Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Monday, May 24, 2021

Is it the 1950's?

About a month ago, my swim friend / gardening fanatic told me about a wonderful new invention: seed tape. The tape is actually a toilet paper-type material, and the seeds are pressed between two layers at ideal intervals for planting. No more painstakingly dropping tiny seeds at carefully measured distances; with seed tape you can dig a simple furrow and lay the paper down in even and well-spaced rows. In a flurry of excitement I went to the local Ace Hardware, which was out of seed tape, and then online, where I purchased lettuce, spinach, carrots and beets.

The bulky envelope of seed tape thrilled me when it arrived and I carefully opened the lettuce and spinach to see the coiled paper within. What a shock when I came to the carrot bag and it was flat as a pancake. No carrot seed tape lay within and the flap on the envelope wasn't even sealed. Someone apparently missed the memo that those envelopes are supposed to contain a product.

So I girded my loins and made a telephone call to the help desk at the seed company. The 'helper' -let's call her Myrtle - asked me for my address and order number twice in a rusty voice. I kept my patience and used my nice "I can make friends on the phone voice," until Myrtle told me that I couldn't make the order request because my husband's name was on the order.

"I need your husband's confirmation of this order," she creaked.

"But I'm the one that made the order! He doesn't know anything about the garden. His name is only on it because I used his PayPal account to pay. And he's on a conference call for work."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but I can't process this re-order without your husband's go-ahead." She was definitely not using her "make friends on the phone" voice.

"But this is just for carrots, it's a five-dollar order!" Myrtle didn't reply, so I sighed loudly in exasperation and made the long trek downstairs to the basement so Rob could say yes, please order the carrots. (I may have stomped loudly on the stairs both ways.)

I got off the phone with Myrtle before the customer service recording could capture me saying something bad. Rob came upstairs later with a chuckle, asking why the seed company didn't trust me to order carrots. As I fumed, he shook his head. "It's not the 1950's," he said.

His words put a pause on my anger as I thought about the de-humanizing aggravation, the disempowerment, that women faced in the 1950's, and both before and after that time. The idea that a woman's authority has to come from a man seems barbaric to me, and yet there are people alive (mainly men, but not all) who still believe that. 

I'd like to tell Myrtle that women are powerful people, and we know how to buy our own damn carrots. We also own homes and businesses, take charge of families, companies, and countries. We don't need permission from anyone, and we're not going back to a time when a man needed to give it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Bittersweet Birthday

 "Wow!" said the little boy in Party City. "Those balloons are big."

"Yes," said the mother holding tight to his hand. "See, a one and an eight. That makes eighteen. How old are you?"

He held four fingers in my direction. "Four years old! That's a good number, too," I said, thinking back to William's flyaway brown hair, his chubby cheeks and his sturdy four-year-old body.

He nodded and asked his mom, "Who are those balloons for?"

I answered him. "They're for my little boy." 

The mom looked at me, her eyes sympathetic over the mask. "That's a big birthday."

"It's bittersweet," I said, dashing a hand across my eyes and cursing the cold that made me cry even more than usual.

William's golden birthday is today, as he turns 18 on the 18th. We didn't know what to buy him, so the balloons, cake and cards have to make the day special until he figures out what he wants or needs for college.  We now have four adults in the house, four people linked by years of living together, two who are rooted here at home and two who are sprouting wings and eager to fly away.

I used to want to slug people who said, "Oh, treasure every moment, it goes by so fast!" when they saw me with three young children. Back then, every day lasted a year. Moms can't get sick, can't take naps, can't go workout or even do grocery shopping in peace. I am so grateful for the freedom that comes with having adult children, for the self-care I can do now, for their independence and their help. But the years of high school did go fast, and especially in the pandemic, time slipped through my fingers like water.

As I baked William's cake, the photos of my babies flashed across our electronic photo frame. The kids  were so precious and innocent, so trusting, protected and happy. When they leave us, I can't protect them from this dizzying cruel and kind world. When they leave us, their absence haunts the house. My son whistles beautifully - like my father did - and when he leaves, his whistle goes with him, along with his swim bag in the corner, his shoes in the mud room, his towels from the backs of kitchen chairs. 

Rob and I have mostly done our job, I think, and there is pride and pleasure in that as well as a sting. Today we will show William only our smiles and our support, encourage him to keep growing and making his own way. But tonight, after cake, candles and singing, there will be more than a few bittersweet tears on my pillow.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

By the Numbers

Three hundred and forty-five days. That was the length of my Apple watch "move streak" which started in June of 2020 and ended yesterday, courtesy of my sinus infection. My goal was to meet the goal every day for a year, and I thought I would be sad to fall twenty days short, but in the end I didn't really care. Exhaustion and a craving for rest took precedence over a meaningless number, and I took the watch off at bedtime with nary a regret.

Though my goal of 365 days offered motivation for daily workouts and a thread of continuity in the long, empty days of the pandemic, it's no longer useful. As I lay in bed, trying to breathe, trying to stop my head from pounding, I thought about what the 345 days really meant - how lucky I was to be healthy for so long and to have space to exercise during the pandemic. Absurdly lucky, incredibly fortunate.

Numbers don't adequately express our lives, our feelings, our personhood. William is my second child and my first son and those descriptors don't do anything to explain how proud I am of his high school achievements, how sad I am that he will move out in August. The second departure doesn't promise to be any easier than the first, the second round of graduation events, prom, and parties no less exciting and tearful.

In this culture of numbers-obsession, where likes and followers are tracked relentlessly, I need to remember that quantity does not mean quality. Streaks are distractions, sight-views are missing the point. What was it Dr. Seuss said? "To the world you might be one person, but to one person, you may be the world." I want to treat every interaction, every workout, every day like it's one-of-a-kind, not focus on stringing things together or accumulating numbers but on appreciating each unique circumstance. As the days fly by, even in these waning days of the pandemic. each moment is a treasure.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Shocking Stuffiness

I woke up yesterday morning and something was amiss. Back pain, check, that's an everyday occurrence. Stumbling forward from bed to the alarm clock like a drunkard at 2am on perpetually sore feet, also normal. I performed my morning ablutions, confused as to my fogginess, when I realized that my nose was stuffy!  I haven't needed to use a Kleenex in over a year and but yesterday I had to go searching for saline spray and menthol.

We've been outrageously, absurdly lucky that in the past fifteen months of pandemic we haven't fallen prey to COVID-19 or even the usual seasonal bugs. All the mask-wearing, distancing and working from home kept us safe, I suppose, and my body forgot what it was like to be under attack from allergies or the common cold. A few teaching shifts in the water with young children blew that streak right out of the water. Those pesky young kid germs snuck right under my face shield and attacked when my guard was down.

We've been fortunate to escape the last year with our physical health intact. (Mental health, another story). Four of us are fully vaccinated and immune from COVID;  even our fifteen-year-old can get a vaccine now, and he's scheduled for his first shot on Sunday. We're unused to coughs and colds, our bar set at clear sinuses and easy breathing. My older son avoided me like the plague when he saw me reaching for tissues last night. "Stay away!" he said, "I can't get sick!" I guess I should be glad he's even paying attention to my existence.

I wonder if germ avoidance caused our immune systems to weaken, or if the frantic pace of work and family support over the past few weeks finally took a toll. Stress can be dangerous, and being back out in the world has increased my cortisol levels. Time to rest, avoid paranoid family members, and mask up in public. The last one, at least, is now routine.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Duck, Duck, Goose

I navigated my way through Friday swim lessons without any hilarious diversions, which made for a smooth but less entertaining shift. This morning, however, a Canadian goose nearly knocked me down in the 303 Coffee parking lot, which kicked in some adrenaline. With hands full of lattes, I had to pause in the middle of oncoming traffic, guessing whether to duck left or weave right. Fortunately the goose got some extra lift and squawked by two feet overhead.

The incident struck me as apt, since I am bobbing, ducking and weaving my way through May. You have to hand it to the old May-hem, even as we're emerging from a pandemic it manages to hurl everything but the kitchen sink at parents. Thursday brought a swim meet (where I got to time in person), an in-person choir concert (where the program was streamlined and guests limited), to a track meet. My heart rate hasn't gone down yet, so stimulated was I by all of this in-person excitement. After 15 months of introverted escape, the rapid expansion of community takes my breath away.

Psychologists and a viral post by actor Anthony Hopkins urge us to keep our innermost social circles small, as we have during the past year of COVID-19. As we emerge like newborns into our previously normal social scene, some of us are gasping and crying like colicky babies. Others are delighted and unfazed, even energized by the growth of human interactions. To them I ask for patience, for tolerance of those of us who keep a tight inner circle like a life preserver around us, and for whom the open ocean of bigger groups and large events seems perilous, like swimming with sharks or dodging our way through a flock of Canadian geese.

Graduation looms, as do grad parties, vacations and other opportunities to mingle. I'll have to put my big girl pants on and self-talk my way into a semblance of composure. My fumbles of the past few weeks make this more difficult, as I rambled (way too loudly), and found myself divulging facts I should keep private at several volunteer events. I've never been good at small talk and now I've completely lost my way. I don't even know if I want to find it again, but I'll do my best to keep flying forward.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Kid Funnies

After getting my two jabs and waiting the recommended two weeks for full immunity from COVID, I jumped back in the pool to give swim lessons. Most of my clients are older and I can keep some distance while wearing my clear face shield, and for some I can even stay out of the water, but for the younger swimmers I am right there at arm's length, still protected by the Darth Vaderesque shield but up close. Working with kids under the age of 12 again provides welcome humorous material and useful research for my children's book and this blog.

A few weeks ago I had a young man - we'll call him Fred, though that's not his name - with a reputation of bouncing off the pool walls, turning somersaults underwater ad nauseam, and generally not wanting to do any of the suggested swim drills or distances. He's a sharp and funny kid, and I decided to take the bull by the horns and great him with tremendous positive energy.

"Fred! It's been so long since I last taught you, you have grown so much! How old are you now, 18?"

Taken aback, he froze and gave me serious side-eye. "I'm eight. When did I have you as a teacher?" he asked with lifted eyebrow.

"Oh, it's been at least two or three years," I said. "I bet you're a super swimmer now."

He ignored my obvious gambit to start swimming. "Three years, hmm." There was a long pause as he processed my absence from his life.  "Let me tell you, you have a lot to catch up on!" 

It was my turn to be surprised as Fred filled me in on the major events of the last three years, grandparent visits and deaths, school performances, sibling accidents, etc. My ploy to start swimming had failed, but our relationship certainly got back on good terms.

Then last week I had two youngsters in a beginner class. The first, aged six, was dutiful and determined, floating and kicking with straight legs and somber gaze. The second, aged three, was both exuberant and fearful, flashing an adorable grin when he felt comfortable and grabbing my arm with a vise grip when he felt nervous.  Imagine my surprise when I gently put him back on the bench after a back float and he turned and grabbed my chest with both hands. 

"Honk, honk!" he said with a glint in his eyes. I quickly recovered from my shock and removed his hands from my breasts, telling him that "we don't do that to teachers" and wondering how on earth he learned that party trick. I hoped the parents in the lobby didn't see that particular move on our TV. Still in fine fettle despite my reprimand, he grabbed the safety whistle as he went down the stairs and blew it until I could wrest it from his grasp. 

So merriment, shock and disbelief are back in my life and I remember now how interesting, surprising and startling young children can be. Time to dial up the shocking behavior in my children's book, and keep my notebook and pen ready for more kid adventures.