Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Deeper Than He Looks

My brother, often referred to here and elsewhere as Baby Brother despite his inching ever further into his thirties, is the youngest of my siblings and the only boy. He was also born nearly two months premature and was always small for his age. None of these things lent themselves to being taken terribly seriously--especially by his older sisters. We babied him, of course we did, it could hardly be helped--and in some ways we still do.

We may have created a monster--not just in him but also in ourselves. We consistently expect less of him than he's probably capable of giving and, in return, he gives less than he's capable of giving. He's the go-to guy for a good time--all his nieces and nephews will tell you so, but you don't get the feeling that he spends a whole lot of time contemplating the meaning of life.

Every once in a while, though, I get a glimpse of the deeper, more philosophical side of Baby Brother and I realize that he too struggles with the issues that try men's souls.

On a recent day trip, he came out of a convenience store bathroom and offered this observation: "You know, piss on a public toilet seat* is really one of the great dilemmas in life. You don't want to wipe it off, because it means touching someone else's pee, even indirectly, but you also don't want to leave it there and let the next person in line think you can't hit the bowl."

*"Piss on a public toilet seat" is the funniest phrase isn't it? It could be a directive, a milder form of F- You, or, as it's intended here, a very specific puddle somewhere. Either way, I'm pretty sure it belongs on a CD cover--not sure if it would make a better album title or band name, but you just know they'd line up to buy Piss On A Public Toilet Seat.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Serving the Community

Our school district (and maybe the whole state for all I know) has a community service requirement for graduation. Each student must log 20 hours of community service during his or her senior year. Naturally, many of the students put off their service until the last possible minute and then scramble to find acceptable community service opportunities.

For three nights in a row (tonight was his second), Son-One is working the Little League concession stand. When Son-Three heard this news in the car on the way to drop Son-One off at his assignment, he said, with a completely straight face* and tinged with just the right note of mock disbelief, "You know how to concess?"

*It just hit me how often the phrase "with a completely straight face" is a key element in my "amusing" anecdotes. Apparently the only way to be truly funny is to act like you're not being funny at all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Overwrought Much?

I have been exhausted lately, watching my siblings face alternating crises while facing one or two of my own. Sleep is one of the first things that goes when I'm under stress. (The things that go after sleep probably don't bear talking about.) Sleep always abandons me just when I need it the most.

So I'm exhausted and feel constantly on the edge of hysteria and I've known for weeks that the tiniest nudge could send me around a bend. I just didn't realize how tiny.

Hubby and I were in the grocery store candy aisle, where I was trying to find a six pack of candy bars that would satisfy everyone (or at least not outright offend anyone) waiting at home for their junk food fix. Hubby saw a six pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups With Caramel on the shelf and said, "Ooooh--caramel--have you tried them?"

Let me stop here to tell you something that you may not know about me: I hate peanut butter, always have, I hate it with a fiery passion I usually reserve for human beings rather than inanimate foodstuffs. You, of course, can be forgiven for not knowing that fact about me. Hubby, however, has been married to me for almost 20 years--twenty years in which it has somehow escaped his attention that I hate peanut butter.

I consider my hatred of peanut butter to be a fundamental fact of my personality, a core element of my Self. And somehow, Hubby has no idea or, maybe worse, has completely forgotten, that I hate peanut butter.

I am not so overwrought that I actually said any of this in the grocery store, but I am so far gone that I did get a little teary-eyed standing there.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Flower Sending Hall of Shame

Some days the only thing keeping me at my job (you know other than the big, big bucks) is the glimpse into people's minds the job allows me.

One day I had a guy come in and when I said, "How can we help you today?" He said, "My fiancee is about to kick me to the curb and I really need your help. You know what chicks like, right?"

I said, "Well, for starters, most of us don't like being called 'chicks.'" Then I sold him a dozen roses, which would never have worked on me, and must not have worked entirely on the fiancee because they broke up shortly after that. However, they did reconcile six or eight months later and were recently married, so maybe they were time delayed roses or something.

More recently, we had a kid call from out of town to send his girlfriend a dozen roses with the message, "Me and my hangover miss you." Other than the obvious grammatical issues*, I was amused by his willingness to admit he got drunk without her. Maybe he tried to pass it off as missing her so much he needed the escape. But if he missed her that much and he was drunk in a bar so far from home, what other "escape" might he have indulged in?

My favorite of all time though, was the guy who came in the morning after he "did something stupid." He asked for help writing the card. Cranky Boss Lady (who's not above prying) asked, "Did this something stupid involve another woman?" It did, so Cranky Boss Lady, in her infinite wisdom, came up with "I'm sorry. She means nothing to me. I love you and only you." When I came back and found the order on my desk, where it was waiting for me to write out the card, I was appalled.

First of all, he didn't write the card himself, while he was there? When the card arrived in someone else's handwriting, my first thought if I were the wife would not be a forgiving one--he obviously messed around at least a little and then he compounds the error by letting the staff of the flower shop in on his "mistake."

Secondly, the line "she means nothing to me" is actually not at all reassuring. She means nothing to you and yet you're willing to risk your marriage to do whatever it is you did with her? What the hell does that say about what your marriage means to you?

Third--and this is not card-related so much as flower-related--I'm thoroughly over flowers as an apology. You have no idea how much of that we see. There's actually an enclosure card with a guy in a dog house on the corner of it and plenty of room for an apology. I mean, I know everyone makes mistakes, but how did men get it into their heads that flowers will make everything okay? And in the case of doing something stupid that involved another woman, I personally would find flowers insulting--I couldn't help feeling that the flowers were an attempt to minimize and even trivialize the mistake.

But what do I know? I'm just the cynical chick behind the counter who overthinks everything.

*I've created a monster or two in the grammar police department. When I was telling the boys this story (as a cautionary tale, mostly), Son-Two goes, "Wow! Wow! What horrible grammar!" assuming that was the point of my story.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Adventures In Parenting: (Another) One I Never Saw Coming

A couple of months ago, while reading Allen Shawn's (excellent) book Wish I Could Be There: Notes From a Phobic Life, I came across this quote about parenting: "...I do know that dealing with growing children is like being in a batting cage with ball after ball being thrown at you. You hit the balls you can. Amazingly, the score gets kept for a very long time."

I get that--maybe a little too well. Sometimes it seems like not only is there ball after ball coming at me, but that most of them are curveballs or spitballs or...or...Well, you get the point.

The latest curveball is pretty minor league in the grander scheme of things (recent events in our extended family have taught me nothing if not to be grateful for the petty little parenting disasters I daily face), but I feel like a major league idiot for not seeing it coming.

Son-One has really been blossoming lately--he's been to more parties and events in the past month than in practically his entire four years of high school combined. He even went to the prom--which may not seem miraculous to anyone who doesn't know just how much Son-One takes after his social caterpillar mother, but trust me, it's miraculous, not loaves and fishes miraculous, but maybe the Red Sox finally winning the series miraculous. Maybe it's been brought on by the fact that he's suddenly realized that he's graduating soon and this will be his last opportunity to really spend some time with some of his classmates.

All good except when one of the classmates he wants to spend time with turns out to be Son-Two's ex girlfriend. (Yes, Son-Two snagged an older woman or, more accurately, she snagged him.)

Friday evening, Son-One told me he wanted to go camping Saturday night with AC, otherwise known as Son-Two's ex-girlfriend. Son-Two and AC were pretty serious, for the high school level, dating a good portion of Son-Two's sophomore and AC's junior year. They broke up, sort of messily, in February 2006. They maintained an on-again, off-again, just friends kind of thing--the kind of thing that's enough to give a mom heartburn trying to fight off the growing certainty that her son's feelings are being toyed with, intentionally or not.

In February or early March of this year, Son-Two started seeing a new girl, AW, right around the time that AC started cropping up more and more often in Son-One's conversation. Right around that time, Son-One came home one or two afternoons with AC's name (written in pen in her handwriting) on his arm. I raised an eyebrow but didn't say a word and I hadn't heard much mention of her since.

Until Friday. And he wants to go camping. With his brother's ex-girlfriend and his friend G and his girlfriend (who is friends with AC) and maybe a couple of other people and AC's parents will probably be there.

I can't help myself, I say it: "Are you planning on making out with your brother's ex-girlfriend?"

He looks a little sheepish--as though the thought has maybe occurred to him--and then assures me, "That would be too weird." He assures me it's a strictly friends kind of thing.

On Saturday, as the countdown for the trip begins, Son-One is rushing around the house gathering things and Son-Two shouts from the computer room, "Son-One's going camping?! Who's he going camping with?"

I look at Son-One, "You didn't tell him? You better get in there and tell him. I thought he already knew. I'm not telling him."

The telling was uneventful and Son-One came out with a Mom-you're-so-immature expression on his face and said, "Mom, I've known AC since we were in elementary school." What he meant, as was evident in his tone, was, "Duh! We're sophisticated high school seniors with a deep and meaningful friendship that we wouldn't taint by making out."

Apparently, the fact that his kid brother got there first means nothing, but the fact that he shared a cubby in kindergarten with the girl makes all the difference in the world.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Perfect Post For May: Getting Gotten

The characters in Which Brings Me To You* by Steve Almond and Julia Baggott discuss the importance and rarity of being truly understood. Jane writes to John: "I'm not afraid that I can't give love, fully, doors swung wide open. I'm afraid that I will not be really and truly, deeply understood...Aren't our souls--again, I apologize, but I don't have a better term--listing toward some kind of benediction, and what better benediction than love? And not some generic version of love store-bought in cans like those novelty gifts of Florida sunshine, maybe not love at all but just understanding--which the world rations and hoards."

Being understood at the deepest level is one of those feelings that can be tremendously comforting or tremendously terrifying, depending on your level of comfort with yourself at the moment. Like most of us (I hope), I've spent some time thinking about the people who "get" me and the people who just don't get me at all. (Not to mention the people I get and the people I will just never get no matter what.) Sometimes when I'm whining about how so-and-so just doesn't understand me or know me at all, it hits me that I've been instrumental in that person's failure to get to know me on a deeper level. We hide so much, even (maybe especially) in our closest relationships. Being understood is something I alternately crave deeply and fear even more deeply.

Nita over at Advanced Maternal Age has a husband, Bear, who "gets" her, at least part of the time, and in her post "the best Mother's Day present ever," what Bear gets about her involves books thus appealing both to the married-damn-near-twenty-years side of me and to the nose-stuck-so-deep-in-a-book-I-can't-see-daylight-side-of-me.

For a double-play of perfection, here's my button:

A Perfect Post – May 2007
And, Nita, it's all yours.

Other winners at Suburban Turmoil and Petroville.

*Highly recommended, by the way.