Monthly Archives: August 2013

Riding on the Sandwich Train

My husband took this picture. It looks as good as any postcard I've ever seen. I'm impressed.

My husband took this picture. It looks as good as any postcard I’ve ever seen. I’m impressed.

We bought the train tickets for my father-in-law. No, more accurately, my husband and I were watching America’s Historic Railroads on PBS during a pledge drive. When they announced that supporters who pledged at a certain level would receive free train tickets– four tickets for the Scenic West Virginia Railway and four tickets for the Scenic Western Maryland Railroad–we agreed: We would donate to PBS and then give the tickets to my father-in-law on Father’s Day.

That was in February 2012. Months lapsed before PBS mailed their donor gifts. In the meantime, our lives took a tragic turn and then became complicated. My mother-in-law fell in March suffering that now infamous head injury. My father-in-law’s health failed while she was still in the hospital. He died on July 6.

The train tickets arrived a week after his funeral. I cried when I opened the envelope.

Dad loved a good road-trip. In fact, for Christmas, we had given him a field-guide to Civil War Battlefields and the promise that we would go to Gettysburg together. After he was gone, I found the field-guide while cleaning out his car. I cried then, too. I always feel a little sad for those memories we didn’t make.

So, we had these tickets. I wanted to go even without my father-in-law. In my mind, I made it a tribute trip to him. We would go and we would remember how much he loved these little outings. But when? Fortunately, each set of tickets came with an expiration date for the following year, and at the time, June 2013 and September 2013 felt like the very distant future.

Time, however, can move faster than the speed of light. Or so it seems. In May of this year, I realized that we would not be able to use the tickets for the West Virginia train before they expired in June. So, I gave them to friends.  And I became doubly committed to using the other set of tickets before they expired in September.

I told my husband that I wanted us to take this trip without his mother. It felt selfish but only for a moment. Almost every weekend, we take her somewhere with us—usually to a festival or an event of some sort and she seems to tolerate it, but it’s not really fun for me. I want to be with my husband and when we take the children and his mother anywhere, our attention is divided. One of us is always with the children and the other is with my mother-in-law. Sometimes, it feels like we are at two separate events.

So, I made arrangements for Deborah to stay with my mother-in-law all day on August 30, and we—my guy, our two adorable children and I—headed up to Cumberland to take the historic Scenic Western Maryland Railroad to Frostburg. Hooray!

As we stood on the platform waiting for the boarding call, I noticed that it was a virtual Sandwich Generation Fest and several families resembled ours. Why? Because while everyone likes trains, old people and small children—particularly old men and small boys—love them. So, the families waiting to board all consisted of young children—under seven, older grandparents—over 70, and 40-something parents/children who had probably bought the tickets and arranged for a multi-generational adventure.

I saw no one in the same shape as my mother-in-law, but I wasn’t surprised. Not only is it difficult to do a day-long excursion with someone in her condition, the railroad’s website was very clear—because the depots and trains are all very old, the handicapped facilities are somewhat  limited and passengers with special needs should call ahead to make special arrangements. In other words, this ride is not for everyone.

When we boarded the train, we ended up sitting across from another sandwich family—a 40-something couple, their 3-year-old daughter, and her parents who looked to be in their late 70s. Despite being slender people, each of the adults occupied two seats so that the little girl could gleefully bounce from a parent to a grandparent comfortably. She, the child, looked out the window excitedly—just as my own children did. And she quietly recited old fashioned nursery rhymes—the kind I had learned as a child, but have neglected to teach my own children. She snuggled with each of her grandparents before falling asleep in her grandfather’s lap.

Of the adults, the mother was the only one who spoke. She nervously barked orders at the other adults in a shrill voice and with an accent that northerners call “southern” and southerners call “country.” She never seemed to interact with the child, but hovered over her through the other adults. “Daddy, if she gets to be too much for you, you send her back here to me, ya hear?” and “Mama, is she hungry? If she’s hungry, you just let me know. I’ve got snacks in my bag, ya hear?” and “Honey, don’t you let her crawl on the floor now! She’ll be filthy before we even leave the station. Pick her up. Pick her up, now, ya hear?”

By contrast, I was feeling pretty mellow. I wasn’t barking at anyone–for a change. My children were louder and wilder than the little nursery-rhyme girl. My husband bought them candy at the snack bar and I didn’t care. I just let them ruin their appetites, get dirty, and go into the open car even after the woman with the shrill voice had yelled at her husband, “Don’t you take her back there! It’s filthy and dangerous, ya hear?”

She looked like she might have a heart attack before the journey was over. Her face was red and I assumed her heart was pounding and her blood pressure rising. I, however, felt so very relaxed and smiley.  I smiled at her. I even tried to talk with her when she returned from the ladies’ room with the little girl and announced, “Y’all, she didn’t need to go. She just wanted to see what it looked like. My goodness!”

I said, “Oh, I’ve been there. Mine act like they’ve never seen a toilet when we go somewhere new.”

She gave me a disapproving look, but didn’t comment. I guess she didn’t appreciate the smiling woman with the dirty, wild children butting into her conversation. So much for that stereotype that all southerners are friendly because apparently some of us aren’t! And so much for my belief that she and I might have something to talk about.

I continued to smile, and I reminded myself that when I travel with more than one generation, I’m more uptight, too. Had my mother-in-law or even my mother been with us, I might have been less relaxed, more wound. That’s just the way it is when you are the peanut butter in that family sandwich. So, I silently said a little prayer for her—and for me—that we would have the patience, grace, faith, strength, whatever it is going to take to get us through the days ahead.

I also couldn’t help but notice that she was taking a lot of pictures of her daughter as she slept on the old man’s lap. His skinny, wrinkled arms were wrapped tightly around the chubby little girl’s body as her sweet little head rested against his chest, probably listening to his heartbeat. “Hold onto this moment,” I wanted to tell all of them. “This might be it. This might be Grandpa’s last family trip. Things change so quickly.”  But I suspect the shrill-voiced woman already knew that and that is why she was taking all those pictures. That’s probably why she bought tickets and planned this trip for her family in the first place.

When we got home, I realized that I really didn’t think about my father-in-law on this trip as much as I thought I would. I was too busy enjoying my time with my husband and our children. Even when I was watching other families and thinking about how they were like and unlike our own, I didn’t feel sad. I felt grateful that my father-in-law had always been up for a road trip and available for making memories. He’d want those happy times to go on without him.

I think I will pull out that field guide of his and start planning to trip to Gettysburg—not for Dad, but the rest of us.


A Day in Hawaii

Here's a picture of the sand castle we built. Can you tell which towers started out as "sand boobies?" No? That's called "adaptive reuse."

Here’s a picture of the sand castle we built. Can you tell which towers started out as “sand boobies?” No? That’s called “adaptive reuse.”

The Beach. It was the one thing my daughter said she really, really, really wanted to do this summer and I couldn’t seem to make it happen. Logistically and financially, an over-night trip was impossible this summer, but because we live only two hours away from the ocean, I thought that at some point, we could do a day-trip. You know, pack the car the night before, leave early, spend the day at the beach, and return in the late afternoon or early evening–tired, sun-kissed, and satisfied with a happy summer memory? Certainly, that sounded do-able in June.

But we never got around to it. We were busy with other things—like getting my mother-in-law’s house cleaned out and ready to rent. And because we only have granny-care three days a week and then for only five hours per day, we can’t just decide to go to the beach the night before. It would take some planning and preparation. I would have to ask Deborah, our care-giver to adjust her other work schedule so that she could stay at our house longer. I would need to ask her at least two weeks in advance so that she could work out the details with her other job.

Now, we were running out of summer—school was starting the very next day—and I decided to “make do.” Okay, we couldn’t go to the ocean because that was just too far away, but we could go to the Bay. As the crow flies, we live about two miles from the Chesapeake Bay and at various points along the Western Shore of Maryland, there is beach with limited public access. The sand gravelly when compared to sand at the ocean, and while the water is choppy, there are no real waves. The water is brackish, and I can see land on the other side, but other than that, it is just like the ocean. Eye-roll. That was what I told myself as I loaded the kids, their shovels and buckets, towels, sunscreen, and snacks into the car.

“Making do” with the Bay is better than no beach at all. I told myself this, too.

I also reasoned that by calling the Bay beach the “fake beach” and the ocean beach the “real beach,” I was being unjustly persnickety, but not without a valid reason. I grew up close to the ocean. During my childhood, I saw the ocean at least weekly, and once I was a teenager, I saw it almost daily in the summer. When it comes to time at the beach—the real beach, not just on the shore of a very large estuary–the bar is set pretty high by my own childhood. And that beach experience is the one I wanted for my children but couldn’t deliver this summer.

I’m thankful I had the common sense to keep these thoughts to myself. I refused to share my sense of disappointment with my children. I put on a happy face, and said, “Let’s go to the beach!” “Hooray!” they cried. “You are the best mom EVER!”

And oh, the fun they had at the fake beach! My son packed sand into his bucket and created two mounds side-by-side. “Look, Mom! I made sand boobies ‘cuz I like boobies!” When his sister gave him a scolding look, he smiled, shrugged, and said, “What? I like boobies.” He’s three, not thirteen.

My daughter made a huge sand hotel as I helped my son transform his sand breasts into a series of towers connected by a wall and topped with feathers and shells. Then, my children became dinosaurs and stomped their own creations.

We swam—briefly. Jellyfish. Thankfully, we escaped the murky Bay water without being stung, and while my son sat on a towel eating gritty yogurt-covered raisins, my daughter gathered seagull feathers to tuck into her bathingsuit. She would later do the same to her brother, and together, they would imitate the seagulls and try to be assimilated into their flock. I filmed it from a distance. How creative and resourceful my children are! I never thought of doing that when I was a child, and as an adult, I just don’t have that kind of imagination–or ambition!

By the time we left the beach, they were exhausted—and happy. When I glanced into the rearview mirror, I saw they were napping in their car-seats, bodies limp and mouths open. No doubt they were dreaming about sun and sand and seagulls.

It’s so easy for me to look at my life right now and see one big compromise after another and even feel a little resentful. I left my job—no, my CAREER—to be a stay-at-home-mom because I wanted my children to have adventures. I wanted to be the mother who takes her kids to the beach, to amusement parks, to movies, to plays, on nature hikes, to the library, to the museum, to the aquarium, on vacations, on picnics, to the pool…I wanted every day to be an adventure, especially in the summer.

I did not leave my career so that I could stay home making soup for their grandmother or feeding her and changing her. I did not plan to spend the past year cleaning out her house. I did not intend to spend my children’s childhood “making do” because we are always working around granny-care.

I recognize, however, that compromise is a part of life. It’s a big part of life for the sandwich generation. Sometimes, we settle for second best—we can’t always have the ocean and so we go to the Bay—and if we relax our expectations and just appreciate what we do have and what we can do—despite all the crazy demands placed on us by ourselves and by others, life is good. Damn good.

That night as I tucked my son into bed, he hugged me, and said, “Thank you for taking me to Hawaii.” He and his sister have recently become obsessed with going to Hawaii. Whenever anyone mentions vacation, they are certain that it means a trip to Hawaii. I can’t explain it. They have never been to Hawaii. I’ve never been to Hawaii.

“Hawaii?” I asked.

“Yes, when we went to the beach, I was in Hawaii.”

Oh, God bless him! I take him the Bay and secretly lament not taking him to the ocean while his imagination takes him to an island paradise. For him, life is more than damn good. It’s a day in Hawaii.


No Worries

I want this mug. If things turn around for us financially, I'll use it to drink coffee. If they don't, I can use it in my new career as a panhandler.  It's a win-win.

I want this mug. If things turn around for us financially, I’ll use it to drink coffee. If they don’t, I can use it in my new career as a panhandler. It’s a win-win.

When I was working at the domestic violence shelter, the staff break-room doubled as the crisis call center. This room was occupied 24-hours a day—by volunteers in the daytime and by a staff person at night. It was furnished with a daybed with a yellow floral print comforter, matching pillows, and dust ruffle because no one expected the overnight staff to just stay awake staring at the phone. It also had a refrigerator and microwave where staff could keep and heat their meals separate from the shelter’s kitchen, two desks—each with a phone and a binder for recording the details of crisis calls, and a cabinet filled with various supplies so that the night-time staff person could dispense emergency tooth paste and towels as needed.

The only décor I remember—besides the yellow floral bed-set and coordinating curtains—was a Far Side poster of a plain, gray building on fire and going over a waterfall. The sign on top of the building read, “Crisis Clinic.” Gary Larson, the Far Side genius, must have worked in the emergency services industry at some point because that cartoon captured what it was like to deal with the life-or-death, constant-crisis environment of shelter life. I believe every organization with a hot line must have had that poster in their call center.

Lately, I have been feeling like someone set fire to my life as it tumbles over a waterfall. Here’s just the latest example:

On Friday, I discovered that some of our car’s electrical gizmos had stopped working. The key set off the car alarm and the automatic windows and trunk release weren’t working. As I sat in the car quietly pondering this situation, I heard rustling. Aha! I knew what was causing this problem because it happened to me years ago—different car, different state, a lifetime ago: Rodent infestation. I was certain that some critter had gotten under the hood of the car and eaten the wires.

I called my mechanic. I told him what was going on with the car and what I suspected. He said, “You are probably right. It’s more common than you know. The bad news is that electrical repairs on a Mercedes are going to cost a small fortune. The good news is that your insurance will cover it.”

“My insurance? Really?” Oh, sing Hallelujah!

“Oh, yeah. If not your auto, your homeowners.”

Okay, this is the best news I have had in weeks: the expensive repair will be paid for by the insurance company. I did a happy-dance as I called my husband at work.

He, too, was relieved. You see, we are in a bit of a cash-crunch. Getting my mother-in-law’s house ready to rent has been more expensive than we had anticipated. Keeping her here with us has been more expensive, too—our electric bill last month was 44% higher than it was a year ago. One of our rental properties is vacant and the former occupant is suing us. Another one is about to be vacant. Oh, and that property had a sink-hole issue earlier this year. Fun, fun. We are tapped out. No way can we afford a car repair. That the insurance would cover it had my guy doing a happy dance, too.

Today, however, we learned that NO, our insurance won’t cover it. Motor vehicles are exempt from our homeowner’s policy and our auto insurance is collision only. So, we either find a way to pay for it or we just continue driving the car as is—windows stuck in an up-position (which is better than having them stuck in a down-position provided that the air conditioning still works).

“AAAAAGHHHH!” That’s the sound of me with my hair on fire going over a waterfall. What? There are hungry sharks at the bottom of the waterfall? “AAAAAAAAGGGHHHHHHHH!”

But here’s the thing: I am NOT worried. I don’t worry. Period. I don’t buy into this silly lie that people are always spreading—”It’s only natural to worry. Of course, you are worried. You would be a fool not to worry. Worry is a part of life. Everyone worries…blah, blah, blah.”

When I was a child, my aunt told me that “to worry is to slap God in the face.” I believe that. So, you are faced with the uncertainties that life brings? You have a choice: You can pray about it or you can sit there wringing your hands and getting ulcers. It’s your choice. I choose the former.

And even if you aren’t a particularly religious person, you can view the nonsense of worry from a more pragmatic point-of-view: Has worrying about anything ever helped the situation? Prevented something bad from happening? No. A more proactive approach is to ask yourself, “Can I do anything about this situation?” If the answer is yes, do it—NOW! If the answer is no, then, it is completely out of your control. You need to just let it go.

As a pragmatic Believer, I do both. I pray and I ask myself if I can do anything else to impact the outcome, improve my lot or that of others. And if I’m not sure if there is anything I can do, I pray about that, too.

Worry is not my demon. I’ve never experienced hopelessness either.

I do, however, get very angry and impatient. Those are my demons. I know it. They are every bit as mean and nasty as worry.

I combat my demons with prayer and humor. God knows, if I couldn’t laugh, I might start crying and never, ever stop. I’d let the sharks at the bottom of the waterfall chomp me to bits if I couldn’t knock them out with a good belly-laugh.

So, I envision myself trapped in a Far Side cartoon—and I sing that Hee Haw song. “Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep down depression. Excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, despair, agony on me.”

Eventually, I do stop laughing and start counting my blessings. That’s where I am today.

Welcome to Geezerville. Enjoy Your Stay.

Oh, God! Now, I'm frightened. I did a google-search for pictures of baby-boomers and this was the first picture to come up. Please, someone tell me this is a picture of PARENTS of Boomers and not of Boomers.

Oh, God! Now, I’m frightened. I did a google-search for pictures of baby-boomers and this was the first picture to come up. Please, someone tell me this is a picture of PARENTS of Boomers and not of Boomers.

I’ve told you my house is a pigsty. And I’ve shared that I am slightly over-weight. What’s next? My age?

I’m 46. I will be 47 in January.

And as I write this, I am very aware that my age has everything to do with my sandwich-situation. If I were just a few years older, I probably couldn’t have pre-school-aged children. If I were any younger, it would be a little weird to have a mother-in-law in her eighties, unless I married a real geezer. This—MY life as it is—could only happen to someone who is 46—give or take a year or two.

No wonder I don’t know very many people in MY situation. I honestly don’t know that many people my age. I’m demographically between booms. The Baby-Boomers are a little older, and while I am technically a Gen Xer, I’m one of the old X-ers. I remember the 70s because I’m old enough to remember them and young enough to have never done reality-altering, memory-erasing drugs.

There just aren’t as many of us, and for the most part, that has worked to my advantage. For starters, it wasn’t very hard for me or anyone in the Class of ’85 to get into college. The last of the Boomers had just graduated and universities were pretty desperate for students. Did they even bother to look at SAT scores or read those entrance essays?

The biggest advantage for me, however, is that Boomers slowed aging. They extended adolescence to thirty, and being younger than they are, I’ve spent my adulthood believing that I would never grow old. In fact, I think I am 18 until I walk past a mirror.

This morning, however, I came to a painful realization. I may be peri-menopausal. Deep sigh. My sleep is erratic because I’m always too hot or too cold. I’m easily agitated. And there’s my weight. I swear I put on ten pounds in the course of one day.

I’m not sure what to do with this realization–except accept it. There really isn’t anything to do, is there? That and just get on with my life. Maybe I should change my diet more—beyond the fasting. I never have PMS except when I am on my high-fat, high-sugar, alcohol and caffeine diet. Seriously, if you eat and drink crap and then complain about cramps and mood swings to me, I will preach diet to you. Please don’t be offended. I am talking from my own experience only. And of course, I should exercise more. That’s just good advice for anyone walking around in a human body, right?

But mostly, I think I am going to cut myself a little bit of slack. Sure, I don’t get PMS unless I’ve been abusing my body with all the wrong foods, and I didn’t experience any of those mood swings that are common during pregnancy. In fact, I lament not taking those opportunities to be bitchy and cry “hormones.” I’ve always believed my body handles hormonal shifts exceptionally well.

With this shift, however, there are a few other factors—oh, I’m never alone, I’m surrounded by people way needier than I am, I feel trapped a lot—yeah, those factors. So, I’m going to cut myself some slack and just keep looking to the future.

Things are about to turn around whether I’m headed towards the Big M or not. My daughter is starting Kindergarten, and I’m optimistic about hiring more help for my mother-in-law within the next few months. I will probably be able to afford childcare for my son one day every other week. A pedicure could be in my future.

Yeah, that’s what I’m telling myself. I’ll get a pedicure and all will be right in my world. Feel free to laugh at me.

(Oh, and since I told you my age, let me tell you about my husband. He’s eight years older than I am. I’ll let you do the math. If you know him and you are just now learning his age, I know you are probably a little freaked out by it. I bet you thought he was ten years younger. He has no gray hair and his eye-sight is still perfect. It’s okay to hate him for a moment. I do.)

To dye or not to dye. That is the question.

When my hair is short enough and blonde enough, I'm told I look just like Michelle Williams. It's closer to the truth to say I look like her older, chubbier, slightly less attractive sister. Either way, I take it as a compliment.

When my hair is short enough and blonde enough, I’m told I look just like Michelle Williams. It’s closer to the truth to say I look like her older, chubbier, slightly less attractive sister. Either way, I take it as a compliment.

Every now and then, I just let myself be consumed with something really trivial and I enjoy being the Queen of the First World “Problem.” So, let me prove to you that I do think of something besides my granny-care woes  and share my thoughts this evening:

It’s about hair. My hair.

I was born blonde. Very blonde. And I remained naturally very blonde up until I became pregnant with my first child at 40. Yes, I realize that everyone’s hair eventually darkens and dulls. I realize that only 2% of the world’s adult population is naturally blonde. And I realize that making it to 40 without ever dying or highlighting my hair is a bit unusual. I had way more good hair years than most women.

But here’s the deal: I got pregnant and my hair grew in taupe. Not quite blonde. Not quite light brown. Not quite gray. Taupe. It’s an unattractive color when it’s on a shoe or an old lady’s purse and it’s even worse when it’s on a head. My head.

So, I dyed it. I went to a store and came out with a box of Loreal Preference. I nervously followed the directions. I was certain that if I didn’t do everything just right, it would be a disaster.

While it wasn’t a disaster like a flood or an earthquake, I thought it looked a little brassy. I really didn’t know what people meant when they described dyed hair as “brassy” until I saw it on my head. My hair was the color of a French horn. No one told me that it looked bad, but no one told me that it looked good either. Mostly, people acted like they didn’t notice that anything had changed.

I let the color grow out/wear out.

I decided that I should have my hair highlighted professionally. I found a stylist I liked and made my hair my thing. Every eight weeks, I had my hair cut and highlighted. When I did this, I spent about $200 per salon visit, and I justified the expense by asking myself, “When do I ever spend money on me? I drive a hand-me-down car. I buy my clothes at the wholesale club. We can afford six salon visits per year.”

The problem was I wasn’t completely happy with the highlighting. I thought it made my hair feel coarse. It seemed to pull out the natural curl. So, I was sacrificing texture for color. Ewww. Not much of a trade-off.

So, I was contemplating ending my standing salon appointment when BAM–the decision was made for me: my laptop died and had to be replaced, both of our cars ended up in the shop with pricey repairs, and it was Christmas! I really didn’t feel I could justify the expense any longer—especially since I wasn’t 100% happy with the result. I cancelled my appointment.

After a couple of months of having hair that just looked really awful, I bought a spray-in “blonde enhancer.” Think of it as a new and improved version of the 1980s’ Sun-In. It worked well. Really, really well. I kept using it and using it thinking that I could take my hair back to the color it was when I was about 18. My use was so enthusiastic, however, that I fried this one spot of hair in the front, and to get it cut out, I had to get a pixie.

No regrets there. The short hair is working for me, but I haven’t done anything to improve the color. I’m back to my natural taupe.

On a good day, I tell myself that it isn’t so bad. It’s environmentally-friendly not to dye my hair, and the color is more of a dish-water blonde than taupe. Yeah, dish-water. That really doesn’t sound any better than taupe, does it?

So, I’m debating—to dye or not to dye.

The truth is when it comes to doing anything with my hair, I am a coward.

Bear with me. It ends well.

This was me in the morning...

This was me in the morning…

Yesterday morning, I was in one God-awful mood. Nothing major had happened. All the stress and pressure and unhappiness I was feeling manifested internally. I was a real bear.

Here’s how it started: I woke.

My house was a mess—it is always a mess and I’m never alone to clean it. As I clean, my children make more mess and my mother-in-law calls me to her and I don’t get a thing done. Ever. Because I am never alone. Seeing this mess always makes me feel tired and a little angry. Even if I could address the mess, the house would stay clean for all of two seconds, so what is the point? I just feel so defeated in this area of my life.

Deborah was coming to care for my mother-in-law for five whole hours. This is a good thing, but it has some drawbacks. Because Deborah is not a housekeeper, I feel like I have to rush around and clean up before she arrives—so there is pressure. Because I only have very limited time in which I can leave the house and I have to make the most of that time, there is pressure. Because I have to leave when Deborah arrives and I have to take the children with me, there is more pressure—where will we go, what will we do? Oh, AND I have no money—that’s always bonus pressure. Most of what we do when we are forced to leave the house has to be free.

Why do I have to leave when Deborah arrives? It’s just awkward if I don’t. It’s like hiring a sitter to watch a newborn and then staying home. What’s the point? That baby isn’t going anywhere. She sleeps all the time. No, when Deborah is in my house caring for my mother-in-law, I feel like I have an audience. Someone is just sitting there watching me cook, clean, and parent.  I don’t like it one bit. I’m grateful Deborah bathes my mother-in-law, changes her sheets, does her laundry, and feeds her, but the downside of having her here is pretty, um,  down.  I have to leave.

Having to leave leads me to feel like I have no ownership over my own home. I don’t live there. I stay there. I have no authority. It is a very disempowering feeling. I feel reduced to childhood. Yep, that’s what it is for me—like being a child since I have so little say about where and how we live. I hated being a kid. HATED. IT.

So, on the days when Deborah comes, I always have a plan. The plan always involves having my children and myself dressed and fed early so that we can go somewhere the moment she arrives. Our plan for yesterday was to go to storage to pick up a desk and then to the library for the Back-to-School program. I figured that would occupy our time from nine until noon. Then, we would take our picnic lunch to a playground and kill a couple more hours before heading home.

Kids didn’t cooperate. They lollygagged. They don’t feel the pressure to leave like I do and so they wanted to stay home—watch TV, play with toys, and contribute to the mess. They did not want to go to a storage unit to pick up furniture. Really, isn’t that what we’ve done all summer long? Move furniture and run other related errands? Not fun. And so they dragged their feet.

We left later than planned and I was on my way to one witchy, bitchy mood.

I looked at my watch. 9:45?!?!? No way could we drive to the storage unit and get to the library by 11 am. So, we would skip the part where we pick up the desk. But where to go now? We couldn’t go to the library an hour early because they’d be restless by the time the program started. There is nothing between our house and the library—so no convenient stops at Target to buy paper towels, no errands…

Playground? Yes, we could easily kill an hour at the playground. And there is one in a churchyard close to the library. Perfect!

When we arrived, the playground was filled with tots. The church had opened a daycare center. Okay, so we weren’t going there. As we pulled out of the church drive way, my children began crying, “But you said we could play.” Yeah, I did. I already feel like crap and now, I’m a bad mother on top of everything else.

So, where can we go? I suggested we go look at the Bay. One of our rental properties was close by and it is in a neighborhood that overlooks the Bay and has a community pier for residents only. Okay, I’m not a resident, but I am a home-owner in that community. I never lived there, but my husband did for years before we got married. If anyone questions my right to use the pier, I will tell them who I am and the neighbor will gush about how happy they are that my husband finally found someone and settled down and aren’t our children just beautiful. Because I married a 46-year-old bachelor, this is the response I get from everyone who has known him longer than I have—the story of how much they love my husband and how happy they are he is finally married. I saved him from a lifetime of despair and our children are so beautiful. Deep sigh. Cue the happy-ending music.

And would you believe I couldn’t find a place to park? Normally, I’m that person who sees a “No Parking” sign and rationalizes, I’m not going far, I will be right here, if someone asks me to move my car, I will, it’s no big deal. Just park. See? This is the kind of thing my mother-in-law and I have in common—the willingness to believe we are above the authority of signs. The difference is that I wouldn’t pretend not to speak English if caught doing something illegal. Yeah, she did that. It’s a great story for some other time.

But for some reason, No Parking signs had great authority over me yesterday. I guess I was already feeling disempowered and a little beaten down. I just couldn’t take those red all-capital letters yelling at me: NO PARKING! THAT MEANS YOU! I DO NOT CARE THAT YOU OWN A HOUSE IN THIS COMMUNITY. I DO NOT CARE WHO YOUR HUSBAND IS OR THAT HE LIVED HERE FOR MANY YEARS. I DO NOT CARE THAT YOU SAVED HIM FROM A LIFETIME OF LONELINESS. I DO NOT CARE THAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE BEAUTIFUL. NO PARKING. Yes, that is exactly what was printed on the sign. It was a really big sign.

And so, we drove past the Bay. We didn’t get out and look at it. And my children whined, “But you said we could get out.” Yes, I know. And I’ve already told you, I am a really crappy mother.

It was still too early to go to the library and it was definitely too late to find another playground or another view of the Bay. So, we played the real estate game. We have a friend who is looking to buy a house in our end of the county—my children know this—and so I told them that we would drive around and look for real estate signs for Ms. Anne. They seemed to enjoy this activity—it’s like I-spy with a purpose.

I, on the other hand, was consumed with my own negative thoughts. Yes, I felt banished from my messy, disorganized home, and as a mother, I was a walking disappointing. And if one more person mentions the importance of down-time, alone-time, me-time to me, I will beat them with my shoe. If it’s someone whining about how ‘hard it is to be a mommy’ and how she had to drop the kids off with her mother-in-law just so she could get a little alone time, well, I’m going to beat her so damn hard that she may never recover.

At 10:45, I decided that it was, at last, late enough to go to the library and wow, we would be on-time! How refreshing! I may recover from all my internal agony yet.

So, we walked through the library doors and I saw a sign that read, “Back-to-School Program! Today at 10 am.” And in the fine print, I saw, “YOU BLEW IT! YOU ARE LATE! PROGRAM IS ABOUT TO END! GET OUT OF THE WAY OF ALL THE HAPPY CHILDREN AND GOOD MOTHERS BEFORE YOU ARE STAMPEDED!”

I turned to the librarian and said, “I thought the back-to-school program stated at 11.” She said, “You should have called.” Yeah, there are a great many things I ‘should have’ done, lady. Calling to double check the time of a library program isn’t at the top of that list, but thank you.

We left. As I buckled my children into their car-seats, I was crying. Yeah, I know—crying? Over a missed library program? Get real.

It’s unlike me to cry, whine, or complain about this kind of thing. I’m one hell of a lot tougher than that. I’m that person who doesn’t panic in a crisis. I slap the person who is panicking and I bark out the orders. That’s what I do in a crisis. I have the personality of a field marshal—or so I’ve been told.

But really, none of this is a crisis. It’s just disappointment and fatigue. I am tired in that way that a good night’s sleep or a two-week vacation will not fix. It’s deep, deep tired with no end in sight. And about all that oh-so-important me-time, alone-time, down-time that I so desperately need but will not get any time in the foreseeable future? I’d need one hell of a lot of alone-time to make up for this. Maybe once my mother-in-law dies and my children are grown I can get ship-wrecked on a desert island?

Now, to my credit, during my downward cycle in which signs were singling me out and yelling at me, I did have a rational voice in my head, too—and it was issuing some tough-love. This is not a big deal. This is temporary. In a world plagued with violence, hunger, and disease, you call this a ‘bad day?’ Oh, Sweetheart, get a grip. This is nothing. You need to count your blessings and move on. It was a quiet voice, but audible enough to keep me from intentionally driving into a tree or doing the other stupid things people on the brink do before returning to sanity. For that matter, I never, ever question my sanity. So, at least, I have that much going for me.

My daughter saw my tears and asked what was wrong. I told her—“I’m just not having a very good day. Everything is just a little off.”

To that, she answered, “Mom, I’m your Prayer Warrior. I will say a prayer for you and God will make it better.” And she did. And in that moment, I realized I must be doing something very right if I’m raising a child who prays instead of getting sucked into her mother’s unhappiness. Wow.

And that rational voice in my head got a little louder. So, you are disappointed. Salvage the day. Where were you going next? The park for lunch? Do it.

We got to the park and the kids were happy because that is where they wanted to be in the first place. They didn’t want a desk or a library program. They wanted a playground and a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. I was a little bored just sitting there watching them, however, and I was certain that they needed a break from me. So, I pulled out my cell-phone and called my husband. For some reason, I really wanted to tell another adult that I had had a horrible morning, but things were looking up, and I wanted to brag to him about his daughter.

As I had him on the phone, however, I was looking at the playground and thinking, “What a mess,” because there seemed to be more litter than usual on the ground and most of it was recyclables. Hmmm…and since this park belongs to my husband’s employer and he is pretty high up in the organization, I figured I would complain to him.

“I’m at the playground right now, and it is a mess. Do you want to know what the problem is? They have 22 trashcans just at the playground and 2 more in the parking lot, but no recycling cans. The only recycling bins are in-doors at the farm, the nature center, and the train station snack bar.  No wonder people have been throwing aluminum cans and plastic bottles on the ground. I wish I had a bag. I’d clean it up for them.” And based on this description, locals reading this know which park I am writing about, right? Not because of the litter problem, but because of the amenities, I hope.

“If you go to the nature center and ask, I’m sure they will give you a bag.” I guess we will address the lack of out-door recycling bins later.

So, that is what I did. The children and I went to the nature center, asked for a bag, and we spent the next hour or so collecting discarded plastic bottles and soft-drink cans. It was a wonderful experience. Other families saw us doing this, and while no one joined us in this endeavor, I believe we had a positive impact on the environment and on those folks who observed us. Maybe they would be more conscientious about not littering. It was just one skippy-happy feeling for me and light-years away from where I was earlier in the day. THIS was the Divine Plan and it had nothing to do with getting a desk from storage or attending a library program.

And that rational voice was right–this–my entire situation with Deborah, the house, this sense of disempowerment–is very temporary. And I can be thankful for that and so much more.

...and here I am with my cubs later in the day. Never doubt the power of prayer.

…and here I am with my cubs later in the day. Never doubt the power of prayer.

Ha! When I started this blog entry, I meant to get to the positive stuff a lot quicker, but I see the good part is only 468 words long, but it took me 1,808 words to describe the all-consuming bad mood that came first. I’m reminded of reading Dante in high school. He went on and on FOREVER about Hell, but Paradise was just really, really good–not nearly as much description. It’s easy to find the words when describing something bad, but when it comes to describing something good, words are inadequate. That’s what Dante and I have in common.

So, trust me, picking up trash at the park was just good—really, really, really indescribably good.

Running Out of Summer

The beach: It's on my summer bucket list.

The beach: It’s on my summer bucket list.

I’m not a fan of the phrase “bucket list.”  I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy when it comes to language. I really hate it when a relatively unknown term becomes part of our collective lexicon as the result of a movie—or television show or song—and everyone treats it like they’ve been saying it their entire life. Sure, I used it in my last blog entry, but I cringed as I typed it. Couldn’t you tell?

As a list-maker and goal-setter, however, I appreciate the concept of a bucket list, and although I don’t have a by-the-end-of-my-life, must-accomplish to-do list, I do go into shorter periods of time, like a season, thinking about all I want to do to savor the moment and make some memories.

Since having children, these lists are less about what I want to accomplish and more about the experiences I want them to have. I imagine that they will eventually make their own lists and forget about what I think is important, but for now, they are five and three. They have no money. They have no transportation. They have to go along with my plan.

Only in the past couple of days have I realized that we are running out of summer. In just a week and a half, my daughter will be starting kindergarten—not pre-school, but bona fide, attendance-keeping, mandatory, school bus-riding formal education—and we have so much left undone! What about our summer bucket list?  Back in May, I had my children help me compose a list of fun things to do in the summer, and so many items are left undone.

I’m not panicking over it, but I am a little sad. We only have a week and a half left before school takes over our lives. Sure, that will be an adventure, too, but what about summer?

Just so you know what our list looks like, I will share:

  • Go to the beach. Yeah, that’s on everyone’s list, isn’t it? I grew up going to the beach a lot, and now, I can’t believe I haven’t seen the ocean in an entire year.
  • Crabbing. I grew up doing this, too, and I own a lot of crabbing equipment beyond a line and a net. In my freezer, I have a whole lot of chicken necks I bought last year—for the expressed purpose of crabbing. Last summer wasn’t a great time for savoring the season either.
  • Chubby Bunny Contest. Okay, this doesn’t have to be done in the summer, but I bought marshmallows to host a chubby-bunny contest when my nephew was visiting from Norway, but we never got around to it.
  • Fireworks. Nope, we didn’t see a single display this summer. I have packs of sparklers, however. I think we may have to light them and call it a night!
  • Baseball Game. See my last entry. Feel my disappointment.
  • Amusement park. Not in the budget this year. And they’ve only recently started asking if we could ride a rollercoaster.

As I look at this list, a manic part of me says, “It’s not too late! You can do all this! Right now! Go, go, go!” and the manic-me is somewhat right. Minor league baseball season doesn’t end until the end of the month, and the certain games end with a firework display. So, check and check! Chubby-bunny contest? Hey, we can do that today if we want. Check! Crabbing? I have the equipment and I live near the Bay. It’s the matter of thawing some chicken necks and just going. Check.

The beach and the amusement park are a little trickier.

We have granny-care three days per week, but it’s only for five hours per day. The beach—as in the OCEAN, not the Bay—is two and a half hours away. So, we could get there, and say, “Ah! Look at the ocean! Quick! Back to the car! Run, run, run!” And yes, I’m sure we could ask Deborah (aka granny-care person) to stay longer than just five hours, but for her to accommodate that request, I have to ask her more than a week in advance so that she can have her other work schedule adjusted.

Then, there is the amusement park, and that’s about both time and money. I don’t want to spend the money on the tickets unless I know we are going to stay for the entire day. We have to find the time and buy the tickets in advance from a discounted source. Six Flags is close to our house—really, only 20 minutes away! They are open on weekends through October. Of course, our

So, perhaps the key to doing all this is to mentally extend the summer beyond the first day of school. The unofficial end of summer is Labor Day, but the seasonal end is September 20th. Phew! That gives us another month of summer, so we will go with the seasonal end.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to feel sorry for my children because our lives have been so consumed with my mother-in-law’s care and cleaning out her house. For them, summer has not been about vacations, summer camps, VBS, swimming lessons, pool parties or any of those other things we associate with childhood summers, but they have parents who love them AND summer has not been boring for them. They have had fun. I know. I’ve seen them having fun!

In the spirit of being up-beat, here is a list of things we did do:

  • Made ice cream. Chocolate, blueberry, and strawberry. I usually do a lot more flavors, but this counts. Our homemade chocolate ice cream is the best in the world. I know it!
  • Ate crabs. Okay, so we didn’t have to catch them to enjoy them! We went to Thursday’s and ordered them by the dozen. They were soooo good!
  • Played in sprinkler. We did this a lot—mostly because we can do this without leaving home.
  • Went to FREE kid movies. A local cinema has free movies every Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Did I mention they are FREE? Why wouldn’t you go to that? It’s FREE.
  • Bought local produce from a roadside stand. Of course! This is one of my favorite things about living in rural southern Maryland. These stands just spring up on the side of the road.
  • Swam in a pool. We did that while in the mountains.
  • Swam in a lake. Ditto.
  • Played putt-putt. The kids did this with their father, uncle, and cousins while we were in the mountains. Honestly, if it weren’t for that mountain trip, our summer would have been kind of lacking.
  • Picked and ate berries from backyard.
  • Filled hummingbird feeder; fed ducks at the pier; saw a fox, lots of rabbits and groundhogs; observed a baby vulture learning to fly. Yeah, we are all about the wildlife around us.

If I think about it hard enough, I’m sure I can come up with a few more items for this list. It’s been a good enough summer, and my summer bucket list has more to do with what I think is important than what they want—although going to the beach is something they both mention often! And I know that in the end, we are making memories of one type or another no matter what we do. If they look back on their childhood and complain about any of it, I will know I have raised whiners.

It’s been a good enough summer.

Ha! As I write this, they are eating homemade peach pie for breakfast. Yeah, it’s kind of hard for me to feel sorry for people who get pie for breakfast.