Those Kids

Sometimes, it’s all worth it.  Sometimes you get the much anticipated gift of knowing your hard work has paid off.  I am speaking of course, of when your kids “do you proud.”

We live in a small NC town where people know each other or know more about each other than they would prefer.  In a town like this where anonymity lasts about 5 minutes after you move into your neighborhood, it is crucial that your kids not become — you know — Those Kids.

Several few weeks ago we were dining at Gianni’s, one of our favorite restaurants in uptown Concord, and the waiter in the pizza loft was chatting with us as he was taking our order.  He mentioned that he had a band and was going to play a gig for his album launch at a kitschy little restaurant/pub across the street called Little Robert’s.  Our teenage daughter Clarke chirped back that she had a band, too, because first of all Kevin is a good looking young fellow, and secondly, she’s a teenage girl with functioning eyeballs.

Kevin, invited her band to open for them without having heard the band at all, which was both generous and brave of him.  We realized this was a great opportunity and immediately encouraged her.  She said she would check with her band and let him know for sure.

I asked how much she would be paid.

Well, since Kevin is of legal age, he and his band were being paid in beer.  Clarke would be paid with experience.  Still, it was a good opportunity.  She got her band members to agree and she and Kevin agreed a few days later that they would perform for about 20 minutes.

The band practiced several times.  My husband Frank and I made all concessions to ensure she got as much practice as necessary, as we were very excited for her and proud for her to have the experience.  We told our friends and family about the gig, and several people agreed to come.  This thing was happening!

The night before the gig, we were back at the pizza loft enjoying ourselves and Kevin and Clarke were chatting about the next night.  Then he said it…the thing that changed everything…he said he was looking forward to her 30 minute set.  Clarke doesn’t speak rock and roll and took him very literally at his word.  She called the band members the next day and said they needed to throw in a couple of covers to stretch the set and make the 30 minute requirement.

The bass player would have none of it.  He baldly stated that it was a recipe for disaster and that the band was in fact NOT ready for the gig.  He was not coming.  After several hours of back and forth with the drummer and  lead guitarist discussing plans and attempts to convince the bassist that everything would be fine, the efforts came to nought.  The boy would no longer answer his phone and fled to his girlfriend’s house.

His reason for not showing was simply that because it would make the band look bad for them to show up and not play well, so he refused to try.

And this is when our girl began to shine.  She called the lead guitarist and stated that she had made a commitment to Kevin and that people were counting on them.  “We may suck,” she told him, “but we’re going to play no matter what.”  The guitarist, Heath (God bless him) agreed.  This was at 3:30 pm when they were supposed to be at the pub for a 6 pm sound check.

Clarke spent the rest of her afternoon coming up with a song list of covers and original music, printing the music she needed, tuning and practicing.  She timed each song to be sure they met the time requirement.  She went to the pub, met up with Heath and they went over the music from sound check until set time.  (The drummer, for reasons unknown, also did not show that night but it turned out to be for the best.)

She and Heath rocked it.  Make no mistake, our Clarke is very talented, and for that we are extremely proud of her.  But the fact that only half of the band showed up, and she made it happen with a fresh set of tunes and sheer determination blew us away.  It blew everyone away.

I told Heath he was my hero and kissed him on the forehead.

I told his parents how awesome their son was.

I danced when my daughter sang and embarrassed her to tears, but she kept singing.

Yeah, Clarke and Heath are Those Kids:  Those Kids that made us proud!

Getting to NO you

I have a very dear friend, whom I’ll call “Suzette” (because that is her name, after all) who gave me much to think about recently. Since I haven’t pontificated in a long time, I figured this was a good tangent to go on.

Suzette was having a bit of a bad time when she came to visit a couple of weeks ago. Without going into the details, she said she came to see me because she knew I wouldn’t “hand her a line” about her concerns and that I would cut straight to it, so to speak, and give her the truth. Who knew? I’m apparently an honest person despite all my years of practicing to be the penultimate sniveling, conniving weasel. (Ask my siblings — they will confirm the characterization). I credit my husband with delivering the proper relationship training, but that is for another blog.

During our visit, my delightful “Sister Suze” at one point said, “Well, when someone asks you to do something for them, you should never say ‘No’: you just DO IT.”

I guffawed. (Hey, I’m honest — I never claimed to have developed any tact.)

“Since WHEN?,” I nearly shouted, “who told you THAT?” Suzette paused. “I don’t know,” she said, “it’s just something I believe — that you’re never supposed to tell anyone ‘No’.”

Although the words flew out of my mouth before I was aware they were leaving my lips, I knew once they were out, that my friend and I had vastly different belief systems and that my beliefs were relatively new to me. I had, much like Suzette, been raised to put others first, be respectful and above all, to do what I was told. There is merit to such an upbringing, but I think something got lost in translation or the carry-over to adulthood became twisted. Suzette and I discussed the matter further after I apologized for my outburst. She and I came to the understanding about something she read in her daily devotional earlier that day. She read what I now call The Great Unsaid. The Great Unsaid is the fact that that we have every right and are even obliged to say no, when what is being asked of us is detrimental to our own physical and emotional well being. It’s not that we should turn down every request for help or favors, but sometimes enough is too much. We forget that — or rather, no one ever said it to us in the first place.

Today’s middle-aged American women were conditioned by the past generation in a most contradictory way. Although we came of age during or shortly after the Feminine Revolution when women began entering the professional workforce, it was a time when women were not necessarily to have it all, but rather to DO it all. This was best embodied in a smarmy and annoyingly catchy perfume commercial jingle from the 1970‘s that went, “I can bring home the bacon…fry it up in a pan…and never never never never let you forget YOURE the MAN…‘cause I’m a woooooman: Enjoli.”

WHAT THE HELL KIND OF MESSAGE IS THAT? Okay, go into the workforce if ya wanna, woman, but don’t forget to have my dinner on the table when I get home!

No wonder Suzette thinks she’s never supposed to say no. Hopefully, I can disavow her (and you, reader) of that notion.

I propose that we learn to and practice saying no from time to time. Here are some guidelines to consider, should you decide take up the cause:

Say NO when there is simply not enough time to take care of everything you have already planned for your day/week/month. (Note: author is completely guilty of over-packing her schedule like a piece of luggage after a Disney vacation)
Say NO when you are already exhausted and truly need to rest
Say NO when your financial means dictate that you can’t afford to buy another roll of wrapping paper, set of costume jewelry, or cookware
Say NO to “takers.” We all have takers in our lives. You know who they are. Not only can you say no to them, you should change your number and address if necessary to avoid being drained by them like a sink full of dirty dish water.

I also propose we remember to say YES, too, but to keep some perspective in mind:

Say YES out of love and genuine kindness instead of obligation
Say YES to help build or strengthen relationships you WANT to build and strengthen
Say YES when the request is in line with your moral, religious and ethical beliefs
Say YES when there is emotional benefit for you as well as the person you are assisting
Say YES because you WANT to and you have the time, energy and means to help.

Okay everyone, got it? Good. There will be a test!

You said what?…no test? What do you mean, “NO”?

Good, you’re catching on!

More to come

Things have settled down. Long time no post, but that will be amended this week. Sorry to starve you , fan, but I’ve been working with my co-editors and the publisher of moonShine review to get the next journal out. Now that I’ve read so much great work, I feel inspired to put out more of my own.

So, thanks for reading and I’ll be back with you shortly.

Adventures in Driving

Like most Catholics, I am a firm believer in the help I receive from Guardian Angels. Tonight, as my daughter and I set out on an errand, I prayed that Jesus would cover us in His protection…forgetting all about poor Flossie, my Guardian and friend for Life. Luckily for me, Flossie shows patience with me.  Otherwise, I’d have been dropped from the protection roster long ago.

Anyway, on our merry way home, Clarke had to change lanes in order to make her turn. There was a short span of available lane for her to use and she dutifully checked her blind spot, as did I.  Neither of us saw the *insert your favorite insult here* coming from behind her to pass her, and as she was half way into the lane change, this (ahem) individual came careening up on her right side, blowing the horn and maintaining position with a roaring engine.

To say I “squeaked a bit” might be an understatement, but rest assured the squeak was in stereo. Clarke pulled back out of the lane allowing the (ahem…) individual free rein to speed by us and jet forward another hundred yards, so that he or she might get to wait at the red light just a little sooner than would have been possible had they applied their brakes.

Once our hearts were out of our mouths and we could speak through the panting, I told her I pray a blessing over people like that. “Heck, it’s only traffic,” I said, “Grow up, chill out and move on…ya know?” “Yeah,” she breathed, still stunned from the experience. “So, it’s a good thing our Guardian Angels were looking out for us, huh?” she asked. Then she said she didn’t know the name of her Guardian Angel or whether she had a girl or a boy protector.

“Flossie!” I said. “Mine is named Flossie!”

“How do you know that?” She said. “I heard you’re supposed to pray to them and ask them to tell you their name,” she stated, matter-of-factly.

“Well, I did that,” I replied. “I did that and my angel said ‘Flossie.’ I heard it in my head.” Then I began to laugh. I began to laugh really hard.

Clarke glanced at me as if she thought she might have to keep driving to the funny farm and drop me off.  You see, I had been imagining meeting Flossie. What if our little incident had turned out for the worst and I came face to face with my very own Guardian Angel? In my mind’s eye, Flossie was standing by the side of the road, arms crossed wearing a disgusted look. Head shaking side to side, Flossie, who closely resembled Mean Joe Greene, growled at me, “Flossie! FLOSSIE?!” That wasn’t me talking in your head — that was that jive-ass Gabriel messing with me again! Pleased to make your acquaintance, Claire…the name’s Crusher. Now, c’mon and I’ll take you to God…

…she’s got a thing or two to talk to you about!”

Thrum and Buzz

Since my father’s passing several years ago
There began to grow in my
inner, spiritual ear,
a persistent buzzing.

It was faint at first
but as I have excelled to those years
When he, at my age, was sole parent,
the thrum yet increased.

Rizzz! I heard when we got a dog
My father thought dogs to be
Antichrist incarnate

Ruzzz sounded the alarm
more firmly still
when my teenage daughter
casually flaunted the word
“butthole” at the family dinner table.

Shaking my finger within my ear
to clear the gnat-like noise,
I could not clear
that growing disturbance
which somehow also
brought familiar comfort.

It was when my husband
announced the impending
ponytail intended for his crown
that the low hum began
and would not cease

Riiiiiiizzzzzzz screamed the noise
the morning I fixed my beloved’s hair
into a beguiling golden cascade
and my daughter wore blue jeans to church
My head sought to split from the
whine so like a dentists drill.

Oh MY – when the full impact
washed over me
What sweet relief to know the source
was merely the sound
of dear Papa Bear
spinning in his grave.

Aside

Dear present self,

Just like so many other writers before you, you have chosen to write a “from future self to present self” piece of work.  As lame as that is, (and I know you know it is) I still felt compelled to write.  Even though you’re middle aged now, you still don’t know so much, kiddo.  So, I’m here to enlighten you.

First of all, good job on the whole trying to stay in shape thing.  I know your knees are creaking, but they’re not nearly as painful now compared to how they will be when you become me later.   So, use ’em while you got em.  You put several people to shame that are half your age.  And lay off the cream puffs — your fanny will NOT get any prettier from here on out.

Second – about those kids of yours.  They turn out awesome.  Remember the times you and Frank said no to them and they were really, really mad at you?  It was all worth it.  Next time one of them says they hate you, trade high fives and belly-bumps because you’re doing it right.  Continue to bring them to church and teach them to be respectful and reverent.  You will never regret it.

You’re red headed Grand daughter sings like an angel just like her mother and your grandsons would walk across cut glass barefoot for you just like their daddy.  (Remember that when the teen years really kick in and you want to send them both to Juvie…breathe, breathe, breathe.)

When you get to be me, and the kids are out of the house, don’t forget to romance your husband.  When you’re retired and under foot where Frank used to have the place to himself, working from home, you’ll probably drive him crazy.  Keep your hobbies and stay out of his way unless you are gardening together.  He’s the best friend you’ll ever have – God chose well for you, girl, so make sure Frank feels he got a good deal, too.

As for the present, dear self, I’ve got to tell you to knock it off with the whole “I’m so inadequate” attitude in work situations.  The promotions you didn’t get were gifts — they were how God allowed you to continue to spend time with your family which is your true passion.  It is good that you like your job, but it is your job; not your calling.  Luckily, you’ll figure that out in due time.

And finally, a few reminders:  Pray.  Pray more.  Love.  Love more. Write more, rest more and don’t forget to be thankful.  I don’t have to tell you that dusting can wait for a bike ride with your son or playing guitar with your daughter.  You’re wheezy sneezes say it all: you’ve got that one down cold.

Oh…and menopause will suck, but it doesn’t last forever.  Your family will think it does, but it doesn’t

Have an awesome time, present self, until we meet.   Please realize that wrinkles and gray hair get sexier with time.  And always try to look forward to tomorrow — because you get better looking every day!

For better or not so better

We recently went on a weekend camping trip.  It is the same camping trip that has been organized by a group of friends from our high school since 1983.  It’s called Summer Soltesz after the originator, Steve Soltesz who unfortunately passed away 2 years ago.

The weekend was very much the same as in years past, but also different in so many ways.  First, many of the attendees are parents, so the original party weekend in the woods now involves a pavilion where our children perform, drinking games are replaced by beading and crafts, and most everyone is asleep pretty early.  It’s come to be a truly great family weekend.  That’s not to say that there aren’t still drinking games, but they happen after the tents are filled with mouth breathing little ones passed out from a day on the lake.

One of the major changes wrought on this event is the shifting status of families. Whereas in past years also, young couples were forming and new people were brought into the event through marriage, this year several long standing marriages were reported in jeopardy.  Given the large number of families that have come to camp each year, this should not have been a surprise, but it still was.  The reality of  (1) not seeing the usual couples together because one stayed away as a result of the separation, or (2) seeing two people who literally have a hundred mutual friends sitting frostily at separate camps, was unsettling. I was sad for all of us.

At the end of this strange, and yet still wonderful weekend, there was much to   absorb.  Frank and I worked silently together to strike camp beginning shortly after we got up until close to lunch hour.  And as we were ready to leave, Frank had one final bit of bad news:  He had just padlocked the trailer with the truck keys inside.

It was hot.  We were tired.  It was time to go and we couldn‘t leave.  Frank asked around for a bolt cutter to get the padlock off, and actually found someone who had one to lend.  Unfortunately, it was broken in the attempt to get to the keys.

Did I mention it was hot and we were tired?  Since we had a car and dad hat the truck, the kids wanted to leave and let Daddy catch up later.  When I told them we were not leaving Daddy, they had a ton of suggestions for how he might succeed (Bad Idea).  It was lunch time and everyone was hungry, but first, we decided we would go to Walmart to buy another pair of bolt cutters…and a t-shirt.  My beloved’s shirt had been “decorated” by a bird at some point during our morning’s work.  After 20 + years together, I had learned one thing about how to deal with my husband:  when Frank is upset/hurt/angry/frustrated, my best bet is to shut up, stay calm, and be supportive.  And so we all drove to the Walmart, got his tools and tee and headed back.  The kids and I waited in the air-conditioned car as Frank went back to struggle with breaking into our trailer.

The children began prompting me with what we should tell Daddy he should do.  I whispered to them the secret:  “When daddy is frustrated and saying ‘big words’ it is best for us to be quiet and wait to be asked for  help instead of offering any help.”  That’s when my lovely son Bryce said,
“Mommy, maybe we should pray for Daddy.”
I replied, “I already have.”
Me too! he cried.
“Me too!” chuckled my daughter, Clarke.
“But, said Bryce, “I want to pray all together.”

And so we did.  And at that point, Frank go into the truck.  (Yeah, God!)

Later, as we were headed down the highway toward a late lunch, something very important became apparent to me and I shared it with the kids.
“Do you know what you witnessed today, kids?”
“No, what?” they asked.
“Marriage,” I told them.  “That is what marriage is.  When things are inconvenient and frustrating and not working right:  remember that you are in it together and support one another lovingly and quietly.”

That and the Grace of God has helped us through.
Hopefully, the kids got the message.