Thursday, September 28, 2006

Please excuse me, but would you be so kind as to Shut Up! (if it's not a bother) -- Thank you

It’s soccer season again, and Sport’s back on a team of familiar kids (Go Wildcats!) and his favorite coach. At the game on Saturday, I sat with a few other soccer moms, watching our kids kill the other team (7-1), exchanging pleasantries, and enjoying the beautiful morning.

At least I tried to enjoy it, but behind me, surrounded by a gaggle of groupies, was The Blowhard. I’d never seen him before, but he was all too familiar. You know this guy. His lungs are fully developed from years of diaphragm training and time spent performing in community theater. He’s already starting to perfect the comb-over, and his clothes are much more flamboyant then the sweatshirts and jeans worn by the other men nearby. He’s charming, or at least he believes he’s charming, and can always attract a small crowd of desperate women hoping to find Mr. Right #3. He’s met important people and will drop names, has anecdotes and stories to meet every situation, can always turn the conversation back to his favorite subject: Him!

I was trying to tune him out. I really was. I would have moved away, but there’s only one set of bleachers -– metal, 3-tiered -– not very comfortable, but better than sitting down in a bunch of stickers. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d been talking at normal volume, but for some reason, he was projecting his voice over the bleachers and across the field to the chain-link fence.

“Of course, I’ve worked on Broadway…”

“$2000 dollars a month for an apartment! And it was so tiny…”

“Yes, I actually had dinner with So and So. He’s a really nice guy, but a little short…”

And on and on and on. It got so distracting, I almost missed Sport’s goal. I could feel my rage building. Nothing would have satisfied me more than to turn around and scream at him to “Shut Up!” But I was brought up with better manners than that. When it got too much to bear, I walked around the field to get a different perspective, not only of the game, but of myself.

Maybe the problem is with me. I'm too polite. Not assertive enough. I'm a wimp. I was having a conversation with Shank last week that underscores this assertion. My yoga teacher was sick and we found ourselves with a last minute sub who actually teaches Pilates. Had no yoga experience. She had us all drag out the exercise balls and warm up with some simple step moves. I was definitely not feeling it. I was in the mood for yoga -- elegant, calm, restful. Instead, I got a glimpse of myself tossing a little ball in the air while doing some hamstring stretches. Not a good image.

I contemplated leaving. I really did. But another woman beat me to the punch, and I didn't want the poor instructor to get down to the end of class with only a handful of losers barely hanging on. I was brave. I stuck it out. But I wasn't happy about it. Not happy at all.

Shank thinks my inability to leave the classroom was a good thing. It's true, I wanted to spare the instructor's feelings. He said he'd have done the exact same thing. Perhaps, as he says, it's some sort of Protestant guilt thing. He thinks Protestants get ripped off in the Acknowledgement of Guilt category behind Jews and the Catholics. We Protestants are positively dripping with it! His hypothesis: "I'm starting to formulate an idea about how politeness is the great lost art of our time, and part of politeness is the stiff-upper-lipped acceptance of temporarily uncomfortable situations."

So with The Blowhard, I chose to be polite. I removed myself. But one of these days, I'm going to tell somebody to shut up. And I'll probably throw in a "please" and a "thank you", just for good measure.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Grandma doesn't live here anymore

Grandma’s roommate is crazy. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the woman wanders around in her wheelchair, asking for help in putting on her shoes, searching for her mama, and muttering in a low but gravely voice. She wants my grandmother to help her, and it’s hard to turn down those insistent, plaintive demands.

“She’s crazy,” Grandma tells me, laughing a little. “God bless her. Crazy as a loon.”

After a series of mini-strokes about a month ago, Grandma’s condition deteriorated enough that she needed to be moved to an assisted living center. It’s been a difficult choice for my mother, but Grandma’s short-term memory is very limited. She needs to be constantly monitored, but she’s not like the other lost souls in her Alzheimer’s wing where she’s got a room.

Luckily, she’s got a good attitude about the whole situation. She knows Mom can’t handle any more stress. So she tries to be patient: she eats her three meals in the cafeteria with the other patients, she listens to live music, she attends craft programs.

But I wonder what she thinks about when she’s lying in the dark, trying to get to sleep.

Does she think about her life as the child of a cotton farmer in West Texas? Her marriage at the age of 16 to a preacher man, the birth of her two children, the miscarriage of another? Does she think on the loss of her first husband to lymphoma, her marriage to a widowed preacher, and his death after 30 years of marriage? What of all the vacations she took to research the family tree? Of her son, the scumbag who swindled her out of her life savings? Of her daughter, dealing with the effects of bipolar disorder? What about her 8 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren?

I found myself wishing that, as our elders aged, they'd also get smaller -- shrinking to the size of babies so we could have an easier time taking care of them. Don't most babies look like old men and women anyway? (Except Suri Cruise.)

On my way home, I started crying. I hated seeing Grandma like that, knowing she’s on the final leg of her journey. This woman was the key ingredient to building my self-esteem when I was a kid. She loved me unconditionally. She made me feel special. I felt helpless, wishing I could do something to make it easier. Is loving her enough?

I don't like facing the reality that most of us are destined for such a place. I hope I'll have to grace to be gracious, just like Grandma.

Monday, September 18, 2006

High on Jesus

Gouldie and I took the kids to Outback on a blustery, rain-soaked Sunday afternoon. We tried to arrange them in such a way that we could get a couple of sentences of adult conversation in before being interrupted. But all conversation stopped dead when our server knelt down to take our order.

I'm not sure, but I think my jaw dropped. I haven't seen such a flamboyant hairstyle since Cirque de Soleil came through town. He looked like a Dragonball Z character. The glare of his flair was dazzling. So numerous were the metal trinkets on his vest, I was certain if he stumbled in the parking lot, landing face down in a puddle, he would have drowned.

We placed our order, and he gave us his name.

"Ponder?" I squeaked. "Any relation to Ponder so-and-so?" (Really, who else would name their kid Ponder unless they were bigtime members of the Nazarene community.)

"Oh, yes. He's my great-uncle!" The kid beamed, blinding us with his pearly whites. He literally glowed.

"Wow, what a coincidence! He was our college president!"

Gouldie and I turned to each other as Ponder hurried to the kitchen to place our order. We giggled like the school girls we once had been.

"Should I tell him I once pretended to flick cigarette butts at his great-uncle's giant picture window?"

"Didn't he almost suspend you for going to the Big Barn Dance of 1986?"

"Not me, I never got caught!"

"Did he find out you were the one who printed up that fake Drumbeat newsletter?"

"I'll take that secret to my grave."

"How many times did you get caught breaking midnight curfew?"

"No comment. Remember when they finally let us wear shorts on campus?"

"God, we were such nerds."

That led us to another conversation about the utter ridiculousness of some of our college antics. If you haven't experienced it, you can't believe how much fun we used to have with our crowd of equally nerdy Jesus freaks, where playing Spoons, watching movies (Footloose rules!), going roller skating, or building a bonfire for a marshmallow roast was great entertainment.

"You guys were drunk, right -- or high?" our new friends have asked.

"High on Jesus, baby!"

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Marching to the beat of an Irish bodhran

LegoGuy has a new obsession. He's always been interested in Ireland, since his grandmother was born there and he's got an Irish name. We've got fond memories of him and C.F. Kats jigging along with the video of RiverDance. But now he wants to know more about Ireland's history and culture, and especially the music. He's been digging through his father's old LPs, pulling out albums by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. SO made him some copies on CD and LegoGuy's been taking them to school in his Discman. While he rides the bus, he drums along to the beat of "Tim Finnegan's wake" and "Brennan on the Moor." One of his friends asked to hear what he was listening to and was baffled. "What the heck is that?"

"Irish folk music," LegoGuy told her with a broad smile.

Every mother thinks her kids are great, and I'm no different. My oldest has inherited his father's laid back approach to life. Rarely does he get his feathers ruffled or his nose out of joint. He's always got a smile on his face, is good-natured and sweet. The thing I most admire about LegoGuy is he's never been afraid to step away from the crowd. He likes being original.

It's no secret that I didn't enjoy my elementary school years. Middle school was better, but I wanted to be just like everybody else. I didn't want to stick out or call attention to myself. I was afraid.

LegoGuy has no fear. He'll step up and challenge intolerance. He loves politics and isn't afraid to talk about the issues, even though he's one of a handful of Blues in a sea of Red. He's concerned about the environment, and he loves his family. On Sunday, he turned down an invitation to sit with his friends at the church picnic so he could eat lunch with us.

LegoGuy is brave. He's my hero.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Never enough time

I don't like marking anniversaries of tragedies. In case you haven't been paying attention, the fifth anniversary of September 11th is right around the corner, and emotions are running high. At work, I received a mass forward from one employee who was urging all of us to fly an American flag on Monday. "Pass this on to 11 people. It's the least you can do!" Yeah, it's quite literally the least we could do. As if five years have passed and I haven't once thought of what happened that day. Hell, everytime I see an airliner I think of September 11th.

I planned to avoid all this stuff, much like I avoided the anniversaries of the Murrah bombing. So painful was that event to my friends and community that even now I haven't been able to muster up the courage to visit the bombing museum. I did manage to see the bombing memorial one spring day, near Easter, and barely held it together. Someone had placed a colorful stuffed rabbit on one of the tiny little chairs, an Easter bunny meant for a child who would never grow up.

I wanted to avoid it, but I was laid up Saturday with a terrible headache. After dinner I took an Advil and retreated into my bedroom. I turned on the TV and spent some time switching channels, waiting to see if the headache would pass. I came across Flight 93, and put down the remote. The film captured all the emotions of that day with terrible intensity.

What gets me is the victims' desperate need to make a phone call -- to connect with a loved one for the last time. I find it hard to imagine what it would be like to make such a call, and even harder to imagine how I'd handle being on the receiving end. As one woman put it, "I'm so sorry, Mom. I know this is going to be harder on you than it will be on me." When the phone went dead, that mother knew her child was no more.

Finally the headache passed and I went outside to work a little in the front yard. LegoGuy had gone for his shower, but Sport was fighting the darkness. "Clean up your stuff and go inside," I told him, and so began the onset of his usual meltdown. I didn't feel like dealing with it. I ignored him and let SO handle it.

Later, I went to tuck him in. "You don't love me!" he accused. Fact is, I was feeling very put out, and he knew it. But when I looked into his face, I tried to imagine what it would feel like to loose him in the future, when he was a grown man and I was much older, and he only had a moment to say goodbye, and I only had a moment to tell him how he'd been everything I wanted in a son, everything and more. So I kissed him and cuddled him and held him very tight.

There's never enough time. Never enough.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Sounds of childhood

What sounds do you most associate with your childhood? This was a question asked in a book I'm currently reading, The human voice: how this extraordinary instrument reveals essential clues about who we are, by Anne Karpf. I had to sit for a minute and really scour my memories, but I came up with three.

Sound #1: the click click of the car blinker. My father would turn it on, signalling we were making a right hand turn onto our street. Late at night, we'd be returning from a church event after ingesting casseroles heavy with butter and cream of mushroom soup. If we weren't fighting over who got to "ride shotgun", we were dozing in the backseat of the car. Unfettered by seatbelts, we kids would barely register the drive home. When we heard that blinker go on, we knew it wouldn't be long before we'd be snuggled in our beds, safe and sound.

Sound #2: the drone of the air conditioner. After a hot and humid day at elementary school, I'd walk home and stretch out on our black Naugahyde couch. I loved to press my cheek into the cold plastic, watch a rerun of Gilligan's Island, and just veg. The air conditioner nearby made a comforting "ummmmmmmm" as I relaxed, one hand tracing lines into the carpet.

Sound #3: the musical tones of Yellow Submarine, played on the organ. Saturday mornings, around 11:30, my mother would flip the power switch of her electric organ, pull out her stack of sheet music, and climb onto the bench. She'd punch in a rock and roll setting (complete with drums), slip out of her shoes, and start working the foot pedals. Soon the strains of her favorite Beatles song would waft through the house. My sister and I shared a bedroom, one wall of which butted up against the back of the organ. And every Saturday morning, without fail, we would wake up to the tune of Yellow Submarine. It was impossible to ignore. Mom cranked up the volume as high as it would go. It was her special way of waking us up when she thought we'd been in bed too long.

What sounds connect you to powerful childhood memories?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How I turned my dog into a tittie baby

Last week I was out in the garden, trying to bring some semblance of order into Hell Corner -- the long-neglected northeast side of our yard. I've managed to ignore and stall getting to it because I hate pulling grass, and grass has jumped from the yard into this particular flowerbed and invaded with a vengeance.

I had some pretty good excuses: the mosquitoes were bad and I was out of OFF, I'd worn out my last pair of gardening gloves, and we've been having something like a solid month of 100+ days. But an unexpected cool front came in and I trudged out, bringing Bella along for company.

Our previous dog was a little lady, who'd sit next to me and quietly watch flitting butterflies. Bella, however, is no lady. As I kneeled and yanked the runners from the ground, she'd trot over with her toys and nudge me, wanting me to play. I kept shooing her away, but she's relentless. Each time I pushed her away, she came back for more abuse. Finally, I took her out front and leashed her to a tree. The boys were practicing their soccer skills, and I figured she'd be fine out there with them.

Would you believe that dopey dog barked for me the whole time? She wasn't interested in watching the boys play ball. She wanted to be off that leash and in the backyard. The boys finally got tired of her noise and released her. She promptly ran to the back fence to bark for my attention. I finally gave up and took her in the house with me.

I added it all up: she follows me everywhere I go in the house, waits outside my door when I take a nap, jumps on the couch to cuddle with me, and basically is attached to me at the ankles. I've turned her into a tittie baby, and I didn't even try.

I guess my next step will be dressing her up and carrying her around in a purse.