Friday, December 30, 2005

Ah, The Power!

Daughter-Only wanders home from a friend's house last night around 5. She's in the door two seconds and quizzing me already:

"What's for dinner?"

"Um, leftovers."

"Leftover what?"

"Ham and scalloped potatoes from the night before last and meatloaf and mashed potatoes from last night. There's also..."

"Stttttooooooppppppp! You're gonna make me puke!"

It's a good thing I'm a superhero and not a supervillain. Imagine all the havoc I could wreak if I used my powers for evil instead of for good.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ho! Ho! Holy Crap! Is That What I Think It Is?

A leftover slice (or two) of Christmas cheer for those of you who still have room:

---Little Sister and I were on our way for some almost last-minute Christmas shopping (the weekend before the Big Day), when I saw one of those lighted reindeer hanging from a tree by its feet, much the way a hunter would hang his trophy (dead deer for the uninitiated, non-rednecks among you). As an added artistic touch, the guy (c'mon, you know it was a guy) had hung a strand of red lights right down the center of the deer to make it look field dressed. Ewwww...but hey, the giggle I got was worth the gross factor.

---In a related note (and in yet another argument for Decebuary), a friend of a friend came up with a brilliant plan to put one of those reindeer on a spit, rotating over flames made of orange tube-lighting. Alas, he ran out of time before he could execute his plan this year. I share this with all of you on the condition that no one steal the poor guy's demented idea before he gets the chance to get it all together. I mean, I'm pretty sure that all the higher-ups involved in the holiday season would frown upon theft of intellectual property. If they're out of coal, who knows what you might get in your stocking?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Santa's Elves Are Everywhere

To give you some idea of my current mental state, when I wrote the word "everywhere" in the title of this post, the voice in my head wasn't mine--it was the voice of Ray Stevens in his song "Santa Claus Is Watching You." In the background of the chorus, Stevens says in a panicked, bordering on insane, voice, "He's everywhere! He's everywhere!" That's the true voice of this holiday season...

Anyway. Santa's Elves are everywhere, spreading joy and Christmas cheer. And, generous blogger that I am, I'm happy to share some examples with you.

---Customer calls the shop the other day says, "Hi, my name is So-and-So Massengill..." and just as I'm thinking "great, I'll bet she's gonna be a real douche bag," she says, "yes, my last name actually is Massengill." I thought it was uncommonly kind of her to immediately acknowledge the giggle power of her last name.

---In the space of five minutes on Tuesday night, I experienced not one but two true Christmas miracles. Years ago, I inherited two waffle irons from my grandmother that she used to make two varieties of waffle cookies every Christmas. The first few years I had the irons, I diligently turned out cookies to share with friends and family. Then we moved and I somehow lost track of the recipes--which were written on two stained 3x5 index cards in my grandmother's hieroglyphic handwriting. So for going on six years now--no traditional waffle cookies. No one's mentioned them, probably everyone assumed I'm just neck-deep in the details of daily life and too busy to bother with recipes that begin "1 dozen eggs." Anyway, it's been a nagging thought and several times a year, I dig through all my recipe cards and cookbooks and other likely places in search of these damned cards. Tuesday night, while looking for something else altogether (a burned CD with Christmas classics such as "Chipmunks Roasting On A Open Fire," I feel compelled to confess, in part so you can see just how undeserving I was of the miracles about to come my way), I found both of the recipes, one right after the other, in two separate places, places I'd repeatedly looked, by the way. The only thing more miraculous would've been finding them a month and a half ago when I might still have had time to make the cookies.

---I ventured into a Wal-Mart this weekend--I know, I know, THE INSANITY! Anyway, it was exactly as horrible as you'd imagine and maybe even then some. No room to manuever in the aisles crowded with all those other shoppers with their glazed eyes and haunted expressions. Most of the people were too dazed by their own misfortune to be nasty to anyone else, which I guess is a blessing. There was one guy who seemed to be having entirely too much fun. He was dancing around in circles with his cart, while waiting for his wife to paw through the clearance racks of women's clothing. Along comes a woman, clearly on an urgent mission to fill her cart with even more crap, and runs her cart right up the guy's leg, above his ankle and over his foot--and she did not even slow down. No "excuse me," no, "oh--I'm sooo sorry," not even a "please don't file a lawsuit against me." The guy looked sheepishly at his wife, who said, "That's what you get for whipping that cart around like that." And the guy kept on a-grinning. That's some Christmas spirit. Too bad it's not contagious.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Headless Chickens and Other Signs The Holidays Are Here

Have you ever thought about the expression, "Running around like a chicken with its head cut off?" I mean, is that to imply that pre-beheaded chickens are somehow orderly and organized? Head or no head, chickens are a fluttery, chattery, ditzy species, right? So do we have to be so very graphic and insensitive? Can't we just say we're running around like chickens period?

So. I've been running around like a proverbial chicken with or without its proverbial head. I've often bemoaned the shortage of time in December and the long list of things we all expect to get done in so few days. Between the Day Job and Christmas shopping for four increasingly picky children (with increasingly expensive tastes) and trying to scribble out a few Christmas cards to the nearest and dearest (a good portion of whom I only hear from (and vice versa) this time of year) and trying to get a little ritual baking done (it's therapeutic--what's NOT therapeutic is trying to schedule it around everything else that's going on).

In years past, I have suggested to friends, family and coworkers that we start a movement to add the 28 days of February on to December. I mean, what's the point of February, really? Especially in the areas of the country that experience the joys of winter weather, February is just one more trial to be survived before spring's arrival. Though it's the shortest month according to the calendar, it often seems to drag on and on. And December, though it has a full allotment of 31 days, seems to fly on by with barely a chance to catch your breath. Borrowing a page from the best episode of Rugrats ever, we can call it "Decebuary" and we can have the 28 extra days all at the beginning before Christmas, thereby at least moderately upping the chances of me getting all this stuff done on time.

You know what else would help me get things done in a more timely fashion? Spending a little less time blogging (and compulsively reading everyone else's brilliant blogs)...but I gotta say we stand a way greater chance of pushing this Decebuary thing through than of me cutting back on the blogging.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Other Kid--The End of an Era

Other Kid, you may remember, is the little boy we've been babysitting since he was six weeks old. He's our reason for getting out of bed in the morning--at least the reason we got out of bed all summer at the cruel and unusual hour of 4:40 a.m. Anyway, due to changes in his parents' schedules, we're off Other Kid duty at least for the moment. This change is bittersweet--he has been part of our daily lives for years so it's kind of like sending one off to college--at the tender age of four, but it also means no more arbitrary and insane fluctuations in our schedule based on the arbitrary and insane fluctuations in Other Kid's parents' schedules.

Being so closely involved with someone else's child is a strange thing. I love him dearly; I'm tempted to say I love him like one of my own. But the truth is, the investment's entirely different. I care very deeply about him and do my best to protect him and provide him with the things he needs in his parents' absence, but I don't see his growth and behavior as reflections upon me so I can face any problems with him with a bemused sort of detachment that I didn't (and don't) have with my own kids. It's sort of like what I imagine grandparenting will be--love 'em a lot, hope for the best, and send 'em on home. When, for instance, potty training wasn't going well (this is a massive understatement--potty training was failing miserably: there was screaming and tears and bribes and threats--it was like nothing I'd ever seen before), I never spent sleepless nights staring at the ceiling, envisioning Other Kid having to wear Depends to his high school graduation.

For another instance, when things come out of his mouth, I don't wonder much who taught him that or what his saying that means about my skill level as a caregiver. A week or so ago, we were waiting for his grandmother--who happens to be none other than Cranky Boss Lady (oh what a tangled web we weave when first we agree to babysit for the Boss's grandon)--to pick him up for Montessori. She was, as is very usual, running late. Other Kid said, "Where's Grandma?"

I said, "She's just running a little late. She'll be here soon."

Other Kid said, "Grandma's a loser."

Ya' know, I'm really gonna miss that kid.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Turkey Day Tidbits

Leftovers: You know how this time of year all the magazines and cooking shows try to come up with creative things to do with all that leftover turkey? I've seen turkey tarts, potpie, burrito, salads, and on and on. Well, I have the perfect solution to get rid of all those turkey leftovers--three teenage boys. They don't need it prettied up--they'll wolf it down straight out of the fridge with a little mayo and a slice or two of bread. Before you can even say leftovers, they're gone.

Gratitude: At last year's Thanksgiving celebration, my dad suggested we all say one thing we're thankful for. Daughter-Only piped up: "Can we all also say one thing we're not thankful for?" That suggestion was loudly vetoed (by me and a few others at the table--I mean, first, do we really want the entire extended family hearing what Daughter-Only is not grateful for and second, depending on her mood of the moment, it might take her an hour or two to narrow it down to one thing she's not grateful for and by then dinner would be stone-cold and we'd all have a whole new thing to be not thankful for). The big surprise, though, was when it was finally Daughter-Only's turn to speak her gratitude aloud, she said, "I'm thankful for the variety of people we have in our family--that we're all so different and we all still get along."

Caught On Tape: There is one of those old-fashioned home movies somewhere of my first Christmas--me in a red velvet dress, age 5 months--propped up in a high chair at the dinner table. I'm holding a turkey drumstick the size of my head. My mother always said I was insistently reaching for it and my grandparents, ever-ready to give me every little thing I wanted--including a turkey drumstick that may have weighed nearly as much as I did--gave it to me. There is no evidence that I actually ate any of it, but I am seen intently rubbing turkey grease all over my face and my little red velvet dress. Perhaps my distaste for dressy clothes and my not entirely healthy relationship with food can both be traced to that moment, but probably not.

Ghost of Turkeys Past: Last year, as I was hacking apart the turkey, a sizeable piece of white meat liberated itself from the platter and flew across the room. My (then fourteen-year-old) nephew observed, "Ooooh, looks like we've got a poultrygeist!"

Hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Coupla Four-Letter "S"-words

I've always heard that only boring people get bored--I'm not sure I've ever believed it, but, just in case, I'm always out there making my own entertainment.

For the past month or so, I've been conducting an informal sociological experiment involving my first four-letter "S"-word: shoes. Granted, shoes is actually five letters, but its root is four so give me a little leeway. (Notice I didn't say "allow me poetic license." That's because I don't want to get anyone's hopes up regarding the literary merit of this post.)

As I've mentioned, I hate, hate, hate shoes. One of the few perks of my job is that I'm allowed to wear pretty much any kind of shoes I want--in fact, as long as I have shoes on when I wait on customers, I'm even allowed to go barefoot in the backroom. In the interest of convenience, I've been wearing flip-flops all summer--slip on, kick off, they're a thing of beauty. (Or as a much a thing of beauty as you could expect something made of recycled tires to be.) As the leaves started to change and the temperature to drop, I hated to give up the foot freedom of the summer so I continued with the flip-flops even as my wardrobe went from short sleeves to sweaters and then even my coat.

After the first three people--friends, acquaintances, total strangers--looked at me like I might be criminally insane and said, "Aren't your feet cold?" I decided to push the issue and keep track of how many people just couldn't resist commenting (out loud!) on my footwear choices. For the last week or so, I've been wearing my heavy winter coat and even sometimes putting up my hood against the chill and still my little piggies have been poking out of my flip-flops for all the world to see.

In addition to tabulating the responses of total strangers, I've been reveling in the fact that Cranky Boss Lady can barely stand that I'm still wearing flip-flops. She says to me every other day, "Isn't it time for the real shoes yet?" She can barely stand it--and she knows she can't suddenly pull rank on me after letting me wear them all summer. There's no compelling, boss-like reason for her to suddenly be concerned and really the only reason it's bothering her is because she wants to be the boss of me and not just my boss. I was thinking it was a very passive-aggressive thing I was doing, continuing to wear these drugstore flip-flops, then it hit me that since I'm actually doing something--wearing the shoes--it's really aggressive-aggressive. Still, I'm pretty okay with that.

But Thursday night, my resolve was put to the test by the other four-letter "S"-word for today: SNOW. When I peeked out the window and saw the white stuff--just a dusting, but still, I knew I would have to cave and drag out my sneakers, I was disappointed that my fun had ended so soon. I was really looking forward to the fuzzy Santa hat* I wear at work every year topped off (or bottomed off?) by a pair of black, recycled-tire flip-flops with my ice-blue toes sticking out!

*Lest you think I'm a whole other sort of dork than I actually am, my fuzzy Santa hat is royal purple plush with a leopard-print cuff and a fuzzy white pom-pom.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning..."

I sometimes think parenting is just an elaborate payback for all the grief we caused the adults in our lives when we were kids.

The battle around here to get three teenage boys out of bed on time--or anything even remotely in the neighborhood of on time--has been heating up lately. They all have their own rooms and their own functioning alarm clocks, but we have yet to make it through a single week when all three of them were on time to school every day. Efforts to send them to bed earlier result only in them staying awake in their respective rooms, reading or staring at the ceiling or wandering the house in the dead of night like the blood-sucking vampires I'm often convinced they are. (Deprived children that they are, their rooms aren't equipped with cable-ready TV's or kickin' stereo systems or computers so it's not the Evil Video Entertainment Purveyors that are keeping them awake.)

I wasn't what anyone would call an early, or cheerful, riser when I was a teenager. I often rolled out of bed at the very last minute, after considerable nagging on my mother's part. I can actually remember an acquaintance of mine in high school saying to me one morning, "You look like you just woke up...but then you always look like you just woke up." Yeah, it was a catty, crappy thing to say, but the thing is, it was 100% true and in her defense, it was actually closer to noon when she said it--a time by which bedhead and pillow creases should've long since worn off.

There are a lot of mornings when I stand at the bottom of the stairs shouting for each boy until I hear the grunted response letting me know he's at least semi-conscious that I think of my poor grandmother, who put up with me for weeks on end every summer. This wasn't my haunted house grandmother, but my Nan, my father's mother. I spent several weeks each summer I was in high school with her and my Pap in their teeny, tiny, unhaunted house. I slept on the sofa bed in the middle of the living room (the house was a converted hunting cabin that only had three rooms) and every morning as the clock inched past nine and then past ten, my grandmother would come into the room singing, "Oh how I hate to get up in the morning!" And then, in a deeper voice, "But you gotta get up, you gotta get up in the morning!"

Oh, Nan, wherever you are, they're getting back at me now.

Turns out, there is a scientifically proven (or at least suggested by a study or two) reason--other than laziness and the deep desire to annoy the adults in one's life--why teenagers stay up so late and hate to get out of bed so early. It's cold comfort but I'll take it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Halloween Is All About Pretend... can we just pretend I actually got this post around in time for Halloween? See, I really meant to post about my ghostly experiences on or before Halloween but the only thing scarier than supernatural phenomena is my schedule lately (lately--like the last, oh, seventeen years or so).

After I mentioned the haunted house thing a few posts ago, I realized that although I have talked about the few "haunted" moments I've experienced with lots of people over the years, I have never really written anything anywhere about them. Considering how much scribbling I've done (my journal alone, which I've kept since I was fifteen, is 53 spiral notebooks of various sizes), this seemed amazing to me. The more I thought about it, the more I could see two contradictory reasons why I had never written on the subject.

First is that I haven't really thought about the experiences as something special or extraordinary but more as something mundane and matter-of-fact. Just by virtue of the fact that they happened to me, boring old me, they've become commonplace, hardly worthy of my attention. Not beneath my attention as much as so "normal" as to be unlikely to attract it.

Second is that beneath the commonplace-it-happened-to-me-so-how-interesting-could-it-be exterior of the episodes is a whole lot of other stuff. The do you believe in ghosts question is really only the start. What are ghosts? Where are they from? Can you believe in spirits, ghosts, lost souls and still not be at all sure about an organized afterlife? How does reincarnation fit (or not) in with the existence of these beings? Is it possible to discuss any of this without using the word "entity" or otherwise making a complete ASS of myself?

I've learned that the more daunting a writing task seems the more likely I am to really learn something about myself. So, here I am rolling up my mental sleeves, and digging in. (Lucky you, you get to share the dirt.)

~~The Ghost of the Refrigerator

Given all my previous I'm-such-a-geek confessions, it shouldn't come as any surprise that I'm addicted to the show "Ghost Hunters" on the Sci-Fi Channel. The show follows the investigations of a group of paranormal researchers who call themselves TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society). In the interest of ever finishing this post, I'll save my ode to Jason and Grant (the hilarious plumbers-by-day founders) for another time. It's only important to know that in the TAPS universe, "personal experience" is considered too subjective and rates extremely low on the scale of evidence. That's totally understandable. Eye-witness accounts are famously unreliable--even accounts of everyday, worldly events. When we're talking about the paranormal, about something not only unusual, but almost unimaginable, how much less reliable would our recollections be? If seeing is not believing--then surely hearing, smelling, and, worst of all, "feeling" should probably be discounted altogether.

All that having been said, I do know that something happened when I was sleeping on my grandmother's sofa when I was four. Okay, I admit, I was four, but I wasn't the average scared-of-the-dark four-year-old. I wasn't scared of much at all really. I was the tough little tomboy and that applied especially to physical challenges (which explains how it was that I ended up in the emergency room five times in nine months the following year). I was too unafraid for my own good. But on this particular night, I was terrified. I was shocked speechless, breathless, immobile.

I had gone to the drive-in that night with my parents, and I must've fallen asleep in the car on the way back to my grandmother's house because I don't remember being tucked in on the sofa. I woke up some time later to what sounded like the refrigerator doors opening. My grandmother had a refrigerator with side-by-side doors--the doors were packed full with bottles of dressing and jars of pickles that jiggled together when the doors were swung open, making a tinkling sound. There was a blast of frigid air and there at the end of the couch, seemingly hovering a few feet off the floor, was the image of a refrigerator and a man, who paid me no attention, was rooting around in there for something.

I tried to scream, but no sound came out and I was paralyzed there in a half-sitting position. I could see my sister, sound asleep on the loveseat across the room and it was as if she were a world away and not merely half a room away.

It was probably only a few seconds, surely no longer than a minute, but it seemed completely outside of time--not longer than it was, but happening in its own time, in a compartmentalized little universe.

When the refrigerator closed, the air pressure and temperature returned to normal and I ran, afraid to even look over my shoulder. I woke my parents and my mother listened to my story and comforted me with the standard "it was just a nightmare" assurance. She spread a blanket on the floor and told me I could sleep there.

I didn't sleep, at least not well. I knew it hadn't been a nightmare--I'd had nightmares before. I would, in fact, have a nightmare later that same night, when I was finally too exhausted to keep my eyes open anymore. I had no problem recognizing the difference between what happened in my head and what happened in front of my eyes. (The nightmare that night was disjointed and full of frightening images, but it didn't tie in in any directly recognizable way with the ghost thing. I didn't, for example, see the ghost over and over again in my dreams--then or ever.)

I was four and not afraid of the dark, but the daylight was nonetheless very welcome. I don't remember how much was made of my "nightmare" the next day. I do remember that over the course of the next few years, I would regale various friends with the story--never in front of the grown-ups--and eventually, I developed a sort of stand-up routine with it. "I've seen a ghost--a ghost of a refrigerator..." And I would go on to explain the fear, the paralysis, the cold gust of air, but all of it spoken in a "hey, isn't my life zany" way. It became the "Ghost of the Refrigerator Story." And truly, the refrigerator was the focal point of my retellings and eventually of my memory of the event. The man, in my mind, was an afterthought.

He stayed that way, too, until I was twelve and overheard my mother telling a friend of hers the story of that night. The mom's-eye view of that night had a twist that sent a chill up my spine, sped up my heart rate, set my neck hairs on end. I heard my mom say, "When she came to my room, she described my brother W perfectly." W was killed in a car-train accident in 1970, before my second birthday.

It set the whole thing in a different--somehow more significant and legitimate--light. At least for a couple of weeks. If Mom and I ever talked about it directly in any but the most superficial way, I can't remember it.

In the abstract, I've always believed in the possibility of ghosts, or at least "ghostly" activity. It seems plausible that there is more to the world than we can readily see and understand. But whenever I hear a specific "personal experience," I'm always extremely skeptical--even, maybe especially, when looking at my own experience. It makes no difference how reliable or upstanding the person telling the story is, it makes no difference that part of me firmly believes, knows really, that I have seen a ghost (of a refrigerator!) myself. In the abstract, ghosts are entirely possible--even probable. They're just a lot harder to believe in on a case-by-case, individual basis. This doesn't make much sense to me, but there it is.

~~The Homestead

My other two personal experiences are even more vague and open to interpretation, but in both cases there were other people present.

The summer I turned thirteen, we moved into what our family would come to refer to, always a little sheepishly, as "the haunted house." When we moved in, the stage was already set for otherworldly events. The place was built in 1789, served as an inn on the trail west, and we saw for ourselves the name scratched into a window pane--the name, according to the landlord, of a caretaker who had died there, stranded without supplies, in the winter of, I think, 1811. When Mom went to the post office to file our change of address, the man behind the counter said, "Oh you're moving into the haunted house."

Two and a half months later, when we started school, our first day on the bus was full of questions and the generous sharing of local myths, legends and rumors concerning the house. I remember there being a mini-debate over whether the blood and hair of the murdered girl welled up into the corner of the basement room every five years or only every ten years. As far as we were able to figure out, no murder had taken place at all--so that part at least was a figment of someone's imagination.

The house lent itself to hysteria, to the hebejebies, to the creepies. It was echoey (yeah, that's a word) and there was always the feeling that you were in a place of long, if not eventful, history. It wasn't so much the feeling of a "presence" as the presence of layer upon layer of experience, happenings kind of hovering in the air--a sort of subtle vibration. I was never really frightened by it. In fact, I remember feeling more at home there than I had in many of the other places we had lived. I felt embraced by the sense of history on both a conscious and a subconscious, more spiritual, level.

The first of the two things happened when friends of my parents, J and T and their two children were there for an overnight visit. We were all gathered around a campfire in the side yard--except for our youngest visitor, who was around a year old and asleep in the living room, just inside the front door.

At some point, T suddenly said, "Hey! Who turned the attic light on?"

A quick head count eliminated all the possibilities, except the sleeping toddler, who was not quite walking yet--had she been walking and able to manage two very full flights of stairs, she still couldn't have reached the light switch.

No one wanted to admit it, and I can't remember who first said it out loud (probably J; he was like that), but everyone finally agreed the light must've come on by itself. There are any number of rational explanations--ones involving electricity and circuits, the fallibility of mechanical things. But where's the fun in that?

I was volunteered to go in and sit with the baby, I guess to protect her from what- or whomever had turned on the light. Sacrificed to the ghosties yet again, I was too busy basking in the adults' confidence in me, and trying to be worthy of it, to be freaked out at the thought of hanging out with a spook. I don't remember being scared, just a little intrigued.

The other incident happened a little later that summer. It was just after sunrise one morning, probably in the neighborhood of six o'clock, and I was reading in bed. (That was the summer I read the "Wagons West" series by Dana Fuller Ross--I was obsessed, fell asleep reading them, woke up with my face in the book and picked up right where I left off.)

I was reading in bed when I heard this noise--a gigantic noise, the sound of rocks and dirt, like a landslide or a dump trunk spilling its load. It shook the house. I jumped out of bed and ran into the hall. At the top of the stairs, I saw Dad on the landing, standing on tiptoe, looking out the window with a look of shock and awe on his face. He turned when he heard me and I was momentarily distracted by the sight of him--his face half-shaved, still slathered in shaving cream, standing there in his undershirt and his tightie-whities and black dress socks with his mouth literally hanging open. I may have actually cackled--I mean come on!

He said, "Did you hear that?"

And I said, still struggling to keep a straight face, "Yeah, what was it?"

He said, "I thought maybe the kitchen had fallen off again," referring to the story we'd been told about part of the kitchen having collapsed in the early Seventies. "But it's still there. That was weird. Really weird."

We halfheartedly put forth a few theories--maybe the neighbor had a load of gravel delivered or maybe someone was doing construction down on the main road--but he had to get to work and I had to get back to Whip and Cathy and their westward journey. Of course, there was no load of gravel or nearby construction or heavy equipment anywhere for miles--so naturally, we just left it at "Damn, that was weird."

Sometime within the last few years, most likely around a campfire at my dad's house, the subject came up. Dad remembered it, but only vaguely (he did not, for example, remember that he was wearing only his socks, underwear and half a face full of shaving cream) and his assessment remained the same. "Damn, that was weird."

Weird is one thing, but haunted is another. Were either of these houses haunted? Both? Neither?

Maybe by next Halloween, I'll have an answer.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Falling Back

So, I've been waiting all month to "fall back." Geek that I am, I love the opportunity to live an hour twice, but I'm WAY less enthusiastic about springing forward and I am the kind of person that's always wondered WHY we do this insane and pointless thing twice a year especially since hardly anyone has a coherent explanation for why we do it and no one I personally know feels there's even one demonstrable benefit to doing it (I mean, "they" tell us it's about saving fuel or whatever, but has anyone, ever, scientifically illustrated the "truth" of that statement?). Earlier this month at the library (where, yes, I spend entirely too much time, thanks for asking), I stumbled upon this book, which has everything I've ever wanted to know about Daylight Saving (starting with the fact that it's NOT "Daylight Savings," which is what I, and everyone I've ever known, have always called it) and a whole lot more than that, too. I must confess up front that I was unable to finish the book, though I did make it two-thirds of the way through it and the conclusion I came away with was that NO ONE really knows why we do it, except that a bunch of politicians got their hearts set on it, for, I might add, no coherent or logical reason, which kind of made me wonder what sorts of illogical scams are currently being perpetrated on the nation by politicians with their hearts in the wrong place.

Speaking of scams, when I brought the book to work, Cranky Boss Lady said, "You know, I usually think the books you read are offbeat in an interesting and informative way, but this one just looks insanely boring. Frankly, I'm kind of annoyed that someone got paid for writing it."

Aw, she's just jealous.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

October, I Barely Knew Ye

I had big plans this month--it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Fall Back Daylight Saving Month, and, of course, it's Halloween Month. Oh, did I have some great blog entries planned! But now, all of a sudden, and without my permission AT ALL, it's the 29th of October. When the HELL did this happen?

So here, too little and maybe too late, is my Breast Cancer Awareness post. (To be followed, hopefully in short order, by my Fall Back post and my Halloween post...The scariest thing about my Halloween post will no doubt be the way I have to hastily cobble it together from all the jumbled up crap in my head in order to get it posted by/on Halloween.)

First, ever wonder how much of the money from those pink-ribbon branded products actually finds its way to breast cancer research? When I saw pink M&M's at the beginning of this month, I thought maybe the pink-fever had gone a little too far. Then I stumbled upon this website:
Think Before You Pink, which had some thought-provoking information. I still kind of think the bottom line is that any attention for the cause is good attention, but the site definitely made me think about corporate motives, and our willingness to go along with them.

Second, a more personal breast cancer awareness angle. My mom died of breast cancer in 1994, at the age of 42. The following is an unapologetically sentimental tribute to her. Read at your own risk:

Finding My Mother

I'm loooking for my mother. She's not there in the doctor's grim expression. Not in the diagnosis, which raises as many questions as it answers--a recurrence of breast cancer that spread throughout her body undetected. She is not in the tangle of tubes and wires, the electronic blips and beeps, the sterile technology that keeps her alive but only sometimes eases her pain.

She was a woman raised in the hills of northwestern Pennsylvania who distrusted technology, medical and otherwise. Twenty years as a military wife hadn't cured her of her country girl's reflexive distrust of outsiders, of the world. Politicians, it was a given, were all crooked. She was sure the girls behind the deli counter at the supermarket were trained to put extra slices of ham or cheese on the sensitive electronic scales and then to inquire with false sweetness, "It's a few points over a pound, is that all right?" My mother made them put the slices back.

I'm looking for my mother. She is not there in the shimmery silver satin on which her head now rests, not in the cool, smooth surface of the casket.

She was a woman of many contradictions. She was an outspoken feminist who could argue down the loudest mouth chauvinist at any party, who dressed her daughters in "Anything boys can do, girls can do better." T-shirts, who not only believed women were equal to men, but suspected we were in many ways superior. Yet, she washed and ironed my father's shirts even whens he worked as many hours outside the home as he did. She was an optimist--telling us to be ourselves and we would go far. She was a pragmatist--telling us not to get our hopes up in an effort to protect us from the disappointments she was sure we would face. She battled acute shyness, but when the spirit (and the right tune) moved her, she could outdance any extrovert.

I'm looking for my mother. She is not there in the unyielding granite stone that marks her grave. Not in the straight lines of the block letters that spell out her name. She is not there in the finality of the numbers marking her forty-two years.

She stares out at me from a snapshot taken just after I was born. Alone in a field under an overcast sky, she is wind-blown, gangly and wide-eyed. She looks scrawny and exposed, fragile as a newly hatched bird, but from her eyes shines a fierce determination to survive, to thrive. From this captured moment, she would go on to raise four children and to share, against all odds, in the making of a lasting marriage. She was a mother at sixteen, a child who stumbled unprepared into womanhood. That child survived within her. We saw her in the wonder with which my mother greeted her new-to-the-world grandchildren. We saw her in my mother's vulnerability, in her sensitivity to harsh words. Somewhere beneath all the worldly cynicism and the backwoods practicality hid the abaondoned child waiting to ocme out to play, to climb trees, to be barefoot.

I'm looking for my mother. She is in my own impatience with pretense and empty social niceties. She is in my tendency toward untidiness, in my belief that chaos is more interesting than order. She is in the expression I catch on my sister's face, or my brother's, or my own as I pass by the mirror. She is in the shape of my big toe, which looks so much like hers, I am sometimes suprised to find it on my own foot. She is in my tomboyishness, which I have finally accepted is chronic, permanent, and not just a relic from childhood I might someday outgrow. She is in the mixture of paranoia and confidence with which I greet each day. She is in the silly songs I sing to my children and in the soaring hopes I have for them.

I'm looking for my mother. She's never far.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The It Girl

Ooooh, it's my first ever meme--and what's a blogger love more than an excuse to talk about herself? My thanks to Crazy MomCat for tagging me. The assignment was 20 random facts about myself and then tagging as many people as it took minutes to do the list. So here goes:

1. I am the oldest of four children. I'm also the shortest. This used to bother me a lot.

2. I love babies and babies love me. I like to think this says something about my essential humanness.

3. I was an Army brat. I lived in fifteen towns in five states before my eighteenth birthday. I think that fact of my childhood has had more influence on my life/personality than any other.

4. Much to the amusement of those around me & to my own embarassment, I startle VERY easily. The noise I make when startled is difficult to capture in print--it's more an intake of air, a squeaky gasp, than a scream--otherwise I would surely have blogged about my tendency toward hysteria. I'm pretty sure I startle so easily because I live way too much inside my own head and not enough in the outside world. I'm always kind of surprised to come across other people when I'm not expecting them.

5. Because of my job, I have access to the keys of a variety of churches. Sometimes my life is so loud, I actually fantasize about sneaking into one of the churches just to sit in the silence.

6. I still listen to Andy Gibb and Shaun Cassidy, my first pop music loves--I even have them on CD now. Sometimes, I'll get out the old, scratchy, skippy LP's and play THEM for old time's sake. Secretly, I believe that some of the songs they wrote (as opposed to the ones someone made them record) are actually pretty amazing, especially lyrically.

7. I've read Wuthering Heights at least fifteen times. Lots of people tell me that Jane Eyre is a "better" book, but I've never been able to make it past the first chapter. (And I wonder what it says about me that every couple of years I try again.)

8. I'm afraid this list is going to take too long and I won't know enough people online to "tag."

9. Throughout my life, I have occasionally woken to the sensation of someone sitting on the edge of my bed, only to find no one there. I then spend the entire day reminding myself that there's a perfectly logical, biochemical reason for the feeling, but part of me isn't really interested in being convinced.

10. I'm fairly sure I've been in at least one truly haunted house.

11. I don't have any contact with my extended family on my mother's side--not because of anything they ever did to me, but because of how I saw them treat her.

12. I have a mind like a lint trap, gathering fluffy bits of mostly useless information. Because of this, I am really, really good at Trivial Pursuit. I'm still trying to work up the courage to audition for Jeopardy!

13. In 2004, I read 99 books. That one-short-of-100 has been getting on my nerves for ten months.

14. Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first writing was published (in a local newspaper) when I was 9. My most recent piece was published this summer (in a literary anthology). I live in fear of never reaching my "potential"--artistically, financially, or otherwise--in my writing.

15. I hate peanut butter passionately. It's vile.

16. When I was 4, I knew the book Johnny Crow's Garden by heart.When Son-One was a baby, my sister sent me a copy of it for him. We still have it, though my kids were never as obsessed with it as I was.

17. When I was 11, I taught myself to ride my bike with no hands--so I could read my books on the way home from the library.

18. I used to live in New England, close enough to the coast to go to the ocean on a regular basis. I went a few weekends a month--all year long. I miss it every day.

19. Before I got married (and changed my last name), my full name was 26 letters long. I tell people all the time that one of the reasons I married Hubby was that his last name was only six letters long and my maiden name was eleven letters long. I'm only partly joking.

20. I think shoes are at best a necessary evil and at worst an abomination.

As for the tagging, I'm serious about not knowing enough people to tag. So the first ten people who read this, who want to, who haven't already been tagged by Steph, have at it & let us all know in comments where to find you.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Public (& Family) Service Announcement

At the risk of revealing my "secret" identity to the two people in my life who don't already know I have this blog, I would like to pass along an e-mail my Kid Sister sent me last week:

I know with the trauma and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that many have been reaching into their wallets to make donations to those in need. Justin and I are asking you to consider making one more this year.

We recently registered for the 2005 Washington, D.C. Walk with Us to Cure Lupus Walkathon, which will be held on Saturday, November 5th. 100% of the proceeds from this event will support the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR) in its efforts to prevent, treat and cure lupus. This is our fourth year participating, and each year we are proud to raise more funds and see the walk get bigger and better.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which a person's immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissue. It can cause life-threatening damage to major organs such as the kidneys, lungs, heart and central nervous system. Women are five times more likely to die from lupus than men, and African Americans are three times more likely to die from lupus than caucasians.

As many of you know, my own personal battle with lupus started eight years ago. My joint pain and fatigue have become fairly stable, but I still live in fear that the kidney disease will progress to the next level, leading to dialysis or the necessity for a transplant. While I am fortunate enough to lead a fairly normal life, many with lupus are not so fortunate. At our kick-off luncheon this year, a woman spoke tearfully about the death of an 11 year old member of her Girl Scout Troop, and how she had never heard of the disease until Ani was diagnosed. A friend of mine upon learning that I had lupus, went on to tell me about how complications from lupus were the cause of her mother's death, and that her aunt also had the disease. She is considered at higher risk because of that.

Your generous support will help me reach our fundraising goal of $1500, and is essential to the ALR's research program. More information on the Alliance for Lupus Research can be found at

It is faster and easier than ever to give your support; you can donate online by simply clicking on one of the links to our personal web pages at the bottom of this message. Immediately after making your gift, you will receive an email with tax receipt information.

Whatever you can give will help; it all adds up! I greatly appreciate your support and will keep you updated on my progress.

Please forward this message to anyone you think would like to support me as I Walk to Cure Lupus!

To make things even more interesting this year, we are having a sweepstakes with some really fantastic prizes. Tickets are ten dollars apiece, and 100% of the funds (just like a regular donation) go entirely to lupus research!* If you are interested in the sweepstakes tickets, fill out the information and mail it with your check to the address listed on the sweepstakes form. Please write walker ID No. DC-70193 (Justin) or DC-70057 (Sherry) on any checks mailed in for the sweepstakes. Checks and sweepstakes entry must be received by October 30 to qualify for the sweepstakes.

Finally, if anyone is interested in walking with us, we welcome everyone! We currently have ten walkers for the team, which will be the most we've ever had, but it is definitely a case of the more the merrier!
[Sherry & Justin are walking in the Washington, DC area. If you would like direct contact information for them, please contact me.]

Thanks so much for anything that you are able to do.

Sherry's personal page:

Justin's personal page:

*Sweepstakes forms and information are available by contacting me [Masked Mom] in comments or e-mail.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What I Left Out

Did you ever start writing something and end up somewhere entirely different than where you planned on going? And, then, at 2:46 a.m., sit straight up in bed and go, "Oh crap! I meant to say...."

No? Well I guess I'm even more of a dork than I thought I was, but in any case, that's what happened to me the night after I last posted. I meant everything I said, but I definitely did not say everything I meant to say. I started talking about Hubby's patience where Mr. High School is concerned--about his lack of jealousy and somehow got sidetracked into the odd, likely chemical-driven, early days of our relationship.

What I left out was that Hubby's lack of jealousy doesn't always seem to me to be an undiluted good thing. Maybe because I'm psychotically insecure, I sometimes can't help but see it not as his trust in me, but as his certainty that I could never tempt anyone else. I know, I know. It's pathetic. It's a sickness.

Intellectually, I recognize that jealousy is at its heart about control and possession, not love, and that the line between normal, petty jealousy and violent, controlling jealousy is fine and sometimes hazy. And I'm definitely not interested in having Hubby paranoid about me leaving the house, but can't he muster a little concern?

And, while I'm poking around in the depths of my marriage, I'd like to share something about trust that also occurred to me in the middle of the night. There's a lot of talk about how important trust is in a marriage or any long-term relationship and I've thought often about its place in my marriage. Trust is essential, but it seems to me that without trust in yourself, that last little leap of fully trusting your partner is impossible. Trust should be about more than being certain he's where he says he's going to be--ideally, it's about being able to be fully yourself in your marriage.

Let that be a warning to you: That's what you get for thinking in the middle of the night. At 2:46 a.m., it's awfully hard to distinguish the brilliant glow of insight from the glaring headlight of an oncoming train of thought that's going to run you right over.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Word About (Saint) Hubby

What's a superhero without a sidekick? Batman had Robin; Superman had Superboy and Supergirl; Lone Ranger had Tonto; Spiderman had, well, his old Aunt Mae...Masked Mom has Hidden Hubby. ("Alliteration, he's our guy! If he can't do it, why even try?"--yet another reason why the Creative Writing Club never has cheerleaders.)

Much has been made of Hubby's saintly patience, especially where my hot* date with Mr. High School is concerned. And he is a patient and saintly man in many ways. For example, he not only tolerated but encouraged my attempts to get in touch with Mr. High School. For another example, he's been a faithful reader of this blog through all the many purple paragraphs of Mr. High School-inspired prose and hasn't had a single tantrum or even minor fit of jealousy or crankiness--at least not with regard to the blog or the sorta-ex-sorta-boyfriend.

It was his saintliness that originally drew me to him. We met in January 1987 on a work-sponsored ski trip. I was not there to ski, but to drive my roommate home if she broke anything and to observe (read: make fun of) my co-workers, many of whom were first-timers on the slopes. When I first saw him, he was huddled in the snow at the feet of one of our co-workers, checking her buckles and bindings. He was kneeling before one of the cutest and perkiest girls from work and I (in my sexist way) assumed he was trying to score points with her, rather than helping her out of the kindness of his heart. I was wrong. An expert skier, no doubt antsy to hit the slopes himself, he spent the next fifteen minutes helping the rest of the first-timers in the group--male, female, cute and not-so. I was suitably impressed.

Suitably impressed--but as you may remember, still kind of hung up on What's-His-Face, not to mention pathologically shy, and scheduled at the opposite end of the day from Hubby. In the next few months, we would sometimes bump into each other, swap small talk, and flirt a little, but that was as far as it went until mid-March, when all of a sudden (or so it seemed), we were a couple.

How this happened is kind of vague and foggy to me--maybe one of Hidden Hubby's superpowers is the ability to hypnotize women, I can't really be sure. What I do know is that we met in January, started dating in March and married in July, of the same year. It sounds insane in print and in reality, it was completely insane.

It's not that people didn't try to warn me--my mother, even while helping to plan the wedding, was saying "Are you sure?" every thirty seconds. A friend of the family said, "It's not too late." right up until I walked down the aisle. (In fact, on our wedding video, after the ceremony, I say to this friend, "Aren't you going to say 'now it's too late'?" and she says, "Now it's too late--no wait! I think the JP is still here! We can catch her!" )

We were too young. We didn't really know each other. We were in love, but we really had no idea how to love each other, how much work it would be to keep loving each other.

In the eighteen years since then, we have had our ups and downs, we have been through thick and thin, we have survived a crapload of cliches.

He has his saintly side--he always, always, always puts the toilet seat down; he changed his share of diapers; he doesn't watch televised sports; he's not the jealous type. But he has his human side, too, for which I'm forever grateful.

*"Hot" in the trudging around in the woods in August sense.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Soccer Momhood

Son-Three had a soccer game last weekend. He scored two goals--and got hit in the windpipe so hard he had to sit out the last two minutes of the game. Like a lot of moms, I feel my child's pain--hell, I feel everyone else's children's pain, too. Two boys on the opposing team banged heads and fell to the ground and I groaned out loud and grabbed my ears. (It's a good thing I wasn't watching the varsity game being played at the same time, where a senior dislocated his knee and had to be taken off the field by ambulance--I probably would've been walking with a limp all week.)

This feeling another's pain is just one of the reasons I'm not sure I'm really cut out for Soccer Mom-hood.
I certainly never intended to become a Soccer Mom. In fact, my senior year in high school, I'm pretty sure that every time anyone asked me what I wanted to do after graduation I said, "Be a burden on society."

But I put away childish dreams and moved on to my own children's childish here I am on the sidelines of a game or two, gasping out loud, applauding appropriately, and staring in awe at the parents who scream so loud I'm sure they're going to burst a vein at any moment. (Now, that's a second-hand pain that could ruin an afternoon.)

It's clear to anyone who's even a little perceptive that the competition off the field, between the parents, is at least as intense as it is out on the field. Who's been to the most games? Whose kid has the best stats? Who knows the most obscure lingo? Who can yell the loudest?*

I'm not much of a yeller and I think there's a fine line between encouragement and disparagement, between rooting for and putting down, between constructive criticism and destructive taunting. There are parents at every game dancing all over that line. These are the kind of parents who make me feel inadequate--not involved enough, not gung-ho enough, not anything enough.

I can't be at every game--there are schedule constraints, financial constraints, there's a whole world of constraints. Though no one has ever said anything out loud to me about my absences, I often catch myself mentally defending my position. "I have three other children, a full-time job, the Hubby, the house..."

The truth is that even if I could be at every game, I'm not really sure Son-Three would want me there. Along with all the other fine lines involved, there seems to be a fine line between being there enough and being there too much. Honestly, though this is probably a spectacularly unpopular opinion, I think it does him some good that I can't be there for every game. It fosters independence, it fosters doing for the sake of doing (rather than doing to impress Mom or anyone else). Of course, saying that is supposed to make me feel better about not being there and so then I get in a tangled mess in my mind wondering if I'm just rationalizing my own laziness and inability to "be there" for my kid.

There are two things I know for sure about parenting: One is that, even after seventeen years, I hardly know anything. The other is that it's not in anyone's best interest for parents to compete with one another--no one wins. Doubts go with the territory and comparisons are not at all energy efficient. We're all out there just cobbling together the best life we can for ourselves and for our kids and it's insane to imagine that we know what's better for the next guy (or gal) anymore than they know what's better for us.

That said, I'll stumble down from the soapbox and get some rest before the next game.

*For a more complete field guide to Soccer Moms and Dads see Lucinda's post.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Come Back to the Blog's another Mr. High School post.

It has come to my attention (thanks, Lucinda!) that I never really finished the reunion with Mr. High School story. I leapt from the moments before our face-to-face meeting to The Harry/Sally Question without much mention of our actual meeting. Mostly, that's because I thought up that ridiculous line about my Hairy Aunt Sally and was so proud of it, I simply had to use it somewhere right that minute.

But there's also the fact that an event of this magnitude--the object of so very much insane anticipation and huge expectations--couldn't help but be a little, teensy,weensy bit anticlimactic, right? And it was, a little, but it also wasn't at all.

Part of the reason I haven't written about the weekend in any kind of specifics is that everything I have to say is so wishy-washy and non-specific and even directly contradictory. These are some of the sentences I've rejected while working on this post:

--It was weird, but the weirdest part was how not weird it was.

--We talked about everything, but when I try to remember what, exactly, we talked about, all I can come up with is "everything."

--We are trying to find our place in each other's lives, but in some ways, it feels like we've been part of each other's lives this whole time.

--Is it the long overdue resolution of something old or the beginning of something new? And aren't beginnings and endings always hopelessly intertwined?

--It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Oh wait! That wasn't me...

Friday night, I wandered over to the hotel--I was so nervous, I could barely pick my feet up. I was nervous in a way I've rarely been since, I don't know, high school. We had talked so much on the phone at this point that I felt like I knew him very well, but we hadn't seen each other in almost twenty years.

There is something about seeing someone again when you haven't seen him in so long that makes you look around your own life in a whole new way. You're seeing it through the eyes of this person who knew you way back when and, somehow, through the eyes of the person you were then. When the me of then looks in the mirror at the me of now, she's a little shocked, but she likes to think that there is some essential Me-ness in there that hasn't been changed, or that has only changed for the good: wiser, deeper maybe. But what the heck does she know? She's seventeen.

My opening line laid bare all of those insecurities. He opened the door to my knock and I said, "I feel bad for you--driving all this way to see a fat chick." His opening line let me know that the seventeen-year-old he'd been was still in there somewhere as well, "Shut the hell up and get in here."

So much for acting like mature adults. We spent the next five hours flipping through yearbooks, catching up on classmates, and I even read some of my sillier journal entries from high school out loud for him (editing for grammar and, occasionally, content when the sap got too sticky). I wandered back home around midnight, exhausted, but relieved that it had gone so well.

Saturday morning, he wanted to scope out state forest lands in the county. He has a friend who has a hunting cabin in this area and he'd heard good things about the hunting. So we set off into the woods with his handy-dandy GPS unit. We walked and talked. We rode in the car and talked. We had lunch and talked. We sat in the car on a deserted dirt road and talked. We went back to the hotel room and talked some more. I stumbled home just after midnight, exhausted again.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast with Daughter-Only tagging along. (She would never have forgiven me if she hadn't had the chance to meet Mr. High School. I warned him: "She may talk a lot or she might not say anything at all. Could go either way." She surprised me by acting normal--must be she wasn't as nervous as her mama.) He told her how relentlessly I picked on him (I picked on him?!) in eighth grade, once even tripping him and sending him falling down a flight of stairs. I said that, no, for the record, I was running from him--he was chasing me because I had stolen his hat, but only because he had snapped my bra--and I had fallen on the stairs and he then tripped over me and we ended up in a tangled mess on the landing in the stairwell, where our amused classmates stepped over us while making rude comments.

Our weekend reunion had the potential to become a whole other kind of tangled mess--this was, after all, the guy I had suffered untold* agonies over and I am, after all, married to a whole other guy. I'm happy to report that we seem to have outgrown our mutual and individual agonies--when we're together, or on the phone, the dynamic is pure buddy. We both understand and respect the rules, but more than that, the temptation to explore those "forbidden" options seems not to even be there. I care very much about him and I am happy (and, corny as it sounds, grateful) to have him in my life again, but I am, somehow, far too comfortable with him to be lusting after him. Maybe we're too old, or too much alike, maybe we know the risks and won't even dream for a split second of taking them.

Maybe I'm a complete idiot to imagine we can build a friendship on the foundation of a twenty-plus year old unfulfilled crush, but hey, it's worth a shot.

*Okay, I guess the agonies were actually told, but you know, only to my journal and to all my friends and family and, years later, to unsuspecting hapless victims, oops, I mean blog readers.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Blog The Livelong Day

I know, I know "they" always say "don't quit your day job," but I was thinking this weekend that I'd really like to quit my day job and just spend all day blogging and reading other people's blogs. I have only been a blogger since May but already I feel I am falling ever further behind.

I read yesterday (in a magazine, not on a blog...) that the number of online diaries and blogs reached 5 million in 2004--even allowing for the "fake" blogs that are all advertising and the blogs that read like they're kept by seventh grade boys (whoever they may in fact be kept by), that still leaves a whole lot of catching up for me to do.

Anyway, no one's offered to pay me for it, yet, but the second they do...I'm on it!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Do the Right Thing

Just this week, I finished the book "Baghdad Burning." It was recommended to me by one of my favorite Library Ladies* and I can't thank her enough. The book is a collection of blog posts by a young Iraqi woman who lives in Baghdad and blogs under the name "Riverbend." The book covers the period between August 2003 and September 2004. It was at times very difficult and frustrating to read, but I couldn't put it down. It was full of horrible moments, but there were heartwarming moments as well--like the school supplies shopping trip for Riverbend's cousin's young daughters where Riverbend explains to her cousin's wife that scented erasers are significantly superior to the ones that just smell like rubber. (The blog is still active, though it hasn't been updated since July 15.)

The whole time I was reading it, I kept catching myself in the midst of my everyday whining about too little time and too much to do and not enough money and my cranky boss lady and I would feel like a complete ass. Here was a woman who didn't know from one day to the next if she and those closest to her would be alive and I was whining about what essentially amounted to blessings--my family, a job, even the money problems have to do mostly with wants rather than needs.

The way I felt reminded me of the foreword in E.B. White's essay collection "One Man's Meat." The book was published during World War II and White was sheepish about the timing--"a book concerned with the routine pleasures and troubles of a peaceable life is almost embarrassing." He opens the foreword: "One thing about the war, it gives a man a feeling of guilt every time he finds himself doing some habitual or comfortable thing, like eating a good meal or getting out a book in springtime. "

In an essay in his collection, E. B. White talks about the movement among writers during WWII to write only what is "good and significant." He says, "I know of one gifted crackpot who used to be employed in the fields of humor and satire, who has taken a solemn pledge not to write anything funny or 'insignificant' again till things get straightened around in the world." But White believed, "Even in evil times, a writer should cultivate only what naturally absorbs his fancy, whether it be freedom or cinch bugs, and should write in the way that comes easy." He went on, "In a free country it is the duty of writers to pay no attention to duty."

And if no less than the ghost of E.B. White expects me to keep on whining, to keep the superficial, self-involved torch burning, well, then, I guess I'm up to the sacrifice.

*My town's library is the absolute greatest, staffed by lots of helpful Library Ladies--so many who are so helpful and generous, I can't pick a favorite, but if I were going to pick a favorite this one would have to be it.

--With the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina uppermost on most of our minds, following White's advice seems even harder. So while I may present a wholly self-absorbed front, please know that there is a whole portion of my heart and soul that is with those who are suffering. The damage is breathtaking in scope and I can only hope that the relief efforts become much more efficient quickly enough to make a difference.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Have It Your Way

Sometimes when I am having a very bad day, I will comfort myself with this thought: "At least I don't work at Burger King." This is nothing against the people who do work at Burger King--in fact it's the opposite. I toiled away many weekends and after school evenings at Burger King in high school and I can vouch for the fact that the job is often vile and horrible and much more complicated than it seems to the uninitiated.

When this thought popped into my head this week, it brought with it the memory of an incident that happened way back in my BK days that has haunted me ever since. (Don't worry this story doesn't end with me contacting yet another unsuspecting sap I had the hots for decades ago.)

The story involves two guys: SA (whom I did have a fleeting crush on) and PL (whom I did not). In the Burger King kitchen there was a narrow walkway one end of which led to the front end and the other end of which led back into the kitchen. There were two garbage cans on one side of that path which were my responsibility as "dining room hostess." (Yeah, I know.) There were also various supplies stored in that area that were used in other parts of the store. One Saturday morning, PL had walked up the walkway to get something while I was in the middle of changing the garbage can liners. He was trying to make his way back into the kitchen, pushing a waist-high white plastic can on wheels, but was having a hard time navigating between the shelves and me. I was pushed as far against the garbage cans as I could go, even wedged between the two a little. While Paul was trying to push, pull, and jiggle the can through, he caught SA's eye and said, "Lardass." Clearly, clearly,clearly referring to me.

I was deeply wounded. Stunned. Could not understand why PL, who had never had a hostile word for me before, would say something so hurtful directly in front of me. The fact that the remark was made to SA, whom I did have a crush on and with whom I often had long, friendly conversations made the whole thing all the more painful. And SA's chuckle--ouch.

This is something I have dragged out on all sorts of occasions and low moments in the twenty-some years since, which is to say I have thought of it not often, but at least periodically--especially when SA crossed my mind or weight issues were nagging me.

In the context of weight issues, I most often thought of how sad it was that at a time when I was only slightly "overweight" and well within healthy bounds, I allowed such a misguided, narrow-minded, mean-spirited comment have so much space in my head and heart. And in an even broader, more political sense, I saw PL, SA and myself as victims of unrealistic expectations foisted upon us by the media. There were still a lot of times, though, when the memory had the power to make me wince, make me blush, make me squirm in echoes of my adolescent agony.

You get the picture: It has never fallen off my Most Embarrassing Moments Top 10 in all of the years since it happened. And never, not once, did it occur to me, as it did this time, that in the white plastic container Paul was pushing was LARD, which was what went into Burger King's fryers until the arrival of vegetable oil in the more enlightened and health-conscious '90's.

So, it had also not crossed my mind that there was a real possibility that PL's intention was not to comment on the size of my ass but to make a silly little pun relying on the proximity of my ass to a 30-gallon container FULL OF LARD. The container was (not surprisingly) not spotlessly clean and there were smears of the white stuff visible on the lid and handles of the can so I may have actually had lard on my ass--which means I may have paraded around Burger King that afternoon with a shiny white substance on my (average-sized) ass, but I can live with that.

Lest you think I'm wholly delusional--I do realize that the other explanation, the conclusion to which I jumped and to which I've clung all this time, is still a possibility. In either case, I'm sure PL thought my ass and much of the rest of me was big--I was never an itty, bitty thing and PL was exactly the kind of guy to whom that kind of thing mattered in terms of picking girlfriends, but his making such an overtly cruel remark was out of character. In fact, PL and I went on to forge a fairly warm buddyship that was only mildly overshadowed by the nagging memory of the Lardass Moment. I have never really been able to fit the lardass incident into the context of every other experience I had with/of PL, but that never stopped me from holding tight to my original interpretation of events.

Regardless of the "true" meaning behind PL's words, what the hell is wrong with me? How foolish is it to be haunted by the words spoken by a person who was, at the absolute outside, a peripheral person in my life? A person whose opinion of me should've mattered little even in that moment and progressively less as time went by? An incident I should've dismissed if not that day, then surely that month, that year, and definitely in that decade!

Of course, if I'd done that we'd have never had the singular pleasure of this post and then where would we be?

PS--For Brunette Best Friend, who was actually around back in the BK Days if not present at the exact Lardass Moment: Happy Birthday!!!!!! Your patience with my neuroses over these many years has been greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

And The Nominees Are...

For most aptly named household appliance--the alarm clock. If there is anything more alarming than a clock that makes a horrifying droning noise at 4:40 in the morning, I sure as crap don't want to know what it is.

Because the entertainment of living with three teenage boys and a pre-teen daughter isn't quite enough, we also babysit an almost four-year-old boy who's been coming to our house since he was six weeks old. Most of the time that we've been taking care of him, his parents were both on second shift, but this summer they've both been on first shift at a plant where they work four ten-hour days as opposed to five eight-hour ones. This means Other Kid gets dropped off every morning at around 4:45. He is (sensibly, I think) almost always asleep at that hour but one of us has to get up just in case, hence the alarming alarm.

Much to his saintly credit, Hubby is usually the one who does the getting up while I stay in bed fiddling in the dark to reset the alarm for the (slightly) more humane hour at which I actually have to get out of bed. To pay Hubby back, I get Other Kid ready for Montessori while also trying to get me ready for the Day Job. Other Kid has gotten old enough that he can do most of the getting ready on his own with just a little bit of supervision. The other morning, though, he was having a hard time getting his pajama shirt off and he said, "I can't get my shirt off because my muscles are too big!"

I guess that's the kind of thing that makes the alarm a little less alarming every morning.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Intangible Rewards of Parenting (A Flashback)

April 25, 2004:

Hubby and I are puttering around in the kitchen when Son-One wanders in, sticks his head in the refrigerator and announces, "I'm going to write a song called 'Sometimes My Unibrow Gets Lonely.'"

Then as an added bonus, Hubby sings, "'I grow my nose hairs long because sometimes my unibrow gets lonely.'"

It's moments like these that are the returns on my maternal investments. I'm not waiting around for magna cum laude from Yale, I'm sucking up all the proud moments on the way.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Harry/Sally Question

I was thinking about titling this post The Hairy Sally Question and just regaling you with tales of my feminist aunt who believes shaving is a tool of a chauvinistic and oppressive society, but that line is about all I've got on that subject. (Not that I really have an aunt named Sally--wink wink--and even if I did, I'm sure she's as clean-shaven as the next lady, isn't that right non-existent Aunt Sally?)

So, instead, this is yet another post about the old friend from high school and how when I first saw the movie "When Harry Met Sally" I thought the heated debate*over whether a man and a woman can be "just friends" was completely asinine and would never, ever be relevant in my own life. After all, when Harry makes his first big speech on the subject, he is just out of college and his entire understanding of male/female relationships seems to have been picked up at frat parties.

Throughout the movie, Harry's attitudes change and eventually, he and Sally are best friends and he starts to think he's been wrong, maybe men and women can be friends after all. Then, of course, they do it.

Well, despite the fact that Mr. High School and I did spend twenty hours together a few weekends ago, a few of them in his motel room, I really do have a lot of hope for a real long-term friendship for us. For one thing, we're both more practical than Harry and Sally, and one of us, at least, is more married** than either Harry or Sally was. Further, I am nowhere near as cute and perky as Meg Ryan as Sally was and so, I'm significantly less tempting to Mr. High School.

Most importantly, though, we are making our way through actual lives, not a script written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner. Think about that click you have with someone, male or female, who you just instinctively know "gets" you--I'm not talking about someone who's just fun to hang with or someone you can get along with, I'm talking about that level of recognition that you find, if you're lucky, a couple of times in your life. (Or, maybe it happens to everyone else all the time and I've just been living a pathetic and deprived existence...) Whatever it is, whatever label you want to slap on it, I'm pretty sure it's something worth hanging on to.

*The debate can be read in its entirety here by scrolling about a third of the way down the page.

**Some may consider "married" an absolute and therefore not in need of modifiers (like more or less). However, a quick scan of, well, anyone you know, and it's clear that not everyone is as married as everyone else.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Mr. High School and I talked about getting together "someday." I told him, "That would be nice." I told everyone who would listen, "Of course, I want to see him...I just don't want him to see me."

He's a big Credence Clearwater Revival fan and he'd learned from them
"Someday Never Comes." He set a date: the weekend between our birthdays. (I'm five days older than him, a source of endless amusement to him.) He requested that Friday afternoon off. He reserved a room. He dug out his yearbooks and select photos from the last twenty years of his life.

Meanwhile, I, um, panicked.

Once, in the fall of senior year, I had actually hyperventilated after talking to him. This was after an unexpected mini-conversation during which I had mercifully held it together. As soon as he was gone, though, I ended up sitting cross-legged in the high school parking lot, giggling and eventually hyperventilating, much to the amusement of my tolerant Blonde Best Friend (as opposed to my other best friend from high school: Brunette Best Friend, who lived in New Hampshire and had to hear about this episode in stupidity secondhand). As I recently told my (also tolerant) Little Sister: back then, I was skinnier and cuter and seventeen so sitting in a parking lot seeing stars and trying to catch my breath just seemed adorably quirky, but it would just be scary. (Onlookers would gather and someone would probably offer me nitroglycerin tablets and I would probably say, between wheezes, "Can I get a Valium instead?")

Our "someday" was a Friday evening, around 7. He had taken the afternoon off and driven three hours to see me. All I had to do was give (Saint) Hubby a quick kiss and walk half a block.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What to Expect When Mr. High School Calls After Twenty Years

The first thirty seconds were eternal and like some kind of creative torture. We were both sputtering a little, nervous, stunned that even though we'd orchestrated this mini phone reunion (me by writing the note and him by dialing the phone) we were now actually on the phone with each other.

The truth is I remember very little of the first phone call, but the fact that we were on the phone for 45 minutes indicates to me that we somehow overcame the weirdness. In terms of answering the questions about the past--the primary question being was "it" even a little bit mutual or was it all in my head--the fact that he called at all spoke volumes. He remembered when and where we had last spoken to each other. He mentioned the day in the barn--said he'd regretted that day for almost twenty years--regretted not saying more, not following up afterward. He told me about his life in those twenty years--the marriage, the ill-fated (and recently ended) engagement, the job. I caught him up on my life. ("Four? Wow." is a direct quote from that part of the conversation.) He filled me in on the fates of some of our classmates. I admitted I'd always had a "low-grade obsession" where he was concerned.

We ended the conversation with thank-yous all around. I was grateful to him for calling and he was grateful to me for getting in touch with him. He extended an open invitation to me--call anytime you want to talk, really. I told him the same--but he was concerned about Hubby's feelings on that subject. My assurances fell on deaf ears at first. But, really, Hubby is not the jealous type. Add to that the fact that he's listened to me wonder aloud about this off and on for years, and he's actually kind of entertained by all the drama and thrilled by his chance to say "I told you so." (Which he did in the comments on a previous post, for all the world to see.)

So Mr. High School and I have been talking once a week or so and supplementing with letters in between. We have a lot of catching up to do and, it turns out, whatever "connection" made it so easy for us to talk to each other in high school is not only still there, but we're way more appreciative of it than we were then. We've both experienced enough of life to know that that spark of recognition or understanding is rare and shouldn't be dismissed lightly--even if the package it comes in is older, fatter, and balder than it was when you saw it last.

After three months of phone calls and letters, it was time to see just how much older, fatter, and balder those packages were.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What You Wish For

So I'm thirty-six, long-time wife of Hubby, and mom of four, and I discover that somewhere out there, in a parallel universe, maybe, or just stuck on pause like a video game, is me at seventeen, still having that conversation in the barn with Mr. High School. Me, at seventeen, at his high school graduation watching his parents take his picture with his girlfriend. Me, at thirteen even, holding his hand at the community pool. We're all still out there and we want answers.

When I dropped the note in the mail, I reasoned that the worst thing that could happen was he would not respond. And I figured that his not responding was something I could handle, and in any case, would answer as many questions as a response--just with different answers.

In the week after I mailed the letter, I realized that there was something worse than his not contacting me. There was a very real possibility that he would contact me and it would be disastrous. I couldn't wrap my mind around the possibility of picking up the phone and having him on the other end. What the hell had I been thinking? What was I going to say to someone I hadn't talked to in almost twenty years? Someone who probably hadn't given me a second thought during all that time? (I had already rejected the idea of opening with, "I'm married with four kids and I've been stalking you for years anyway.")

A week passed with no word and I began to relax, figuring I had another one to add to my pathetic Mr. High School stories: "I actually sent him a note in the spring of 2005--how insane was that?"

The phone rang on Monday night, a little over a week after I'd sent the note. I rarely answer my own phone--sharing the house with four kids in or near their teen years means (among many other things) the phone is very rarely for me, but on this evening, they were all outside--probably roaming the streets and scaring old people--so I picked up.

I was blogging (what else?) at the time the phone rang, very immersed in what I was doing so it was doubly shocking to hear that voice on the phone, familiar and unfamiliar, expected and wholly unexpected. Some part of me had been waiting to hear that voice for twenty years, maybe longer.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

"Preoccupied With 19-, 19-, 1985"*

So I'm seventeen, I've been swept away from the person I'm pretty sure is the "love of my life," and I sit around for hours listening to Leo Sayer's "When I Need You" over and over on a 45, writing letters to Mr. High School, which I keep in a gray three-ring binder that I drag with me everywhere I go--letters in which I pour out my heart and soul in all their pathetic and messy glory. These are letters, needless to say, which I have no intention of him ever seeing.

Eventually, I get over it--sort of. After the turmoil of three schools in my senior year, and the death of my grandfather just after graduation, I decide to put college plans on hold and just try to catch my breath emotionally. My mother packs me off to New Hampshire where I have a supportive friend and a job waiting. I bring the notebook and the Leo Sayer 45 and an array of other sappy music, but there are friends, and guys, and the job and the melancholy doesn't look as attractive as it once did.

Still, when Hubby-To-Be first asks me out, I actually tell him I'm not sure I can go out with him because of my feelings for Mr. High School. Even though we'd technically never had what could be called a relationship, I feel a certain warped loyalty to him. I'm on the rebound from a relationship that never happened.

A few dates with Hubby, though, and the melodrama starts to recede into the vague and hazy past where melodrama belongs. I come to understand that my feelings for Mr. High School were a crush nursed into an out of control obsession. He had become an icon, a superstar, an idea.

He was an idea with some staying power, though. Every few months, I would have a dream about him, whether I gave him a passing daytime thought or not. News of his wedding, a year after mine, filtered through the grapevine to me. And eight years later, news of his messy divorce came in a Christmas card from someone we both knew.

I would indulge in a what'd-it-all-mean journal entry from time to time. That conversation in the barn, that afternoon at the pool, the energy between us that even strangers seemed to pick up on, surely it all meant something. Or maybe it only meant that adolescent hormones are even more of a force to be reckoned with than anyone had ever suspected. (Bottle those and sell them--it could either be the salvation of the human race or the end of the world.)

Around the beginning of this year, I began sorting through all my old spiral notebook journals--the ones I'd kept faithfully since 1983, the summer I turned 15--and typing them on to computer disk. It began as a kind of typing exercise--something at least marginally more entertaining than "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog"--but as I came to the pages (and pages and pages) where I'd written out my angst over Mr. High School, I found myself pushing back the urge to contact him.

Probably I would've kept pushing it back until it went away again, if it hadn't been for an entry I found in a much later journal--July 9, 1995: "A surprise to find out I am twice as old this day as I was when ___ held my hand and took various other hormonally-induced liberties with my thirteen-year-old body...____is so much a part of my adolescence and my perception of myself that I can not fathom that he is not in my life at all and hasn't been for almost ten years. I know it would not even make sense for him to be in my life--there's no reason for him to be, no vacancy to fill, no role to play. Still, I miss him, the idea of him, the simplicity of my agony over him..."

All this time, he'd only been a ten-digit number away. Or a thirty-seven cent stamp. I'd been talking myself out of contacting him (off and on) for nearly twenty years. It didn't take me long--a month or so--to talk myself into contacting him.

The note said, "This will probably be the weirdest thing you find in your mailbox all year..." I told him that as an Army brat I'd left lots of people behind and that he'd been one of the people I'd wondered about the most. I told him I'd love to hear from him. I dropped the note in the mail minutes after I'd written it so I wouldn't have the chance to chicken out (or come to my senses, depending on how you look at it).

Then I waited.

* Thanks Bowling for Soup!