice our well-being to venture out to Port Clinton. We were attending a fund-raiser to help with the medical expenses for a family friend. Surely the God of Insufferable Winter Weather would acknowledge the goodness of our hearts. Besides, the evening promised great food and many drinks, and that is always OK by us. We're charitable that way.

So, much fun followed, even amidst, as promised, all hell breaking loose outside. I don't know what time it was when I realized we had a Drunken Wench on our hands. It was unexpected, really, considering she'd had a full dinner and only three glasses of wine. But sometimes the God of Liquor just looks down and laughs and claims you as his own. And after witnessing her gleeful conversations with less-than-gleeful strangers, and her Jello moves on the dance floor, I deduced it was time we left.

I was the designated driver. I'd only indulged in a few bottles of Miller 64--"pisswater"--Lori calls it. So, I pushed my way through the knee-deep snowdrifts, cleaned off the SUV, and pulled up to the bar's entrance.

Lori and Lisa climbed aboard. I peered into the rear view mirror, eying the sole empty seat. The Drunken Wench was not following protocol.

"Hurry up and get in," I yelled. "And shut the door. It's cold!" I wasn't certain she realized this.

No answer. Just a giggle.

"What's the problem?"

"I can't get in. My legs are a little... rubbery." Giggle, giggle.

Lisa climbed out to help. Over the howl of the nor'easter, we heard sounds of a more relentless force of nature. Let this be a lesson to you students of physics: Nothing is as unbudgable as a Drunken Wench with Rubbery Legs.

Lori sighed and climbed out. I hunkered down in the driver's seat. I was already serving as designated driver. How selfless must I be?

Oh, the pleas that ensued. "Grab my hand," "Just one more step," and "No, don't sit down in the snow, you might suffocate."

By now, the Drunken Wench had intoxicated her assistants with her laughter. (Their own consumed cocktails might have played a minor part.) I hadn't heard this much giggling since a sixth-grade slumber party. I knew futility when faced with it. "Leave her here," I shouted. "We'll come back and get her tomorrow." My sympathetic nature was frost-bitten. Did I mention it was cold?

Ten minutes passed. In late night winter storm time, this equates to roughly six hours. My frozen hands managed to pry open my door, and I took several giant steps through the snow. "Move aside," I growled at Lori.

Lori was happy to oblige. She had laughed so hard she'd peed her pants. They were already frozen to her legs. She'd have to peel them off later.

I stood on one side of the car and pushed. Lisa stood on the other side and pulled. We pushed. We pulled. The dead weight that was the Drunken Wench didn't appear to understand the law of physics. Still, we finally managed to get her half-sprawled across the back seat.

"OK, stop, stop, I'm good now. Let go," she slurred.

We hesitated, pulled our hands away, and she slid off the seat into the snow.

This was followed by much swearing. Interspersed with much giggling. We tried to keep straight faces, fearing peed-pants might be an epidemic.

But we heaved and we hoed again, and managed to get her entire torso back on the seat. Only her legs remained sticking out of the car. I had a suggestion for that, but no one was in possession of a chainsaw.

Lisa cried out in alarm when I decided to simply shut the door on the legs, cramming the Drunken Wench inside like one might sit on an overstuffed suitcase to close it.

I took, instead, to bending her legs. This way and that way. I frowned as I looked at her legs. That one didn't seem to be bent in a natural position. But, she was in! I slammed the door, the howl of the wind masking the whimpering which was emitting from the back seat.

Sure, she'd be bruised the next day, the Drunken Wench. But she'd wake up in the comfort of a warm bed, not a blanket of snow in front of a downtown bar. Dislocated limbs aside, I figured she'd thank us for that.

And you can bet I'll think twice, before I ever again go out drinking with my mother.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Of Fish and Flowers

The goldfish is floating sideways. I lean in closer to study him, my nose pressed against the glass. Is he breathing? (Do fish breathe?) His back fin sways. I take this as a promising sign.

Six leaves remained on my Christmas poinsettia last Monday. One more dropped off as I watered the plant. By Thursday, three brown-edged stragglers clung to the branches. I blew out a sigh, acknowledging the inevitable. I tried to make light of it, joking about the dying plant with my co-workers as I dropped it in the trash. But I shot forlorn glances toward the garbage can all afternoon. I had failed as a plant parent.

The fish, I believe it is Dewey II, now lies belly-up. I frown and tap the glass. He does a slow flip and rises to the top of the tank, clearly anticipating feeding time. (All three of our fish do this on a daily basis, discounting that old "three-second memory" which fish are alleged to have.) I sprinkle a pinchful of food in the tank, and Dewey II pecks at it. I give him a proud thumbs-up.

Nature infuses us with some basic maternal (or paternal) instinct. This natural proclivity for nurturing our young has kept the earth populated for centuries. It proves especially beneficial when our children are teenagers. If not for that natural inclination to care for our offspring, we might boot them out of the house when they turn sixteen, sullen and surly. Animal lovers have an extra "S" chromosome. It stands for sympathetic sucker.

Dewey II has returned to his backstroke. He is not, however, engaged in any actual swimming. I tap twice at the glass. He cranes his tiny fish head toward the noise and dutifully turns upright, rising once again. His mouth gapes open, in search of more food. I want to reward him for this valiant rallying effort. But overfeeding is one of the major causes of death in fish. (That and charter fishing boats, a fate from which Dewey II, Clifford and Confucius have been spared.) If he is still moving in the morning, perhaps I will call the vet for advice. It would be best if the doctor contains his laughter until after he hangs up.

I would like to simply call myself "compassionate." But the fact is, my nurturing instinct is probably a bit out of whack. Few people I know spend weeks researching the care of hermit crabs or suffer a mourning period after the removal of a dead tree from their yard. I have issues. I acknowledge them, and I vow to overcome them.

Right after I call my vet in the morning. And start a poinsettia grief support group.

Monday, February 1, 2010

For Keeps

I've recently caught wind of a reality TV show that has me shaking in my boots (one of many pairs in our coat closet, including some that haven't fit my sons since they were eight or nine). It's got me so unnerved that not only do I refuse to view a single episode, but I'm inclined to unplug the television set and bury it back in its original carton, which has been stored in the basement since we bought the TV in 2001.

See, I'm afraid I'm one of them.

A Hoarder.

Oh, it's not so bad that I've collected piles of empty pizza boxes. I can toss those. Gladly, in fact, because who needs a measurable count of how many times we've fallen off the diet wagon?

It's severe enough, however, that I'm fairly certain a TV crew is on its way right now, ready to broadcast my story to all those TV voyeurs in places like North Dakota. And then I'll be just another sicko whose "inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis." (Description courtesy of the show's website.)

The crew will start in my kitchen, where the show's hostess will seize upon my drawers filled with Tupperware. "And do you have the bowls for any of these lids?" she'll ask with a sneer. I'll frantically sort through the mismatched lids and bowls, none of which fit each other but which can't, simply CANNOT be discarded, because someday the matching pieces, I'm certain, will magically appear.

The TV crew will exchange knowing glances before they move on to my bedroom.

My closet will elicit snorts of thinly disguised laughter. "So, these dusty clothes, crammed together on hangers, some with the tags still attached," they'll ask. "You need these?"

"Yes," I will shout. "I couldn't be bothered to try them on in the fitting room. And then I got home to find out they were apparently mis-sized. But they'll fit SOMEDAY, when I lose 20 pounds!" I will plead my case, though the tsk-tsking and bulimic hostess clearly doesn't understand the unpredictability of weight-loss goals and misleading clothing sizes. So what if one of the articles in question is a gauze jumpsuit? Someday, damn it, I WILL wear it. With pride.

They'll want to look in my sock drawer, and I will let them do so. I will tilt my chin with defiance when they comment on the lack of matching pairs. Because I know that every household in America has a drawer of unmatched socks. This is not the sign of a Hoarder. It is simply the universal lost battle with a greedy washer and dryer.

But then, sadly, they will descend the stairs into the depths of my basement. I will cower in the corner as they make their way through the maze of forgotten furniture and empty cartons. That old aluminum kitchen set? "But it still has one matching chair," I'll cry. The Epson computer, circa 1986? "A keepsake! An antique," I'll whimper, my sense of defeat growing. "Those 5-1/4-inch floppy disks are sure to be in demand again some day!"

The TV cameraman will nudge the hostess, and they'll alternately chuckle and sigh as the camera pans across the overflowing basement.

The last shot will settle on me, sobbing as I clutch a cardboard box of old record albums. I will pull out a copy of Saturday Night Fever.

"But, I got an LP digital converter for Christmas! And someday, I will transfer all of these," I will scream, waving the album in their faces. "Onto my iPod," I will add, for certain justification.

Oh, yes, there it is. A method for my madness. Some semblance of rationale for my hoarding behavior.

And someday, I'll find a magic converter for all those Tupperware lids too.