Feelin’ Groovy

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d probably have to toss you a to-go mug and tell you to try to keep up. My boys are coming home today, and I’ve got to be to work by 2:45, so my morning is going to be a whirlwhind.

Taking the time to write a blog post is probably not the best use of my time, to be perfectly honest. But that’s sort of what I want to talk about today.

We’re all busy. That’s just the way it is. It’s part of being a grownup. I work my two jobs plus some freelance writing and of course, I work on my books. I try to squeeze in a little bit of housework here and laundry there, and once in a while I have an extra ten minutes to unpack yet another box of stuff I probably don’t need but brought to the new apartment anyway. Last week, I also made cookies for the tailgate party at the school, and I managed to hem a pair of pants for one of the kids in the marching band. I even found a few minutes to throw some stitches into a baby quilt I’ve been working on for almost four years.

The baby I was making it for started kindergarten this year. At this rate, the quilt may be finished in time for her first child.

At any rate, I have been trying to settle into a routine. I’ve always been a morning person, so I’ve been setting my alarm a little bit earlier every day. I drag myself out of bed and try to check a few items off my to-do list before my day really starts. I’m usually up and functioning from 5 a.m. until I get home just before midnight.

Last night’s shift at the hotel was even busier than my personal life. I was alone at the desk on a Saturday night with a stack full of check-ins, a family reunion in the meeting room, and a mountain of laundry in the back. I was on the run the entire shift, delivering rollaways and cribs and extra blankets to rooms on the third floor, riding the elevator up and down in search of missing luggage carts, and answering phone calls from people who couldn’t understand why every hotel in town was booked up. I was busy folding sheets, making coffee, delivering pitchers of ice water, answering questions about the internet password, and resisting the urge to throat-punch the ridiculously loud inflatable ghost in the lobby that is going to drive me to insanity long before Halloween ever actually gets here.

It was around ten o’clock when the ladies from the family reunion gathered in the lobby and asked me to take their picture. They were laughing and handing me phones and cameras, and all of them kept shouting “wait!” or “hold on!” until finally one of the older women shushed them all and reminded them that I still had work to do, so would they please just quiet down so I could take their picture and go? Then she turned to me and said, “You really seem to have so much fun with your job.”

It knocked the wind right out of me.

She was right; I was having a blast.

I love what I do. I am good at customer service. I’ve been so caught up in the cycle of working and feeling sorry for myself that it never dawned on me that I’m actually having fun again.

I still miss doing hair. I miss the regular customers who came to me as kids, and for their proms, and for their weddings, and then with their own children. I miss my little old ladies who came to me for their roller sets every Friday for eighteen years. I miss the smell of perm solution and the tingle of bleach on my fingertips because I always hated wearing gloves during color services. I miss having that little nick between my first two fingers that I consistently gave myself at least once a week. I even miss coming home at night and finding those tiny pieces of hair in my pockets and sometimes inside my bra.

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Okay, too far– I do not miss the ones inside my bra. Especially not the ones that worked their way into my skin from time to time and became infected.

The point is I know I’m never going back. I’ve known it since six months after my accident. When the judge denied my Disability claim — and my appeals — I accepted the fact that the rest of my life will be spent doing something other than the job I loved. Just like I’ve accepted the fact that I’m always going to hurt, I’m always going to tire easily, and half of my left hand is always going to be numb. It is what it is, right?

Last night, those wonderful ladies made me realize that I’m having fun at work again. I’m not just punching the clock and earning a paycheck; I’m enjoying myself. My inner snob wants me to strive for something better than minimum-wage, second shift, entry-level stuff.  But my inner snob is kind of a jerk, to be perfectly honest.

I’ve been struggling all along to accept. Accept that my life is different now. Accept that my body has changed. Accept that I’m divorced and my kids are growing up and the world is changing faster than I can keep up; accept that life is flying by and I’m just along for the ride, hanging on for dear life.

I’m done accepting. I want to have fun again. I want to enjoy my time here on Earth, enjoy my friends and family and yes, enjoy the work that I do. So what if I can’t check off everything on my to-do list every day?

You know what? Give me back that to-go cup and let me give you my favorite mug with the seagulls on it. I’ll throw a batch of Jiffy blueberry muffins in the oven, and we’ll sit down at my grandmother’s old table and really talk.

It’s Sunday morning, the sun is shining, and I don’t have to be to work for a few more hours. Let’s enjoy today for what it is.

Be sure to visit Diana over at Part-Time Monster to link up and see what some other bloggers have had to say with their weekly coffee share.  Thanks to Diana for hosting the #coffeeshare posts!

Coffee or Tea?

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If we were having coffee this morning, you’d probably have to fend for yourself. Yes, it’s been one of those mornings.

My Sunday began a little before seven a.m., when I rolled over in bed and found a pair of big blue eyes mere inches away from my own. They were sparkling and oh-so-wide-awake. Disturbingly wide-awake. Terrifyingly wide-awake.

“Hey, Mom!” the boy chirped. “I wondered if you were ever gonna wake up.  Can we go watch TV? Have you had your coffee yet? Are you gonna make waffles today? ‘Cuz we’re out of cereal. We still have the Cheerios stuff but everybody else ate the good strawberry stuff and I never got any of it at all. Can we go to the Amish store and get some more of it ‘cuz it’s really good and it’s my favorite and I never get any because everybody else always eats it before I get any. We have some Lucky Charms but I don’t want it because I already ate  the marshmallows and now it’s just cereal. I don’t want eggs though ‘cuz it takes too long to make ‘em and I’m really hungry and aren’t you ever gonna get outta bed?”

I like to think I said something wise and motherly that fully demonstrated my love for this, my youngest child. In reality, however, I think there’s a pretty good chance I said something along the lines of “I have to pee.”

I haven’t really made coffee in my new place yet. I’ve basically switched to tea for a lot of reasons that sort of escaped me this morning. I dug around in the cupboards for the parts and bits and pieces of the coffeemaker, jammed them together, dug some more for the filters, and scraped the last bits of cheap dollar store coffee out of the bottom of the Folger’s can where I store it to trick myself into thinking I’m drinking the good stuff.

Now I’m somewhere in the middle of my third cup, and Little Man is polishing off his first. Oh, don’t judge me; it’s more milk than coffee, and it’s not as though a little caffeine is going to give him that much more energy. He can’t have more energy than he has at this moment. He’s already vibrating. He’s also playing some game in the living room that involves Matchbox cars, a stuffed camel, and a giant penguin that keeps playing “Let it Snow” on an endless loop that is seriously lacking in volume control.

The energy is a good sign, honestly. He’s settling into our new home and getting enough sleep, and I just don’t think he knows what to do with himself now that he’s fully-rested. He loves his “new” bed here, and I think this may be the first time in months that he’s actually been sleeping all night long without getting up in the night to crawl in with me or one of his siblings.

The coffee is really pretty bad, I’m afraid. If you really want to share some, you’re probably going to need some sugar and milk. Maybe a shot of whiskey, if I had any. Perhaps I should have offered tea?

I have some flavored coffee beans we could try if I hadn’t given the Princess my coffee grinder when she left for college. She was so excited about those blueberry-muffin-flavored coffee beans she bought herself, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the hammer-and-rolling-pin method she devised on her own.

She seems to be settling into college life pretty well. She sent me a copy of a paper she wrote about her Great-Aunt Marian, and I was a sobbing wreck by the time I finished reading it, so it would seem that she’s making a good start in that class, at least. She also seems to be pretty happy with Mr. Nice Guy, the newest man in her life. I don’t know much about him beyond the fact that he makes my daughter happy and he treats me with respect, and that’s enough.

My oldest son, the Dark Prince, seems to be settling into his Senior year as well. I can’t believe this hulking 6’3” young man with the size 14 EEEE feet is is the same little boy who taught himself — and all the other daycare kids — to ride a bike because his father and I weren’t teaching him fast enough. I can still see him whizzing around in circles on that little green Hulk bike.

Riding in a straight line presented a few challenges for him, if I remember correctly, but he mastered it the way he has always mastered the challenges that face him. He’s now in the running for a really big scholarship, and I’m busily crossing fingers, toes and everything else in hopes that the opportunity pans out for him.

So . . . life is going on.

It was an awful summer. One of the worst ever. But I survived, and I’m moving forward. Oh, we’re still tripping over boxes, and I’m starting to think I’ll never get all of our clothes put away, but we’re settling in and doing okay. Not great yet, but okay.

Even without good coffee.

Tea can be good too. Different, but good in its own way. I just need to be okay with the idea that my life is sometimes going to have to be different too, but good in its own way.

Coffee Time

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If we were having coffee, I’d start by apologizing for the mess in my kitchen. I’d pull out the mismatched cups from the cupboard and haul out the giant canister of sugar for you, since I’m just not the type to keep sugar in a dainty little sugar bowl. That’s all right, though, because I’d have to offer you the entire gallon jug of milk since I’m not big on using the dainty little cream pitcher, either.

I take my coffee black for a reason.

Let me tell you about my week, because it’s been an emotional one. My oldest child graduated from high school at the end of last week, and this week has been all about adjusting to the idea that she’ll be leaving home in a few months.  She’s done a lot of sleeping in and I’ve done a lot of nagging, and I thought I might possibly be well on my way to a stroke the day I came home from work and found her sunbathing in the front yard – with the TV blaring inside a house full of dirty laundry and dirtier dishes.

I also had my last day of work in the school lunchroom this week. Oh, sure, I’m planning on going back in the fall, but this was unexpectedly emotional. I didn’t expect the kids to hug me good-bye, and I certainly didn’t expect to miss any of them so soon.  Even more than that, I didn’t expect the ending of the school year to feel like the ending of a chapter in my life. This was my first real job since my accident, and it’s been all about finding the balance between pushing myself and knowing when to step back.

In a way, this job was a huge step toward understand who I am now and learning to thrive in my new “normal.” It was a step that was every bit as terrifying – and hard—as those first steps on the walker nearly four years ago. And I did it. I made it. I survived all the way to the end of the school year.

This was the week I interviewed for a second job to help me make my bills. It’s a front-desk position at a local hotel, and it would be a godsend. I did my best at the interview, but it’s hard to tell. I am supposed to hear something on Monday. Either way, it’s good to know my resume is good enough to get me an interview, and the interview itself was good experience for the next interview.

This was the week I finally conquered a really stupid fear and wrote my first real novel synopsis. That, in a nutshell, has been my biggest reason for self-publishing:  I was afraid of writing a synopsis to send to a traditional publisher. As much as I love self-publishing, I still want to explore my options with a traditional publisher, just to see what’s out there. So now I’ve done it and sent it out and I can check it off my “bucket list.”

Who knows – I may soon get my first real rejection letter and end up checking something else off the ol’ bucket list.

This week, I signed the lease on my house for another year. I had really expected to be able to buy it by this point, so it was a little disappointing. I love my house; I want to stay here forever. I just thought I’d be farther ahead by now. Money is trickling in too slowly and flowing out too quickly, and it hasn’t gotten any better this first year on my own.

The week ended with a two-day college orientation trip with my daughter and ex-husband. I hadn’t realized she was so grown-up until I saw her mingling with all of the other young adults on WMU’s campus, and I hadn’t realized just how ready she is to go. I’ve heard all the clichés about “spreading her wings” and all that nonsense, but I never really understood it until this moment. It’s almost time to let her go.

This week, I realized that I am not ready.

If we were having coffee, this is the point where I would break out the peanut butter cookies that I’m supposed to give to the neighbor who mowed my lawn. I’d top off our coffee cups and tell you to drink up before my kids wake up and invade the kitchen, because this is one of the few chances I’ll have to spend one-on-one time with another adult and I want to enjoy every minute of it.  And I think we need a little distraction, because I’m not quite ready to say anything more about my daughter moving out or the fact that I really enjoyed spending those two days with my ex.

Besides, I’ve been talking about myself this whole time, and now it’s your turn to tell me about your week. What have you been up to? What challenges have you faced and how did you deal with them?

Be sure to visit Diana over at Part-Time Monster to link up and see what some other bloggers have had to say with their weekly coffee share.  Thanks to Diana for hosting the #coffeeshare posts!

The Best Medicine

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” – Kurt Vonnegut

The world needs more laughter. Even on the worst of days, even when the future is bleak and the present is worse, even when all hope seems lost . . . we have to look for reasons to laugh.  I know that laughter has never, ever solved a single major problem, but neither have tears. Especially not in my family.

We were devastated when Aunt Ida died. She was the first one of The Amoeba Squad to go, the first of the four sisters to go somewhere without her siblings. She’d been sick for ages; Aunt Marian often said that that Ida had “one foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel.” But still, her death rocked us.

Aunt Vernabelle took it especially hard, although I never really knew if that was because Verna was the most sensitive of the four or because she just really never liked Ida very much and felt guilty about that.  Either way, Verna’s grief was overwhelming. She cried non-stop for days; she cried herself sick and then cried some more after being sick. She couldn’t function.

It was during the visitation that Aunt Marian, the Head Aunt, decided that enough was enough. She turned on her sister and issued an ultimatum: Verna had twenty-four hours to get herself under control, or else. Now, no one was ever really clear on what “or else” meant, but the threat was sufficient to get through to Verna. She sniffled and sobbed and wept for the next twenty-four hours, but she also kept a running countdown: “I’ve got eighteen hours left to cry!” she’d wail. “Marian says I can cry for sixteen more hours!”

“The next time someone dies,” Marian grumbled after a while, “she only gets twelve hours.”

And we laughed. God help us, we all laughed, even Verna. That’s just how my family has always dealt with things beyond our control. We try to find the humor in humorless situations.

I’ve heard it said that humor is a defense mechanism, that a human smile is similar to the way a wild animal bares its teeth as a warning. Well, of course it is! I make the worst jokes and laugh the loudest when life is at its worst.

The night of my car accident, I had a wonderful nurse named Nadine. As I lay there in the Emergency Room, strapped to a backboard and immobilized by a C-collar, Nadine came in with a Shop-Vac to vacuum the glass shards off before cutting off my clothes. As I remember, she was quite enthusiastic about the job, very thorough about getting that glass out of every possible nook and cranny. And I do mean every possible nook and cranny. When she aimed the nozzle between my legs, seemingly in search of glass in the lining of my uterus, I let out a whoop and told her I didn’t usually allow such liberties without dinner and a movie first.

Poor Nadine didn’t know what to do. She burst out laughing, apologized, and kept vacuuming, although I’m pretty sure I heard her mutter something about not ordering the lobster.

Later that night, when they had realized the extent of my injuries and started preparing me for the ride to a bigger hospital, Nadine came back to put in a catheter. Let’s just be honest here: having a catheter inserted is not exactly a relaxing experience. It’s a major invasion of one’s private areas, and Nadine was definitely going for frequent flyer miles in my pelvic region that night. She had to keep telling me to relax, but by that point I was well on my way to a complete meltdown. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t cooperating.

“Honey,” Nadine teased, “would you spread your legs for me if I got the Shop-Vac again?”

For the record, no Shop-Vacs were harmed in the course of my recovery. But laughing at that moment gave me the strength I needed to get through the next few hours. It also made the ER doctor pause and peek into the room to make sure I hadn’t completely lost my mind. “I don’t think I want to know what’s going on in here,” he told us.

Here’s a simple truth about life: Sometimes, it really sucks, and there’s nothing you or I or anyone else can ever do to change that.  People die, people get hurt, and the world just keeps on turning. Our hearts may get broken, but they keep on beating. Sun comes up, sun goes down, life goes on.

We can laugh or we can cry. Or we can build a blanket fort under the kitchen table and curl up in a fetal position and do both, but eventually we’re going to have to come back out into the real world.

Might as well find something to laugh about while we’re at it.

And when I die, you all only get two hours to cry.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “The world could use more . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee,  Shelley Ozand Anna Fitfunner.  Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Making Lemonade

It was one of those “when life hands you lemons” moments.

My youngest son has been getting on my last nerve.  He has been pestering me about going to an arcade in the next town. Badgering me. Whining, begging, pleading, annoying me to within an inch of losing my sanity. He’s too young to understand “Mommy can’t even afford to pay the electric bill, so she doesn’t have any money for things like arcades.”

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Besides, his eyes glaze over whenever I start referring to myself in the Third Person.

I don’t like arcades. The noise level and bright lights make me anxious. I get a headache and a sour attitude, and I just don’t have time to sit at an arcade developing anxiety, headaches and attitude problems. I don’t even have time to do things that don’t give me a headache. My family is so busy right now that it seems like we don’t have time to catch our breath, much less have any fun. Add to the mix my scramble for a summer job and concerns about paying my bills, a lawn that needs mowing, spring allergies and so much more, and I’m putting some serious thought into crawling under the kitchen table in a fetal position.

Again.

I’m getting good at blanket forts.

Don’t judge me.

And somehow, I’ve got to find time to finish writing Their Love Rekindled, figure out how to set up a mailing list on MailChimp, keep my blog updated, and continue building my “platform” so I can have a social media “presence” to help sell the books that I can’t find the time to finish writing.

And let’s not forget that for some random reason, my town keeps losing power for 4-5 hours at a time. With no explanation. Afterwards, my computer keeps having identity crises and I lose all kinds of documents that are supposed to be auto-saved but aren’t.  Yes, I know that I should really take a computer class so I know what to do in these situations.

Let me just sign up for a class in all my spare time. I’ll pay for it with the money I don’t have.

So, on Sunday, I did what all really bad mommies would do under those circumstances: I caved.  I gave in. That’s right, I rewarded my child for whining, begging, pleading, and badgering. I scraped together my last $10 that really should have gone toward gas for my car, tossed the boy into the back seat, and headed out for Klassic Arcade in Gobles, Michigan.

Let me tell you right here, right now, that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Klassic Arcade is a tiny, dumpy little blue building with a dirt parking lot. From the outside, it looks like a bit of a hole-in-the-wall. A dive. But inside . . .

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Stepping through the door was like stepping through a time warp. The place was lined with wall-to-wall pinball machines and “classic” video games, including Galaga, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Pac Man, and Frogger. If they’d had Centipede, I probably would have passed out from sheer joy.

I paid $5 each for our wristbands that allowed us to play any of the games as many times as we wanted. Little Man and I darted from pinball machine to video game, giggling and pressing buttons without any real idea of what we were doing. I tried to remember how to play some of the games from my teenage years, but let’s be honest here – back then, I never went to arcades to play the games. I went to meet the boys who played the games.

Except Centipede and Tempest. I was really competitive when it came to those two games.

I had told my little boy that we would stay for only a few hours. I fully anticipated a loud, overcrowded and overwhelming Chuckie Cheese type of experience. But Klassic Arcade is nothing like Chuckie Cheese. Small, personal, friendly, and with a little snack counter that has over one hundred different flavors of soda pop to choose from, most of which are in pretty glass bottles. It was actually cozy, if you can imagine an arcade being cozy.

Now, remember those random power outages I mentioned earlier? Forty-five minutes into our Klassic Arcade adventure, another one hit. And that’s when things got weird.

Nobody complained.

Nobody demanded a refund.

Nobody even seemed upset. Customers sat down at the charming little tables at the snack counter and chatted with each other. We bought bottles of pop (ours was red apple) and took turns opening and closing the cooler doors quickly to keep everything nice and cold inside.  My son and I shared our red apple pop, which turned our tongues bright red and gave us both red moustaches. After that, he and I wandered outside, where he proceeded to find ten four-leaf clovers. Ten. I’ve never even found one.

He also found two five-leaf clovers, but I haven’t decided if those were extra-lucky or just a weird freak of nature that could only be found by a member of my family.

I don’t know if the two men working there that day were owners or employees, but they were amazingly friendly and cheerful throughout the entire adventure. I know it must have been difficult for them to lose all that business on a weekend; one of them confided that a five-hour outage the previous day had wiped out their Saturday business as well. Basically, they lost money last weekend because of the twin power outages.

But they laughed and joked with the rest of us while we waited. After thirty minutes, they handed out free passes for all of us to come back again, and then shut things down for the day. We didn’t need the passes, though; I’ll go back again. And again. It wasn’t about the vintage games or the fancy pop; it was about the friendly atmosphere, the cheerful environment, and the way the staff handled an unfortunate situation.

Life handed them lemons last weekend, and they made more than lemonade. They made people happy.

And that was pretty sweet, sort of like Sprecher’s Red Apple.

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Grasping at Straws

No one was around when it happened, but I got a hug yesterday that turned my world around. I was feeling pretty alone in a crowd of people, and I don’t think anyone else realized what that hug did for me.

It’s been another rocky week around here. I’m doing my best to stay positive and keep a good attitude, but as one of my favorite bloggers said in her post for today, “Life is full of overwhelm.” I’m dealing with money problems, small-town-gossip issues, a broken lawnmower, a job opportunity that fell through, and now there’s a dead mouse in my basement. Life is sucking big-time right now, and not even bothering to use a pretty curly straw.

To be honest, life isn’t really all that bad.  We’re all healthy, and there’s been a lot of good stuff going on, too.  I’ve got my book signing tomorrow, and a possible girls’ night out with a couple of old friends; there’s a visit from my sister and a new used laptop from a friend, and the little store in town just started carrying Toblerone. If I could get Netflix to work on my TV so I could watch something with Randolph Mantooth or Eric Allan Kramer, I’d be content.

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It’s just that I argued with some friends this week, and that hurts. They weren’t my best friends, not by a long shot. But they were friends, and life is too short to let any friends go easily. We might not have shared our deepest secrets with each other, but we enjoyed each other’s company. To put it differently, they were the kind of friends who might not have gone into the basement for the mouse for me, but they would have stood at the top of the stairs and squealed in sympathy while I did it myself.

When this passes over – and it will – it’s going to be hard for me to smile and go on with these people as though nothing has happened. I’ll do it because that’s what grown-ups do; I’ll encourage our kids to play together and we’ll all sit together in the bleachers during the different sports seasons. We’ll fall back into the same routines, the same patterns, and I’ll have to remind myself not to hold a grudge. It’ll be a struggle, but everything will be just fine.

For right now, my feelings are hurt. I feel like my soul has been bruised.

There are so many people out there with real problems. It’s foolish to waste even one minute stressing myself out over some petty he-said-she-said rumors and silliness. I just needed something or someone to give me a little kick in the butt or slap upside the head to remind me to prioritize this mess in the appropriate manner.

And that’s where the hug came in.

When I go to the elementary school to pick up my son at the end of the day, there’s a little girl who refuses to smile at me. Absolutely refuses. She’s an utterly adorable and very opinionated little girl with a strong and unique personality. I always ask her if today is the day I’m going to get a “Molly-smile,” and she takes a long, serious moment to study me and consider my question before shaking her head and walking away. Our little routine has become a high point of some of my days.

Yesterday was my rough day.  I was wallowing in self-pity and seriously considering plans for the evening that involved devouring the equivalent of my body weight in food that’s really, really bad for me; I had a hard time holding my head up and ignoring the whispers when I walked by the cluster of friends who are so upset with me. For a few minutes, I felt like a self-conscious sixth-grader trying to find a safe place to sit in the cafeteria on the first day of middle school. I wished my little boy was big enough to walk himself home from school so I didn’t have to face any of those people.

And then, out of the blue, I didn’t get a Molly-smile.

I got a Molly-hug.

God alone knows why that child chose yesterday, of all days, to run up and hug me. She never said a word. Just trotted up, threw her tiny arms around me for a split second, and ran back to her mother.

That was all it took to put things back into perspective for me.

Life is short. Sometimes, it’s “full of overwhelm.” But the world is always going to keep turning; tomorrow’s going to come, the sun is going to rise, and life is going to go on with or without our permission.  We can hang onto hurt and anger and self-pity, or we can allow ourselves to thaw in the warmth that comes from a child’s hug.

We can focus on the bad or we can embrace the good.

We can complain about the mouse in the basement or we can put on our big girl panties and march down there, get the damn thing, and move on with life.

And I guess, if life is going to suck sometimes, we might as well give it some pretty curly straws and enjoy the show.

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This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “No one was around when it happened…” This week’s FTSF is hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Lisa at Flingo and Jessica from Ramblings of an add mommy

It’s the End of World as We Know It . . . Not!

When it comes to the end of the world, I’m generally a pretty optimistic person. I don’t believe there’s going to be a Zombie Apocalypse, and although talk of nuclear war or diseases like Ebola frighten me, I don’t think that the human race is going to be wiped out within my lifetime. Perhaps I’m burying my head in the sand, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen in the next few decades or even the next century.

On the other hand, I sometimes have weeks like the one that’s wrapping up right now, and I start to harbor all kinds of secret hopes that the end of the world would just hurry up and get here.

Yeah, it’s been a bad week.

Money is tight and things are getting shut off and I’ve had to start asking for help. My pride is at an all-time low, but the positive twist on that is that I’m getting really good at groveling. And begging. I’m also arguing with my daughter, something I’ve never really done before. She’s always been my “easy” child; apparently, the first sixteen years of her life were just part of an elaborate scheme to soften me up for her seventeenth year.

I feel like I’m running, scrambling, spinning in circles with no time left to just sit down and breathe. My house is such a mess that I’m thinking about stringing some yellow tape across the kitchen and telling everyone it’s a crime scene. Then maybe I won’t have to go in there and do anything about the dirty dishes or –God forbid—have to cook for anyone for a while.

It dawned on me this morning that my last social outing was the hour I spent on the bleachers with other moms while our sons had baseball practice. Before that, my only recent social interaction was the two hours spent wrangling seven year-olds at my son’s birthday party.

I need to spend time with someone I did not give birth to. I need a social life. Come to think of it, I need a life, period.  I’m a mom, yes, but aren’t I also something more? When do I get to be A.J.?

Life can be pretty funny, though.

This morning was terrible. Awful. As I said, it’s been a bad week, and it just sort of built up to an even worse morning, made almost unbearable by the fact that today just happens to be one of those random days when my pain levels shoot skyward for no real reason. I’ve been in so much pain that it’s all I can do to keep from just lying down on the floor and giving up on trying to move at all.

I dropped my kids at school, came home, and hit my breaking point. I sat in my car in the driveway, bawling. I’m talking major tears here. The kind that actually dripped off the chin and got the front of my shirt wet. I did some big time ugly crying. I did the whole sniffle-sob-whuffle-whimper thing up the steps and into my house and headed for the mirror to see if there was any way I could make myself presentable for work.

And then . . .

Photo courtesy of Debby Steinman
Photo courtesy of Debby Steinman

My co-workers had the giggles today, particularly while crawling upside-down under the tables with gloves and putty knives in search of dried gum. Later, one co-worker showed off pictures of her beautiful new grandbaby while another had pictures of her own very happy little baby boy. One woman was fretting about some scary medical procedures she is facing, and the other women all made time to give her smiles and hugs all day long to let her know she is not alone.

Later, when I went to the Elementary school to pick up my youngest child, I fought back tears again while talking to another mom. She hugged me, offered to take my son to the school dance with the carload of boys she was taking, and even brought over a special occasion dress for my daughter to borrow.

And now . . . I have two hours alone to catch up on my blog, write my next chapter. Two hours to breathe and remind myself that there are some truly beautiful people in this world who are always going to reach out to others.

Life can be pretty funny. Seems like every time things are at their worst and I’m feeling lost and alone, someone comes along to make me smile or even laugh out loud.  Someone shares a bit of kindness when I least expect it. Smiling isn’t going to give me more money or make it possible for me to make my bills; laughing isn’t going to take away my neck pain or heal the crushing loneliness that hits me from time to time.  And all of the adorable baby pictures in the world aren’t going to magically grant me the time and energy to clean my house. Nothing that happened today is going to take away the problems that had me in tears.

But you know what all of that smiling and laughing and adorable baby pictures can do? Give me the strength to face all of the other stuff.  Strength and hope, and a firm belief that the world isn’t going to end any time soon.  It can’t, because there is still too much good that would go to waste if the world ended tomorrow. It can’t, because right now the good in this world outweighs the bad. Some days, it’s not by very much, but it’s still enough.

Relax, folks, the world can’t end as long as there are moments like this:

Seriously, could this kid be any cuter?
Seriously, could this kid be any cuter?

***

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to the end of the world . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Nikki from Redboots, and Jena Schwartz. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Adventures of the Amoeba Squad

The memory that haunts me is more of a composite memory, really. The events all happened when I was so young that my mind has sort of squashed them all together, kind of like a memory meatloaf.

It involves the summers I spent as a child with my aunts at their cottage on Lake Michigan. The Aunts were my father’s four sisters who never married, never lived alone, never made a move without first consulting each other.  My father was not on speaking terms with them for most of my formative years, and my sisters and I secretly referred to them as The Amoeba

My aunts had no children of their own, but they were firmly convinced that they were experts at child-rearing.  In all matters of discipline, education, nutrition and entertainment, they knew it all.  God help anyone who dared disagree with the Amoeba, which also explains a lot about why my mother’s relationship with them wasn’t all that terrific, either.

Aunt Marian, for example, couldn’t see the nutritional difference between sugary cereals and a candy bar, so we routinely ate Snickers bars for breakfast. She believed that dairy products could soothe an upset tummy, which meant that we ate ice cream between bouts of vomiting when we had the flu.

I cringe now that I’m a mother, but oh, man, did I love the food at my aunts’ house!

The Aunts also had some strange beliefs about what was and was not appropriate for children.  Actually, they had some strange beliefs about a lot of things. Aunt Verna believed that douching with warm Pepsi could prevent pregnancy, so all pop served to teenage girls in that house was served on ice, thank you very much.  She saw that as her way of preventing teenage sex. As teenagers, my sisters and I loved to come home from dates and make a big show of pouring ourselves a big, tall glass of warm Pepsi, just to mess with her mind.

But the memories that haunt me don’t involve dating, douching, or Pepsi.

Not just for drinking anymore.
Not just for drinking anymore.

My aunts were addicted to police scanners.  They were four of the nosiest people in the world, and they discovered scanners about the time they realized that their nineteen sets of binoculars and two telescopes just weren’t bringing in enough information.  They had a scanner in the living room, a scanner in the kitchen, and Aunt Marian had her own personal scanner in the bedroom.

They memorized the police codes, and they knew precisely when some juicy, gossip-worthy event was taking place anywhere in the county. And if those events took place in the middle of the night, the aunts saw nothing wrong in waking us up and taking us for a ride to the scene in the trusty family station wagon, also known as Wag, the unofficial eighth member of our tribe.

“Up and at ‘em, Girls!” Aunt Marian would crow. “There’s a fire at the old five-and-dime!” or “They’ve found a body down by the marina!”  We’d stumble into the clothes she tossed us and wrap up in our matching white windbreakers – yes, we all seven wore matching white windbreakers everywhere we went. On foggy nights, I think we probably traumatized quite a few other spectators when we materialized out of the gloom like some demented Amoeba Squad.

It seems like there were always bodies being hauled out of the lake.  That sounds pretty grim, but it never seemed that way to me as a kid.  My aunts had made it abundantly clear to us that the water could be dangerous when not regarded with the proper respect and caution.  Drownings were a part of summer life at the beach.  Boats capsized, teenagers were overcome after diving from the pier, little children wandered away from parents.  It was just something that happened, and my aunts believed that exposing us to that ugly truth was an appropriate way of teaching us to respect the water.

In retrospect, I shudder to think of the things we saw. To a certain extent, I can understand my aunts’ fascination with drowning, because two of their brothers were killed in a boating accident in the 1950’s, but I still cannot begin to comprehend the logic of taking three little girls along to stand in a crowd to see a body loaded up and taken away.

The night I remember most vividly, we waited on the pier amid a growing crowd for what seemed like hours.  Rumor had it that the body had been found a few miles out and they were having trouble retrieving it.  It had been in the water for quite some time, they said, and was so badly decomposed that it was impossible to determine gender at that time.  I don’t know what standard procedure is in a situation like that, or whether any of the rumors were true, but the general consensus was that the body was so far gone that it couldn’t even be picked up out of the water; it was said that the Coast Guard had to scoop a body bag around it and drag it behind the boat.

I strongly doubt that’s what really happened.   But I stood there with the rest of them, clustered around the North Pier’s old white lighthouse that’s been gone for almost thirty years now.  We craned our necks and murmured theories about who it might be, and every once in a while someone would shout when they thought they saw a boat somewhere on the horizon.

I don’t think they ever actually brought a body in that night.  Or if they did, I have forgotten the details.  I remember giving up and shuffling back home, where we brushed the sand from our bare feet and hung our seven white windbreakers on seven hooks before crawling back into our beds.

We were terribly disappointed, and that’s the part that haunts me.  A human being, someone’s son or daughter, died in Lake Michigan, and we were disappointed because we didn’t get to see the body dragged out of the water.  A life ended.  Somewhere, a heart broke and a soul mourned the loss of a loved one, and I was part of a group of ghouls watching, waiting to see the gory results.

I remember that night every time I drive past a car accident and see the gawkers slowing down, or when I see a house fire on the news with clusters of onlookers waiting to see if anyone died.   I feel that same sense of shame, and I force myself to look the other way.

The memory that haunts me is the memory that makes me turn away from watching somebody’s pain, someone else’s loss, because I never want to be part of that crowd again.  Not even if I could still fit into the old white windbreaker.

***

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “The memory that haunts me is . . . ”  

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Of Water, Ice and Fog

In the water I am beautiful.
― Kurt Vonnegut

I grew up near Lake Michigan, although I really prefer to say that I grew up in Lake Michigan.  According to family stories, I swam in the big lake before I walked, and getting me out of the water at the end of the day was a challenge that often involved screeching, kicking, splashing and a basic all-around kerfuffle on all fronts.

On land, I was clumsy and slow-moving.  I tripped over my own feet and bumped into doorframes.  My family used to marvel at the way I managed to fall upstairs or stumble off the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit; I would skid on freshly-waxed floors or walk into low-hanging tree branches, and to this day I still cannot walk safely into a room with throw rugs.

But all of that vanished as soon as I hit the water.  I was in my element. I could glide beneath the surface, change directions, and stay under long enough to send my aunts into a panic.  When I dove and kicked in the water, my body would move along so gracefully that I felt long and lean and beautiful.  Strong.  It was the only place where I could be fluid and lovely in my movements.

I feared nothing in the water.  Oh, my aunts taught me early on to respect the Lake and all of its power, but not to fear it.  It was almost as if I had lake water in my veins instead of blood.

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But time passes.  Little girls grow up and have to come out of the water eventually, changing and growing just as the lake changes with each passing season.  There is less time to swim and play and be beautiful in water; more time to buckle down and find a job, face life’s challenges, accept a life on dry land.

In the winter, Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze over in a nice, smooth sheet like a pond or inland lake.  It freezes in great jagged peaks and mounds that hide dangerous crevasses and air pockets.  It is beautiful and sometimes deadly.  A hiker out for an adventurous climb can sometimes disappear without a trace, without a cry.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre

It takes courage to tackle the lake in its frozen form.  Courage that I lack.  I’ve never walked the ice or braved the pier in winter.  I’ve stayed safely on shore, no matter how ugly and clumsy that made me feel.

WINTRY WEATHER MICHIGAN

If we’re not careful, we can spend too many years standing on shore because it is just too scary to take a chance on the unknown.  We can congratulate ourselves on our wisdom in avoiding those hidden hazards; pat ourselves on the back for being the smart ones who know better than to take a silly risk.  We may miss out on some of the fun, we say smugly, but at least we will never disappear through a crevasse or air pocket without a trace, without a cry.

And then we wake up one morning and face the fog on the beach, only to realize that the ice is gone and we’ve missed our chances.   Opportunities can evaporate like the mist that drowns out the sunlight, and the mournful wail of the foghorn sounds like a lament of “Too late!  Too late!”

I want to swim again in summer, and feel beautiful once more.  I want to take off my practical shoes and not worry about how I look in a bathing suit, and I want to plunge beneath the surface again. And in the winter, I want to bundle up and take a chance.  For once in my life, I want to take a risk and climb on the ice with everyone else, before I disappear without a trace, without a cry.

I am ready for the ice in my veins to thaw into lake water.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge: “Ice, Water, Steam.”

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/ice-water-steam/”>Ice, Water, Steam</a>

But First . . . .

I have never had the courage to post  a “selfie.”  Which means that today, I’m going to face my fear and show the world just exactly why I have never had the courage to do this before.

Let’s face it: I am not a photogenic person.  It doesn’t really matter who is taking the photo.   I just don’t photograph well.  My eyes look beady, my nose looks red, and my lips practically disappear.  And we’re not even going to discuss the whole “camera adds ten pounds” nonsense, because pictures of me show a lot more than ten extra pounds, none of which are the fault of the camera.

I don’t look good in pictures.

I once read an article that gave all kinds of detailed explanations about why mothers so often use pictures of their children as profile pictures on Facebook.  The author had theories about mothers losing our identities as we begin to see ourselves only as wives and mothers rather than as individuals worthy of using our own pictures.

Yeah, I don’t really think it’s all that complicated.  I can’t speak for other mothers, but I use pictures of my kids because they look better than I do.  Their pictures are much more pleasant to look at.

When they were babies, I was always sleep-deprived.  I usually had puke, poop, or some other bodily fluid on some part of my body or clothing.  Money went for things like diapers and formula for them rather than make-up and hair color for me.  So really, I wasn’t much to look at, much less photograph.

Now that they’re older, I’m still sleep-deprived and penniless, although the whole bodily fluid thing has slowed down.  (I say “slowed down” instead of “stopped” because my six year-old managed to spray vomit all the way across my queen-sized bed and even the walls of my bedroom last night.  I think I may still have puke in my left eardrum.)

But I can’t blame my kids for everything.  I wasn’t exactly photogenic when I was younger, either.  Even before gravity, age, motherhood and maple trees had an impact on my appearance,  I didn’t look good in pictures.  I remember going on a school trip to Mackinac Island in my senior year of high school and posing for a group picture on the porch of the Grand Hotel.  I felt beautiful that day, and I remember that I was smiling hugely for the camera.

I looked like a serial killer.

Now, my daughter is just the opposite.  She’s one of those people that the camera just loves.  She’s not a vain creature, but she has taken hundreds of selfies over the years, and she looks beautiful in all of them.  I don’t know how she does it.  Yes, she is beautiful; but how does she look good in every single selfie she takes?  Just once, I want her to get a full-on shot of herself with one eye half closed, in mid-sneeze or something equally awful.  Just to prove there’s justice in this world, you know.  Just one bad picture of her, just to make the universe seem a little bit more fair.

I also have some certain . . . er, technical difficulties when it comes to taking selfies:

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Need I say more?

This is my favorite selfie ever, although I think the technical term for it is “ussie” because it has two people in it.    I look happy, if a bit demented and only slightly overwhelmed by a really bad hair day, but I like this one.

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Of course, I didn’t take it, so I don’t think it counts as a selfie.

It was taken on the same day as this one.

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I hesitated to share this with anyone because it makes me look “fat.”  I tried to blame it on the wind blowing up inside my blouse and making me look bigger than I really am, but  . . . well, I am what I am.  And in this shot, what I am is happy.  Strong.  At home in the one place that can heal me and make me whole again, no matter how I look in pictures.

Me and Lake Michigan.  Now that’s a great picture.

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “I have never had the courage to…”  

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