Tag Archives: grown up life

First Grade Is Getting To Her

Some parents say that schools give our kids too much homework.  I don’t think my daughter’s workload is excessive, but maybe I’m oblivious to the signs?  Is this spellng assignment a cry for help?

My daughter's spelling homework.

My daughter’s spelling homework.

Transcript:

Skys are big.

Fly like a bird.

I need a drink.

The Secret of the Five S’s

mr-rightHere’s a GREAT piece of advice my mom shared with me when I was divorced from Fartbuster and starting to date again.  It’s known as “The Five S’s.”   That is blatant misuse of an apostrophe to try to make a plural, so let’s spell out the name of the letter “Ess” then make it a plural…Esses.  But after that glass of wine (and the one before it) that comes out more like Essesssessess.

With the Five Essesses, it’s all or nothing.  Whether I was scouting around for a Friday night date or a life partner, I had to make sure he fit ALL FIVE of these criteria:

SINGLE:  Well, duh.  Though Fartbuster didn’t let marriage stop him from dating.  When we were separated, I got “approached” by a married man.  I said, “Good grief.  I’ve already got ONE cheating husband in my life–why would I want someone else’s too?”

STRAIGHT:  If you’re straight, that is.  If you’re gay, they should be gay, too.  I’ve spent some time dating members of The Other Team and it’s fun while it lasts–especially when there was dancing involved–but it’s not going to pan out over the long term.

SANE:  This one takes a little looking around under the hood.  Do they have long term friendships?  Can they be alone?  Can they be in company?  Is their past littered with broken relationships?  Is everyone “out to get them?”  Any arrest records…and why?  How do they treat things that are smaller and sweeter than themselves?

SOBER:  I don’t care if you’re a drinker, a tee-totaler, in recovery or allergic to gin–as long as you are in charge of it.

SOLVENT:  I’m not saying wealthy.  Just solvent.  Bills are paid.  Living within your means.  Not going to ruin my credit score by association.

It took me a while to find Richard (all 5, no question) and then another while to find G (all 5, plus the Secret S:  Sexy Accent).  Along the way I met some other Esses:  Skint, Stalker, Snoopy, Stressy, Skoal, Stupid, Stingy, Swagger, Slob.  

So in hindsight….Fartbuster?  Single.  Straight.  Sober.  A little weak on solvent and a lot weak on sane.  And there was the sixth S:  skank.

Oh, For Flux Sake…

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I packed up my office for the first time in 5 years.  And honestly, some of that stuff had been with me for the 16 years that I’ve been in my previous job.  I started in the summer of 1996, when the torch was coming through Athens.

I moved the necessary stuff to my new office.  The furniture is awkard.  There are too many drawers.  The light is strange.  I’m going to park in a different lot.  The computer didn’t work.

Then I took a week off to spend time with my daughter as she turned six.  In a week, she grew up right in front of my eyes.  Now she can read on her own.  She can take better care of herself than I remember and it makes my heart tighten up.

My son looked at me last night with his dear baby face.  I asked, “Do you want to go swimming?” and out of the blue he replied, “Yes.”  It was our first give and take conversation. Now the week is drawing to a close and I’m feeling a huge wave of anxiety because everything is changing at once.  Job.  Kids.  Home.  It’s all gotten different and I’m feeling swimmy-headed.

Oh, for flux sake.  Flux is that state of flow, always moving, like a river. After Richard died and I faced that crushing grief, my therapist suggested that I view it as a river.  If you swim against a river, you tire quickly.  But if you bob and float, taking deep breaths, you conserve your energy.  The river is going to go where it goes.  You are along for the ride.

What the flux is up with you today?

Your Permission Slip

you are a runner

Back in 2008, I signed myself up for boot camp with a single goal:  I wanted to be able to do a military style REAL push-up by my 40th birthday.  Three weeks later, I did three!

Three months in, after running and working out three days a week in the company of my compatriots at WoW! Boot Camp, I felt better than I had ever felt about my body.  Not that it was getting thin–but I was getting STRONG.  I decided to jump on the bandwagon and sign myself up for a 5K.  

But to train for a 5K, I needed to increase my cardio training, which meant I would need to do some work on my own.  In the daylight.  Without my coach.  And someone who wasn’t also a member of the group might see me…exercising.  So my coach came up to me one morning (at 5:WTH30 in the morning) and asked if I had a training plan.  I stuttered, “Um, well, I thought I would start using the elliptical in my basement until I can do about 45 minutes worth because that will equate to about the same amount of effort…”  She looked at me sideways and said, “Nobody ever ran a 5K on an elliptical.  Why don’t you go outside and run?”  The immediate answer in my head was “Because someone might see me and laugh,” but I knew better than to say that to April.  I didn’t have an answer for her.  She suggested that I map out a 1.5 mile route from my house and go out and back, running as much as I could and walking the rest until I could work up to running the whole thing.  Easy Peasy.  

I was terrified to run in public because I felt like I needed a permission slip.  Wouldn’t “real” runners laugh at me if they saw in my $124 New Balance shoes and my double reinforced titanium running bra, size 40G (the G is for GOTDAMMM!)?  I took my dog with me so I could use him as an excuse to be out in public, taking up sidewalk, breathing the fresh air and pretending I was an athlete.  I started to run.  Just run.  I went at night so no one would see me, or on Sunday mornings when the mean people might be busy at church or still in jail.  

No test to pass.  No license to earn.  No membership card.  Just run.  

I finished my first 5K on a rainy Saturday morning.  I had to walk some.  Everyone there was nice to me.  I was scared to look over my shoulder during the race because I thought the only thing still behind me was the police car bringing up the rear.  But I did it and I was so proud of myself that I wore my number straight to a Weight Watchers meeting.  

So let this quote from John Bingham be your permission slip.  It doesn’t even have to be about running.  Replace the word “run” with sing, zip line, act, date, write, blog, swim, whatever you wish you had permission to do.  

Training My Butterflies

vivi with butterflyWhen’s the last time you had a stomach full of butterflies?  I’ve got a big change coming at work so my tummy has been fluttering a lot lately.  I have to remind myself that butterflies come from a GOOD place.  Unfortunately, anxiety and anticipation live next door to each other in my stomach and I’ve got to check in with the butterflies every now and then to corral them into the right zone.  

The first time I noticed their proximity was December 25, 2001….almost midnight.  I lay in a narrow wrought iron bed in my parents’ extra room.  Couldn’t sleep.  In the morning, I would wake and drive myself to the airport where I would meet Richard.  We were taking our first big trip together, to Amsterdam and Bruges for New Years.  I had joy and adventure ahead, but I couldn’t sleep.  I lay there with my stomach tied in knots and I asked myself, “Why am I so anxious?”  

I was one year out of a decade-long bad marriage to Fartbuster.  We had never managed to adventure much in our years together…not from any lack of wanderlust on my part.  I couldn’t talk Fartbuster into going out on a Friday night for pizza and a movie because it was just too much trouble for him.  We might SEE PEOPLE.  For 10 years, the only butterflies I got were from anxiety, that creeping feeling that something was going to go wrong and it would be my fault.   

But there I was, hours away from a grand adventure with someone I loved, who loved me.  Someone who had a lot of experience with adventuring and was excited about showing me how to step out into the world.  Richard lived by the mantra, “If it doesn’t hurt anyone else, why not?”  Lying there in that narrow bed, that’s when it hit me:  this isn’t anxiety; this is anticipation!  Maybe because it was Christmas.  Remember Christmas Eve night when you were a kid and you could try and try and try as hard as you could to fall asleep but you just couldn’t make your body stop being excited?  That’s where I was that night–32 years old and feeling the excitement of Christmas for the first time in my adult life!  So I lay there and let myself be excited and happy.  These butterflies were from the sneaking suspicion that something was going to go RIGHT and it would all be my doing!  

Mistaking anticipation for anxiety is simply a habit that I often fall into.  I catch myself interpreting all this nervous energy about my new opportunities and labeling it “anxiety” when really it’s anticipation.  I’m thrilled to have something new to do.  I’m excited to have a new space and new coworkers and new challenges.  I feel alive again.  But being alive comes with far more risks than living numb.  I have to retrain my butterflies to flutter over to the side of my stomach that is ready to grow.  

The best case of butterflies I ever had happened in February 2007.  I had been antsy all night and at about 11pm, I found myself sitting on the sofa with my hand on my belly…wondering why I was anxious.  After all, I had butterflies in my stomach and that equates to anxiety, right?  Then it dawned on me that that fluttering feeling inside me was my baby girl, stretching her wings in a way I could finally feel. 

So when WAS the last time you felt butterflies?  Anxiety or anticipation?  

My Dream Lunch

waltons lunchbox

In second grade, my classmate–K–brought the perfect lunch every day.   She set her “The Waltons” lunchbox down on the white formica table in the cafeteria then unsnapped the yellow plastic clasp to unveil her masterpiece of a lunch.  First, a flowered paper napkin, set to the side.  A spoon placed atop the napkin.  Then a matching yellow Thermos with a lid that doubled as a cup for the colorful splash of Kool-Aid.  A perfectly compact Snack Pack pudding, chocolate or butterscotch or vanilla.  A miniature bag of potato chips.  And finally a sandwich, on snowy white bread with the crusts cut off and sliced on the diagonal.

Perfection.

I had a Peanuts lunch box that I loved.  I had had it since first grade because I remember getting sent to the principal’s office that year after conking Scott Greene over the head with it for breaking in front of me in line.  He got sent to the principal’s office too because he HAD broken in line and my job that week was being line leader.  Lo, the swift hand of justice wields a Peanuts lunch box.

My Peanuts lunch box carried a perfectly serviceable lunch, with a sandwich and maybe a piece of fruit.  A slice of homemade cake if it was near someone’s birthday.  The sandwiches were made with that Carl Budding lunch meat that was so thin that you could see through it–now they call it “deli-sliced” and charge extra for it.  My sandwich sported Sunbeam bread or–god forbid–Roman Meal.  My mom believed in whole grains before anyone else.  Sometimes, if Daddy had a client up near Riverdale, he would swing by the day-old bread store and buy an entire toilet paper box filled with Twinkies, SnoBalls, Ding Dongs, fruit pies and jelly rolls.  One toilet paper box of treats could fill up the entire upright freezer in the laundry room.  Each morning, during lunch packing time, we were allowed to pick out one snack cake and add it to our lunch.  The first to disappear were the SnoBalls–a chocolate cake filled with cream, then covered in marshmallow and pink coconut.  HEAVEN.  If they were hard frozen before I got on the bus, they would be just thawed enough to eat by lunchtime, but the cream-filled center remained an icy sweet core to the whole confection.

Anyway.

What I admired about K’s lunch was the amount of time and attention put into it.  Every little scrap of it was thought out and intentional.  It took TIME to make.  K’s mother didn’t have to worry about getting to work on time AND making a lovely lunch.  My mother had three lunches to make and a desk to get to at her office.

I started thinking about K’s Waltons lunch box today while I was in line at Kroger.  The kids start summer camp this week and I get to pack lunches.  So I found myself filling the conveyor belt with tiny bags of chips, cups of applesauce, boxes of organic strawberry milk, popcorn, popcorn chicken bites, petite carrots, hummus, peanut butter crackers, Snack Pack pudding, sliced ham, string cheese, mandarin oranges, and pouches of Capri Sun water.  Holy HELL.

Am I driving myself mad trying to make the PERFECT LUNCH?  Yes.  Yes, I am.

What was your perfect lunch?  What kind of lunch box did you carry?

It’s All One Life

paddlewheel boat Baltimore

Black Eyed Susan in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

One sunny Sunday afternoon in November of 2004, Richard and I took a walk down to Fell’s Point in Baltimore.  We sat on a bench by the harbor and watched the gulls dip and dive around the trash cans.  A bright white paddlewheel boat–The Black Eyed Susan–rocked against the dock.  I told him how the flower, black eyed Susan, always made me think of Van Morisson’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” I sang the chorus.

A pack of Cub Scouts climbed up to the bridge to ring the brass bell.  The sun was warm but weak.  I was glad for my jacket.   The boys rang the bell then chased each other down the ladder to the deck then the dock then across the brick courtyard behind us.  The sunlight sparkled off the diamond engagement ring that Richard had given me a few months before.  His grandfather Jack had given it to his grandmother Sadie in 1927 and she had worn it for 75 years.  Now he had given it to me as a sign of his trust in our commitment to each other.  We held hands and I remember thinking, “I’m really happy, right now.  Right here.”

Then a phrase entered my mind and it stayed with me for years:  “It’s all one life.”  It’s all one life.

Here’s the detail that’s missing from the scene I’ve described above.  Richard was feeling pretty good that day after his third round of chemo, but it hadn’t put him into remission.  He told me a half-truth that week, so as not to break my heart with disappointment and fear.  He said his doctors were calling it a “partial remission.”  It didn’t take.

We left the safe confines of the guest house on Johns Hopkins campus to walk down the hill to the harbor on a sunny day.  It was the first walk we had taken together outside in months.  I worried most of the way that his energy wouldn’t hold out or that we might need to find a cab to bring us back up the hill.  For years I had chased him all over Europe on our adventures together but now I was shortening my steps and slowing my pace so he didn’t tire too quickly.

Sitting there in the sun that day, I had a sense of wholeness about the whole situation.  For once, I wasn’t piecing it apart into the parts I accepted–the love we felt for each other, the joy of rambunctious kids, the autumn sun, the promise of a boat–and the parts I fought against–leukemia, chemo, guest houses, unknowing, weakness, change.  I had space in my heart and my mind in that moment for all of it.  It’s all one life.

Before that day, the mantra “it is what it is” had been helpful, but I could only use it as an antidote for each piece of information, each separate challenge that came our way.  It was a one thing at a time kind of mantra.  “It’s all one life” was a rare expression of wholeness and acceptance in that chaotic time, when every day, hour or minute might bring with it some blow to our life together.

After he died, I wondered, “If you could do it all over again, would you?”  My answer was yes.  Even with the horror of that year and the emptiness after he was gone, I wouldn’t have traded the good times in exchange for missing the bad.  To quote Garth Brooks, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”  Or with Fartbuster, after our divorce….I asked myself if I would have been better off never having married him?  These are impossible questions because changing one thread of my life would have put me somewhere else and I wouldn’t have heard the Cub Scouts ringing the bell aboard the Black Eyed Susan as Sadie’s diamond sparkled in the sun.  Even if my beloved was dying beside me.  

Domino Sugar Fell's Point

“Domino Sugar Love” by Andreas Kollegger via Creative Commons license

It’s all one life.  I couldn’t have been the mother who looked into my first born’s blinking eyes and whispered, “Hey!  I’ve waited my whole life to meet you!” if I hadn’t been the woman who brushed his eyes closed after they had left this world to look upon some other.   It’s all one life.  And I’m glad it’s mine.