Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stein Mart Shoppers

Growing up, I mourned my grandparents every day for years while they were still alive.  I fully believed I was doing myself a great service.  Convinced myself it was good practice for the real moment when I had to breathe with them gone.  Even when I was little, I understood how losing them was going to rock our world and I was going to need me to be very strong.  So I practiced.  While they were in their 70s and 80s.  With a decade in front of them.  One can never be too dramatic in our family.  (Abby does us proud.)

My heart would rise and fall at the shadows of my grandfather's footsteps past my bedroom door at night;  him secretly checking on me, me secretly checking on him.  I loved him so much for just being there that I felt, simultaneously, both elation and sadness to my toes.  Elation for his being and sadness that his being was winding down to a visible and natural stop.  It was always both up and down emotions, for years, like breathing heavily or living inside a beating heart.

I also felt like a had a great secret against the world.  The secret of knowing how things go and how people do, eventually and with certainty, end.  I got to see things from an unusual perspective, behind the curtains, from the top down like touring the underground city of the Pentagon.  You hear rumors that it's there but most never get to see.

The Marine Corps Ball is this weekend so I took myself dress shopping last Friday.  As I passed the chunky beaded bracelets my chest began to ache.  Small white Christmas lights braided through jewelry stands and green garland finished the thought.  My mom.  I really miss my mom.  Mom's still here and we talk every day so I don't know why this came over me in the jewelry department but it did.  As I rolled fleur-de-lis earrings between my fingers, I knew it was more than not seeing her for the last six months.  I miss her a lot right now as the holidays approach but more than that, I miss being her daughter.  I miss walking toward her with bed hair and a pink blanket just to see her face turn to look at me while she rinsed something in the kitchen sink.  I miss her eyes lighting up just because I entered the room.  She is always so glad to see me.  Not many are happier to see you than your mom.

To press in the point, the Stein Mart Universe gave me a freaking Boompa (Mom's mom) lookalike seconds later.  Feet from me stood a petite older lady with dyed-brown permed curls sizing up the cardigans.  She smelled of lotion.  If it wouldn't have gotten me arrested I would've gone right up to her and bunched her sweater underneath my nose to inhale for a long time.  Not all grandparents smell the same but this one was real close.  Our Boompa. I refrained, however, and turned toward picture frames and holiday wall art.  She passed me again, accidentally driving my melancholy insane.  "LEAVE ME ALONE I JUST MISS MY MOM RIGHT NOW." I wanted to scream at my late grandmother's doppelgänger but thought perhaps that might be a tad traumatic for Stein Mart.

Seconds later, a little man with snowy hair and a cell phone puttered toward the picture frames.  He looked down at his phone, then up, down again, then up and I knew this had to be her Mister.  "She went that way," I almost blurted out but again, not many people appreciate someone else's enthusiastic grandchild.

The couple met up somewhere in the middle and I watched them from behind the doggie biscuit jars.  He found his bride, cupped her face in his hands, and grinned the sweetest smile.  She patted his hands away and asked if he liked the gold shirt she was carrying.  He did, indeed.

I could barely blink.

The heart can hold only in so much beauty before it has to let it out.   That, too, would've been a touch too dramatic for Stein Mart.

I suppose no matter how happy you grow up to be, the holidays make everyone nostalgic for what you once had.  And just how darn good you once had it. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I ask myself why I acted differently this time.  With patience instead of irritation.  It is still before the sun is up.  There were all kinds of annoying sleep interruptions during the night.  My feet are icicles because some one little stole my covers.

But I know why I'm feeling soft.  It's because I can see it.   The impermanence of our situation.  Sameness isn't anyone's luxury.

Abby, who slides in next to me as a 4yo with her cashmere skin, tousled hair, and morning breath will be married and exhausted with her own children tomorrow.  It all goes that fast because routines become weeks, everyday turns into years, and before you feel different nothing is the same anymore. 

For me, time is real but also partly a human construct - only we romanticize it and mourn for more before it's gone.  Unless all the fuss outdoors is nature's Shiva for summer, I'm inclined to think we are the only ones to feel remorseful about time passing.  Humans find it difficult being aware and present all at once.  We are just so busy.  Have you ever seen a multi-tasking pond or a preoccupied bird?  Consciousness functions better when it forgets.

It's 5a.m.  I'm on the couch because something woke up Grayson in his sleep.  He pushed me aside and is now snuggled next to Andy in our bed so I head to the couch for an hour or so of sleep.  But before I feel Sparrow's warmth curling at my heels, I hear the hushing of little feet on the carpet coming my way.  Abby stands before me.  Naked.

I love how right in this now she comes to me for warmth and safety and that I am here to provide. Her sleepy child magnet pulls her close to my protective parent magnet and we click like the last two pieces of a puzzle.  Finished and complete.  There's no ambling chaos here.

Few moments present themselves this confidently.  There's ample choice in everything else with a million possible outcomes.  Molecules spinning, reproducing, looking for a way to win at being human.  But right now she is cold and small and I am warm and large.  Symbiosis.

The simple task of warming her up soothes me and I don't worry about teaching her how to read, explaining the birds and the bees when she's 34 ready, or how the hell I will let her lay her head down in a college dorm one day.  All those things will happen.  Or they won't.  The math is exponential in between.  Right now I get to linger in the moment before me which is greater than the ones yet to happen.  She will be so many things, says Time.  She is just beginning, I think.  She needs me now, reminds Impermanence. 

So we snuggle down until Abby decides she is ready for morning.  It's her decision though.  I'm in no hurry at all. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Girlfriend Spirit

There was softball in the 6th grade but other than that, I never took part in anything competitive.  One time, I tried out for high school swim team on my best friend's suggestion.  As I tippy-toed my way through one lap at 5:30a.m., the kind coach leaned in close to my foggy goggles and whispered, "Maybe swimming is not really your sport.  You can probably sleep in tomorrow."  It was like euthanizing a 22 year old cat.  I was ready to go.

So, instead of competitive sports or after school activities, I held down jobs  most of my life beginning at age 13.  I lied, said I was 16, and became a cashier at Meadow's Farm's Nurseries.  Met other kids "my age" and had the best year sipping scalding apple cider with mittened hands because our office was a barn and those barn doors were open.  When the poinsettia trucks came in we all grinned like Matt Dillon.  Peeling back thousands of protective brown paper bags might sound like a nightmare but having "snowball fights" with those thousands of paper bags in the solarium with twelve of your favorite co-workers was the sweetest reward.  After Meadow's Farms, I worked in a Floral Shop.  This transition might lead you to believe I have an innate green thumb but my lack of houseplants tells the truth;  without skin or fur, I do not understand you.

So the many years I spent earning paychecks and honing my simple change making skills aided in real world knowledge without a spirit of competition.  It's not like we were having bow-making contests or bouquet placement races until all hours of the night.  Nope, just every day people vacuuming inside/outside carpet around customers shopping for boutonnieres.

Even in college, I veered away from all things resulting in winners and losers.  My major was the furthest thing from domineering:  English with a concentration in Creative Writing.  No checkered flags in sight. 

Years later, I would discover the natural competitive spirit of girls.  Motherhood.  As a new mom, I felt ill-prepared for the "mompetitions" happening in circles around me.  Do I breast feed?  Do I Ferberize?  Have I considered Early Reading?  Why don't I put my baby in daycare?  Did my toddler watch LeapFrog or WonderPets?  Whoah.  There are a lot of eyes on your actions after your womb grows a person.

Eventually, I navigated my way through judgments, opinions, and criticisms until one morning my gray hairs gave me the cajones to not care what anyone thought at all.  It's true, if you let your grays keep going, out pop some invisible testicles that help you appreciate beer and the WTF of life.

Now, with almost independent children who don't need me to watch and abet their every move, I am finding it easier to avoid competition with other moms. 

Instead, I've developed friendships or "real-ationships" with women who are doing their thing.  They are all different.  Some are strong and shy.  Others are smart and trustworthy.  A few are Christian and beautiful.  The funniest one is atheist and artistic as all get out.  We share stories about our lives.  We walk neighborhoods confessing our possible mental illnesses.  We go for a run and end up at a bar.  We meet in dog parks and bond over poop bags.  We chat on the phone and try to make each other laugh.  We text three words and make each other cry. We drink red wine from the bottle in my minivan right outside of our houses.  We take selfies together.  We email each other instead of comment on each other's blogs because I like to imagine her smile when I trash talk life a little.  We FaceTime before 7am and answer the call.  We pick each others kids up when we are sick.  We worry about each other when it's been too long.  We get what it means to relate.  We don't feel the desire to compete.  And why should we?

In this world of ours, there is enough racing going on.  Girls should be able to rely on each other, not run away from each other.  We know how hard this is.  Motherhood, periods, menopause, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, death, life, eyebrows, jeans, and being cold all the time.  We understand each other in ways men can never appreciate.  A man will never remember to lock all the doors at night and turn on the alarm.  A man will never know why you tied a hoodie around your waist to go into a store.

I am lucky to have my girlfriends with their girl spirit who share their lives with me.  It's because of them that I don't mind showing up as me every day here in this new unfamiliar place.  Or maybe sometimes at their house in my pajamas for movie night.  It's those friendships that bring strength to me when I'm feeling tired and color to my world that is growing pale.

It's what we can do with each other that brings meaning.  Who gives a sh*t if you do it best.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Trail Mix

Recovering from the cost of moving, we've been tightening our purse strings a lot lately.  Andy and I have had a few sit-downs discussing where we could sacrifice our spending to fatten up our savings.  This has resulted in him sleeping on the couch one night and me apologizing for my Salted Caramel Mocha Venti Decaf habit the next.  The truth hurts when it's staring at you on an itemized print-out, highlighted in pink (my doing, not his).

The next day we needed some groceries.  Not the whole shebang, just some bacon, eggs, and dog food.  Just saying the word bacon made me hungry so I asked if he could pick up some trail mix.

He gave me the look.

I gave him the really.

He continued the look.

I gave in and pretended like I had plans on chewing bark from a tree in the parking lot and some grass clippings if I wasn't full yet when we got home.  All in name of sacrificing to save us some money.  And perhaps my waistline if that's what his look was indicating.  Either way, this mama had steam percolating underneath her eyebrows.

Andy arrived back in the car about 20 minutes later with his two bags of stuff.  "I got you a surpriiiise," he sang. 

Aw man, now I feel bad for thinking up new curses to hex you with.

"It's in the back of the caaarrr," he wooed.

"Thanks, Honey, that was so thoughtf..."


"Umm, excuse me... what?"

"I got you a bag of scallops!"

"Scallops as in shellfish?" 

Yeah! They were on sale."

Mister McMiserson strikes again. 

"They're frozen so we can't eat them until tomorrow night."

I hate you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What Dreams are Made of

My dreams have been a portal to another world all my life.  Not in an idle brain's spinning on a hamster wheel sort of portal.  More like conversations or scenarios that are created beyond me, not the other way around like I'd expect.  Each dream leaves me with a message that directly relates to my life or the lives of those I love.  Occasionally I get a peek into something big but those make me nervous.  Sometimes I'm left with sorting out the pictures and events for days, never understanding what the relevance is at the time.  Eventually, the relevance comes.

Back when my grandparents passed, I tried hard to conjure them in my dreams every night.  They wouldn't visit.  I did all I could:  asked, begged, prayed, and bargained them into my head.  Nothing.  Not a peep for years. 

Then in one dream, I remember feeling my grandfather's presence.  I couldn't see him and I really couldn't hear him but he was all around me and I never questioned the validity of that.  It was more like, "THERE you are." 

I waited for a long time to "see" my grandmother too but she wouldn't show up.  I thought she was still mad at me.  No, really.  She was pretty pissed at me for a misunderstanding a few months before she passed.  The mildest mannered, most tender-hearted woman was in her final stages of dementia that removed her social filter and let her true feelings shine.  Let's just say I was a thorn in her side toward the end.  Not in reality.  In reality I (along with my brother, my mom, and Jimmy) cared for her and made sure she ate, drank, changed out of her pantyhose, and got to her doctor's appointments.  But in her agitated state of mind, I was a pill.  It was the most tragic kind of love story.  Unrequited love.  But my God, was it hilarious to see my Boompa unplugged.

She and I had lunch dates.  It was one way I could see to it she'd eat well since neither of us was any damn good in the kitchen anymore.  I'd help her in the booth and read items off the menu since her memory failed to remind her that's what was next.  Feeling good about spending quality time with my Boompa, my smile cast a spell on only me.  Across the table, I registered her tiny scowl.  "Dear," she'd say in uncharacteristic volume, "you must really be fond of this place.  It's the only restaurant we ever go to anymore and the food is not to rave about."

About a year ago, this one dream made me crazy.  It was my grandfather trying to tell me something.  His words weren't recognizable English words and the more he tried, the less I could understand.  Before long, I became frustrated and upset. 

"Leave her alone, Jim.  She doesn't need to know now."

It was her.  I'd know that voice anywhere.  HI BOOMPA!  What didn't I need to know now, Boompa?  What is it?!  Please come back and tell me!  I woke up that morning absolutely frantic and called my mom.  My brother is a cancer survivor who periodically goes in for rechecks.  I was terrified Boompa was talking about him.  Mom assured me it was not about Eric.  His tests came back great and all was going well for him.  We both chalked it up to my maternal need to perseverate on all worrisome things even in my sleep.

But that dream clung to my psyche for a very long time, gnawing at me almost every day. 

Six months later, Jimmy passed without warning.

And now I understood.  All that time I mistook my Boompa's silence for anger.  I thought she was still mad at me for the cheap club sandwiches.  I was missing the big picture completely.  Boompa was too busy to hold any earthly grudge.  There was no time for that;  she was preparing for the happiest reunion of her afterlife. 

At the same time, protecting me from worrying about things I cannot change.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Deja Vu

We were on our way to Abby's preschool when it happened.  Chatting about lyrics verses melody when Uncle Eric popped into her head.  "Mommy, what is Uncle Ewic's favewit song?"

"Well, I don't know about now but it used to be Dreams by Van Halen."

"How does it go?"

"No idea, Honey, sorry.  But I DO remember this one that Uncle Eric loved.  It's called Sweet Child O Mine.  By Guns & Roses."



"And Roses?"

"Mm-hmm.  She's got a smiiiiiiile that seems to me, reeemiiiinds me of childhood memoryyyyy when ev-er-y thing was as fresh as the bright blue skyyyyy."


"Now and then when I see her face, sheeee takes me awayyyy to that special place and if I sta-a-re to long I ..."


"Prolly break down and cryyyy, Whoah, ohhh-oh-ohhhh, Sweet Child O..."

"MOMMY STOP THAT KIND OF SINGING! Use your real voice please."

"Sheesh, I was just getting to the good part.  That is my real voice.  That's my real Axl voice."

"What's another one of Uncle Ewic's favwite songs?"

"I don't know, let's call him and ask."

The phone only rang twice before my brother picked up.  He was already at work.  I could tell from the din of power tools and hammer frapping going on behind his voice.  Still, he pretended he had all day for us.  Within seconds, I put him on speakerphone so she could interview him. 

"Uncle Ewic?"

"Yes, Honey."

"What is your favewit song?"

" favorite song.  That's a hard one.  Oh, I know!  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  Do you know that one?"

"No.  How does it go?" 

"You don't know that one?  Ok, it goes: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer...had a very shiny nose..."

"And if you evah sawit," Abby chimes in, "you could even sayit gwows."

"Good job, Abby, you did know it after all."

"Yes, I just didn't know that's what book it was called.  Uncle Ewic?  I wuv you so so much.  I miss you.  You're invited to my birthday pawty, I hope you can make it."

"Oh Honey, that would be great, wouldn't it?  Yes, I'd like that too."

"Bye Uncle Ewic, Mommy says to give you the phone back now.  I wuv you vewy much."

She hands me back the phone and I rush him off the phone for maybe the first time ever.  Not because we were at her preschool but because it wasn't that long ago that another little girl spoke adoringly to her "Uncle Ewic" and wanted to hear him sing, too. 

And just like Eric does, he had that voice that feels like a visit home.