Thursday, May 12, 2016

The 36th Vinca

Let it be known that I am a highly controlled person.

Note that I said controlled, not controlling. Controlling is a loaded term that implies crazy and mean, and I’m not one to admit my character flaws.

(Side note: I’ve always let others do this for me, and as most people will choose talking about you behind your back to your face, I don’t hear them say it, which is the same as not having any character flaws at all.)

Things spiral out of control very quickly. I’m no great multi-tasker, and it’s almost all I can do to keep up with daily responsibilities. With a full calendar of personal and family activities that constantly changes, I find it difficult to go about my regular business, so I keep a handle on things by adhering closely to the task at hand, and recalibrating often.

This is why my family hears things like “Did someone take a scoop of peanut butter out of this jar?”

Because the jar is new, and I didn’t eat any peanut butter, and I didn’t see anyone eat any peanut butter, so the only two options are: 1) someone here ate it, and 2) a hungry stranger at the store did, and I unwittingly bought a tainted jar of peanut butter. The possibility of option two is why I check the protective seal on all jarred goods before purchasing. But sometimes I forget, which accounts for many strange inquiries.

Life is exhausting.

* * *

It’s mid-spring here, the week after Mother’s Day. In this part of the world that means it’s planting time, and in my area if you wait until Father’s Day to purchase flowers to plant, you will be left with half-dead daisies and pawed-through flats of impatiens, the most high-strung of maintenance-heavy seasonal flora. Impatiens are pretty but tedious.

Also what my husband says about me.

I keep a record of plants that I buy each year. We have a small yard, but I like lots of flowers, and because I can’t even remember if I brushed my teeth this morning, it’s ludicrous to assume I know things like how many marigolds I planted last spring. So I keep a list of what I buy and where I planted it and how much money I spent. Because nothing says controlling like knowing how much money a bag of dirt costs.



Ahem. Controlled.

This year, among many other vegetative beauties, I bought a flat of 36 vincas to plant in some hanging baskets and window boxes (vincas are the prototypical flower – five petals, green oval leaves). There would be extras - I wanted 28 plants for hanging baskets and window boxes, and I’d use the remaining eight plants to fill out big pots and other empty spaces.

I planted all afternoon according to the list, and all went swimmingly until the very end, after I had washed my hands and scratched all the itchy spots on my skin (hello, poison ivy, I’ll see you in a few days).

While cross-referencing the flowers I had just planted to my record of purchased plants, I counted only 35 vincas.

Thirty-five. But I bought 36. I was sure of it, having counted the stems at the greenhouse the day before. You know how sometimes you buy a flat of flowers and not all the little cuppy-things have a stem in them? SOMETIMES THIS HAPPENS. But I counted 36 stems, and I could only find 35 planted flowers. The thirty-sixth vinca was missing.

A less controlled person would forget about it. Would let it go. I remembered the post-it on my office wall – Let Go, it says. My word of the year. Let it go, man. It’s one flower. Get over it.

Ignoring my own advice, I circled the yard again, list in hand. Counted. Cross-referenced. Five in that pot. One in the ground. One in that big pot over there. Four in each hanging basket. Eight in the boxes. Thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five. Did I throw it away? Nonsense. One who knows that someone scooped a scoop of peanut butter does not just throw away flowers.



Let go, I implored myself.

For the rest of the evening, I managed.

You know how something gnaws at you? Welcome to my every waking moment. The next day I woke up and at first light gazed at the new plants from the warmth of the kitchen window, amazed at how much they grew overnight. At once the memory of the missing vinca sprang into my mind. I will find it, I vowed.

I walked outside in the chill, coffee in hand. I mentally went through the plant checklist again, by now a new groove in my brain. Thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five.

And I saw it. The 36th vinca. It was nestled in a large pot next to a probably-peaking coleus plant. By August this small specimen will be dead after giving up a scrabbling existence in the shadow of its pot-mate, but there it was, green and glittering with the morning dew, naïvely hopeful of the future. I exhaled, able to go on with the day, with life.

Like I said: controlled. Not controlling.

girl, you'll be a woman soon

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Adulthood 101

It crept in, slowly. I saw it coming, due largely to the number of years and the lines around my eyes that have rapidly deepened and multiplied on a scale of drugstore eye cream to pricing cosmetic procedures.

Age. The kind that comes with adulthood.

I showed someone a picture of myself taken about four years ago and they gaped – they thought it was an older picture. I look much older now than I did four years ago. I was just under 40, I shrugged. Forty was the magic age for me – the crossroads of youth and old age. At 40 I took a hard right and am currently cruising toward the sunset of adult diapers.


I felt much younger back then, too.

When kids are small it’s easy for parents to feel young. Drowning in half-eaten chicken nuggets and flattened juice pouches, stepping on Legos and locating Barbie shoes – these things keep the years away. I embraced a life of Little League and hot dogs for dinner twice a week, planned trips to the zoo as if the zoo was my preferred destination and bought $12 bags of cotton candy at Disney on Ice because COTTON CANDY.

The kids got older. We got rid of the toys, painted over jungle- and fairy-themed walls in bedrooms, and went from play dates and tucking in at night to I’m getting a ride to practice and we’re out of frozen pizzas and I need new razors.

The seriousness of their burgeoning adulthood is written all over my face and felt deeply in my soul. Their murmurings about high school, then college, then life away from here have turned into real conversations.

As they prepare to enter my world, I am more – adult. I no longer teach how to tie shoes but how to navigate disappointment in a healthy way. I watch them fall, and explain myself more. Contribute heavily to discussions about evolutionary theory and the use of credit.

We are maturing, together.

Motherhood is a total symbiosis – when they were talking about poop and telling fart jokes, I was right there with them, slapping my knee and laughing just as loud. There were living room dance parties. Now I’m sharing what it means to be a parent and they’re telling me why Warren Buffett is so wealthy. We’ve always taught each other, but now they’re aware of it.

I’ve always hated when people groan and complain about age, how old they are. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, baby, I’d think. And then just the other day I said “I’m too old for this” like my AARP card-carrying elders.

I’ve caught up to adulthood. I don’t feel young anymore, and that’s okay. There are still plenty of people in my life who snappily remind me how young I am, that my kids are still home, that this time of life is fleeting, to enjoy every moment. Hey man, that’s cool.

Letting go of youth is a relief. Adulthood is no disco, but it can be sweet. There is always something new to discover and learn, whether or not children are present. That’s the freedom of life at any age.

I’ll take it.






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This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #1: A moment you realized you were a grown up.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Do It Yourself

“Mom, can you make my sandwich?”

The question is a valid one. She is a flurry of activity behind me, collecting lunch items to throw into an insulated bag that has seen better days. I am sitting at the table, reading the news, cruising Facebook, sipping coffee. I have all morning – all day, if I choose – to do this. She has exactly twelve minutes before she leaves to catch the bus, and fourteen minutes of routine to go.

“No,” I reply. I resist the temptation to look at my daughter and into the pleading. It’s hard. This request has crept into her morning routine more often lately; as temperatures rise, my kids slumber later, their alarms buzzing once, twice, then going silent. They have fallen prey to the unsatisfactory – yet all too tempting – brevity of snooze button sleeping.

I won’t make her sandwich. She needs to figure out how to manage her time better, to get out of bed at an hour that allows her plenty of time to fix her lunch and get herself ready for school on her own. She doesn’t really need me; she’s using me as a crutch, a prop. Supermom could swoop in at any time, but I don’t, for one reason only.

She can do it herself.

There are so many things about parenting that are unexpected: the love for a helpless newborn that transcends understanding and sanity; that homework for them often means homework for you; that worries do fade – a fever isn’t reason for panic, a solo walk around the block doesn’t inspire fear of injury and abduction.

And: children become capable of doing for themselves all the things you have done for them for years.

Cleaning a room. Planning a hangout with friends. Emailing a teacher. Making a sandwich.

I clearly remember my mother telling me to make a hair appointment. I was fourteen or fifteen, not yet driving myself around. My mom was out of the room at the moment I noticed my split ends and decided I needed a trim. “MOMMMM!” I yelled through the house to get her attention. My mother, annoyed, yelled back at me to look up the number and make my own appointment. I was shocked. Surely that was an adult’s work, to make arrangements with strangers over the phone. She’s my mom – isn’t she the one who’s supposed to do this stuff for me?

In the end, through shaky voice and with sweaty palms, I made the appointment. I was capable, after all.

Sometimes the hardest thing is not doing what comes easily. Resisting the urge to do. Helping a person develop their own skills and realizing talents and abilities sometimes means that we take a step back and wait for them to do it.

I can make a sandwich with my eyes closed, can easily pick up the shoes and straighten the beds and pick the dirty clothes up off the floor to add to the laundry pile. I have developed those abilities. But it’s important for my kids to develop them, too.

Sometimes I forget that my purpose is to teach them to do things for themselves and not that I am only here to serve them. So I pick up the shoes and throw the clothes in the wash and straighten the comforter. And I make the sandwich.

And other times I step over the dirty clothes, stay firm in my seat, and tell them no. Do it yourself.

And they do.


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