Thursday, February 28, 2013

Not Unexpected, But Unknown

After a full week of snow emergencies, will-we-or-won't-we-be-having-school, and constant uncertainty over what the next day would bring, I was ready to get back to normal.

"Good," I thought to myself when the sun was shining yesterday. "All I'll have to deal with today is editing and proofreading."

That's when the phone rang. It was Husband. He had gotten a call from the retirement home where his 91-year-old mother lives.

"Mom fell in the public restroom and she's unresponsive," he told me. "They've called the ambulance..."

I didn't let him finish the sentence. "I'm on my way to the hospital," I told him.

It was an eerie throwback to three years ago, when I received the word-for-word exact same phone call about my own mother, and my mom never regained consciousness.

This time, though, the outcome was very different--a broken shoulder, a goose-egg lump on the side of her head that had subsided by evening, and a night spent under observation at the hospital. As I sat beside my mother-in-law's bed knitting last night, though, I thought about the strange status those in my generation now have as parents to our parents. It's really the same role, you know: Taking care of those we love is both our joy and our burden whether the loved one is 9 months old or 91 years old.

Parenting is hard, we were told when we got married. Just wait until you have babies--your life gets so difficult, what with the logistics and the sleep deprivation and the colic and the worry all the time. And if you think that's tough, whoa, the teenage years make the Terrible Threes seem like a walk in the park.

If anyone told me how difficult I would find this stage of caring for aging parents, I would not have believed them. It is a constant balancing act that has on the one hand my mother-in-law's need for autonomy and dignity and on the other hand her need for health and safety, and it's not always possible to fully satisfy all of these needs.

So today I will meet the transport driver when the van arrives back at the retirement home, and will make sure she's settled in bed with her call button next to her good arm before I go back to work. We'll visit again tonight to see if this assisted situation will be enough or if it's time for the next step into nursing care.

It is not unexpected, this aging process, but it's unknown, uncertain, and heartbreaking.

It is our new normal.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi: I Am Brussels Sprouts

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a kingdom where everything was perfect. The sun shone every day, the birds sang, and all were happy in the kingdom. The princess was not the smartest person in the kingdom, or the most beautiful, or the funniest, but she had one thing that set her apart:

The princess had an enormous megaphone.

Whenever the king wanted to send out a message, he would tell the princess, "Please tell my subjects this for me." And the princess would bring out her enormous megaphone and shout the message to all the subjects in the kingdom.

Sometimes the message was one the subjects wanted to hear.

"The weather, yea, it is stormy and the seers and prophets doth prognosticate great snowiness all around," she might shout through her megaphone. "The king proclaims a SNOW DAY for all the subjects of the kingdom and doth verily tell them to stay home and drink hot chocolate and watch endless episodes of Revenge on Netflix."

And the subjects would cry loud HUZZAH!s and praise the princess heartily and offer to bring her a new tiara and proclaim their love for the princess.

But sometimes the message was bleak.

"Another snow day?" the king might declare. "I think not. For lo and verily, these subjects have been without purpose and direction for days and days and idle hands are the devil's workshop. Also, what is it with these people who are PAYING for this education and careth not that they are not getting that for which they have paid?"

So the princess hoisted once again her enormous megaphone and shouted, "The sun is shining! The birds are singing! Back to class! Back to work!"

And those same subjects who had so loudly called HUZZAH! were now grumbling that the princess was full of cattle dung and give-me-back-that-tiara-because-I-hate-you.

"But subjects!" she cried sadly. "I am the same princess! I only have the megaphone! It is the KING who makes the proclamations. Wherefore the love? Huh? Answer me that?"

But the subjects turned their backs and refused to look at the princess, for even though she was only the messenger, she now appeared to be Brussels sprouts--full of vitamins and quite a pretty color, but not so good-tasting, so that even though they are good for us we hate them.

The moral of the story is this: You don't have to give back that tiara because it was a gift and you are pretty. Now put away the megaphone and get back to work.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Public Service Announcement

Quick! Small Town peeps, you have about four seconds to get out and vote before it starts snowing again and (assuming, as we always do, that the weather guys' hysteria is warranted) socks you into your house with the eight gallons of milk and twelve loaves of bread you compulsively threw into your cart while you were at the grocery store with EVERY OTHER PERSON in Small Town yesterday.

I, myself, was smugly sipping my coffee this morning, having made everyone at Small College deliriously happy last night by calling off school today. (Well, I didn't call it off, but I passed along that message from the folks who have the real power to do that.) That's when Husband said, "You know, there aren't any provisions in the law for making up an election that has been cancelled due to weather."


That put an end to the leisurely cup of coffee, both because I think it's my patriotic duty to vote and because I have some opinions on who could really run this town well (Hi, B!). In 15 minutes I had gotten to the courthouse, spelled my last name for the nice gals who haven't been paroled by the snow yet, and cast my vote.

You can still do your patriotic duty. The snow is just starting, and the nice gals don't care if you're wearing your grubby clothes and painting shoes. Or maybe they were just making an exception for me.

In any case, go vote. The soup, cinnamon rolls, and catching up on Storage Wars can wait. Also, you can figure out what to do with eight gallons of milk and twelve loaves of bread while you drive.

Friday, February 22, 2013

This One's For My Dad

My dad couldn't make it to Boy#3's concert Tuesday night. He had a commitment at home, and at age 86, it was probably just as well that he didn't try to drive three hours through Winter Storm Q to see his grandson in Three's final concert of student teaching.

I thought about Dad often during the evening, though. I remembered how Three began begging for trombone lessons after watching his grandfather play that enigmatic, shiny, difficult instrument. Somewhere I have a picture of the two of them sitting side by side, playing duets when Boy#3 was in fourth grade or so.

I thought of how Dad loves Sousa marches and how he organizes the annual homecoming band that sits on a flatbed truck and plays these marches during the Memorial Day parade.

And even though Three says Sousa marches aren't really difficult to conduct, I knew my father would have loved to see him conducting the Washington Post March and was sorry to miss this.

So this is for you, Dad. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Do a Snow Day

Oh, hello there! I know, it's late in the afternoon, but I wanted to let you all know that we are having a SNOW DAY! Yes, Mother Nature as dropped enough solid precipitation on Small Town that last night I became the most popular person at Small College by sending out the message telling everyone to stay home today. (Except for the people who really make the college run--I'm so, so sorry, plant operations guys and cafeteria workers.)

Anyway, I believe I have finally perfected the snow day in this, my declining middle age. As a public service I am sharing this how-to guide.

1. As a child, choose your profession carefully. Do not be a postal carrier, because an hour ago our mail was distributed, on time, in the mailbox on our porch and it did not get there magically. Also, do not work in the news business because you will have to stand out in the snow reporting how cold and wet it is as if we could not look out our windows and divine that fact.

Hearty Beef Barley Vegetable Soup from
2. The day before the snow day, throw the ingredients for a lovely soup into the slow cooker. This recipe will make enough food for the next several days. Also, the house will smell luscious.

3. Go to bed and sleep until the clock says this. No, not the first time the clock says this, the second time the clock says this. Really! When Husband comes in to make sure you're still breathing and asks how in the world someone can sleep for TWELVE HOURS, explain that you only need (a) crawl between the sheets of the Best Bed Ever, (b) close your eyes, and (c) repeat step b as necessary.

4. Hahaha! Just seeing if you're paying attention. DO NOT DO THIS. The look of exhaustion, the snow on the coat, the frosted-over glasses. This can happen if you go outside, so stay indoors. Then you will look exactly like my body double, Alejandra, shown at the top of this post. Well, you won't have the same style or color of hair, and the come-hither expression will be missing, and that ridiculously impractical white couch will not be yours, but the chenille robe? Exactly the same. Except that yours is yellow.

America's Test Kitchen Cinnamon Rolls

5. Finally, try out one of the 593 recipes you have pinned on Pinterest during the past year. Because you have slept until 11 a.m., you have SKIPPED A MEAL so make it any old high-calorie thing you like. Plus, everyone knows cold weather burns more calories so you need to keep up your strength.

6. Do not, under any circumstances, have any children in the house because at that point your every moment will be consumed by trying to keep these snow-day-spoilers warm/cool/dry/fed/occupied/quiet/from fighting. Also, without this step, none of the other steps are possible. 

Voila. Perfect snow day. Now if you will excuse me, I believe I have a nap to take.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Forgetting Our Roots

We're bundling up around here and buying extra milk and bread and making sure Our Dog Pepper's heat lamp hasn't burned out and checking the code words for school closings and...

Oh, who am I trying to kid? We are doing NOTHING to prepare for Winter Storm Q*, which the weather guys are frantically warning us IS COMING. Soon! With winter in it!

This winter has been so mild that we Kansans have gotten complacent. Winter, shminter, we're saying. Why, those pansies on the East Coast who just got 14 feet of snow just don't know how us pioneers deal with the elements.

We're saying that today because the storm is supposed to hit tomorrow and on the day before the storm it's easy to be all manly and rugged. Tomorrow? We will be whining.

It's cooooold, we will say. I don't waannnna go to work, we will say. Why do they neeeever cancel school around here, we will say. I wanna stay hoooooome, we will say.

Or maybe that's just me.

I think I'd better stop by the store before I go home. Sigh.

*Also, why are the coastal storms sexily named Nemo, and Snowpocalypse, and Snowmageddon, and the Midwest storms named the oh-so-descriptive Q? Hrmph.

Edited to add: Well, huh. Maybe Q is descriptive? Thanks for the heads-up, Alert Reader.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Here Comes the Judge

I can tell you exactly what's wrong with our nation today: No child ever gets the impression that he or she is not a WINNER IN EVERY WAY. We don't want to hurt the tender feelings of our tenderest ones by suggesting that maybe that other kid is better at this specific activity than you are, My Precious. Not only is no child left behind, every child is told that in all probability HE IS LEADING THE PACK! Wooooo!  

Kids today are the victims of affirmation inflation. Their grades are higher (although standardized test scores are not), their walls are filled with ribbons, they walk away from competitions they did not win believing that they would have taken the first place trophy if they had not been the victims of moron judges.

I know these things largely because I have been watching them happen for the past 26 years. Hey, my Boys are smart and cute as bugs' ears, but even my proud mother's heart cannot fool my thinking woman's brain into considering them top athletes. And still we have ribbons and trophies from their soccer and baseball days.

That's why, when I was asked to judge piano players at the county-wide 4-H competition Saturday I was determined to set the youth of our nation on a better road. I would be firm but fair, and I would cull out the ones who had no talent or work ethic. I would only give top ratings to the absolutely top performers.

Or at least that's what I thought until I sat behind the judge's table and looked into the performers' eyes.

There was the first pianist, who played a lovely Brahms Ballade and there was the adorable seven-year-old with the rhinestone belt so new to taking piano lessons that her music didn't even have ledger lines, just notes with finger numbers on them. Between those extremes were another dozen who had sucked up their courage and sat down in front of a judge (me) to play.

Want to know exactly how hard I was on these kids? I gave exactly one red ribbon, and that was to the kid who admitted loudly that he hated this piece and hadn't really practiced. Everyone else got blue ribbons, and here's why:

I was that middle-of-the-road kid myself 50 years ago. I was not Much Older Sister, who was a dazzling piano player from the time she took her first lesson and at age eight was chosen to play for a high school end-of-school reception. She took the top blue award every single year she entered the contast. By contrast, I plugged away and could play hymns pretty well. I never once received the top blue ribbon at 4-H day.

And yet...  

I was an okay player, and I kept practicing, and I kept showing up, and I kept getting blue ribbons for non-excellent participation year after year, and today playing the piano is one of the joys of my life. If I had gotten a red ribbon, even one time, that probably would not be the case.

So Saturday, when I judged these fledgling players, I told each one of them to keep playing. "Some day, you're going to be so glad you did," I told them. Then I gave them blue ribbons to cement the pledge.

I am a bad judge, and the nation probably suffers from my kind, but I am not sorry.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Ones I Didn't Marry

It's Valentine's Day today, and the world is awash in proclamations of love. Love, love, love, everywhere love.

This naturally has set me to thinking about the men I didn't marry. There weren't many of them but I was pretty sure I had found true love in each of them.

There was Jimmy from third grade, who was smart and had a crooked front tooth and gave me an enormous valentine IN AN ENVELOPE. Also, his mother's first name and my middle name were the same, so I was sure it was fate that we should marry but this apparently is not enough to carry love through to middle school and I lost track of him after his family moved away during the summer between third and fourth grades.

There was the guy in high school who unfortunately didn't know that I was alive, so it's probably just as well that we are not married today because that kind of love would make for a very lonely existence.

There was the Costa Rican janitor who wasn't very smart, but oh, my, could he dance. Again, probably just as well we aren't married because skills on the dance floor don't translate very well to providing for a family unless you're Fred Astaire, and he was not.

There was the guy who asked me out after I got home from the Peace Corps, when I was beginning to think maybe Jimmy had been The One and I had let him get away too soon. But when he bought me a stuffed animal as a birthday gift (for my 27th birthday? Really?), my mother famously said "Sometimes alone is better" and I was so relieved I almost cried.

Instead, I married a guy who doesn't like to dance, who sends me flowers on random days of the year but probably not today, and who is the only person in the world who actually likes elevator music. He also knows I think bowling is torture and that cleaning off my snow-bound car is better than a box of chocolates. I feel safe when he is driving, which is a feeling that is so, so much better than dancing with Fred Astaire. After 30 Valentine's Days together, he's still the most romantic guy I know.

Husband, you were so, so worth waiting for. I'm glad I married you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Messing With the Internet's Mind

Image borrowed from
My new status as mother of the groom is messing with the internet's mind.

Last week when I googled "beaded vintage silk jacket" it had no idea how to react, given my history of searches for sensible shoes, no-iron shirts, and nutritious soups.

What? You really thought I was going to follow the universal rules for mothers of the groom by wearing beige and keeping my mouth shut? Ha! Obviously you don't know me any better than the internet does.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happy Birthday, Middle Child!

Dear Boy#2,

Happy birthday!

Exactly a quarter century ago, at this very moment--well, we won't go into what was going on at this very moment because I'm sure it involved lots of personal exposure that I have blocked from my memory and do not care to share with the internet. But worth it! Because a few hours later we met the result of that exposure,  a compact little bundle of joy who would grow up to be almost 6'4" of joy.

We were so, so, so happy to have you here! Your father was so happy that he apparently wore a tie to your birth. (He just walked past as I was writing this and asked who was in this picture, and when I told him it was his handsome younger self, he said "What was I doing wearing a tie?" The mysteries of the universe get more mysterious as we get older.)

Anyway, we are thinking of you on this, your special day. You would not know that, of course, because we are TERRIBLE PARENTS. That birthday cake you don't have? The card that wasn't sent? The present that wasn't lovingly wrapped in balloon paper and mailed? Yes. Terrible parents.

But we've been thinking of you. Not as much as this woman, of course, who put this party together for a child who ISN'T EVEN BORN YET. Little Aubree Mae is just a few weeks past her parents idly mentioning "Hey, what do you think about having kids?", and still her party was better than all your parties have ever been, added together and squared.

(Rabbit trail: Among the many things I'm glad hadn't been invented yet during my pregnancies: Gender reveal parties, which would have been awkward for us since we didn't know the gender of any of you Boys until Dr. B announced it when you were born. Also form-fitting maternity clothes, because, ewwwww.)

Anyway, our lack of hooplah over your 25th birthday is diametrically opposite to how happy we are that you're our kid--the antipodal point, you math guys might say. Or you might not because I may be using the term wrong, but you've always been patient with my utter lack of mathematical knowledge despite your amazing abilities in that area.

In spite of your parents, you're the best Boy#2 ever.

The Worst Parents Ever

Friday, February 8, 2013

Wake Me Up When...No, On Second Thought, Don't

This! This is how I feel about my Friday, except that I have an even better reason for being excited than Madeline does at the prospect of the train rolling down the tracks: In two short hours, a couple of burly gentlemen from the furniture store are going to deliver our new bed!


I may have mentioned that our old mattress, the one we bought a year after we got married (to replace the one Husband's mother bought for him, at a garage sale, when he was a teenager. Oh, we don't rush into these things) might not make it a full 30 years, given that I've taken to getting up every morning and whining about how poorly I slept. It has become Prairie Home Companion's Deep Valley Bed, the one in which couples may go to bed mad but they can't stay mad because the bed keeps rolling them toward the middle. (The PHC version is much funnier than that, but unfortunately those Lake Woebegone folks apparently are dynamite at protecting their content, because the lyrics are NOWHERE ON THE INTERNET and I'm going strictly off memory here.)

Anyway, we've been saving the egg money for quite some time, and now we're buying a mattress. And since we don't plan to buy another one before we toddle off to Friendly Acres and the retirement village-issued sleeping conditions, this has been a monumental decision. What size? What firmness?

What material, for crying out loud? Remember the good old days when mattresses were either...well, there was no either. There just was a mattress or not a mattress. (Waterbeds, obviously, were the second option.) Now you have pillowtops, and foam, and cool foam, and about eleventy-seven choices and NONE of them can be compared as apples to apples or oranges to oranges. It's all grapes to kumquats and pomegranates to tamarinds.

Again anyway, we finally have posed unnaturally on our backs on every single mattress in the Small Town stock of mattresses and have made a decision. Our decision will be delivered at 1 p.m. today. Right now our bedroom looks approximately like this:

At 1 p.m. it will look like this:

Or more accurately, like this:
Why, yes, it did take some intense pouting to convince Husband that a king-sized mattress would fit into our rather small bedroom. How could you tell?

I don't even care. Tonight I will sleep well.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Long, Long Way From Home

My mother with her daughters and daughter-in-law
Dear friend,

When I hugged you in church I didn't expect you to say anything. You were wiping your eyes, and I knew exactly what was going through your mind. You were thinking "What's WRONG with me? She was 97 years old, and so ready for this. I know I'll see her again some day. She's not in pain any more, she's in the presence of God. Why can't I stop crying?"

I was thinking the exact same thing when my mother died more than three years ago. Everyone goes through grief and loss a little differently, but this is what I've learned since then:

You don't stop missing her. Not a day goes by that I don't think of Mom and wish I could tell her what a Boy has done, or ask her how to fix chocolate that has separated, or share with her something I read. You don't stop missing her, but...

She's not gone. I don't believe in ghosts, but I believe in souls and in memories and you cannot love someone so completely without having some of them imprinted on your own soul. You will find that when you're wondering how your mom would deal with a situation, you will KNOW, and you'll act accordingly.

You'll remember her at her best. In my mind, my mother is eternally hovering between 40 and 60, the ages I knew her as an adult and as the wisest, kindest, funniest, smartest person I would ever know. The woman who could, given ten minutes and the right size screwdriver, fix anything or anybody. Her later years, when she was increasingly confused and immobile, were not her essence and you'll remember her essence.

You'll never stop crying, but you won't cry so often or so publicly. Carry tissues for at least a year because you'll find yourself overcome in the strangest places and for the oddest reasons. Then you'll laugh because you know your mother would have thought that was funny.

Don't feel guilty when your brain tells you it was the right time for her to die and don't be embarrassed when your heart cries that it misses her terribly. There's nothing wrong with talking to her, and taking comfort in "hearing" her response.

You are not a motherless child. You are imprinted with her love.

Praying for your comfort, my friend,

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I Love Words, Just Not These Words

I still remember the conversation, and it's been at least 30 years ago. My boss on the weekly newspaper was editing an obituary and she looked over at me, her cub reporter.

"I only need one thing on my tombstone," she said. "It needs to say 'She Loved Words.'"

What a wonderful epitaph. I love words, too. I love the sentiments they convey, I love the feeling in my mouth when I say "palomino," or "hot diggity," or "onomatopoeia." I love that I can get a thousand of them for only one picture, which is a most amazing exchange rate.

For the same reason I love them, though, I can develop an aversion to words. Sometimes it's because they sound stupid (flunk, blubber, fatuous) but more often it's because they're used stupidly.

Right now, the words that are making me roll my eyes are the ones that obviously were chosen to make the speaker sound klassy-with-a-'k'--the words that are favorites of the same kind of people who came up with the unbearably awful Bravely Onward advertising campaign for a local bank. (No, I'm not linking to them. They equate internet clicks with admiration, and your click will only reward them for this execrable idea.)

Strive. Reside. Endeavor.

Please, don't strive. Just try. Don't reside, live someplace. And don't endeavor, just try, try, again.

Those of us who love words will thank you.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wuv. Twu Wuv.

Husband and I were blinking back tears when a little boy we know got married last Saturday.

Well, I suppose he isn't a little boy, seeing as how he's been a friend of Boy#3 since they were in the church nursery, and Boy#3 has been a legal adult for several years. But as we watched that little boy and his bride vow to love each other as long as they live, it must have been kind of dusty in the church because I seemed to have had something in my eye.

And since one of our own little boys is going to star in a similar ceremony soon (squeeeeee!) I was taking notes on wedding ideas that could be stolen for Boy#1 and Lovely Girl's big day.

"It was beautiful, but I don't think there's a single idea that you would want to use," I later e-mailed LG. She replied in alarm: "Are we that high-maintenance?"

No. They are not. It's just that the beautiful wedding we attended on Saturday was beautiful for THAT COUPLE. They had a photo booth where guests posed with wacky props in front of letters that spelled out wuv, twu wuv; the minister told funny stories about A and B's childhoods; the vows were written by the couple; and the ceremony was punctuated by the shrieks of babies not old enough to understand the gravity of the moment. It was joyful (and sometimes noisy), and it makes me smile to remember it.

However, when Husband and I were married, we chose to use the traditional wedding vows, and we hired a babysitter for the youngest children. We chose solemnity, and it makes me smile to remember it.

I thought of that again the next day when Husband mentioned that the inventor of the Etch-a-Sketch had died. My response was as knee-jerk as a sneeze.

"Oh, did someone rub him out?" I said. "I bet everyone is really shook up."

And Husband, bless him, laughed. Many husbands would not have laughed, but because he knows I will go for the pun every single time I can, he humors me in this.

So it is with weddings. This is the first public declaration that a couple has that they agree on what is right FOR THEM, whether that is neon green ties or morning coats. Both the groom and the bride are saying to all involved, "We're going to agree, or to work our disagreements, because we love each other and are committing to what is right for US."

That's the meaning of wuv. Twu wuv.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Does Anybody Really Care?

This is borrowed from Pinterest and I would give credit to the originator but it has been pinned so many times its origins are lost. Thank you, whomever you are!

Sunday is the Super Bowl. Rah?

I cannot find words for how uninspired the thought of this event leaves me. Is there anyone in the world not named Harbaugh who is honestly excited by this football game? I'm not talking about the buffalo wings or the hummus and pita chips, I'm talking about the game.

Anyone at all?

If you do fall into that elite circle of excitement, please be aware that some of us (for whom football is mostly a diversion between the pre-game band and the halftime show) might be continuing our Sunday afternoon nap ritual uninterrupted. Phone calls during this time are the opposite of appreciated.

Unless you have leftover hummus and pita chips, and then I'm your girl.