Meeting Place

When I was growing up, our house was the one where all the kids in the neighborhood would congregate. It was a meeting place, a drop off spot for bikes, a checkpoint for organizing the next set of adventures, and a lounge for just relaxing. If my mother ever had a problem with the steady stream of scraped-kneed kids filing in and out of the front and back doors, she never said anything. Or if she did, it was never loud enough for us to hear at any rate. We just lived in a time and place where you could literally yell out the window for someone to come over and they’d be skipping up to the porch 30 seconds later.

Not quite the case when my kids were growing up. Their friends weren’t always in shouting distance. Sometimes a car was necessary to get them where they needed to go. But they did have a few neighborhood friends in walking distance, and for those few, I kept the same policy as my mother. They were always welcome in the house and could always return there after their daily shenanigans through our unsuspecting neighborhood were done.

It was important to me to let them know their friends were always welcome. I mean, so long as their friends weren’t mini drug-dealers-in-training or something…which they weren’t as far as I know.

I will say that there were ulterior motives to letting my house be a meeting spot. I could eavesdrop on the latest juicy gossip. Not only is gossip just fun to listen to, but it also gave me important insights in to my kids’ lives that they might not be comfortable sharing with me directly. Then, I could use these slivers of information to better my parenting. I could support them in ways where I might otherwise be lacking. There are so many pros here and very few cons. It wasn’t always cost-effective having an extra mouth or two or three to feed, but hey, the local dollar store always had cheap snacks and these were passed around to the crew while they were visiting so that everyone had a little something to keep them from starving.  It’s not like they needed a full buffet or 7-course lunch platter.

Not everyone shares this parenting outlook. I recently found an article written by a mother who is simply tired-tired-tired of having her kid’s friend over every day in the summer. Apparently, she feels taken advantage of for the “free babysitting.” Now I’m assuming this kid is not a toddler, I mean, he shows up at her house on his own in the middle of the day, which means he has to be old enough to navigate the neighborhood on his own – so I’m not really sure how much “drop everything I’m doing and watch the kids like a hawk” kind of babysitting this mom is really forced into doing. Oh sure, the kid may be taking up space in her house, but is he really taking up that much more of her undivided time?

When the doorbell rings, this put-upon mom claims her son looks at her funny because his friend is there yet again. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the deer-in-the-headlights look from her son is because he knows his friend was just there and shouldn’t be there again today – I think it’s because he knows his mother is irritated because it’s likely she doesn’t hide her irritation well.  If you ask me, she’s the one feeding that energy, not the neighbor kid.  Or at least, that’s just my opinion (without knowing any of these people…just a wild guess, mind you).

And as the mother states herself, she wouldn’t even think of sending her kid to his friend’s house. My question is, why the hell not? I mean, flitting around the neighborhood, hitting up friends to see who is home, and hanging out is what summer vacation is all about. Plus, when he’s out of the house she would get a little time for R & R (which she so obviously needs if you ask me). Maybe when the friend comes over, she can say, hey, how about you guys go to YOUR house today? I bet they’d love that (so long as he’s not actually trying to escape his own house for some very real, very sad cause…in which case, all the more reason he should be allowed to hang out).

These kinds of spontaneous friendships are special. Instead of trying to squash them, we should be encouraging them.

 

Under the Big Top…or Not

I don’t think my mother gets nearly enough credit for her superhero powers of persuasion. She’s like Kayla Silverfox (aka Silver Fox) from X-Men (Wolverine – Origins) with a southern accent. I mean, to hear her tell it, she – my mother that is, not Silver Fox — single-handedly kept my father from selling my brother and me to the travelling circus for years…years, people! And apparently my father listened to her (I mean, here I am after all, with no trapeze skills or fire-breathing expertise to speak of, sooo…).  He could’ve made a pretty penny too, or so I was told growing up. A. Pretty. Penny.

Construction Ahead

I want to say Happy Father’s Day to my Dad. And I’m sure my children would like to take this time to thank him for the inside joke that I constantly throw out, even though they weren’t even born when the joke originated, and it’s one they don’t really “get,” but they laugh along with me anyway. Of course, their laughter is likely just a way to placate their eccentric mother since we’re always in the car with me driving at the time of said joke, and they do have their safety and well-being to consider.

I’ll share a bit of nostalgia with you and let you in on the inside joke – there are actually two. And which joke gets repeated on which outing depends entirely on which road construction sign I happen to see at the time.  I know, I know, make jokes about construction signs, you say? Who on earth can come up with jokes about road construction signs?  Well, my Dad can. And little did he know they would drive off into the future at full speed to infect his grandchildren.

I have no idea if these happened all on the same long family trip, though I think they did. I think my Dad just happened to be on a “roll” during this one lengthy excursion with a Great-Aunt in tow – honestly, it all happened so long ago that I can’t remember exactly.  There are a great many parts of my childhood that I remember only in fragments, not getting the whole picture, but rather just fractured bits. I believe on this particular occasion, we were taking my Great Aunt Bunny to West Virginia with us, and both the long drive and the looming visit itself would have made her an anxiety ridden nervous wreck, such things always did. Which would make sense – IF that’s the trip I’m remembering – because my Dad would have been doing what he could, in his own silly way, to ease my Aunt’s nerves. The jokes I’m going to tell you about, however, those stand out in my mind.

The trip to West Virginia from our house back in those days took a solid 8 hours, and more often than not, there was road construction along the way. Going through an area of construction, with all of its delays and issues, during an already 8-hour trip – with two pains in the ass children, can never be an easy thing, but on this particular trip in question, my Dad decided to take his comic show on the road, as it were, and lighten the mood.

Coming upon a section of road construction that required rerouting of the lanes, there was a safety sign duly posted informing all and sundry of a “flag man ahead.” Now most people would slow down, follow the “flag man’s” direction and just move on, right? Not my Dad. He stopped, rolled down his window (this was in a time when you really did roll down a window) and cheerily greeted the guy: “Hi, Mr. Man!”  After we drove on, and I suppose due to the looks of confusion from all of his passengers – except my mother, I don’t even what to know what look she was giving him – he says, “Well, I don’t know him well enough to call him Flag!”  Rolling eyes and groaning laughter ensued. And the joke has lived on into infamy. Although, my version keeps the window tightly closed, with me just shouting through the glass, but in a good way, not like when there is an errant jaywalker or a driver who has apparently never heard of a turn signal.

The next sign that encouraged my Dad to act was a bit more hearty and enthusiastic, or rather, his reaction was at any rate. For seemingly no reason whatsoever, and certainly with no warning, my Dad threw out his hand and grabbed my mother by the top of her head. I wish, for the life of me, that I could remember the look on my mother’s face at that instant, but what I conjure (based on personal experience with the woman), it would’ve been a hoot, and not exactly a look of adoration towards my father either. In his defense, he pointed to the “Stop Ahead,” sign we were passing…I mean, he was only following directions, right?

My kids are 25 and 18, and I kid you not, they know exactly what is going to happen when we pass construction or road work that has one of these signs posted. Oh, they may forget in the moment as they text or watch videos on the phone, but whoever is in the front passenger seat is sure to have their head accosted, or to be startled into thinking we’ve seen someone we know, each and every time…and when they search the surrounding area for the sign and find it, they smile a pacifying smile and then go back to their business.

It makes no difference to me if my kids don’t share in my joke. I think it’s hilarious and sometimes, dammit, I just do things because they amuse ME, not necessarily those around me. And more than being amusing, it reminds me of family, of times gone by, and while I can’t grasp the full memory of that road trip from so many years ago – only bits and pieces remain, what does stick in my head is the fact that my Dad was on a comedic roll for the entire drive. Who knew his Dad jokes would get passed down through the generations? I guarantee you that while they may not repeat the jokes themselves, till their dying day, my kids will never be able to pass road construction without at least going over those wisecracks in their head. And maybe, just maybe, when they have kids, this bit of Dad-silliness will live on.

So, thank you Dad…it’s not enough that you’ve had my back since I was born or that you constantly watch out for me. Your casually tossed out pieces of comedic genius have stayed with me over the years and have been the source of great joy, in so many ways. Here’s to family road trips from back in the day. Here’s to lasting memories. Happy Father’s Day! I love you.

dad in his element

Growing up ain’t all it’s cracked up to be – for the Mother

Getting old sucks. Can we all just agree on that? Joints get achier. Skin gets looser. Lines form. It’s just a big ol’ mess. Sure, it’d be tougher to run a mile now than when I was 18 (if I ran at all, that is), but getting older isn’t all bad. Whenever I get a little down about the sands of time slipping through the hourglass, I can always look at my children and know that I’ve helped mold two people I could not be more proud of. They’re tolerant, compassionate, empathetic, decent, and just all around good human beings. So at least there’s that, I say to myself as I find yet another grey hair. These two are my crowning achievements, my purpose in life.

And, goodness, how fast time does fly! My son graduated high school 7 years ago and it feels like yesterday. Now, just like that, my daughter is graduating this week. It feels like that time passed in the blink of an eye. If there’s one thing I can criticize both her and my son for (and trust me, I do), it’s that they can both be rather disobedient. I told them years ago to stop growing, to just stay little, but they refused to listen. So, here I am, once again at the threshold of another child receiving a diploma. If they would just listen to their wise ol’ mother, we wouldn’t be in this mess again. On the contrary, we’d still be happily shopping in the Garanimals section of the department store with nary an argument on color or style to be had. Alas, time waits for no man. Or mother.

my baby

On top of graduating, my daughter also turns 18 in a few days. I know, right!? How dare she!? It’s quite the milestone and I wish the world for her. Not just in a philosophical “best of luck” kind of a way. I mean literally, I want her to have the world. To explore. To see new things. To travel. To meet new people. To let life be an experience with the entire world as the garden she frolics through. She is no doubt destined for great things, but I want her to delight in the path she chooses, to walk it with a profound sense of joy as well as purpose. Neither she nor her brother have yet to disappoint. I don’t expect either to start now.

not such a baby any more…

So while it does suck getting old, it’s kind of worth it when you see what you’re letting loose on the world.

To Mom, with Love

I’ve apologized and I’ve waxed somewhat poetic and throughout it all, I’ve tried to be completely honest about my hand in the plot to drive my mother insane.

my mother’s look from 1963 on

Oh, she did get me back for some of my shenanigans, although it may have taken a few years…but her curse worked. Worked very well, indeed.

Despite our demonic childish antics — and indeed, those that have continued into our adulthood, my mother has loved us through it all, my brother and me. And you know, I don’t think it’s because she had to. I think she just liked us. Still does, apparently. I can tell. I’m just not sure why.

Motherhood is the only job where your subordinates can do everything in the world to undermine you, yet you still excel in your career…still have a passion for your work…still have pride in your venture. If that’s the case, then my mother deserves some kind of a service award. What will she get on Mother’s Day? Us. She gets us. Maybe cake. Definitely a houseful of love.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

I have to visit my parents tomorrow for Easter. Well, I don’t “have to” per se, I just am. I wouldn’t turn down my mother’s cooking for anything. So. You know what that means. Well, maybe you don’t. In which case, you haven’t been paying attention. Hey, that’s okay! You’re not alone. I tend to zone out when I ramble on too.

What it means is, I have to clean out my car before my father sees it. Now, this is a true “have to” situation. So, knowing the mood I’ll be in when it’s all said and done, I thought I would take the lazy easy smart way out for blogging today and repost my Easter entry from last year. In all honesty though, it’s as true today as it was then.

So now I’m off to do the dirty deed. And not in a fun way. I have garbage bags, plastic gloves, and determination. I should survive. I hope. Nothing appeared to be moving in the backseat last time I was in the car. But still. Wish me luck?

 

— — Original Post from 2016 — —

Easter Egg Hunting, Old People Style

Easter is only a day away now and you know what that means. Well, now I think about it, I guess it could mean a lot of things. A renewed sense of religious piety. The cyclic nature of life, death, and resurrection. An observance of a community-building holiday founded in the goodness of fellow citizens. What does it mean for me? Besides loads of candy — eggs, of course!

It’s true. I hear the word Easter and the first thing I’m reminded of is not a crucifix. I think of the overabundance of candy that saturates the day with sugary goodness…those of you who may remember this jingle can hum it with me (and you’re welcome for the earworm!) — “Mary Sue Easter Eggs, Mary Sue Easter Eggs, here’s a treat that is sunny for your Easter Bunny, the creamiest candy that’s made. Mary Sue Easter eggs, Mary Sue Easter eggs, Brighten you Easter parade!”

Next at the top of my list for Easter reflection are eggs. The hunting variety, that is. Oh, they weren’t always my first thought. When I was a little girl the word “Easter” meant that it was time to dress in a pretty new outfit and slip on some beautiful new shoes. Boy, did I love that tradition.

my brother & me in our Easter outfits – Easter 1971

But then I grew up and, after I had my son, Easter Sunday became much more about the basket, the eggs, and the competitive quest for the brightly colored symbols of Spring. I loved putting together the baskets with the chocolate bunnies and the pastel colors shining from the fake grass inlay. I loved it so much I still decorate Easter baskets for my kids to this day. No lie. I know that my kids are well past the age of believing in the Easter bunny but it doesn’t mean we don’t still enjoy the magic of the holiday. Or at least the candy.  And my daughter and I still dye eggs together. Albeit we’re a bit more creative now in seeing what crazy things we can do with colors and trimmings (this year I’m determined to talk her into a horror theme). So what? She may be a teenager and I’m, ahem, just a tad older than a teenager, but Easter doesn’t have an age limit, right?

Of course, hand-in-hand with the coloring of the eggs comes the annual Easter tradition of the classic Easter Egg Hunt! When my son was growing up, this was an Event with a Capital E. We would hunt eggs, oh maybe a billion times each Easter afternoon after dinner. Rain or shine. He never tired of searching for those cleverly hidden holiday icons that we had so painstakingly colored just the night before.

The tradition was subsequently passed down to my daughter. They’re seven years apart so when Jake was already a seasoned veteran in his egg hunting career, Sarah was just a rookie starting to ascend the ranks. Don’t think for a minute that he taught her anything or showed her the ropes though…it was a fierce competition from the get-go.  Egg hunting has always been a very serious undertaking in our household, with those partaking in the game guarding their stash with a watchful eye as they scanned the horizon for yet another victim poking its neon-colored head out from under a blade of grass or leaf or perhaps sitting there precariously upon a bird-feeder perch. Until recently that is.

You see, the age of retirement from a career as an egg hunter in my family is exactly NEVER.  No one gets out of the Easter Egg game in my family.  I don’t care if you’re 16 or 75. You’re either hiding eggs or finding eggs. Case closed.  It’s always been a family affair and we do more than just have the adults hide the eggs then set the kids loose across the yard. We like to mix it up.

Back in the day, it used to be a kids vs. adults hunting royale. Now that the kids are older, it’s evolved into more of a men vs. women battle of the sexes hunt.

There’s only one problem: age. We’re all getting older and our collective memory just isn’t quite what it used to be. So nowadays one team will go out and hide their batch of eggs, then the other team will put forth the good search and find, oh, we’ll say most of them…but when it’s time to reclaim the ones that weren’t found, so much time has passed that the team who hid them in the first place now can’t remember where those “they’ll never find them here!” spots are that were so deviously chosen to befuddle their beloved family members just 30 minutes prior.  So, often times, our two teams have to merge into one super-team just to find all the eggs. And even then, it’s never a given all of the eggs will be found. We’re still missing an egg from 2013.

Yes, every Easter Egg hunt has the potential to turn into a messy expedition through the grassy lands of colorfully-dyed forgetfulness, but it doesn’t stop us. Oh no, not us. Why? Because it’s too much darn fun, that’s why!

This year I’m going to propose something different when egg hunting time comes around. I say, we just ALL go ahead and hide the eggs together. No teams. That way we skip the foreplay and start this year’s hunt where we know it’s going to end up anyway. After we hide the eggs as one group, we go back in the house, have a little coffee, sip a little wine, nibble on some cake, then after 20 minutes or a half hour goes by, head on back out to the yard. I guarantee that none of us will remember where we put our eggs.  Then a truly great hunt can begin! It’s all about turning a negative into a positive. Genius, right?