Monday, October 26, 2009

October Sunshine

This time that I have spent self (un) employed – has been a time of healing, a time of self-evaluation and a time to ponder some of life’s deeper meanings. I currently “house-share” with my first ex-husband. Saying this situation is good would be an over statement. Saying it is awful would be wrong too. Like most things in life, it’s somewhere in between and complicated. (Let’s face it – how many of us have the chance to re-examine why we divorced someone – and feel justified more than 15 years later?) But today, the kids are off to their respective schools, the kitchen has been surface swept and the cat is sunning herself on the back steps. It’s my time to grab the laptop and attend to my email messages, update my websites, blogs and Facebook. Time to check the weather and mentally adjusted the laundry needs for tomorrow. It’s also time to turn on the television and catch up on the news and settle into… the daytime talk shows.

The daytime personality that has really resonated with me is Bonnie Hunt. There are some obvious reasons for this. We are of a similar generation, (She experienced Pong.), and her show is new so I found myself really rooting for her. (You go girl! 40ish is NOT the slow down time.) Her humorous self-deprecation is endearing. While she has no children of her own and I have four, her interaction with the children on her show will make me laugh out loud and has made Bonnie Hunt Show (BHS) summer devotees of my younger kids. My 11 year old, Claire, actually sent a video to the show about her Invention Convention entry and, in her absolute conviction that she WOULD be on the BHS, began planning our trip to Los Angeles over spring break. (Bonnie – she must have missed your call…but we’ll talk later.)

Whoever thought to have frequent video chats with Bonnie’s mom is either brilliant or sadistic. Not sure that I want my mom, at 68, addressing the nation with her thoughts on current events, my love life or whatever is crossing her frontal lobe that day. My mom once decided to have “the talk” with my sister, brother and me – en masse. Being a mom now, I can almost relate her get-it-over-with actions but I remember thinking, for years, that I missed the point of the story about "peanuts" and "China". (I didn’t connect those dots until WAY later in life.) Now it makes for a great sibling gathering laugh but Mom denies it to this day. Maybe if we had Skype or even video phones back then, I could have avoided a few years of therapy.

Anyway, Bonnie’s birthday was celebrated on her show a few weeks ago. That day, the video feed appeared with Bonnie’s mom wearing a flashing lighted, boa embellished sombrero holding a birthday cake complete with a lit candle that was perilously close to the boa aspect of the sombrero. It was too funny. But then she, Alice, did something that had the effect of a huge, emotional vacuum cleaner -pulling me back to my childhood. She began singing the song You Are My Sunshine. In my head – her voice was replaced by the rich baritone voice of my father.

As I listened, I tried to regroup and focus on the comedy happening on the television. I couldn’t. I was going back in time but finding that I didn’t really mind. I began to tear up and finally cry outright. Glad I was alone. There are not many times in the life of a single mother when you are “allowed” to cry. Any hint of tears on my part and my kids assume the worst. The person that keeps all of the balls in the air needs to drop a few of them - to get a tissue. Single moms must always be in control or at least give the appearance of being in control. You especially can’t cry about something as simplistic as a few lines of a song… nor a potentially flaming sombrero.

But why did this particular song cause me to cry? All of my kids were holding steady for the moment and I was not PMS-ing. Part of me attributes my reaction to the time of year. October was nearing. The song and the season brought me back to October of 1998.

One early 1998 July morning in Syracuse, NY I gave birth to my third child – a perfect little girl. My first call was to my dad. He and my stepmother lived a little over 2 hours away. My stepmom tells the story of Dad hanging up the phone, finishing up his morning cup of Lapsing Soochong tea with honey and putting his mug in the dishwasher. When she asked him of his plans for the day he said, “I think I’m going to Syracuse today.” He was holding Claire, his 7th grandchild, by noon.

And then it was October. Dad called and said he want to come see the baby. Perfect. We would have a nice afternoon – just the three of us. Claire was asleep when he got there but he gently scooped her out of her bassinet and cradled her on his lap, facing him, so he could “watch her sleep”. As she slept, my dad quietly told me about his recent surgery.

Dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer. A biopsy showed that it was in his lymph nodes. In plain language he told me of his treatment plan that included chemotherapy after the New Year. His agenda was to visit with my sister, brother and me, in each of our homes with our families, over the holidays. He did not want us involved in his chemotherapy. In retrospect, on that day in October, Dad seemed to want to impart some things to me. Not big things but odd little things like how he carefully washed his glasses, (I had recently had to wear glasses more routinely.), and how to make the perfect “Philadelphia hoagie” as we were assembling sandwiches for lunch. I have come to think of these as comfort things.

Before he left that day in October, we moved to sit on the front porch. Dad sat on a rocker holding the now wide awake Claire – facing him. We were talked out and were happy to have her hold center stage with her cooing and wide-eyed facial expressions. At some point she began to fade, rubbed her little face against Dad’s shirt front and “ginched”. (“Ginching” was squirming in Dad language.) Softly he began singing You Are My Sunshine. She rested her ear on his chest, comforted by the deep vibration, and dosed off. I knew how she felt.

Though it was a song from another generation, it was symbolic of every part of my childhood. Dad would launch into his boisterous version when we tromped through the woods on a camping trip, his soothing version while in the emergency room when I broke my collarbone, his mournful version he drove us back from an extended summer visit with him or, as he was doing now with Claire, his restful version that had sent my siblings and I off to sleep many times. When Dad sang that song, everything was okay.

I can still hear his voice in his pre-Christmas message on my answering machine, explaining that he was really worn out from his previous travels and promised to come to my home right after Christmas. Good. I wanted him to rest. I wanted him well. Sadly – he was not able to make it to my home for his holiday visit before succumbing to a fatal drug interaction on Christmas Eve. Dad died on December 28th in 1998. He was 59. He was surrounded by all of us. I like to think that one of us sang You Are My Sunshine to him at some point during those three days.

Today I had Bonnie Hunt’s mother singing You Are My Sunshine wearing a nearly flaming, birthday sombrero causing me to cry the cry of sadness and loss, of regret that my youngest children, (one born after Dad died), will not know my Dad and that my older kids will not benefit from his wisdom. But it is also the cry of release and of gratitude that a simple song can prove that I remember him so well. Today I have that October 1998 visit back to help comfort and steady me. Today, in the time it took for Bonnie’s mom to sing a few lines of You Are My Sunshine – everything was okay.

Wonder if Alice knows Skiddamarinkydinkidink? That was the song that always followed the Happy Birthday song in our family. Dad thoroughly enjoyed singing that song too – especially during the teenage cringe-and-dive-under-the-table years.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Now and then

I don’t usually spend a lot of time comparing the differences in my children’s childhoods to mine own. I feel I can pride myself on being a fairly progressive mother. My parents were too. Neighborhood kids collected around my dad as he showed off Kodak’s newest photographic gadget and he was very excited about the upcoming computer age. My mom has spent some significant time on senior singles web sites and is a pro at playing computer solitaire. I still call her for refresher on Excel functions. But really – I have a blog, an Etsy shop, an interior design web site, a Facebook page (and both of my college kids “friended” me), I have had the same email address for over 10 years and I can video chat with my daughter. I am a firm believer that progress is great and vastly improves our quality of life.

A few weeks ago I made the decision to let my younger kids buy Nintendo DS’s with their own Christmas and birthday money. (Anything they can do autonomously and in one place – can’t be too bad.) Shortly after the purchases, the kids each had a friend over. The friends brought their DS’s. Generally - adding two kids to my two kids means I can plan on an appropriate volume increase. That day it was oddly silent so I had to creep upstairs to investigate. The girls were shoulder to shoulder on their bellies with their DS games open – Pictochatting – with the boys who were in the other room – sprawled toe to toe. (They’re guys.) For those of you who don’t know, Pictochat is a DS function that is like short wave texting but written with a stylus on a screen. Unlike texting, this can only be done with another DS that is within 65 feet. It seemed pointless to me when my kids sat across the dining room table Pictochatting with each other, explaining its finer points to me. But then I remembered what we were all excited to be the first kids in the neighborhood to have.

Some things remain the same – kind of. A day playing in the snow with the girl next door requires different equipment these days, (the Red Ryder sleds pictured are actually decorations now) , but it still takes about 20 minutes worth of preparation to get out of the door and the result tends to be similar to what I remember. (Except that this snowman’s face came from the neighbor’s prefabricated kit-in-a-bucket.)

Recently, I was forced to marvel at some of the more significant differences in how we now need to communicate with our savvy kids when my 8 year old was diagnosed with ADHD. Both his doctor and I tried our best to explain it to him while in her office but I could tell from his face that he didn’t quite get it. My son knows about ADD so I tried to explain the differences. A look of revelation came upon his face. “So you mean,” he said, “that I have ADD but it’s in HD!?” Exactly.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sister Turf

Last week I missed a call from my sister. This is not too unusual. Being sisters - we call for no reason and leave 20 minute long messages, call when we need "company" driving from one place to another, or call to rant about a significant other or any given child. It's all allowed. We are also allowed to ignore calls if we know at that moment that we can not give it our full attention. (After all - there's probably a 20 minute message waiting that will sum up the purpose for the call.)

Anyway, the particular call I missed was to inform me that she had been in a car accident - again. (Another story.) I listened to the message, when I discovered it, while shopping in a craft store with my 10 year old daughter finding supplies for an invention project. Here was my sister's voice telling me in detail about the "idiotic woman" and everything that had transpired at the fateful intersection. She was fine. She was waiting for the wrecker to tow her car and she needed "company" while waiting.

In the tape/glue/adhesive isle of the craft store, I stopped dead, my hands and feet went numb, my vision tunneled and my ears began to ring. Just as it was registering with me that she was okay - my phone rang in my hand. It was my sister. She was driving somewhere in her, apparently, still drivable Prius and needed to be entertained in transit. As she described in detail, (again - because she knows I don't always listen to her entire 20 minute long voice mails), how the accident happened, I regained feeling in my feet and hands, put my glasses on to adjust my vision and yawned to stop the ringing in my ears and reminded my self to wonder what life without my sister would have been like and what it would be like now.

First - I blame her for a lifetime of inappropriate boyfriends on my part. When we were in early high school, I had a crush on a really nice, clean cut boy from our neighborhood. He would wait for me to get off the bus and walk me home. One afternoon, I came home late from an after school event, to find my sister and that nice boy strolling around our neighborhood together. Somehow it never dawned on me that while he waited for and walked me home - he also waited for and walked my sister home. Duh. Never again would I allow that to happen. Thus began the parade of long haired, cigarette smoking bad boys that she could openly disdain and NEVER consider stealing.

Later in our teens my sister and I had our own version of "What Not To Wear". We would go to the mall together, go into a clothing boutique and pick out outfits for each other that the RULES said - we had to try on. Here are some factors that set the tone for this game. My sister played clarinet, was in the German Club and listened to Sammy Davis Jr. I had a smoking lounge pass, had friends that were drop outs and I listened to Frampton Comes Alive over and over. She found herself modeling extreme bell bottoms, shirts that incorporated embroidery and/or tassels and clogs. I was forced into powder blue suits, (it was the 70's), blouses that had some sort of bow-like neck closures and lapel pins. We would crack up in front of the mirrors and then go get a slice and a Coke.

Ten years ago our family converged on a hospital in upstate NY. Our dad was dying. It was the determined that we would be split into duos that would take shifts around the clock so that he was never alone. My sister and I were a duo. We were allowed into intensive care for only 15 minutes of each hour. For the other 45 minutes of each hour we would read, eat, watch tv, eat, call our spouses and eat. My sister would keep me company in the restroom while I pumped breast milk, intended for my six month old, and dumped it down the drain. I listened to her talk about her marriage failing. We are the only people in each others lives that it is safe to be inappropriately irreverent with.

My sister has a photo hanging in her bathroom. It was taken of a 3 year old her and a 1 1/2 year old me. Our dad took it so it is taken from an adult vantage and we are looking up to him. I am partially turned toward my sister - hanging on to her hand with both of mine. I always look at that picture, (every time I am seated in her bathroom), and think how deceptive it is. NEVER was I that dependant on my sister.

Our differences are vast yet our similarities tend to dominate our relationship. Maybe because we are only 1 1/2 years apart, (she's OLDER), and each other's only sister - our lives are tied in ways that don't require geographic proximity or even daily contact. Conversations tend to pick up where we left off, no matter how long ago they were started and we totally kick butt in Pictionary because with one single drawn line - we know what the other is thinking. (That used to drive our first husbands nuts.) For the few moments that I was listening to her phone message - I had to consider life with out her. Maybe that photo in her bathroom isn't so deceptive.
Last night I missed another call from my sister She was spending 3 plus hours having gel nails applied. Next time I might write about my brother.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hair Day

Hair Day started before I moved into my current neighborhood so I am not sure how it started or who started it but I'm pretty sure they should patent it.
Here is the concept.
Someone finds a really good hair stylist who is willing to come to a private home. (This isn't too hard because the stylist makes out well. None of their fees need go to a salon.) A specific home and time are arranged based on a number factors. The home has to have running water, room for at least four women to sit, dry and/or sprawl - and a broom. It is beneficial for it to also have snacks and entertainment for any accompanying children. The time should be arranged around stylist's availability, pediatric appointments, the current school bus drop off time, soccer, Girl scouts, gymnastics, job interviews and naps.

Here's how it works.
All participants arrive within an hour of the appointed time. (Things happen.) The stylist assesses everyone's needs and wishes then plots her plan of attack. The participants rotate their way through the day and comply with all cutting, coloring, rinsing, drying, waxing and blowing-out directives and assume the necessary positions.
It is understood that any participant may be required, at any point, to get a drink for a child that is not their own, arbitrate pre-school squabbles, let the dog out or burp a baby. All activities are to be completed before 3:40 p.m.

Inherent benefits.
Benefits will be things such as - getting to know your neighbors, (Nothing bonds women more than talking about Brazilian waxing out loud while wearing no make-up.), catching up on neighborhood gossip and spending a day not cleaning. The most obvious benefit - good hair.

Repeat every 5 to 6 weeks.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

R.I.P. Flip

Okay - this is not really Flip. This is a Flip stand-in. Now that Flip has past away, I realized that we never thought to photograph him. Were he a puppy, he may have been in many birthday, backyard or travel photos. But he was a fish. Fish don't travel well.
I used to tell the kids that he was the best dog we ever had. He would greet us each evening by pressing his little fish lips to the front of his tank waiting for his 5 - 8 pellets of floating food. Much to the kid's delight, I would speak to him as if he were a dog. "There's my good boy!"
I said goodnight to him every night.
Now that he's gone, (well - waiting in the freezer for a spring funereal), and even though he was just a fish - there are voids in my day. I find myself coming down stairs and looking to his bowl's former spot on the diningroom cabinet to make sure that the sun is not coming through the window - cooking him. When the kids spill into the house after getting off the bus - my mind automatically goes to "Who's turn is it to feed Flip?"
The kids had the expected response to Flip's passing. Claire cried through dinner, homework and right through to bedtime. Riley got anxious at Claire's constant was crying and used all possible means to divert my attention. Mostly he threw things.
But all is not lost - the twins down the street, (Michael & Gabriel - really), have an adorable little white dog named Lena. She's going to have puppies soon.
R.I.P Flip.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Riley's creativity

Sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised when you realize that your 8 year old has been very quiet for a long time. Fearing the worst, I discovered that he had spent his time creating this wonderful assemblage. While thrilled that I thought it was photoworthy - he was less thrilled to have to take it all down because he had built it in front of his sister's dresser.

Friday, January 16, 2009