Rub-a-Dub-Dub

A friend of mine ends each hectic day by soaking in a hot bath, a time of uninterrupted luxury that I’ve heard of but never actually experienced, like those TV ads for all-inclusive resorts full of super-model couples getting tandem massages. Now that the kids are *mostly* grown, I get my share of uninterrupted time, which admittedly is half the battle in this scenario. But there’s no way I’ll ever experience bubble baths with scented candles and dim lights.

It’s not because we don’t have a tub. When we bought our house 13 years ago, we were impressed by the garden tub in the master bath. It was the first time in our marriage we’d actually been able to share a bathroom, period. Before that, we had cubicle apartments or tiny bathrooms with no counters, and we’d split the difference, mostly with one of us storing our stuff down the hall.  When we bought the house, the kids were small. Occasionally they’d get a bath in our big tub, the jets stirring the bubble bath until they’d become buried beneath the suds. By the time the tub got cleared of the foam and their 57 bath toys, I was no longer in the mood for a private soak, and the second I’d start to think about it, some catastrophe on the other side of the door would arise to squelch the impulse.

It was convenient for bathing dogs. Also it was great for scrubbing a child’s muddy feet without having to fully submerge said child. When we had a house full of visitors, we lined it with blankets and let our kids sleep in it. Once, when we had to move our 55-gallon aquarium, it made a superb way-station for buckets of briny rocks and stressed out fish.

I had intentions. The tub surround was laid with expectant candles and nicely rolled towels that would have made a nice neck pillow amid the suds. I readied a good book and some background music and tried to settle in. You know how when you look out the window of an airplane when you’re in a cloud bank and the clouds are so thick and white you can convince yourself they’d surely be able to hold you like a soft billowy pillow?  That’s what cats imagine when they see a tub full of magical white bubbles.  It is a mind-blowing scientific fact that clouds can’t hold you; you fall right through.  Same with bubbles and cats.

Except beneath the bubbles is water, which most cats dislike almost as much as they dislike being forced to wear clothing. Also there is a person, who until the moment of the surprise bubble collapse had been unsuspectingly engrossed in a novel, under the illusion that the next 30 minutes would bring bliss and relaxation instead of splashing and claws scrabbling for purchase on naked flesh like a Kraken had just been released.  Candles were extinguished, neck towel lay in a soggy lump at the bottom of the tub, and the pages of the novel were fused together by copious amounts of water. An enthusiastically unhappy cat meowed loudly in humiliation.

After the terror from the deep, our big tub is now neither garden, nor tub. I explain to people that no, the scar I wear is not, in fact, from a Cesarean gone horribly awry. When the young optimistic couples on House Hunters exclaim over the spacious jacuzzi tubs in the “en suite” bathrooms, I see my past self in their starry eyes. But years of reality have set in. The tub has not held actual water or bubble bath in years. It is now, especially in the later months of the year, a repository for future events. Currently, for example, it holds bags of holiday and birthday presents, Christmas crafts, Boy Scout paraphernalia, signage for an upcoming wedding. These are layered, like an archaeological dig, in order of which comes first.  Also it houses a giant yellow exercise ball that hasn’t been paroled in several years. I no longer question its existence. It simply glows like a small yellow sun from beneath the stockpile.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gone are the dreams of a spa-like serenity in the master bath. They have vanished like bubbles deflated by a flailing cat. A small sign hangs above the tub, a dim beacon of days past, when the struggle was real, before I succumbed to the avalanche of futility that is my bathtub.  Maybe this is thinking out of the box–or tub. This is what creative types do, isn’t it?  It’s trendy to “repurpose” things now.  Thrifty and all-American.  #chipandjojo

We all have that junk drawer, the place we don’t have time for, the one we’ll get to later.  My tub is a magnified junk drawer, the junk drawer you wish you had. It’s a harried attempt at organization in the face of the holiday onslaught and, if we’re being honest, a place I can hide presents at this point in life and not forget about them.  What good are stocking stuffers in mid-February?

Maybe someday I’ll reclaim the tub and eventually take that stress-dissolving soak. Maybe when the calendar clears, when the holidays are someone else’s responsibility, and we do away with occasions like birthdays and graduations. By then, I’ll be too old to get in and out of the thing, and I’ll just use it to plant tomatoes. Garden tub, indeed.

Dinosaur Delight

It didn’t strike all at once. The dinosaur thing was kind of a slow burn; maybe you could call it an awakening. I’m not even all that interested in dinosaurs to be honest. The little I know about them comes from when my little brother was around three, and he cataloged them like an encyclopedia, pronouncing their long stumbly names like a miniature paleontologist.  He’d point his small finger at the picture book and methodically state them one by one:  stegosaurus, triceratops, ankylosaurus, archaeopteryx.  A toddler mouthful.

Fairly recently, I finally gave myself permission to take some risks and dust off interests and talents that I’d tucked away while my children grew.  I (like most of America) stumbled upon the Chewbacca Lady. This woman’s infectious laughter over discovering this mask lifted a fog I hadn’t even realized was there. It reminded me that I used to have fun; I used to be fun. When the kids were little, I had game. We’d deliberately go outside in the rain and splash in puddles until we were all covered in mud and our sides hurt from laughing.  I’d make up rhyming couplet clues for scavenger hunts all around the house with a surprise at the end. Instead of finger painting, I’d spread an old sheet on the kitchen floor and the kids painted with their feet, making rainbows with their toes.

Before that, I was the friend up for spontaneous shenanigans in college. Water guns, karaoke, hilarious skits and performances. Somewhere in the crush of responsibility and adulting, in the service of respectability or convention or simple emotional exhaustion at curve balls lobbed my way, I’d forgotten.  I’d forgotten how it felt to laugh until I couldn’t breathe, to listen to my music even if it wasn’t anybody else’s tune. Silliness and tomfoolery had been shushed.

Scrolling through random videos one day, I saw a giant inflatable T-Rex frolicking on a trampoline, his tiny arms flailing in the air. Something within screamed THIS. This ridiculous silliness looked F.U.N.  I announced it to my family:  Guys, this is what I want for my birthday. I replayed the video, pointing as T-Rex twisted in the air. For Mother’s Day. For Valentine’s or Easter.  I want this get-up. I’m not kidding. My husband and grown children were not amused. I saw their quick glances, which settled the matter once and for all.

Two days later the UPS truck pulled up out front, and I danced to the porch with a grin plastered across my face.  Pure glee.  Christmas in June. I broke open the box, pulled out the costume and yanked it on.

“Whatcha got there?” My husband approached cautiously, trying to gauge just how far his wife had unhinged.

Once it inflated the dog went wild. Apparently dogs are not evolutionarily equipped to deal with 65-million-year-old reincarnated dinosaurs. This is why I have always been a cat person.  A saber-toothed tiger would have pounced and carried me around like a limp mouse, but the dog just cowered under the table.  I  promptly went outside–with some difficulty, as I was now about 9 feet tall–to stalk the donkeys in our field. Surprisingly, small donkeys do not respond positively to carnivorous predators. Especially ones who laugh uncontrollably while attempting to run.

So began the Year of Rex. Every now and then, when the occasion warranted, Rex appeared:  waving a sparkler on July 4, reading dino stories in the children’s section at Barnes & Noble, playing Pokemon Go at the mall, riding a two-seater bike, rock climbing.  Rex went everywhere, playing in the fountains at a Florida mall and running from the waves at the beach. He failed miserably at making snow angels. The tiny arms were his fatal flaw.

 


Turns out a couple of guys have a thing called #trextuesday, and they release a video each week of T-Rexes doing random things. The Rexes even went on a European tour, riding in London cabs. People hardly batted an eye! My own family went to Italy earlier this year and practically made me sign a contract saying I would not let T. stow away in my suitcase. (They are easily embarrassed and clearly need some remedial lessons in how-to-have-fun-and-not-care-what-others-think, but each of us must walk our own path. I can only be a beacon on a hill.)

A few friends and family gave me wary looks at first. They asked, “Should we be worried?” “What’s with the dinosaur?”  I casually shrugged. “A mid-life crisis?” “Some weird role playing thing?”  Nope, just something to delight in.

On my dad’s last birthday while my mom was still with us, she slipped us five kids cans of Silly String when he wasn’t looking. While he opened presents in the living room, she crept up behind him and gave us the signal.  We let loose, neon pink and green foam spraying furiously, coating my father’s head and filling the room with laughter. I can still picture the surprise and disbelief on my father’s face. That was two days after Christmas. She’d just been diagnosed with the cancer that would take her 10 months later.

In the midst of that crushing news, with family all around, that Silly String gave us permission to laugh and remember that–despite it all–life still held delight. Even when–maybe especially when–finances, children, health, relationships refuse to be wrangled, we can choose to find delight, silliness, moments of sparkle.

The Rex has developed quite a following, and it’s sometimes been surprising. I’ve had more than one person kind of take me aside and whisper conspiratorially, “I love your TRex,” like it’s a big secret.  Glancing around in case some of their delight is showing. He’s served his purpose in my life, reminding me to fly my flag (and I’m not talking about those unfortunate upper arm flaps that move about on their own). Coincidentally, he last made an appearance around the time of the 2017 total eclipse, so it wouldn’t be the first time his species went extinct because of some wild astronomical event.

My family has made it clear Rex is not under any circumstances allowed to appear at any upcoming graduations or weddings (although, I ask you, who ELSE would have such a memorable ring bearer??).  I suppose such lines must be drawn.  Maybe it’s time for T to retire. Maybe his ship has sailed, and I’m ok with that.

Look what I saw the other day:   a rainbow balloon unicorn.  *stifled giggle*  Don’t tell my family.

Chill

An Alabama university town like the one I happen to be in today is all business.  Herds of students laden with backpacks schlep to class, earbuds in, dodging traffic at crosswalks. The stadium parking attendant must have been NSA in a past life. No way was I parking there without written permission. My out of state license plate branded me as suspect from the get-go.  It’s just a parking space, dude.  Chill.

Here, summer is full-force. Summers in the south are not to be trifled with. Without the benefit of months of hard frost, we live side by side with mosquitoes, chiggers, and the insidious no-see-um’s that will unapologetically eat the flesh from your bones while you sit on your front porch.  My small son once rode a golf cart through a field for 15 minutes and came back with his entire body peppered with seed ticks so tiny we had to use a flashlight and magnifying glass to see them all.  Ever tried to tweeze 200 seed ticks off a hot, cranky, squirming toddler?  Good times, is all I’m saying.

Summers in Alabama ain’t playing.  Old men cut the grass in long sleeves because the sun isn’t particular about sprinkling melanomas far and wide. They wipe their necks with worn handkerchiefs and wave away the flies while the mower sends up clouds of red dust.  In church on Sundays, the ladies wave their paper funeral parlor fans in time with the preacher’s cadence, stirring the stuffy air perfumed with talcum powder and hair spray.  From the balcony it looks like a synchronized school of fish, their tails flicking to and fro. Summer Sundays in small-town churches have a funny way of reminding you where you’re ultimately headed–ashes to ashes, dust to dust–and how you most certainly better straighten up and fly right lest you end up anywhere near this hot.

In case you missed it, we had an eclipse last week.  We happened to be in the path of totality, which was quite a wonder to behold.  The moon blotted out the sun in the middle of the day.  Yes, yes, it was a bucket list spectacle, but it wasn’t all noble and educational:  people in the south were dancing in the street because for about thirty seconds we had some blessed shade.

As a kid in central Florida, summers were for bare feet and swimsuits, running through the sulfur-smelling sprinklers and drinking from the hose when we got thirsty. Weekends were spent on horseback, calves stuck to our horses’ flanks and hands full of mane. I’d come home with the creases in my wrists, elbows, and knees lined with black dirt, the tang of horse sweat and leather as sweet as the honeysuckle we’d pick to lick nectar from the stem.

At least once, our family would pile into the station wagon and head north to the Gulf Coast, where my grandparents lived before the condos, go-carts, and mini golf outfits modernized everything.  We were overheated and irritable, arguing over who had to sit on the hump and who hogged all the scupernongs from the last roadside stand we passed.  Round about Gainesville, in a little town called Fort White, we’d start to see piles of inner tubes along the highway and my dad would stop to lash several to the top of the car.  It seems God, having made the intolerable summers in the first place, had provided an oasis for weary travelers and sun-scorched southerners.  Itchetucknee Springs stays the same cool 70 degrees year-round, its crystal waters a tonic for the parched and perturbed. We lashed our tubes together and rode the current down the river, while a watermelon chilled in the cooler in the car.  It made us nicer to each other the remainder of the trip.

Once we reached Panama City, my grandparents endured no extravagances like air conditioning.  This is why southern coastal houses had sleeping porches, where you could escape the stifling indoors and retreat to the sticky and humid outside.  Summer gardens are in peak production in the south, and my grandmother canned everything that sprouted from the sandy soil.  An afternoon of canning peaches, tomatoes, okra, and pickles made the tiny formica kitchen steamy, the heat itself wafting out the screen door trying to find a cool spot.  There must have been some old video footage of us lugging jars from the shed to the furnace that was that kitchen.  I’m convinced that’s where the ludicrous idea of hot yoga originated.

It’s easy to get all out of sorts in the heat and traffic.  I was just in Atlanta rush hour a few days ago, and I’m sure my blood pressure jetted skyward several points.  Outrage is the emotion of the year and tempers seem to flare at every real or perceived injustice.  We foam at the mouth over politics, co-workers, and uncooperative toddlers or teens. When you add humidity-hair, sunburn, and swollen fingers to the mix, it gets ugly.  My phone actually turned itself off because it got too hot the other day.  Even the technology is rebelling!

I found an acceptable parking space in a nearby Starbucks, where as it turns out, a reminder appeared.  Near her grandmother, a sprite of a little girl sat swinging her legs. She was dressed in a filmy cotton-candy-colored tutu with jeweled Cinderella slippers because that’s what you wear on a Monday in August when you’re four.  She giggled and smiled and clack-clacked across the floor in those slippers to fetch a napkin for her grandma, and every head in Starbucks turned to smile at her.  She radiated delight.

What would happen if we traded our collective outrage for delight?  If despite the heat, traffic, and 1,000 every day annoyances, we found one small thing to delight in?  Maybe you don’t need to don a pink tutu, but eat your favorite flavor of popsicle, ride a bike, or belt out a song in your car.  Breathe.  Come in out of the heat, eat a home-grown tomato and a piece of chess pie and chill.

High Dive

diving practice in the backyard

For a couple of magical years when I was very young, we had a house with a pool in Florida. I remember clear blue water and palm trees. My older sisters practiced diving off the board while I made up mermaid games in the shallow end and my toddler brother tried his hardest to drown. My father spent hours in the summer bobbing along the perimeter, sometimes in a mask and snorkel, scrubbing algae off the concrete sides. The family’s oasis, to him, was a chore-inducing money pit and he couldn’t wait to move.

After we changed addresses, summer in the mid-70’s meant casting our lot with the unwashed masses in the public pool where someone else was responsible for algae patrol. The older sisters still practiced diving, but now they sashayed to the board with groups of friends, laughing and glancing at the lifeguards. They most certainly did not want to entertain younger siblings and made sure to remain in the unapproachable deep end, beyond the dividing rope.

Mermaid games did not go as smoothly when strange kids were doing cannonballs right next to you or knocking you in the face with their water wings. Occasionally, my father would let my brother and me stand on his shoulders as a prelude to launching us airborne for a few breathless seconds as we screamed at mom “watch me! watch me!” He lured us into peeking inside his cupped hand to see a caught crab, before squeezing his palms shut and jetting water into our surprised faces. He’d tolerate us clambering on him like baby monkeys, clinging to his back and head, shrieking with laughter and trying to push one another off until one of us got hurt and went crying to mom.

Relaxing poolside did not come naturally to my father, who could not rid himself of the mental to-do list that went undone while time frittered away. He took his work and responsibilities with a seriousness that clung to him even on days off. Which is why the summer of his high dive remains clear as a bell.

My mother must have tired of his nail biting and glancing at the giant clock by the concession stand. She’d managed to finagle all five of us into swimsuits and sunscreen, pack all manner of snacks, shoes, towels, and toys into the station wagon, and park us in chairs strategically located near the restrooms. She was not about to leave early with her tired, hungry brood just because he needed to organize the garage. She must have sent him out to the deep end with exasperation to have some fun for crying out loud so she could read in peace.

Like my sisters, everyone at the pool watched the older boys jump off the high dive, trying to outdo each other with bravado. After a particularly fancy flip or an unfortunate slap of a belly landing, an audible gasp or appreciative “oooh” could be heard from the lounge chairs. This of course only egged them on. My father swam long, smooth laps in the deep end, his thin 6’1 frame cutting a handsome swath through the lane. Not so many years ago he would have been leading similar shenanigans with his friends, grinning at the girls in bikinis as he clowned and performed.

I watched as he pulled himself out of the pool by the metal ladder, made scalding hot by the summer sun. He adjusted his trunks and strolled casually towards the steps of the high dive. He glanced at my mother. Her head was bent over the latest Michener novel and her large dark glasses masked any indication that she was aware of his intent.

The crowd of teenage boys parted like the Red Sea as he approached, some fifteen years their senior.  A couple of them snickered behind his back as he started the climb.  Some kid kept dunking and retrieving his ball in front of my face until I finally grabbed it and threw it out onto the concrete. I searched for my trio of sisters, who had stopped giggling and stood aghast with their friends, eyes on the high dive.

He’d reached the top. The high dive was no man’s land for me. I was a good swimmer but could not abide the stares and comments from the gaping audience of the public pool. I was skinny and flat-chested and at that awkward stage where my face hadn’t yet caught up with my teeth. The limelight was off limits. I’d never seen my father up there before.

He took his time. The boys waiting at the bottom were all elbows and ribs, flipping their wet hair and breathing hard while my father stood at the edge of the board, his toes barely hanging off. Then he turned around. A back flip? Instead, he walked a few paces towards the ladder, and my heart sank. He’d chickened out and was heading for the exit. More snickers from the youth below.

He stopped and sat, his back to the water, and scooted backwards with his legs straight out in front of him until his backside just brushed the edge of the board.  Carefully, he rose, making sure his feet remained stationary.  Now he was standing with his back to the water, about halfway between the ladder and the board’s edge.  He glanced backwards a few times, straightening and adjusting his feet.

My mother had raised her head.  Michener’s pages lay in her lap, the edges soaking up the baby oil she used for tanning.

One of the older boys below grasped the ladder and goaded, “Come on!” Even from that height I could see the smirk on my father’s face as he let himself fall backwards.  He landed squarely on his backside, his legs straight and flat on the board. The board dipped with the force of his weight and he tipped backwards off the edge, flipping in a perfect 360-V before hitting the water.

He resurfaced to whoops and cheers from the chairs.  A ’10’ for originality! The boys at the foot of the ladder cheered the loudest and he gave them a casual salute while he tread water. They’d been shown up by someone’s dad.  Astonished, my mouth hung open.  When he ducked under the dividing rope, I latched onto him with the siren song of childhood:  do it again, Dad!  Do it again!

He shook his head and swam to the side with me hanging off his shoulders. My mother had taken off her glasses and looked at him in that way that I knew meant we would be having an early bedtime after dinner, blaming it on a “long day at the pool.”  Already, boys had ascended the ladder and were attempting to copy my father’s feat, arguing with each other over how to do it right. A few of them were talking to my sisters, who were now famous by association.

It wasn’t until years later that I discovered my father’s fear of heights. Why, then, did he climb the ladder that summer? Maybe to prove to himself he could still compete with the young bucks. Maybe to show off for his bride, who couldn’t resist his big wet grin. Whatever his motivation, the result was that we were the family with that guy for the rest of the summer at the public pool. It gave us all a little boost.

And in the eyes of an awkward, shy little girl who wished she could be a mermaid, it proved that superheroes could fly.  Or at least do amazing feats off the high dive.

 

 

 

Sticks & Stones

They paged me last night at a youth event to let me know my son had injured his toe.  Apparently, he’d left a trail of blood from the incident site to the bathroom.  I finished my conversation, found a toenail clipper and band aid in the car and headed into the boys’ bathroom to assist.

By then it was under control.  Just a small patch-up and he was good to go, fortified with a lecture of why God made shoes.   Other mothers of boys gave me nods and knowing smiles, the fist-bump of the Boy Mom Sisterhood.  Blood and guts?  Just another day in the life.

After seventeen years of this, I am unphased.  I’m sure my own childhood contributes to my cavalier attitude towards mayhem and injury.  I don’t know if my parents’ five offspring were an unnaturally accident prone bunch or if our magnificent lack of supervision toughened us up.  Maybe some of both.

We grew up in the glory days of being sent outside to occupy ourselves in the sunshine, leaving my mother to do mysterious “alone” things like crossword puzzles, soap operas, and, I imagine, basking in an hour’s worth of silence with no one’s needs but her own.   We ran from yard to yard with neighborhood kids brandishing sticks, dashing through sulfur lawn sprinklers, pulling sandspurs out of our feet and getting bitten repeatedly by mosquitoes, ants, and chiggers.   We drank from the garden hose and constructed rickety skateboard ramps in the middle of the road, scattering left and right when cars came. Helmets were unheard of; shoes were an afterthought.  Road rash from meeting the asphalt was common, sunburns a given.

Between us, we amassed four broken bones (at least ones that counted and required casts) from falling off a horse, flying over handlebars, tripping on a golf course, and falling off a tire swing.  We used up spools of nylon in the ER getting stitches.  One sister was attacked by a hive of hornets, another was knocked cold by hitting a plate glass window.  My brother almost lost an eye from the broken end of a walkie talkie antenna, and the oldest sister, trying to free debris from beneath the lawn mower while it was running, had to have a couple of fingers reattached.  We stepped on rusty nails, got bit by snapping turtles and crabs, threw rocks at wasp nests with unhappy results, and got burned by tailpipes.  Once, we four sisters each grabbed one of my brother’s limbs and pulled to see how far he would stretch.  Result:  not far.

Unless the injury was dire, we got treated with home remedies.  If you got stung, Mother would unroll one of her Tareyton 100’s and make a witch’s poultice out of tobacco.  Splinter?  She’d dig it out with one of her quilting needles.  For scrapes and cuts, there was stuff called Merthiolate, a red-staining liquid that burned like the fire of a thousand suns.  A few doses of that and we learned not to complain and just walk it off.   It was the hydrogen peroxide of its time, and I’m pretty sure it was laced with mercury, so if it didn’t heal our cuts, our consolation prize was a damaged nervous system.

Weren’t all families so afflicted?  It wasn’t that our parents didn’t care.  Whenever some new calamity occurred, we would draw straws to see which of the remainder would have to go tell mom.  She would be appropriately concerned but remain calm as we piled into the station wagon for the familiar trip to the hospital.  It was only after we’d arrived safely back home that she became emotional, her left hand trembling as she chain smoked and muttered to herself.  When dad got home, he’d check on the patient, exhale heavily, pat us on the head and declare that the experience would “put hair on our chest.”  Since most of us were girls, such comments would elicit wails and more than a little anxiety.  Bedside manner was not his greatest skill.

Surely it is from these almost daily occurrences that I learned not to overreact to a child’s inevitable knocks and mishaps.  When mine were small and learning to walk, I was matter-of-fact when they crashed into a table leg or coffee table.  Up you go!  You’re alright!   As time went on, we got through three broken bones (at least ones that count), dislocated elbows, and more cuts and bruises than you can shake a stick at.  Their dad’s medical skills were constantly on call.  My daughter still has surgical glue in her forehead from a gash when she was four.  We patched them up and told them they’d be ok.   I learned the more you gasped and fretted over them, the more fragile they thought they were.  Less hovering and coddling meant more independence, confidence, and risk-tasking–elements, one could argue, children can usefully bring with them into adulthood.

I am not a detached mother who never bonded with her child, a wire monkey type.  On the contrary, I mourn the dwindling regularity of sweet boy hugs, declarations of undying love from my children’s lips, and girl time with my daughter.   I love them fiercely, as my mother did the five of us.  All my father’s advice to “rub some dirt on it” and my mother’s off-handed tendency to let us make our own adventures instead of providing entertainment on demand certainly fostered independence.  We knew that when we left the nest, we’d survive the fall.

As my own chicks approach the nest-leaving stage,  they need us less.  The circle of life and all that.   The kicker with teaching them independence is that they actually become independent.  I knew last night I didn’t need to rush over to my son’s gory toe.  He knew from past experience what to do.  As I handed him the limited first aid tools I had, he flashed me a lopsided grin, half chagrin, half machismo.   I resisted the urge to tell him this would put hair on his chest.  He was with his friends, after all.  This kid, I thought, he’ll survive the fall.

Leggings Aren’t Pants

***A Public Service Announcement***

Brought to you by People Against Public Exposure (PAPE)

Alas, it is one most regrettable fad,

A trend that is lazy, indecent, and…bad.

It’s defenseless and trashy.  That is my stance.

Once and for all, LEGGINGS AREN’T PANTS!

 

Leggings are really just tights without feet,

Would you wear Spanx by itself on the street?

 

Unless you’re a dancer up on a stage,

Or 12 years or less is your current age,

Unless you’re wearing them for Halloween,

Then your leggings, my friend, are not to be seen!

 

Your friends will not tell you, not to your face,

That those leggings you’re wearing are quite the disgrace.

People who follow you up the stairs

Get a face full of butt and recurrent nightmares.

 

“But they’re warm!”  you protest, hoping you’ll win.

No. They’re not. They’re stretchy and so very thin.

Like fishnets or hosiery of any kind,

They do nothing at all to warm your behind.

 

 

Even if you’re skinny and think you look hot,

Do you really want all eyes on your butt?

‘Cause that’s where they are, drawn there like glue,

Focused on “pieces-parts” instead of just YOU.

 

We can see every wrinkle, your underwear too,

And if you’re not wearing any, we can see ALL of you.

We see your cheeks wiggle as you’re on the go,

We cannot un-see your camel toe.

 

 

Under skirts and l-o-n-g sweaters that hide your bottom,

You can wear your leggings if you’ve got ’em.

Wear them your outfit to enhance,

But never, PLEASE never, wear leggings as pants!

The world is not your yoga class.

If you’re not at the gym, then cover your a–.

It’s not professional or cute when leggings are pants.

It causes guys to stare openly, as if in a trance.

 

 

Be classy, be smart, wherever you go.

Leggings as pants?  Just say no!

Class trumps comfort, no matter the trend.

It’s time for this Leggings-as-Pants thing to end.

 

 

Far & Away

Since the only consistent thing in life is change, it should be no surprise that once we adjusted to sending our child off to college, she glanced at the horizon and discovered she hadn’t ventured quite far enough from home yet.  One in ten undergraduates study abroad on trips that last anywhere from a couple of weeks to an entire academic year, and they don’t have to be foreign language or art  history majors to garner benefits.

I’ve seen the statistics.  Students who’ve studied abroad are twice as likely to land a job within a year of graduation.  They have 25% higher starting salaries and a sophisticated (and marketable) global approach to the world.  If they can hone or pick up a foreign language while they’re away, this increases job prospects further and makes them international citizens, able to transition more easily between cultures in our shrinking world.

A semester in Italy sounded glamorous and exotic.  She packed and repacked, trying to meet the luggage requirements (how can you fit three months’ worth of clothes, snacks and toiletries in one 50 pound bag?), and finally we waved goodbye at the airport.  If you haven’t yet had a child travel far and away, here’s a glimpse into what it’s like.

  1.  At least once before they leave, you will suggest an evening in for a movie night. This is a good time to watch Taken, and to rewind and give in-depth and animated analysis of the part where the naive American girls give out personal information to a perfect stranger at the airport.  Point out that while you don’t personally know Liam Neeson, you do have his speech memorized and are completely willing to make good on his threat.   While it probably won’t, things can happen (Paris, Brussels, Nice), so make sure everyone has emergency numbers, passport copies in multiple locations, and international medical coverage.

2.  Staying in one place while abroad is not enough for millennials with tiny attention spans.  Hopping a train or cheap flight to a neighboring country is common, usually fairly cost-effective, and an easy way to make the most of an extended study abroad trip.  Traveling in small groups works well and offers more security.  With any more than six opinions and preferences, more time is spent trying to herd cats than actually see a new city.  Whoever came up with the name “hostel” for cheap student lodging is just spiteful.  Why pick something that to English ears sounds patently unfriendly and scary?  Might I suggest changing it to cubby?

3.  You will be amazed at the child who consistently couldn’t manage to make curfew.  Suddenly he transforms into a person able to juggle international train schedules, Google maps, and changing time zones to be certain he makes it to Bono’s concert in Berlin or a street carnivale in Spain.

4.  Aren’t they supposed to be taking classes?   Yes, there is classroom time, but much of the education is outside a textbook.  The field trips, cross cultural experiences, and interactions with each other and local people are where real learning occurs.  Immersed in a different language, the brain actually creates neural pathways to adjust.  Having to live in another culture’s rhythms and pace teaches them to let down their social boundaries and stretches them to see others differently.  Often, they come home with friends across the map.

5.  Study abroad is a life-long lesson in managing expectations.  The trip that seems so glamorous on this side of the ocean won’t always live up to the visions in their head.  They won’t love every teacher, meal, museum, or travel companion.  It won’t be sunny and 80 degrees every day. Public transportation frequently goes on strike.  Outside American culture, the rest of the world operates on a more flexible time table. The word of the day is flexibility.  A tall order for some, this is a chance to embrace the unexpected, learn a different flow and become more tolerant, agreeable, and open to change.

6.  It will cost approximately the GNP of a small country to Fed Ex forgotten or emergency items to your student abroad, with no guarantee they will arrive.  Double check the packing list.  Pre-fill medications and have back-up credit cards.  If they’re traveling across borders while abroad, be mindful of different regulations for what’s allowed in carry-on’s or backpacks.

7.  Technology can be friend or foe.  Shop around for international data plans, and be sure to get something so your student is reachable without WiFi in case of emergency.  FaceTime or Skype is wonderful when you just need to put eyes on them.  It might take the whole semester, but eventually they will remember that the time difference means that while they may be riding elephants in the Thailand afternoon, you are in a deep, sound sleep in the wee hours.  Or at least you were.

8.  You aren’t going to want to know everything before it happens.  You should’ve already adjusted to this truth of college life, but sometimes it’s better not to know until  afterwards.  My friend’s daughter bungee jumped off a 440 foot platform in New Zealand while studying abroad, and to this day her mother cannot watch the video.   It’s the age of Vimeo and GoPro, and your millennial is going to want some choice post-able footage of their time away.  Squeeze your eyes shut, stick your fingers in your ears and loudly chant:  LALALALALA.

9.  They’ll learn a measure of independence.  While you may be footing at least some of the bill, they’re having to manage logistics, relationships, and emotions from far away.  They have likely done this already just in their regular university situation, but being thousands of miles overseas forces the issue somewhat. They learn to work it out, tough it out, or cry it out on their own.  They realize they are capable.

10.  The student you dropped off at the airport likely will not be the same one who greets you several months later.  He will seem wholly different somehow in a way you cannot at first pinpoint.  She will be morphed by confidence and distance, transformed by her experiences, more worldly and seasoned person.  You will burst with pride at his accomplishments and feel his joy as he describes moments with breathless excitement.  Except the part about paragliding over the Alps.  Then you will clutch your chest and demand to know what she was thinking.

A final note:  once they arrive safely at home, don’t forget to Tweet Liam Neeson and tell him you will no longer have him on speed dial.

 

Valentine Boxes

Bless me, Father, I still do valentines for my grown up kids.  I’m five years past the classroom Valentine’s Box hoopla of hunting down a shoe box and trying to decorate it about half an hour before bedtime the night before.  The grocery store Valentines that we argued over still had to be labeled for every kid in the class–(neatly, please! You can’t even tell whose name that is!)–with protests and whining about having to give one (yes, a NICE one) to all the girls.   Doing this with my daughter was easier.  A pink girly Valentine box with stickers and hearts was just fine, but is there such a thing as a masculine Valentine box?  Something about lizards and Darth Vader just doesn’t say Valentine’s Day.  But whatever.

Valentine boxes always caused issues.  There were always the one or two kids who got all the lame valentines, the over-achieving parents who had to ALSO include candy (no nuts, gluten free) with each one, and the surprise and gossip caused by finding an extra special note from “Guess Who?” or “Secret Admirer.”  Bless the teachers on Valentine’s Day, who try to judge the best box, organize 20+ hyper first graders to put the right valentines in the right boxes, and oversee the class party with spilled red juice and way too many pink cupcakes.  They are headed straight to heaven.

Bless the parents of multiple grade schoolers who have to oversee and coordinate 40, 60, or 80 plus handwritten valentine notes and go through untold closets to find battered and torn shoe boxes.  Bless those Mother Hubbard parents whose craft cabinets are bare of glitter, stickers and glue.  Who are cleaning up said glitter and piles of sticky spilled Fun Dip and pixie sticks this very morning.  And who will, by rights, pilfer their children’s valentine candy upon their arrival home from school.  Did they learn nothing from Halloween?  Thou shalt not trust parents with chocolate.  I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible somewhere.  I’m paraphrasing.

This morning my 17-year-old came down ready for school and tucked into breakfast with approximately zero idea that the calendar had flipped to February 14.  It’s actually kind of refreshing how un-phased he is by the date.  In late December, the aisles of Christmas decorations have barely disappeared when suddenly everything turns to red and pink.  Those chalky pastel candy hearts with the stamped messages show up:  hot stuff, QT pie, be mine.  He is happily oblivious and has been since middle school.

Not one valentine box has survived.  I can’t even track down any of the valentines either of my kids have received over the years from “yore good freind Taylor.”  Our shoe boxes inevitably got recycled into show & tell containers, book report dioramas, or a fancy house for the hapless frog that forgot to make itself scarce in the backyard.

So, although I do not miss the valentine box phase, I haven’t quite given up on the day altogether.  This morning I snuck a bag of cherry blow pops into my high school junior’s lunchbox because it is open season for trying to bribe a hug from a bristly adolescent who now towers over me.

#shameless

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At least it wasn’t a love-struck Darth Vader holding a pastel heart stamped with “hubba hubba”.  I do have standards.

Sink or Swim

My father’s brand of parenting was both efficient and effective.  With five children, perhaps he lacked the time to coddle, or more likely, his military bearing precluded the impulse.  I learned to ride a bike by careening downhill in the backyard, honing my steering by avoiding pine trees as they rushed by in a blur.   He had imparted the facts at the top of the hill, pertinent information about pedaling, braking, and keeping your eyes up.  Gravity and physics are master professors.

All three of my older sisters became ace softball players, singular in their ability to field, unafraid of pop-up ground balls.  They’d lived through hours of practice in the hot Florida sun, my father beaming fast-pitch into their thin leather gloves until their palms stung. Loss of focus or flinching could mean a bobbled catch, a ball-sized bruise beneath their floral tank tops and directions to Walk It Off.  It was softball as self defense.

My younger brother learned to swim before he turned two.  A pool in our backyard and a toddler with stealthy escape skills drove my mother crazy with worry.  So she sat chain smoking by the pool while my father hired an avant-garde teacher to toss her youngest into the deep end, his blue eyes wide under the water as he blew bubbles and paddled to safety.

We learned independence early.  When it came time to pick a career path or a college, there were no fancy weekend tours, guidance counselor sessions, or laboring over applications and essays.  The process was more of a self-directed cursory decision, driven by the calendar and necessity.  No water wings, no kiddie pool–just sink or swim.

Faced with these polar options, we gained fortitude and an admirable proficiency at faking confidence even when–especially when–we felt it least.  Once when one of my sisters was about 10, my father decided it was time for her to learn to water ski.  We took the boat out on a less populated Florida lake and in she went, skinny arms held straight out in front of her and her knobby knees slightly bent atop skis that felt awkward and too large for her thin frame.   With the motor idling, you could hear the deep croaking of the alligators on the bank calling to each other.   Of course there were gators.  Every body of water in Florida contains gators.   You’ve never seen a faster study on water skis than my sister.   She got up and stayed up, at least until he had to stop to refuel.  As we slowed, she sank, her eyes growing wider as the dark lake water swallowed her whole.   I have never doubted Jesus’ miracle of walking on water.  I witnessed it first hand as my sister made it to the boat in record time.

We all learned to become high-achievers.  When the alternative to failure is becoming reptilian lunch, the non-lunch option is popular.   Some of us are just wired this way, call it Type A or chalk it up to perfectionism.  The stakes stay high.  It’s like living life in the middle of the James Bond car chase scene at all times–motivating, exciting, and intense, but exhausting.  Every little letdown becomes a crisis with personal implications.  Imagine:  your car breaks down and heads will roll because someone somewhere should have seen this coming.  Your toddler has a melt down and the entire grocery store must be judging your moral disgrace.  You get a “B” in a class and all you see are the 10 ways you should have studied harder.   In sink-or-swim living, there’s no room for error, no patience for sub-par.

Keeping the snarling dog of failure at bay means having to be constantly alert.  Because life is black and white, options get reduced to an either/or:  sink or swim.  Stepping out with something new, a change in the landscape, sends primal signals to the survival center:  fight or flight.  Because the universe has a sense of humor, all the good things come with risk of failure and the most messiness–relationships, creativity, opportunity.  When you’ve been conditioned to avoid failing, you do one of two things:  (1) dodge the risk altogether and don’t try (stay safe), or (2) do try and stay in a perpetual state of freaking out when things go awry (stay in crisis).  Both are unacceptable and frankly more than a little whack.

A provocative book called Nurture Shock discusses the outcomes of different ways to praise children.  One group was told they were smart; the other, that they were hard workers.  Hard work is something they could control; being smart is evidence of something out of their control.  After being given increasingly difficult puzzles to solve, the “smart” group gave up earlier.  They stopped trying.  Failure to solve the puzzle would mean they were no longer smart.  The “hard workers” never stopped trying.  Failure didn’t diminish their identity; it was something they knew they could work through, and even learn from, given enough time.

It’s taken some reprogramming, but thankfully I’ve learned life rarely operates in black and white.  In between sink or swim is a whole other option.  Ironically, the infant swim teacher taught us this, too.  We can float.  Floating involves no freaking out, no shortness of breath or raging at onlookers.  Turns out it’s mostly peaceful and we get a great view of the sky while we’re at it.  Unless we’re fleeing the alligators, which, let’s be honest, are mostly creatures of our trumped up imaginations, floating allows us space to trust ourselves, the universe, and other people for help.  The water itself–the very thing we were struggling against or afraid to jump into–becomes a source of buoyancy, bearing us along with the tide.

Struggle and failure hold gifts of wisdom and character that can be received no other way. When we give ourselves and our children the freedom to fail, we sprinkle grace into our lives.  We learn to sit in the mess and take stock with reasonable objectivity, picking out the good parts and tossing aside the rest.  Best of all, we learn to link hands with other failures–otherwise known as humanity–until forgiveness, humility, and grace become second nature.  We lie back with arms outstretched, fill our lungs with a long, slow breath, and float.

Christmas Kisses

After a brisk winter storm or two in my area of the country, when the last of the tenacious rust-brown oak leaves have finally stopped clinging to the branches, a hawk-eyed hunter can usually spot clumps of mistletoe hanging high at the tops of oak trees.  I spied some myself this week, as I drove home lost in thought on a gray afternoon.

mistletoe2The uninitiated might mistake the tangled clumps for dead branches or even a squirrel’s nest, but I knew better.  When I was a teenager, our house sat on several wooded acres in middle Tennessee, God’s country.  My parents sat on the back porch in the mornings drinking coffee and watching deer, turkey, and chipmunks shuffle through the leaves in the backyard.  Somewhere towards mid-December every year, my brother or father would disappear into the woods with a shotgun in hand and return an hour or so later, pink-cheeked and smelling of the outdoors, to lay a tattered clump of mistletoe on the kitchen counter.

The only way to acquire the kissing sprig, which is actually a parasite to its host tree,  is to blast it from the treetops with a well-aimed shotgun.  Not very romantic.  What is romantic, though, is my father snapping off a twig or two and cornering my mother at the kitchen sink, her hands in the dishwater.  He’d hold the lime-green leaves above her head and lean in for a kiss, usually getting a soapy swat for his trouble.

I love many things about the holidays, but mistletoe memories rank right up there.  When my husband and I were dating, I could always count on him sending me a note at school with a tiny sprig enclosed or dipping a gloved hand into his coat pocket at an opportune moment to pull out a red-ribboned bunch.

When the kids were small, they would often sit purposefully underneath the door frame where the mistletoe hung, their not-so-subtle indication that it was high time for some snuggles.  As they grew, it became a game to see who would get caught there and have to submit, squirming, as mom planted a kiss on a grossed-out teenager’s cheek.  Through some phases of their lives, I was resigned to only getting affection under Christmas duress.

That’s the beauty of mistletoe.  It’s power to compel a kiss is an inarguable given, like midnight on New Year’s Eve or spin-the-bottle in middle school.  For the most part, unless you’re trying to escape the creeper at the annual office party or drunk Uncle Edgar (and in that case, there most definitely is the right of refusal), those innocent green branches and white berries add a little Hallmark magic to the stress of the holidays.  Even in the midst of an argument or an overdone schedule, mistletoe is the trump card.  A peace-offering.  A reminder of the things that really matter.

Real mistletoe is harder to find these days.  Maybe the countryside is receding or maybe it’s just easier for guys to click “add to cart” at Christmas instead of tramping through the cold woods in search of a bit of old-fashioned romance.  Fewer people live out in the country anymore, where you know how to dig for ginseng and can identify the scrapes on tree bark as those left by the antlers of rutting deer.  And apparently it’s not polite to blast shotguns towards the treetops in suburban neighborhoods.

I haven’t had any real mistletoe in the house in a few years.  The fake, plastic kind just isn’t the same.  Maybe that’s why I had to stop and take a picture of mistletoe-signthe far away clusters I spotted by the interstate this week.  I needed a reminder of a time when life was simpler and nothing made me happier than watching my mom and dad dance to the Christy Minstrels album in the kitchen after a soapy kiss.   Since the real thing is hard to come by, I have a little sign posted on my kitchen windowsill, right above the sink, where it’s obvious when I’m doing the dishes.

I conjure my own mistletoe, metaphorically.  There’s no sly evasion of the door frames anymore.  The teenagers receive begrudged smooches without warning, and when the husband comes in from the cold, smelling of the outdoors, it’s an opportunity to gross out the aforementioned teenagers even more.  (wink, wink*)

May your days be merry and bright!