Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Please Turn It Off

My minivan hugged the familiar curves of the narrow back road. It was dark now, a good hour or so since the sun had officially set, but not yet too late for kids’ activities. I was going to pick up my daughter from school. The night was an early one; I might be home before nine.

Deer that dart from the woods on either side of the road were my main concern. I have been hit by too many deer to let my guard down while driving at night. Wrecking into a deer is dangerous and annoying; they cause wildly expensive damage to a moving vehicle, weighing only slightly less than a moving vehicle.

That’s why I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was singing along to on the radio.

The worst song.

Turn on your Heartlight

Heartlight, the 1982 Neil Diamond classic, inspired by the smash movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial from that same year, one of my favorite movies of all time and one of the few that I saw more than once in the theater despite only being nine years old. I saw it four times, and remember it being out in the theaters for so long that I wondered if it would eventually become permanent.

Let it shine wherever you go

Lord, why is this song still being played on the radio? Did they run out of Whitney Houston hits? What barrel bottom was scraped to unearth this swill? My ears might be bleeding.

Let it make a happy glow

I knew all the words. And I sang them. I sang them just like Neil Diamond did, that gravelly-voiced king of schmaltz. I really put my heart(light) into it.

For all the world to see.

And why not? I had the 45 as a kid, the record played until its likely and untimely demise at the hands of one of my brothers or maybe one of my parents due to its near-constant and ear-splitting playtime on my stereo, which held court as the centerpiece of my bedroom, two huge speakers flanking the sides, wreaking havoc on the decent musical tastes of everybody in our house on the regular.

Turn on your Heartlight

I couldn’t blame them. My family knew what was good, and this wasn’t it.

In the middle of a young boy’s dream

It was one of those things that kids buy for themselves that parents regret allowing. The record probably cost a cool $1.65 in 1982, a dollar and some change scrabbled together from who knows where, probably from Grandma and the couch cushions or dad’s coin jar.

Don’t wake me up too soon

Oh, how times have changed. Yesterday my 15-year-old asked me to withdraw $50 from his bank account, probably for extra lunch money. He made it from selling some of his unwanted stuff on eBay. If I saw the same movie at the theater more than once it would have to be one darn good movie, a heck of a lot better than that Magic Mike crap.

Gonna take a ride across the moon

The song abruptly cut out and the phone rang in the car. Saved by Bluetooth. I hit the handsfree button. It was my daughter.

You and me

“Mom, you didn’t leave yet, did you? I’m getting a ride. I’ll be home soon.”

I couldn’t believe it. Subjected to Heartlight for nothing. I turned the car around and headed back home, singing away.

Turn on your Heartlight now
Turn on your Heartlight
(whispers) nowwww

Sway with me


Monday, October 17, 2016

Going Without

When I was in graduate school I unwittingly rented an apartment that lacked a dishwasher and microwave. I say unwittingly because I was without wits or general sense even in my mid-twenties.

Washing dishes by hand was a little annoying but doable since I lived alone and had very few dishes to wash anyway.

It’s like a dream to me now, this lifetime ago. These were the blissful days of only looking after myself. I can’t really imagine what it’s like anymore, worrying only about my own needs. Later I will ask my husband to describe his current life.

But not having a microwave – now THAT was a brain teaser.

How to heat up a piece of chicken that I brought home from my dinner out with friends the night before? What about this little bit of macaroni and cheese that I didn’t finish? Spaghetti is good cold, but I am not an animal. What if I want to warm up a piece of bacon sometime?

I had to call my mom for directions. See also: no wits or sense

“Stick it in the oven or heat it up on the stove!” my mother yelled exasperatedly through the phone. Her atomic matter is comprised of nothing but common sense. Using the range to heat up previously cooked food was something that I had never thought about doing, a completely novel idea. A couple of reheated meals later (that dirtied more dishes than they were worth), and I learned to enjoy the taste of cold food.

I may not be an animal, but I also realize that the value of time sometimes trumps the value of eating hot food.

As the family house manager, I’m always in the midst of shuffling things around in our house; things pile up and are removed to make room for new stuff, for different phases and uses, or simply to free up space. I frequently make hard choices about what I can live without.

I say “I” because like the Little Red Hen, nobody bothers to help me make decisions or assist with these projects, so they learn to live with my choices forever. And quietly.

Over the years we have learned that people can live without1:

Art and family pictures displayed on the walls. Any walls. Because sometimes you just want to live with bare walls for a while. Nobody cares.

Bedroom television. (On the day I finished painting our bedroom) My husband: “Maybe we don’t need a TV in he-” Me: ::unplugs TV, heaves it out into the hall, just like on everyone's favorite family feel-good movie 1982's Poltergeist::

Cable or subscription TV. We went without cable to save money when I first quit my job. The kids watched Sesame Street and I watched prime time with commercials. We missed nothing.

Clothes that spend more time in drawers and on hangers than on the body. You don’t need that gross, pit-stained t-shirt you’ve had since the mid-90s. YOU DON’T. IT IS ACTUALLY GARBAGE.

Curtains. We have pretty nice wood trim around our windows. Why cover it up? Not having curtains sort of squashes all the nude prancing that people do in general, but depending on who your neighbors are, that might be a good thing.

Decorative bedding. We went without pillow shams and a fancy cover on our bed for years. Still alive.

Desk drawers. It’s amazing how much junk gets thrown in there. All I need are a bazillion pencils to keep my kids happy. Seriously with the pencils. My kids eat pencils. Send pencils.

Flat sheets. I like a flat sheet, but our son informed me that he doesn’t, and I think he’s onto something.

Front-door wreaths. We got a new front door years ago and I quit hanging stuff there so it wouldn’t get scratched up. Like the windows, it doesn’t need any help looking good.

Juicer. Just a fancy word for “blender”.

Large storage units. Like everyone else in America, we had an enormous wall unit to store all of our television-watching electronics and accessories. A medium-sized wolf pack could have lived in there and no one would know. I know this because we hardly ever opened it up.

Living room seating. The floor is clean(ish). Sit on it.

Meat. I’m no vegetarian, but I don’t mind playing one once in a while.

New school clothes. Our kids wear summer clothes until well into October, so it’s rare for them unless they’ve grown out of everything to get a whole new wardrobe at the beginning of the school year. Usually they’ll get new shoes because like pencils, they eat shoes.

Old books, magazines, and reference materials.  I used to keep CPR certification materials on hand in case I ever had to perform CPR and needed to quick brush up on my skills. And then I realized that a situation requiring CPR would never allow time to peruse and refresh procedures, so I chucked it all. Much luck to anyone needing this type of lifesaving skill when I’m around.

Rugs. Beach towels work great.

Snow pants. Even if you live where it’s cold. Me? Snow Pants-Free in Pennsylvania since 1991.

Standing mixer. We used to have one, and then one of the beaters broke. In a rage I threw the whole thing away. I was remorseful for a second, and then discovered that a little hand mixer does a great job, as well as – wait for it – a spoon.

Stockpiles of canned or frozen food. I mean, you can only eat so much at a time. There’s a grocery store down the road in every direction; I don’t need one at my house, too.

Toaster oven. Once our toaster oven caught on fire. NOTHING WAS COOKING IN IT. Toaster ovens are not to be trusted.

1Heavy sigh disclaimer: We don’t really *go without*. There are millions of people who lack basic human needs every single day to the detriment of their health and lives. I am not ignoring the plight of these people. Nor am I glossing over some very real circumstances. I am a middle-class American mother blathering about so-called necessities that I have found my family can live without, okay? Settle down.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Halloween: This Or That?

Halloween is almost here, kids! Do you know what you're going as?

Since my kids are older I have left the OMG it's three weeks until Halloween and I haven't started putting costumes together I'm running out of tiiiiime years behind. 

Seriously, it's been one year. As of this year I have left those years behind. It's pretty awesome. There has been little talk of Halloween costumes yet, and it's too late to start now. Our son has all but grown out of trick-or-treating, and in the past two years he threw on some rando outfit last-minute and went around with friends to bag some sugar.

I forget what my daughter dressed as last year; I'm sure I helped her with a costume but for the life of me can't remember it. This year she wants to go as something really complicated and I'm sure she and her friends will have a great time putting that mess together.

I love Halloween, but I am really enjoying not being on a costume deadline. The bonus is that all this free time has freed me up to buy all the candy I will enjoy eating handing out on Halloween night.

And write blog posts about the tough choices we make every year at this time.

1. Chocolate or fruity candy? Silly. Chocolate makes the world go ‘round. So does fruit, I guess, but in a more boring and tiresome and “Gee, I wish this was chocolate” sort of way.

2. Witches or Vampires? I fully relate to the witch character in every way, especially the cackling and the hag hair, and if my old lady relatives are any indication of my future skin quality, also the hairy moles and/or facial warts.

3. Trick or Treat? Treats. Chocolate treats. If you trick me I will end you. Or cry, and then soothe myself with chocolate.

4. Halloween Party or Scary Movie? Party time, every time. Scary movies just aren’t my thing. Once I went to see a scary movie on a date and almost peed in my pants in Chili’s afterwards because the movie scared me so much I was afraid to go to the bathroom by myself.

5. Skeletons or Zombies? Well, since zombies are rotting corpses usually covered in brains, blood, and gore, I will say skeletons. A skeleton can look classy in a top hat and cane; a zombie will always be a mess no matter what he wears.

6. Trick-or-Treat or Hand Out Candy? Hand out candy. Eat the candy while you’re handing it out. Hide the Butterfingers for later.

7. Hay Ride or Corn Maze? Both are outside in the fall when it’s cold. Both usually happen at night when it’s even colder. I don’t understand the purpose of being outside at night when it’s cold, so I’m going to say neither. I don’t like the not summer months.

8. Scary Costume or Not? The world is scary enough, folks. And most people don't need to be scarier than they already are. Oops, did I say that out loud?

9. Pumpkin Seeds or Pumpkin Pie?  BWAHAAAAAAA you said seeds. What am I, a bird? Pie, people. PIE.

10. Bottle Feed A Baby Zombie or Walk Alone Through A Dark Forest? Again with the tough choices. Walking in a cold forest at night is a hard no, but a zombie baby? Why are we feeding this thing?

11. Bats or Black Cats? Bats are hilarious in the way that they are flying mice with fangs and wings that get caught in your hair and give you rabies, but cats win that one every single time.

12. Pumpkin Spice or Hot Chocolate? Hot chocolate. Pumpkin Spice is for candles and pie AND NOTHING ELSE DO YOU HEAR ME OREOS

13. Celebrate Halloween in your neighborhood or at the mall? Our local mall is largely empty these days which makes it one of those creepy abandoned places that are cool to walk around in, but Halloween at home is where it’s at, especially since I know all the good places to stash Butterfingers.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #6: Write a blog post answering This Or That? Halloween questions.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

5:45 A.M.

An alarm goes off. One of my kids is ambitious this morning.

There’s construction on the road somewhere nearby; amid the sounds of early-morning commuters I can hear trucks, or it is a motorcycle? It’s out of place; we usually don’t hear engines rumbling in the fall, and certainly not early in the morning. Joyriders save their extreme riding for the middle of hot summer nights. I know this, as I have woken up enough times listening to speed demons race up and down the road behind our house, praying that the sound continues and fades away instead of stopping short.

The alarm goes off again. The snooze button – what’s the point? I'd rather just set my alarm ten minutes later. If I get awake I'm up. I guess people learn this. Or not. If people didn’t use the snooze it wouldn’t exist.

The cat chirps behind me, walks toward my chair and wraps himself around my legs. His contented/devious purr sounds like a little motor. I look at him and he stops, gives a high-pitched “Meow?” and then walks over to a houseplant. A male cat should have a more masculine voice. He puts his paws up on the pot, sniffs at the leaves. “Get down,” I warn him. This is our morning dance, my husband says. The cat glares at me and walks away.

Another alarm buzzes in a different part of the house and then clicks off. It elicits no other movement from its owner. I’m surrounded by snoozers.

The sounds of the traffic on the road rise until they blend into one road noise that my ears have been conditioned to ignore after fifteen years of living here. If I lived here for thirty more years and one day needed hearing aids I’d have to get used to the sound all over again. The thought of that is daunting; I’d probably want to move away. No wonder my grandmother hated wearing her new hearing aids at 92.

By 6:15 one of my children is sitting next to me at the table eating breakfast. A few surly comments tossed here and there remind me that tender minds take time to become fully awake. We say little more to each other. I listen to the sounds of a bowl of cereal being consumed, a mediocre representative of the most important meal of the day. I sip my coffee. This child escapes upstairs to get ready for school.

A few minutes later, I still haven’t heard a sound from the other child. I walk over to the stairs and call up the stairs, “Are you awake?” “YEAH,” comes the delayed response. I have woken up this second child. Waking up sleeping people has become my least favorite thing to do since becoming a parent.

The time before school melts away and the regular sounds of preparation have filled in the quiet that I have stolen for myself for years. I used to wish the quiet lasted longer; I don’t have enough time in it to accomplish much. But grasping at time is foolish, and I never made it count for much more than what was already happening anyway.

The noises swirl around me. I am content to hear them create this new day.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #2: Listen to the sounds in your house for 5 or 10 minutes. Write about what you hear.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Behind Every Successful Man is a Woman Who is Also Good at Some Things

My husband works from home at least once a week, and it’s nice to have him home during the day when the kids are at school so we can get down and dirty.

And by ‘down and dirty’ I mean he works and I try to get my work done at home, which is sometimes hard to do when someone else is there and they totally mess up your groove.

It’s important to do things that make his working from home experience smoother because I think we can all agree by now that working from home is not easy. There are so many distractions like snacking and napping and laundry and cleaning toilets OMG totally kidding cleaning toilets is why we had children.

Anyway, I am keen to support him because his job is important for my chocolate and Combos habit and everybody knows that’s the most important thing.

But sometimes it’s hard to know how to make his job easier while working from home, so I keep a running list of things to do to keep his time working at home fresh:

- Practice my Chewbacca impression

- Stand outside his door when he’s on a call and talk like I’m the one on the other end of the phone. Alternately, echo his end of the conversation.

- Vacuum the area right outside his office for at least thirty minutes

- Stand next to his desk while he’s on the phone and loudly say one of the following: 

  “The proctologist is on the phone for you."
  “Did you pick up your hemorrhoid meds yet?"
  “We owe the bookie five thousand, right?"
  “Do you want another whiskey?"
  “Are you talking to that jerk again?"
  “I'm pregnant."

- Narrate my own activities opera-style.

- Crank up the Jewel station on Pandora.

- Take a series of sassy selfies with him while he’s on a conference call.

- Storm into his office and yell “YOU’RE FIRED!”

- We have a digital piano. Set it on demo mode and let the piano play through its preloaded songs at high volume while I “play” with great emotion. At the end of each song applaud wildly and call “Brava!” and “Encore!”

- Leave memos on his desk that say “I think there’s a possum under our deck” and “Something smells like mushrooms.”

- Sit in the living room with two glasses of wine and pretend to have a conversation. When he comes in, introduce him to my new friend Suzanne.

- Sneeze continually for two minutes.

- Do yoga in his office. When in corpse position, shush him loudly.

- Drag a kitchen chair into his office and make several personal calls at his desk.

- Change my outfit several times a day so that every time he sees me, I’m wearing something different.

- Ask him to spot me while I practice my back flips.

- Enter his office with a line like "Are ya workin' hard or hardly workin'?" and leave with a "See you in the funny papers!" or something equally hilarious.

- Practice my horror movie screams.

- Challenge him to a dance-off.

- Pretend to be his secretary. Call him “sir” and tell him his wife is on the phone and shall I order some flowers?

- If at any time he asks me to please leave him alone, tell him I quit.