Grow Old With Me

So, the little salt and pepper shakers have been a matched set for 58 years now. 58 years. 5.8.  I mean, I don’t even know what to say for my parents’ anniversary this year … it’s not often I’m at a loss for words, as you all surely know by now. The lack of poetic flourishes notwithstanding, I’m awestruck at the feat – I mean, 58 years! But also their obvious devotion, which has been on full display even more recently. Oh sure, sometimes they seem more like Tom and Jerry than Ozzie and Harriet, but the love binding them together for all these years remains a force to be reckoned with. And no doubt the best is yet to be.

Life is Messy

Keats said: “Life is divine Chaos. It’s messy, and it’s supposed to be that way.” And I get it. Yes. Life is messy. I’m not quite sure on the whole “divine” aspect, but in general, I’m on board with the whole chaos theory per Mr. Keats.

Here lately, chaos has defined my world … some bad, some good. It seems that along with being messy, Life has a sense of humor, and a twisted one at that. It sometimes gives you what you want, while also throwing obstacles — or downright tragedies, in your wake. Trials, tribulations, misfortune. Why can’t we just be allowed to enjoy the “good” without having the “bad” trail so closely behind?

After too many years of an unhappy — even, shall we say, hurtful, marriage, I began anew. It has taken adjustments, but it was necessary, and there is now a peace in my home that reigns supreme. Chalk that up to the “good” side. My kids are doing well on their respective paths to their future. Add a notch to the good column. I start a new job in a week. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m excited about this new route my own path is taking. Another mark to the good.

And then. Life, in all of its infinite wisdom said: “You know what? Things are just going a little to well for you and your family. I’m going to throw a kink into things. The mother of all kinks, in fact. Because, fuck you.”

Yeah. Life is messy all right.

My Dad, who this time last year was fine, now has Stage IV lung cancer. We know he was fine last year because for a few, non-cancer related reasons, he has scans done every year. That’s Life right there, flipping the middle finger. He’s a tough old cuss and if anyone can beat this thing, he can. But damn it, Life, get your shit together why don’t you?

 

Dear Mom – Things They Don’t Teach in School

Yesterday. Whew. What a long day, for all of us.

Dad had the biopsy on his lungs yesterday.  To say I was nervous and afraid is an understatement.

I decided to tag along to keep you company.  You’re my mom, but you’re so much more.  My friend, my confidant, my rock.  And dad?  He has always, always been there for me, no matter what. So of course, I was going to be there for him.

While thinking of you both last night, after all was said and done, I took a moment to reflect on the differences that separate us, and also those that connect us, as they do in any family.  Politics?  Please.  Social issues?  Ugh, no way. I have no doubt that you feel the same. I mean, I got my attitude from somewhere, right? Yet, through it all, I love you.  More than you will ever know.  You’ve done so much over the years for me; I want to be there for you like you are always there for me.

This is not to toot my horn, so to speak. Instead, it’s meant to offer up a heartfelt apology.

Yeah, I choked.  Sure, I’m great at the lighthearted stuff.  I can gossip about the mailman and tell terrible jokes with the best of them in an attempt – perhaps, a misguided attempt – to keep your mind off things.  I can distract you from the bigger picture, if only for a little while, with any number of sarcastic and witty (in my own eyes, at least) observances. I can get super-charged and angry on your behalf; whether it’s at people or situations, I’ll gladly take it on to save you the stress or heartache.  But the serious stuff?  I’m at a loss.

They never taught this stuff in school.

Mom and dad, I wanted to say the right things.  I wanted to do the right things, to offer comfort, hope, and a bit of light in the darkness.  I just am so ridiculously backwards and awkward in serious situations that I don’t know what to say or do. It’s almost funny. Except, it’s not.

I’m sorry I’m not good at small talk or knowing what to say in a painful, frighteningly serious situation.  And I was scared.  Just like you were.  I’m sorry I’m not better at comforting you; I truly wish I knew how.

I hope you both know that I love you more than anything in this world.  I will always be there for you, no matter how awkward or backward I may be at the reassurances and encouragements and comforting phrases.

My heart feels it, oh boy does my heart feel it; if only my mouth could say it.

 

Patience of a Saint

This tickled me probably more than it should have done. Every time I look at it, in fact, it makes me chuckle. Maybe because it hits so close home. When I first came across it, still giggling, I sent it to my mother who replied, in a tired voice — a voice no doubt burdened with the weight of dealing with her daughter’s… umm… hilarity (cause let’s face it, I am hilarious), “Yeah, of course you would find that funny.” You know, sometimes, my heart just goes out to that woman.

What’s for Dinner?

I came across a parenting article recently and even though my kids are older, with diapers and daily tantrums over “tie” vs “velcro” shoes a thing of the past, I was curious, so I took the time to check it out.  Actually, I found this particular piece of child-rearing commentary on the same mom advice blog that I’ve brought up before, the one that decries “mommy shaming” yet mom-shames religiously.

This new wave of helpful hints was about dealing with “picky eaters.” The writer’s solution? Let the kids choose. Sounds simple, right? Turns out it is simple. Basically, as the mother (or I guess, father…this article happened to be directed at moms), you fix whatever dinner you want and if the kids don’t want to eat it, fine. In fact, you start out the meal with the announcement that “eat or it not, it’s up to you.” Having no punishment for abstaining from any of the foods presented is the key here. Further, rejecting the main meal does not preclude being given dessert. Dessert is a given.

Now, this is all fine and good for kids who might eat “something.” But what about kids who won’t eat anything? My daughter is just that kind of kid. Not so much now that she’s older, but when she was little? Oh boy.  She took picky eating to a whole new level. There could have been a buffet in front of her – a veritable feast – and she would decide for whatever reason that she liked none of it and simply would not eat. No, that tastes funny. That’s brown or green or yellow. That’s slimy. It’s got onions in it. I don’t like gravy. Or my all-time favorite, a simplistic “Ewww.”

Or what about the kid who will eat dessert (since that can’t be withheld) and nothing else?  I can easily envision my kids, when they were young, having dessert every night for dinner – if it were available.  Hell, I would too if I had those rules. Come on! Who wouldn’t?

Force feeding kids by making them sit at the table until they eat something doesn’t work either. Been there, done that. On both sides of the table. I remember sitting at the table in an ever-escalating series of “battles of wills” with my mother over some vegetable or another. I recall a particularly long evening spent at the table brought about by Brussels sprouts. It wasn’t fun for me and I can’t imagine that it was a great time for my mother either. I’m sure she had better things to do than deal with my mulish dinner habits. Sorry, Mom. My kids inherited that same stubborn behavior willpower.

My son took it even further. I mean, of course he did. Why wouldn’t he? The curse my mother flung at me all those years ago worked. Like gangbusters it worked. I now have kids who act just like I acted. In case I haven’t said it lately, thanks for that, Mom. When my handsome, intelligent, ever-so-charming son was about five or so, he threatened that if I insisted he “eat those stupid peas already,” he would throw them back up. And. He. Did. Ahhh…memories. Hey, he gave fair warning. He still won’t eat peas and the boy is 24 years old.

I suppose we could just live by the old adage “oh, they’ll eat when they’re hungry” as they forego their mid-day and evening meals night after night. Indeed, that’s what this suggested routine seems to be, just done in a nicer way. I imagine the success of such a campaign all depends on the temperament of the child and just how hungry they’re willing to be to prove a point.

The thing is, you can’t force kids to eat. You can’t force them to sleep. It’s the two things really, besides bathroom habits, that they ultimately do have control over. Unless you’re a monster who literally force feeds your kids as they’re tied to a chair. But if you’re a normal human being, you can lead them to the table, but you can’t make them eat.  Threaten, cajole, humor, and beg…but you can’t really MAKE them. They choose to give in, or not. Same with sleep – you can put them to bed and order them to sleep, but only they can really make that happen.

I guess I was never overly finicky about what we had for dinner…I didn’t care if my kids ate hotdogs with mac and cheese while I ate the eggplant parm that I liked. I didn’t mind if we had home-made chicken nuggets (à la Chick-Fi-La, but my own recipe, which is healthier) three times a week. That tuna casserole they both love? Sure! Why not?

It’s different now that I’ve cut out the majority of meat for myself, but hey, the kids are old enough to feed themselves now, so I don’t really care…they’re on their own. But when they were little, I decided after a while that dinner time was simply not a battle I particularly felt like fighting. Of course, this decision might’ve taken place right after the “peas fiasco of 1997,” but it’s a solid decision nonetheless.

I also knew my kids were stubborn assholes strong-willed individuals who would go without food long enough that eventually social services would be called. So, dinner often had a kid-friendly menu in our house. Why deliberately put food on the table that you know someone won’t eat while hoping for the best? I didn’t really see this as catering to them – and still don’t – I view it as a way of enjoying the time we had together at the table. Instead of arguing or long, sullen silences, we had rousing talks about everything under the sun, jokes, and laughter, and joy. And everyone ate. I still make their favorites when we’re all together for a visit. But then, food has always been a big deal in our house, a way of bringing the family together. Meals are meant to be enjoyed, not fought over.

I figured – and rightly so – that they would branch out from hot dogs, mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and French fries prior to getting to college. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. With the exception of very specific things like peas (go figure), mushrooms, onions, and sushi (can’t blame them there), they eat quite a variety of foodstuffs these days. Truth be told, they’re a lot more adventurous in trying new foods than me, I must say.

I suppose the idea presented in the article would work for some families…I mean hey, it worked for the writer, right? But if it were MY house? I would have had two children with amazingly high blood sugar from all the dessert they were stuffing themselves with and tons of uneaten leftovers cluttering up the fridge.

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 want 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