Friday, November 2, 2012

When Love Letters Can't Tell The Story

"What's in there?" asked Oldest when we loaded my old trunk into the back seat of the car.My mother, had lost the only key, the one she insisted she would keep safe. After living with the trunk locked up for eight years, I finally scraped together the necessary $85 and found the old key maker to get it opened.

"A World War I sword, a box of love letters, a black hat I intended to wear to your grandmother's funeral, and a twenty-five foot gum wrapper chain," I answered.

The boys burst out laughing. "One of these things is not like the other," Oldest sang. They couldn't wait to see the sword, but were curious about the gum wrapper chain, too. The love letters? Not even on their radar map.

But for me it was the box of love letters, written to me by the young man who had stolen my heart when I was sixteen, that had been calling to me. He had been handsome, a great dancer, sexy and a charmer. We exchanged notes in school like crazy, and I kept them all in a shoe box. But after thinking about it for the past few years, I decided to finally get rid of them. It was time.

He was not my parents' idea of the perfect boyfriend at all. He lived with a foster family after he stole a snowmobile. Rumor had it that his parents drank. Suffice to say, they were not in favor of us dating at all. One day when they met up with his probation officer, they arranged it so that when he was sent home, she would make sure we didn't see each other any more. And that's what she did: took me out for a little talk and told me that my boyfriend had agreed to not call or see me again, that it was his idea, and if I didn't agree, she would make things very difficult for him.  My head spun with both the grief of him not wanting to see me again to the idea that if I tried to, his life would be miserable. Naturally I agreed and tried to move on. Yes, I talked to him later after I started dating someone new. He had tried to reach me by phone often but after we finally connected, I was already dating someone else. The disappointment in his voice was palpable. 

The years moved on, and I thought of him often. I resigned myself that he never could have loved me because he always cheated. He came close to my apartment once when I was in college. I could see him from the window, and when he looked up, he saw me. But he never came to say hello. I accepted that it was over, that it had probably been one sided, that it was folly to even bother with it. When I looked him up on Facebook thirty years later, he was living the kind of life I would have hated. According to the comments on his MySpace page, he still cheated. I even met his son, a troubled young man who ultimately spent time in jail for spousal abuse. You know he learned that at home. I'm glad my ex and I didn't end up together. Most of all, I am glad I married the Man Who Puts Up With Me.

One night this last summer I lit a fire in our fire pit, grabbed that box of old love letters and reread the drama that occurred between my sophomore and senior year of high school.  And what a drama it was! Whenever I wasn't in town to hang out with him, he was seeking out some of my girlfriends and charming them, too. Naturally, this created great angst between those of us who actually liked one another. I had no idea who to believe: the boy who professed his undying love to me, or the girls who told me how he had been calling them. Finally I determined the truth from a impartial friend: he was a cheater.

I got the idea that my teenage years were not what I remembered because I found my old high school diary last summer. When I reread it, I discovered that I had an intense focus on going off to college. On those pages, I poured out my heartfelt concerns that while I cared deeply for my boyfriend, the day would come when I would leave. As I reread those pages, I realized that all the years I mourned the sudden loss of that young Romeo, I had lost perspective of what I really felt at the time. I loved him but knew it wasn't permanent. The years that tainted my viewpoint of that love affair as much as the betrayal of the boyfriend.

So there I was, placing each reread note between my old boyfriend and I into the fire. And then I realized that just a week or two earlier, Oldest stood out by our fire pit with a lighter and burned the Dear John letter he had gotten that day from the girl he loved. His inner pain showed on his face from the drama in his life just like the drama had been in my life. Same age, same pain of lost love. Maybe the circumstances were different, but that feeling of loss is the same.

I debated throwing away these love letters and finally decided that some writing was just too personal to share. I didn't want my children to find it and ever wonder if my feelings lingered for my former boyfriend. I never wanted them to doubt my love for my husband. They would have had to judge the young man on his handwriting or spelling, None of that would have given him a complete picture of his charm, the attraction we had toward one another. It was an "aha!" moment when I could understand why Martha Washington burned George's letters to her, something I always felt was a tragic loss. Sometimes personal writing just can't tell the story correctly.

All of this has got me examining perspective more closely. It's amazing how time intensifies or smooths out feelings. One of the girls who my ex had approached constantly spent her senior year torturing me with snide comments about my feelings for that boy. It was the most miserable year of my life. Yet in rereading the letters she had written to me in our junior year, I found a girl who truly didn't want to have conflict, who didn't want me to be hurt, who hated herself and her life. For all the pain she caused me in what should have been a wonderful year, I had missed her truly miserable life. I was too close to the situation to see it for what it was worth.

Now I'm dealing with a teenager who is moody, angry at times, loving at other times, kind to others and pissy at me. He needs me and hates me all at the same time. Nothing I say is right, and I don't like that at all. It's like living with a grizzly bear.No amount of intellectualizing it makes it easy. I know that all I need to do is survive because he'll figure out later how smart I am. In the meantime, it is painful to deal with his attitude. I wonder how I will look back on this time. Will it be with the feeling of how horrible it was, or in some other way? I don't know. Funny how my love life 35 years ago give me lessons even today. It just goes to show how there is value in all aspects of experience.

The Drug Talk

"Hey," I whispered to The Man Who Puts Up With Me. "Got a favor to ask."

He groaned, and I knew what he was thinking.Something to fix, something that needs doing. Something that would take all day. He's my number one fix it guy, even though he doesn't get much done around here because he's gone so much, and when he is home, he's tired and just wants to relax or mess around with the family.  "What?" he asked warily.

"I think you should have the drug talk with our Youngest," I said. "He thinks you're the best, and looks up to you."

"Got it," His thumb went up. This was an easy task, something he wouldn't find work at all.

For those of you who don't have children or who engage in recreational drugs, it might come as a wonder as to why parents take the time to speak occasionally of how not to do drugs, how to look cool at parties while dumping the beer down the sink, how to say "no" in 100 different ways. Early on in our marriage, we decided it was much easier to encourage the kids to live without drugs rather than dealing with rehab, or an early death, or a lifetime of unnecessary struggle.

Now don't get me wrong. We weren't saints as kids, something we've admitted to our children. My parents never said a word to me about drugs until I was way past 17 and by then it was way too late. And although I like a beer now and then, I've come to understand that my body no longer tolerates the stuff. Most of all, I've admitted to myself that the kids who grew up in our extended family where booze was always present versus the nephews and nieces who never saw it in their homes now live very different lives. In short, I like the ones who never had the stuff around and they are far more wealthy and successful. So it doesn't matter that I probably never drew a sober breath my freshman year of college. I can just see how much those people who remained sober just did better all the way around compared to me.

I expect the boys to drink and maybe even try something they shouldn't in their life. But I don't want them to have my blessing if they get stoned. I probably will be that nagging voice in the back of their head.

All that said, The Man Who Puts Up With Me took Youngest and the dog on a walk. And this is somewhat how the conversation went:

Man: So if you get sad or depressed, and someone offers you drugs, what will you do?

Youngest: Can I still play my music?

Man: Of course!

Youngest: (putting up his thumb) Then we're all good. No problem.

Man: (stumbling to overcome his surprise) Okay. supposed you are ticked off at Mom and Dad and you storm out of the house. You know someone who has drugs available. What do you do?

Youngest:  Can I still play my music?

Man:  Uh, sure!

Youngest: Then we're good!

Man: (Fumbling for ideas) Uh...well, how about if you are at a party and kids are pressuring you to drink.

Youngest:  Is there music there?

And so the conversation went on.  Apparently music is the ultimate drug repellent.

And besides making me laugh, I thought about it for a long time afterward.  Music is his life, and now gives him a moral compass. This gift for the desire to play the piano, guitar and percussion spills over in a way too mysterious for for us to comprehend.  What keeps him grounded is less about my husband and I but more of notes on a page, tuned instruments and all of us singing.

It makes me think about caroling this year, how maybe it's important in a way that I don't realize. That conversation makes that drive to boy's choir practice worth more than the time I spend on the road. The time I spend in the audience during his concerts, listening to him practice, asking strangers if he can practice on the piano in the entryway (think hospital) and sitting through hours of recitals may be a price of keeping our kid out of bigger trouble. It's a price I am willing to pay for sure. It was a surprise, but a pleasant one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Don't Eat That!

Oldest is my culinary challenge. It's not that he won't eat certain things. It's that he seems to forever be chowing down things he shouldn't!

It started as a baby. If he went to play in the mud, we had to sit right beside him because within moments his little hand would grab a glob and drift right toward his mouth.

"I've eaten lots of dirt as a kid," people would confess to me as Oldest went through this stage. They assured me that it probably did them some good, and that all people needed to eat a little dirt now and then. I didn't find this fact as interesting as they did.

As life continued, he periodically imbimbed on things he shouldn't. Once when he was two, our little family went fishing on a remote river in western Alaska. It was a fisherwoman's dream come true. I got to catch them, and my hubby volunteered to gut them out and babysit at the same time. I lost myself in the most glorious fishing I've ever done. The Man Who Puts Up With Me let our toddler explore the little island at will, but at one point when he glanced up to check on Oldest, discovered our little boy "petting" one of the fish. Slime dripped off Oldest's hand. Mystified, our son tried to shake it off, but when that didn't work, began licking it off.  Daddy couldn't get to him fast enough to prevent a little fish slime from going down the tube.  The errant babysitter didn't have the heart to relate the story to me for quite some time.

Then our hound came live with us. Had I ever known this would open up a whole other eating world for our then fourteen year old, I might have protested adding the four legged addition to our home.

One day shortly after we loaded up on possible treats for training Rikki, the hound, I put a couple of dog biscuits on the table, then went into the kitchen to cook some dinner. Within moments I heard Oldest say, "Mom, these crackers are stale!"

"What crackers?" I asked, truly puzzled.

"The ones I found on the table," he answered.

Slowly it dawned on me, and I tried to keep a straight face as I said, "Yeah, they probably don't taste real good since it's DOG BISCUITS!"

Of course, he's too cool to get upset, but I noticed he didn't eat the second half of the doggie treat.

Rikki, however continued to have competition for his treats. One afternoon Oldest rode home with Hubby in the big rig. At one point in the drive, Oldest piped up and said, "Dad, this jerky is the worst I've ever tasted!"

"Where'd you get it from?" asked The Man Who Puts Up With Me. Oldest pointed to a little cupboard. "Well, that's because it's Dog Jerky!" exclaimed Hubby. "It's rawhide!"

Dog treats apparently aren't approved by human taste testers.

Yesterday topped the culinary adventures list.  While I was standing at the stove cooking dinner, Oldest walked in and came over by me. We chatted amiably, and then he picked something up from the counter. "Huh! What an odd shape for a chip!"  And he popped it in his mouth.

Within seconds he said, "Whoa!" and took three steps back. 

"What?" I asked, concerned now that something was either really good tasting or really bad.

He chewed several more times, and his eyes began to water. Then he gulped, and his eyes looked like they were going to pop out of his head. "What was that?"

"What?"  I asked, now a little more frantically. We normally don't keep dangerous things on our counter, but I didn't want the boy to get hurt. My mind quickly went to the little dish of dog treats that I keep there, but they are bone shaped. I didn't think he'd get into those!

"This," he said, reaching back to the area where he had gotten his "snack."  "Is this garlic?"

Sure enough. He had popped a garlic clove straight into his mouth.

By the time it registered into my brain, and I started to laugh, he asked, "What's going to happen to me now?"

"Well," I said, trying not to fall over from laughter, " you won't have to worry about vampires tonight.  Or parasites for that matter."

He didn't turn green, but good naturedly laughed it off. He felt it all afternoon, too, and I wondered about the poor kids who had to take driver's training with him. Of all the things he has eaten, this one still cracks me up. Never a dull moment in the life of the kid who needs to explore.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Your Radio, Your Music

"Mom, look!"  Youngest sat next to the computer, typed in a few words on the navigation bar, and up popped, "Disney Radio."  "You gotta hear this song."  A second or two later the song from Disney channel's newest musical came rapping over the speaker. His face reflect the luminescent screen glow from his laptop. But there was no mistaking his delight at having found a website with his favorite music.

Suddenly he was the face of the boy who sat next to the shoe-box sized radio listening to the newest swing sounds from the 1940's. He was the boy who practically clung to the radio as the sounds of the Grand Ol' Oprey floated around the room, the Midwestern boy who dreamed of the sweet sands on the beaches of California as the Beach Boys sang surfing songs.  I remembered my transistor radio, hand sized, the new technology of the time, that I cuddled in bed at night, waiting for my favorite hit. The technology may have changed, but what hasn't is the pull of new music that will define a young person's youth. Who can't remember the delicious time spent singing with your favorite songs?

"Do you like it, Mom?" His voice was filled with hope.

The syrupy rap lyrics floated out of my computer's speakers. Gone was the raw edge that defined the genre.  I smiled and said, "It seems okay!"

He relaxed. "I thought so, too."

"You like rap?"

"Not the stuff with bad words," he said. "Not the stuff that talks about hurting people and stuff."

"Yeah." I nodded.

We listened long enough for me to understand that he could listen to song after song.  "You wanted to watch "Burn Notice" tonight?" I asked.  Earlier he had informed me that there was a "Burn Notice" marathon, and how great the show was because "it talks all about how to be a spy." Very cool stuff.

"Naw," he said. "Do you mind if I take your laptop and listen to these songs?"

I smiled and watched as he packed it up and slipped off to our bed, engrossed in his generation's music, like so many generations before him. And I was reminded of the words my mother liked to say, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Watching Life in the Rear View Mirror

Oldest left for a performing arts camp last weekend and returned last night. His dance class has 39 girls- and him. When I asked him how he liked it, he said that whenever he heads over to his classroom, he tries to think of a dozen ways to get out of it. It's usually hot, he's tired, he knows he's going to have to put out some extreme energy, he's feeling lazy. But when he's done, he's super-glad he's participated. I wonder if that's because of the 39 girls or the exercise or the fun of it.

One of his more interesting classes is called "Stage Combat" where he learns about theatrical fighting. After his first day of class, I asked him excitedly, "So how are you doing tonight?"

"I'm sore."


"Because we spent the stage combat class time slapping each other!"

I laughed merrily. His classes sound like a huge amount of fun. He's able to make mistakes there that don't make me cringe because I can't see them. He's learning new things. No doubt about it, this time in his life is so darn cool.

I realized this morning that I was viewing his life as if I were driving in a car down the road, and looking back in the rear view mirror.

You see, I only remember chunks of my childhood and teen years, and truthfully, I walked a path that my sons will never follow. They'll never grow up on a farm as I did in my early childhood.  I lived my teen years in a lakeside home; they have to drive to just go swimming. I am female; their male experiences are quite different. Disco was popular when I was in my teens. Hip hop is their dance music. The list of our different life experiences go on and on.

Yet I find myself glancing backwards in my rear view mirror as they travel down the road in life to see how they handle teenage love, high school classes, and now, going away to school. It's not quite like going off to college, but somewhat. The road, of course, is different for our boys, and watching how they handle "the road of life" is enthralling. I'm probably even more fascinated with Oldest's theater experiences because I started in performing arts when I went off to college, then took an abrupt turn left. His road in theather might actually go forward.

That's what led me to my morning epiphany. It's all right to glance back at our childrens' experiences. Where it gets to be an issue is when it encompasses my own life. Just as driving down the road requires you to glance behind you on occasion, it's critical to keep your eyes focused ahead. I can see how quickly a mother can get caught up in the lives of her children so much that her own journey gets side tracked. You know these kinds of women. Remember the mom who bought the billboard for her daughter when she was running for queen? Or how about the one who murdered a cheerleader in her daughter's class? These are fools who live with their eyes so focused on the rear view mirror that they end up driving off the road completely.

I realize now that while it's great for me to enjoy my children's experiences, I still have future adventures of my own. It's equally as important for my sons to see me toodle off down my own path as it is for me to enjoy their journey. It's a lulling thing, looking back on a path that's familiar,  but it's fatal to both driver and the people coming behind. It also makes for a lousy role model.

It's both liberating and overwhelming to realize that I need to establish a new life roadmap: one that involves my family and yet gives me a course that's right for me. I don't mean just in a job, but spiritually, travel-wise, in adventure, and ways I haven't even yet comtemplated. It's more than establishing a "bucket list" to do before age 100. It's knowing the journey ahead will be filled with adventure. And that's a wonderful thought as I turn my eyes back ahead on the road.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

6 Things You Never Want To Hear Your Teenager Say

Living with a teen boy can be an interesting experience.  Here are some things you never want to hear from him:

1. "Do you know where Dad's machete is?" (That was in a phone conversation yesterday!)

2. "Dance? What dance? I have no idea what dance everyone has been talking about!" (Response when asked if he wanted to attend the local spring dance.)

3. "What? Dad told me to accelerate around turns!" (In response to my white-knucked grab as he rounded a corner while practice driving.)

4. "You don't have to tell me about sex. I read all about it on Wikipedia."

5. "The Marine Corps Recruiter will be calling."  (As I told my ex-Marine hubby, no mother wants to spend nine months carrying a child only to think he's going to get shot in some distant land some day. That's work with no reward.)

6. "I have no idea why I have so many zeroes in that class!"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Good Reason To Let Kids Fail Online

I love eating dinner alone with my boys. About once a month or so, I take each out for dinner alone and listen. The key is not the food, it's the listen.

I hate the addictive nature of certain video games that have, at times, encompassed the lives of all the males in our house. I've seen everything from "Brood War" to "Runescape" to "Diablo" to "Warcraft." In fact, when I first married The Man Who Puts Up With Me, I had many fantasies of throwing the computer out the window because he disappeared into a game for hours every evening.

I know other women go through the same thing. Hubby and I had to work through this when we got married for our marriage to survive. So when our boys came along, the two of us set a rule of no more than an hour a day of video game time for each boy. Naturally, they cheat when I'm gone or whenever they can sneak it in. I know that. But for the most part, I'm pretty firm about this rule.

Likewise, I get after them about playing online games. I don't like it when they can enter a game where they can talk to another player. Oldest challenged me on this with "Runescape" by showing me that responses are preset. Players are given a choice of several prewritten responses when interacting with other characters. This leaves out any ability for a sexual preditor to engage a child in inappropriate conversations. And just in case you are wondering, no, I don't sit by their side and watch.

So you can imagine my surprise when Oldest began to talk about how he had been hustled on "Runescape." Apparently he left behind preset conversations long ago, without my knowledge. I decided to leave that issue alone, since he was actually telling me the truth and that was the behavior I wanted to reward.

"So this guy told me there's a glitch in the game and if I put a certain amount, it would double in my account. I did it, and he took my million gold pieces."

Huh? Doesn't this sound like the Nigerian internet scam? What a great teachable moment! Soon we were talking about what it meant to be hustled, who in our family had lost huge amounts of money, and how to spot other scams.

Then he said, "You know, there's these party hats that everyone wants on Runescape. They are really expensive, and they do nothing for you other than make you look like you are wearing a party hat."

Sounds like expensive jeans, Izod shirts, Rebok shoes. Is it possible this online game is actually teaching my son similar money values?

"It's so dumb," he continued. "Why would anyone want to spend millions on a hat that doesn't help you with your defense or make money?"

Holy cow!  Get my youngest online NOW!

Then, the answer to my prayers came true. When he was done telling me all about that, he actually changed topics. This is an amazing thing because there were times in the past when I've actually had to ask him to talk about something else besides his video game. Truly, I consider there to be nothing less interesting than listening about a computer game. But suddenly he was talking about ancient armor and crafting. It was related to the scamming issue, but soon it led to discussion about historical armor and crafts. This from the boy that I was convinced would never be able to carry on a normal conversation with other adults.

We agreed later how nice it was for him to lose a million gold pieces online rather than thousands of real dollars he spent a lifetime accruing. For a boy who lives in a small town where there isn't even a stoplight, it's a great way to get some street smarts. No doubt about it, my perspective about online games has changed. But mostly, I've gained a great appreciation of how a $20 meal has brought personal growth in a way I hadn't anticipated.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Balance of Raising a Teen

"I'm not going to ride all summer with Dad, that's for sure!" announced Oldest. We have been frustrated at attempts to find him a place to stay this June in Fargo-Moorhead, and I'm not interested in him lying around on the couch all summer playing video games. He's just one year off from being 16, and without a sponsoring family in Fargo- Moorhead, he can't attend Trollwood Academy, a theater arts program. So Hubby and I decided that Oldest can join his old man in the semi for the summer.

"Dude, I love you. But Dad could use a cook and you could see the whole country," I said.  "If you can't find a job, and you can't find some place to live up in F/M, you've got to do something with your time."

"Fine!" he announced, getting up and heading for the stairs. "I'll go live with my cousins in Minneapolis."

His "cousins in Minneapolis?" Ah, yes. This is the fairy tale land of all people who do not want to deal with reality. This is the place where you can live all the time, run around and do what you want, and not have chores, or wash your own clothes, or clean up the kitchen. This is where the food is the best, everyone is laughing all the time, there's money growing on the tree in the backyard so you can go to museums, concerts, and playlands. In reality, his "cousins in Minneapolis" are a struggling family of five, my nephew's family,  who would struggle worse if he showed up on their doorstep one day.

Truthfully, our son is 15, and getting a job may or may not happen.  If he does get a job, and not attend the academy in Moorhead, I have to drive him to work. That's not a big deal until you consider that I have to work, too! So transportation coordination might get to be a hassle. First he has to get a job, a tough sell if he's under 16.

On Saturday, his cousin, David, from Minneapolis came for a visit. The man is 46 and has a son about Oldest's age and the boys get along great. I told David about Oldest's plan to come live with their family.

"Ah!" said David. "Where would he sleep?" he asked his son.

"Up in the attic," replied my grand-nephew. 

"Yep," said David to Oldest. "That's the only room we have for you. It gets hot in the summer and cold as the world in the winter, but you wouldn't get rain on your head."  Oldest nodded as though this were just fine.

"And, "David continued. "We can't afford much meat. So we eat beans and rice, and yogurt for our protein." Oldest hates beans.  But he nodded bravely, acquiescing that beans were food he could live on if he had to.  "And if you don't like the dinner, you have the choice of going to bed hungry. You can't just reach into the freezer and take out a pizza because there are some nights when we don't have time to cook and have to make pizza"

Again, Oldest nodded.  Maybe this experience would be good for him,  I thought. But I'd like to remain on good terms with my nephew David! 

He's in a funny age, this teen of ours. Tomorrow he could decide, "I'm outta here," and actually leave. I've learned to let him steer himself more. I'm hurrying to teach him skills I've forgotten, to make him take on more every day tasks so he can contribute to the home more. It burdens him to fit all this into his schedule since his has gotten more complicated. But we only have two years left to get him situated, and then he'll be gone, and I'm afraid I'll overlook something to teach him that he'll need. The idea of him wandering off just to avoid being underfoot is suddenly a headache to me. I want him home but not contentious, here learning but understanding that it is to ready him for the future, not to just have him as a slave.

Oldest has not mentioned spending the summer in Minneapolis since that conversation.  But the idea of vacating Mom and Dad's house for the carefree life of a hobo is still on his mind. One day he said, "I could pack my bags and go touring to California like Grandpa did when he was young."

"Then I'd have to call the police and report you as a runaway."

'How come? Grandpa took off when he was my age."

"No, he left when he was 21 because that was the age his father told him that he could be on his own."

This left Oldest mulling over the "Escape from Mom and Dad" plan further. A few days later, he said, "I'm going to live with my cousin on her farm in Iowa."

"What farm in Iowa?" I said, thinking of that particular cousin. This is Andrea, age 15, who lives with her parents in Wisconsin. They aren't about to let her go live alone in an abandon Iowan house that belongs to her grandmother. This troubled teen is not the best influence on our son, either.

"She's got a farm there," he said stubbornly.

"Ah! Well, guess what. I won't let you. She is a bad influence." I said. "Sorry."

"Have you ever considered that I might be a good influence?"

"So.  I'm not willing to risk you getting corrupted, " I answered. He slumped in defeat. No running to Iowa either. How bad can his plans go?

I remember turning 15, not because of a particular boyfriend, or wanting to run away, or a first job. No, I remember because of an incident. I was pulling weeds in our flowerbed when my father walked up to me. I'm sure my mother and I had had another row, and he particularly hated the fighting between us. "You are getting a job next summer," he said to me sternly. "That's all there is to it."

I remember feeling surprise, as though I had done something wrong. Now, looking back, I see my son struggling with the idea of independence, the square-peg feeling of being too old to sit around and do nothing, and all the while seeing others contribute. We've encouraged him to find his own work, make his own job. But he hates the lawn mowing, the finding work. He needs to work for someone else, give in to their scheduling, their rules. He needs to gain the experience of learning how nice it is to work for yourself, before he can appreciate doing it. He needs to have a boss before he can be a good one.  He needs to feel the comradeship of co-workers. I see this, and know that just about the time he is getting interesting, he needs to go.

And so he went to get his first job application. That's a story for another day. But in the meantime, if any readers know of anyone in Fargo-Moorhead that's willing to adopt a teen for thirty days in June so he can attend a theater academy, please let me know. He wants to run away, and that would be a great place to run to. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Another Aspect of The Keystone Oil Pipeline

"And now, of course, Obama had to go kill that pipeline deal," said my friend, warming her fingers around the cup of weak, small town restaurant coffee.  I looked at her,  startled. We had been having a non-political discussion revolving around her life. Suddenly my friend, a woman I have known since our early teens, looked older, the gray just starting in her hair. She had just spoken of her out-of-work husband, a man who had rarely had a hammer out of his hand in the thirty-two years he had been a carpenter.  For the first time ever, she had gotten reprimanded at work for too many mistakes in her copy, for not getting everything done in the time constraints given by her boss, even though flexibility had always been afforded her before, even though she covered for the secretary for several days, too. For the first time ever, she was feeling the heat from work.

So her comment about something political took me by surprise. "Huh?" I said.

She went on with her grumbling about the killing of the pipeline project, how it was all because trains that haul fuel are owned by Buffet, who is Obama's friend.  How angry she was that when so much unemployment was all around us with new jobs that would deliver our nation a huge paycheck.

'Hold it," I interrupted.


"Should we let some crazy guy shoot a hole in it like that guy did up in Alaska?"

"What?" she shrugged her shoulders. "I never heard about that."

So I told her how some moron was hanging out with his brother and said, "Bet I can shoot a hole in that!"  The pressure on the inside of the pipeline sent oil spraying over the land and trees. While the news cameras rolled, the oil company sent people to clean up. But what happened when the cameras were gone? It's so remote that no one would know if the land were ever cleaned for sure.

"Oh," she said.  Then after a pause, she continued,  "Well, they can make the metal bullet-proof."

"Yeah, but will they?" I asked.  With the cost of bullet-proofing the pipeline, I doubt the company will want to put the money into it."

She nodded in agreement.

"And for sure I don't want the beautiful land in Colorado or Nebraska to be covered in the back, goopy oil," I said. 

"No, no, not cool," she agreed. 

When I related this conversation to The Man who Puts Up With Me, he piped up, "But they could put it underground!"

"And promptly let any holes in the pipeline send oil into the drinking water," I retorted. He had to admit that I was right about that.

It's not an easy project to talk about, no doubt.  And when ads are running condemning our President's decision, it might be a great time to remind everyone about realistic sabotage threats. It might be time to consider that there's more at stake than jobs. Yes, we probably do need to run that line somehow. After all, Canada can certainly reroute the pipe and sell their oil to China. We don't want that.  But it's imperative we be careful. It's essential we get agreements to keep the area around the line clean, provide the proper security. It's time we think about keeping away terrorists, not just a couple of hard-drinking rabble-rousers.   A little more time to think about something this big is not only critical, it's smart. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mediaed to Death

During the Disney movie at home here tonight, Oldest's phone rang every minute or so with a text message. After the tenth time of us being interrupted, I had images in my head from that commercial where people throw their computer out the window, one right after the other, after the other. 

"That's me!" I shouted to The Man Who Puts Up With Me the first time I saw that commercial. He's the one who fixes it when it's broken. I'm the one who wants to find a lake and drop it in.  I feel the same way about cars, but I digress.

"Who's texting you?" I asked, after my exasperation began to outweigh my patience. 

It was the girl who had taken to square dancing with him (another story sometime perhaps).  "I think she likes me," he said.  But I know him: the look on his face is almost apologetic, like having petted a stray cat that has followed him home. He hadn't meant for anything serious besides dancing, and now she likes him more than he's comfortable with.

Twenty minutes later, he tossed the phone across the room. "Hey!" I exclaimed.

"Don't worry, I tossed it lightly so it wouldn't get broken," he said. "It's just that now there are five girls texting me!" 

And I know what this is all about. One thinks her boyfriend is going to break up with her, and Oldest is trying to remind the boy that he'd be making a big mistake. Another girl is bored and texting him entertaining. Another girl is lonely, twenty minutes away and just wants to see what he's been doing lately. His girl cousin is touching base. The last girl is probably caught up in the soap opera that the first couple is going through.

It's not just the phone. It's the computer. He hits it every spare minute to play Diablo or some other role playing game. It's the television, which he would always have on if he had his way.  It's the MP3, which keeps his mind abuzz with music.

I'm starting to see Littlest One have the same problems, and I'll admit, I'm getting overrun by a desire to Facebook more than I ever used to. I write on a blog istead of a journal. To unwind, I watch TV instead of read a good book. Or watch a movie. Or listen to music.

I'm starting to understand why people take media-free vacations. For one thing, the electricity in their own space would be greatly reduced!  For another thing, it's great to just have peace and quiet. The withdrawls might be unpleasant, but the end result would probably be worth it. Until I get home and have to sift through several hundred emails!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Modeling: A New Side Job

Some people know that we went to Florida during December to attend a special event for a selected group of young people who competed in acting, music, and dance.  Oldest Son had auditioned in Fargo with 550 other families and was invited because he could sing, a talent he never did use down there.  A couple of other contestants from New Jersey told us that 1400 families competed there, and they only chose 20 kids, so the competition to attend was fierce. 

The excitement to go was intense all of December. I finally had a conversation with him to explain that winning this event was probably unlikely, and that we needed to judge success by whether or not he got a callback. I think the boy had visions of suddenly getting picked up by some talent agent, working in Hollywood the next week, and I knew that was pretty much a dream. But getting a callback meant you had been noticed, and not everyone gets a callback there.

Sure enough, he got one, and what for? Modeling. This from the boy who had snorted when I asked him to consider whether he wanted to get work doing that. When he found out people weren't standing in line to lure him to the bright lights of a Hollywood backlot, that millions weren't going to come his way overnight, modeling sounded better than pushing a lawn mower.

On a lark, we sent in his headshot and resume to a modeling agent in Minneapolis. The resume never even opened up; she called him just because he looked good on the picture.  Four hundred people responded to her ad, but she only chose fourteen to call back.  Meeting with her, and from the question and answer session we had in Florida is giving me quite an education in a field I know absolutely nothing about!

First, for every five girls featured in the modeling agency's book, there is only one boy.  Adolescent boys who go into modeling aren't exactly rare, but the competition has definitely thinned out.  We were fortunate to know that Oldest's cousin had made money for a while in modeling as well, until his attitude about the work changed and he was dropped. It was  a great lesson on professionalism for our boys, who still would rather pose for photos than push around a lawn mower on a hot day. 

Another thing is that regional modeling agents barely make it on commission. There are upfront costs that models absolutely must absorb, whereas bigger agencies out east upfront the money to models.  Researching it online leaves you with conflicting information, so it's important for anyone interested in the profession should know this. 

Finally, commissions for agents are now at 20%.  Again, that is different from what you might read on the internet. The fact is, even big agencies take that, as we found out in the Q & A session in Florida.  This is a big difference from acting agents which only command 15%. 

The modeling company is just getting into animals, so we ended up signing on with our cat and dog, which is much nicer than working with people. First, animals don't have to tryout; and the payment is sometimes in the thousands. I suddenly have a new job: taking animals on a three hour drive if they are needed for a photoshoot. I never in my wildest dreams thought that would happen.  When I tell other people about it, they suddenly start telling me about their animals and how cute they are. It's an interesting way to get your pets to fund their own vet bills!

This new adventure is just one I would like to share with other people, which is why I'm writing about it here. It's quite fascinating to look into a world which is often closed to other people, a learning experience for all of us.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Making of An Actor

Oldest brushed the sweat off his face one hot summer day last July. "This mowing lawn is too much like work,' he grumped.

I almost laughed. Poor kid! He should have been out picking rock at 5 a.m, like I had to do when I was young., trudging through mud that stuck to my dew soaked shoes or getting halfway into a sea of thistles, while finding rocks that needed to be hauled to a rock pile. I'm certain this is what makes hell, so I have no sympathy for my son. He's got it easy, pushing around a lawn mower.

"Well, what do you want to do?" I asked. We had hauled a mower to a property we owned, then caught a lunch at a nearby town. 

"Well," he said, between bites of food. "I want to be an actor."

Now my parents would have laughed at me if I had said such a thing. They might have told me to get real, to forget it, that it was a hopeless fantasy. Certainly they would have told me that they wouldn't drive me town to attend any after school activity. "  But I knew that if I crushed his dream, he would spend the rest of his life wondering, 'What if..." 

"How are you going to do that?' I asked.

"I don't know," he admitted.

Now the story goes hyperspeed. Moments later he heard a radio advertisement looking for kids to try out for a special conference/talents show in Florida. With my blessing he tried out. They called back, and he attended an interview and screentest.  Thirty-two kids out of 550 families called back, and they didn't care if you couldn't afford the entrance fee. Oldest had the money, entered, rehearsed, and went. The experience was incredible, informative because of the industry executives who served on a Q & A panel, elegant because of a red carpet night, tense because of the competition. 

In the two weeks we were in Florida, a change came over him.  "He walks differently," commented The Man Who Puts Up With Me.  And Oldest had. There was more confidence, maybe because of all the pretty girls that had flocked around him at the Florida event. Maybe it was because he found ot he was neither the big fish in the ocean, nor the littlest.

 He signed up to take a summer theater academy in a nearby city to learn more about theater, perhaps even join in the the mainstage musical, a professional performance directed by a New York director.  To fund it, he wrote grant, and has to perform for a review board for the money.  Sunday he auditions for the musical.

Valentine's evening, he soloed the song, "Save the Last Dance for Me" with a jazz band behind him at a large concert at our hometown gym. I watched as our son went from a kid who used to sing while standing stock still, to walking, smiling, gesturing, entertaining, performing! The transformation in his talents in several short months was simply amazing.

As if that weren't enough, on a lark, we sent his headshot to a modeling agent in Minneapolis,  and a couple of weeks later, signed both boys on with her. We head out soon to do photoshoots for the agency, then respond to casting calls as they happen. The money is much better than mowing lawns, so Oldest, who had initially snubbed the idea of modeling, is now anxious to try out for commercials of any kind. 

Consider that all of this has happened in less than eight months. Eight!  I feel somedays that I'm standing by the breeze off a train engine. Whoosh! The kid mentions his dreams, now he's about to embark on living them. This boy isn't even old enough to drive!  There are moments I feel that this whole pathway is a dream, and that because he has believed it could all happen, it just might. 

These next few months he will grow, and I get the privilege of watching that take place.  Where these adventures take us might be worth writing about in the future.  Until them, think of us these next couple of days as we can use just a ton of positive energy coming our way!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Gaggling Goosey Groupies

"Mom!" called Youngest as he burst through the door.  "Brother's coming home with three girls."

There are many things a mother would like to hear someone say about her son. Things like, "He's on the A honor role!" or "He's been accepted into a great college!" or "He's won the Pulitzer Prize." All of those statements would make a heart beat with pride. But what do you make of, "He's coming home with three girls?" I suppose it's better than, "He's coming home with three stray cats!"

"Aha!" I said.  Minutes earlier I had considered how nice it would be to make a few cupcakes for anyone dropping by.  I frantically scraped the batter into cupcake paper holders. 

They entered into the door behind my son, giggling and talking.  He hung up his heavier jacket, grabbed a Cary Grant style hat, and a lighter leather coat. No doubt, he looked sharp.

I finished and walked over to where they were standing in the dining room. "Hi!"  Then I felt an odd panic coming over me.   I should recognize these girls. All of them, I would bet, have been in our house before. The problem is that the girls look alike.  Skinny.  Two have blond hair that hangs down, in a flowing style with a part on the side. Those same two wear makeup. 

I took a deep breath as if to jump into a swimming pool. "Okay, I should know you. But I'm old and my mind is going. Let's see if I can remember your name."

"I'm Jenna!" said the first one.

Ah yes. The girl who had the same name as Oldest's former girlfriend.  She's got bad acne and actually natural hair color than the ones with bleached out hair.

The next one looked at me as though I were a worm.  "Victoria," she said, as if I should have know.

Inwardly I groaned. Oldest's former girlfriend. I should have known.  But after a second I found myself secretly glad I hadn't remembered. She broke up with him twice by text. What happened to the days when boys and girls broke up and never talked again?

The third introduced herself again with a gesture toward her heart.  "I'm Barb." The tone of her voice somehow assured me that she was used to memory-challenged adults. I felt reassured that the younger generation was just fine with those of us who are innundated with teens who look alike.

"It's just that so many girls come here!" quipped Youngest, who had been somewhat hopping around, chewing an apple. 

I caught Oldest shoot his little brother a poision-dart glance.  Part of me wondered how karma would address the inequity of the time when Youngest would bring home a girl and his older brother would not be here to say, "Gee, he brings home lots of girls."

Then, the most incredible two things happened. First, the girls didn't stay around for warm cupcakes.  All of the teens decided to take off . Second, my Oldest son picked up their backpacks and carried them for the girls. This from the boy that acts like the vaacuum cleaner is too heavy, grumbles when we ask him to open doors when our hands are full, or protests if directed to help with any other menial labor intensive task.  He happily went down the street, his groupies around him,  shouldering a million pounds of homework, with a grin like a ten-year-old with a new puppy. 

I haven't figured out whether it's a good thing or not for our son to have groupies.  A part of me wishes that the girls were interested in books, theater or even farming!  But giggly girls?  It goes against my very feminist core. I realize it's a teenage boy thing, a mating dance thing, a thing.  God forbid he bring one of these girls home for marriage approval.  But most of all, I hope I can better remember their names, that I can find something distinctive about each so their name information doesn't go into my "garbage in, garbage out" file in my brain. For no matter what, they deserve at least that.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Are You Going to Cook That Chicken?

There are few questions that stop me in my tracks, but "Are you going to cook that chicken?" was one that did.  I had deposited my groceries on the counter at Sam's, then bustled to get everything ready to check out. The twenty-something woman who was scanning the items got to the raw chicken thighs and continued on after this question by adding whistfully, "My mom used to cook chicken. Roasted it and then we'd eat. Oh, it was so good. I wish I knew how to do that."

"It's not hard," I said, frowning. "Didn't your mom every teach you how?"

"No. There must be a trick to it or something. I wish I knew because I would cook like that if I could."

There are times when you have converstations and you just don't know what to say. This was one of those instances.  Why didn't her mother ever teach her how?  Why didn't I simply say, "Check a cookbook out of the library and you'll learn!" But I didn't think of it at that moment. Now the moment's gone, and the young woman may never learn.

The incident bothered me enough to where I shared it with The Man Who Puts Up With Me on the phone one evening. "How the heck does she eat?"

"Precooked food, prepackaged food." he answered.  "Every kind of food now is ready to serve or you can add water, stir and presto!"

So expensive, albeit so convenient. Still, one never knows how many chemicals are added to food like that.  Wouldn't it be healthier as well as less expensive to learn how to cook at home?

"I can't understand people who don't teach their kids to cook," I said. 

The issue hits close to home for me. My mother wouldn't teach me either and when I asked her how I was supposed to learn how to cook, she replied, "Oh, you'll learn." The answer aggravated me to pieces. Did she expect space aliens to land on our roof and come in for a cooking lesson?  I explained to her that our neighbor's daughters not only had full access to the kitchen, their mother actually taught them how to make cookies and casseroles. But it didn't budge her resolve one bit. 

"Oh, that's crazy," said my sister-in-law. She was a newlywed and I was sent to help her watch my nephew while she did chores out in the barn. "Bake a cake while I'm gone," she said, handing me a cookbook.

I followed the recipie to the letter. But when I took it out, the middle had collapsed in such a way that it looked as though a little old woman had stepped right on the center of the cake! I was devastated, certain that my sister-in-law would be crushed that I had failed.

'Oh, for goodness sakes!" she exclaimed, when she returned from outside.  Then, cutting a piece out of the corner, she pronounced it fit for a king. My confidence soared, and from then on, I experimented in the culinary arts whenever I had the chance.  Even with loaves of bread that turned out like doorstops, chestnuts that nearly killed me when they turned into missles, fires that have started on the stove or in the oven, even with all of those adventures in our kitchen, I've endured the fine art of homemade cooking.

I told this all to The Man Who Puts Up With Me.  "I wonder," he said thoughtfully."


"Well, my mother's mother wouldn't teach her either. But I wonder if that's because years ago in some cultures, girls were not taught how to cook until they were engaged. Then they were sent to their mother-in-law's house where she taught the bride-to-be cooking."

"So that the new wife would always cook what her husand grew up with and loved," I finished.  Good heavens.  One half of the tradition was forgotten; only the not-teaching-your-daughter part was remembered.

I thought about all these things this morning as I stirred together my mother's banana bread.  Right now the smell is wafting through the house and I think of that young checkout girl.  Is it possible that without teaching our daughters and sons to cook, we bind them to poverty? Do we take away choices of a better life because they have to spend more money on food? After all, if your budget is higher because you spend more on prepackaged food, is there enough to save for education, a better car, a better wardrobe to attract a better job?  If we allow our children to get used to eating foods loaded with MSG or other chemicals, do we saddle them forever with paying higher medical bills?  It's pretty hard to stay healthy with junk entering the body.

I know now that I have a responsibilty to my sons beyond the schoolwork, beyond helping them live their dreams. It's in the kitchen, and one hour a weekend may determine how bright their future really may be. I never want them to wonder about how to cook a chicken.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Post Children Plans

The Man Who Puts Up With Me and I have lived together about fifty percent of our married life. It's truly shocking to contemplate, even fathom if you are married and in a normal relationship. However, when I add it up, we've lived together about half of the time since saying "I do."

When we first married, he was in the military. We spent eighteen months in California before I moved ahead to Alaska. Then we actually spent some six years under the same roof before I moved on ahead to Minnesota. He joined us a year later, then became an over the road truck driver, a far less stressful job than owning our old business. Now he comes home for a couple of nights every week or two, which when you start averaging it out, means that we live together fifty percent of our married life.

There's a special kind of modus operendi that takes place when you rarely see your spouse. First, Verizon Wireless saves our marriage. The money we invest in the Friends and Family plan not only helps us deal with day to day emergencies, it also helps us co-parent, plan for trips or the future, and gossip, laugh and tell jokes..  Plus it's cheaper than seeing a marriage counselor. Suffice to say that without cell phones, I wouldn't have much of a relationship with him at all.

Second, getting reunited is like getting a new lover every time. I can kiss him once when he is clean shaven, and the next time he comes home, I kiss his mustache. Sometimes I feel downright shy when we get together after being apart for over ten days. We have to date again, learn to touch again, and snuggle. I have to remember not to refer to the bedroom as "mine," or sit by myself on the rocking chair all the time.  Let me tell you, it's work.

Being in this kind of long-distance relationship is much like having a boyfriend or having an affair, only one that's sanctioned by your church.  One day last week, for example, I met him in a local town for lunch.  We kissed by his truck, and if I had been impulsive and crazy, I could have suggested we find a place for a liason. Instead, we've been married long enough to agree to meet later, if the mood comes over us. 

I got to thinking of our odd marriage one day last week when we talked about where we would go after the kids went off to college. He said, somewhat forlornly, " I know you and I'll probably be living in two different places after the kids are gone." And there it was, something both of us knew in our hearts: eventually we'll live apart even more. It wasn't news, really to me, just more of a surprise that he had already accepted it. A sadness crept over me.

You see, though we love it other deeply, he wants to move back to a remote part of western Alaska.  It gets cold there in the winter, really awful, and in the Bush, it's outdoor toilets and long hikes to the vehicle. There's a lonely wind that gets a wind chill down to minus sixty or worse, and sometimes you can go long stretches without seeing a soul. It's work to live in a remote cabin. Sometimes you have to haul water, read by small, kerosene lanterns, and use wood for heating a cooking. Even if you figure out a way to run a battery, or set up a solar panel, or get running water, hauling it all to a remote cabin is a ton of work. I won't mind visiting on occasion, but living there full time will not thrill me.

Plus he would like to commercial fish. That's another activity that makes you grow old fast. It's labor intensive, and I've faced the reality that when I turn sixty, I won't want to do heavy physical work like that. Men probably don't mind, but watching him slave away all day won't be my thing at all. I'll insist on doing my fair share, and I've seen that women who do heavy, physical labor look old after a couple of years. I'd like to age gracefully.

So when Youngest moves out, The Man Who Puts Up With Me will move on. Oh, we'll get together as time and money permits. And it'll be wonderful to see each other again, to love and be loved in each others' presence. But it's makes me sad to know that the time will come when he'll be even more gone than he is today.  It's not the way the love story is supposed to be written. Men who ride into your life on a white horse are supposed to take you away to a lovely castle where you're both live "happily ever after."  At no time is the Prince to get on his horse and ride back out. It's not done that way. Obviously we're breaking with convention, but we have to face facts. It's the ending that we both see coming.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Kind of "Friends" I didn't Expect

Imagine my delight and surprise when I opened my inbox yesterday morning, only to discover "dhoeyboozer189" is now following me on Twitter.  What joy! What exhileration to know that someplace, somewhere, someone with that kind of handle would have singled out little old me to befriend! I now can close my eyes for the last time knowing I have attracted the finest of the fine.


You have to kind of wonder some times how people come up with names like that in the first place. We all know the term "boozer" belongs to just the kind of people you want to engage in intelligent conversation.  Oh sure.  But the clever part is "d" meaning "the" and "hoey" meaning the kind of girl Mama warned you about. I thought my name, "Wearmanyhats" was particularly appropriate because I play so many different roles in life: wife, daughter, sister, friend, cook, etc. But never once did I assume I should tell someone that I was morally loose or a drunk. I'm not sure what kind of person is behind this name, but I would bet we wouldn't run in the same circles in life!

What got me was the "189" behind that name. Now did that mean there were 188 other "dhoeyboozers" out there?  If so, do they have a club or something? How many times did this person have to type into Twitter to try to get this name?  I can't even imagine sitting there typing a number 188 times, just waiting to be "accepted" as having a new name as worthy as "dehoeyboozer." 

I don't spend nearly as much time on Twitter as I probably should to really promote my blog or give my opinion.  No one in the media makes an announcement when I write a deep, meaningful sentence and post it. Truly Twitter is one of my lower priorities. Maybe I should be on there more often. It might help me learn to say what's on my mind more succinctly. Alas, only so many hours in a day.

Now, however, I'm feeling more like it's a bad biker bar I want to avoid. Last week someone "followed" me and in their note to me asked me to do things that would make a normal man blush.  I was hoping these kind of people would think I was only someone that had many hats in her closet. After all, I'm assuming these are not the deep, intellectual type.... rather the kind of get-down-to-business type of person Stephen Covey would have coached in efficiency. I noticed both of these new contacts were following hundreds of people and had no followers of their own. That was a good feeling.  It gives me hope for humankind.

I think about being "followed" anyway, and it sort of makes me wonder what Jesus Christ would have done about Twitter if he had been alive today.  I suppose he would have welcomed all 189 of DeHoeyboozers into fold, explaining how there is a special place after life for them if they repent their ways. In a way, someone could make Twitter a ministry to all of those fallen stars just like Christ would have done. I'd make a lousy evangelist. When these kind of people come around, I run; no doubt I'm a coward.

So I'm neglecting my Twitter, perhaps hiding from the bad guys that seem to roam its streets.  Sometimes it's nice to just reside in a place where the Hoeyboozers of the world aren't in my face. Who knows? Maybe someday someone really delightful will "follow me" just because they like my name.  Hey, a girl can hope, right?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Dead Body and Local Social Politics

We'll probably never know quite what the young man said before he jumped out of the car and was killed. The driver, Jim,  a local man who has an incredibly good siding business, never knew either. Jim was drunker than any one should be, and doesn't recall hearing the man ask to get out of the car. All Jim ever knew was that the next day, the man he had been partying with was dead and Jim was on his way to jail.

I came across the police barricade on the highway the morning someone found the body.  I was about to turn left toward our church some twenty-three miles away. We were late as usual, but this time I would have to stop to wait for pictures to be taken of the crime scene. A body lay in the road, covered by a gray blanket.  I didn't know at the time if there had been an accident, but the fact that no smashed cars were around seem ominous.  So I bravely headed down a dirt road in the general direction of church, only to find myself at the end of a dead end. By the time I had returned, I was muttering words you shouldn't say while on your way to church, the body was gone, and two state officers were left, standing beside the road talking.

Little by little the people around the town began to talk. One woman, who works at the local convenience store where I get my highly addictive coffee, knew the dead man, had gone to school with him. More than that, she knew his parents, and they were grieving. She shared about his partying, how he was often doing meth or coke, how hurt his folks were by his behavior. And now this. He was their only son.

Soon the gossip turned to fact as the newspaper carried the first real details. The driver had not realized his passanger had jumped from the vehicle, which was why he hadn't stopped to help the "friend" before the victim died of severe brain trauma.  No, there was no sign of intent to murder.  And then there was a plea, time behind bars, and the driver began to try to get his life back.

Now comes the dilemma. The woman in the convenience shop is angry at the driver, furious that he got to go on living when through sheer stupidity, the other guy died.  Anyone ordering siding work from him, as talented and inexpensive as he is, may face her disgust.  However, the driver has served his time, been in jail, has to live with the consequences. Every day that he is alive, he has to wake up and look into the mirror at the face of a man who was responsible for the death of another. From what I have heard from a contractor who worked closely with him, Jim is acutely aware of the consequences of his actions.

I need to get new siding on my apartment and probably would want to at least get a bid from this talented siding expert, the Sinner in this story. Now this incident leaves me with more questions than answers. Should I jeapordize my good standing with others if I do hire Jim? Is there room for mercy at the table of a small town feast of life? Can I introduce the concept of forgiveness by merely using the man's skills, or is it mine to give?  In a small town, politics are important.  By merely ignoring the man, am I to blame in a small way for his loss of livliehood?  Funny how one terrible incident ripples across the fabric of our society, even for a man whose deeds were less than honorable.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Alternative Destinies

"He came home one night, drunk. And he looked at me and said,'Shut the F--- up,' but I didn't say anything. I just went into my room...we stopped sleeping together long before that. The next morning I woke up and told him, 'If you ever come home like that again, it'll be the last time, because the next morning, you'll find the house empty.'

"I never knew he was a drinker when we first got married." She folded her clothes very carefully. "And years later some fellow I didn't even know asked me why we stayed married. Of course I told him it was for the kids, and he said that he figured that was the reason. I didn't even know him, and so I wondered what all the other people talked about it."  Then she leaned back, and stared off into space.  "I was dating someone else when I met him, and that was the biggest mistake I ever made, leaving that other guy. I saw him one day about two years ago, and he said to me, 'Do you remember me?' and I said, 'Oh yes I do!'  'Course my kids know him but they didn't know we ever dated. Still, I wonder how different my life would have been if I had never broken up with him."

She resumed folding her clothes, and I pondered his words. It's always amazing how people share the most intimate details when we start visiting at our laundromat.  I've heard about lovers, arrests, dead relatives, divorces, and kids.  But this was the first time this particular customer had told me about her drinking spouse, and her thoughts about the "what ifs" of life hit close to home.

You see, every year our boys have to complete a science project, one that is probably for the National Science Project. And every year my eleven-year-old chooses the World's Most Obscure Idea for his project. This year he somehow decided to research and present the concenpts of Ten...or actually, Eleven Dimensions.  And I'm trying to decide how he's going to make it through this project without putting my brain into the last of these dimensions.

In case you haven't ever heard of this concept, let's just say that the zero dimension is a point, the first is a line, then there are two dimensional things. Everyone lives in the third, and the fourth is time. Those are truly the only ones we can understand. The rest are theoretical, but that doesn't stop lots of people from trying to make sense of them. The final is all the alternative possibilities for that first point, leads to the concept of string theory, and some place in between is quantam mechanics.  Understood? If not, let's just say that I'm not sure I do either.

Youngest watched a You Tube video first, then a Nova episode on String Theory, then I showed him some other websites that referred to the various dimensions.  His eyes glazed over by the time we started looking that math that people had developed to explain each dimension, and I encouraged him often to reconsider a new topic. But he's pigheaded like his mother, so I expect soon to have a tri-folded presentation about these theories before the end of next month.  Still, it was the idea that all of us could have alternative lives, that we could have married other people, not married, not graduated from school or chose the priesthood or something else very different from our current lives that intrigued me.  And after listening to this woman today, I had to examine my own ideas on this.

I'm a person that truly loves concrete concepts.  This idea that there's a universe somewhere where I might have a pierced nose is more than I want to accept!  And I can't imagine my life without our sons, nor marrying someone besides The Man Who Puts Up With Me.  All that said, I wonder if there's another Me out there that doesn't struggle with weight problems, or maybe went on to get her Master's degree or even became a famous actress or something.  I know that the possibilities in the tenth dimension are only limited to the size of our imagination. Still, I'd like to imagine a much nicer house, more money, and a housekeeper. The rest of my reality is fine.

I can relate to times in my life when I've made a decision that I later regretted.  No doubt about it, my twenties were wasted on choices I made that were quite bad. But I made the left turn to change my life. And like this woman, I've met up with the Guy I Used to Date. Believe me, I got the better choice with the one I married. Unlike her, my marriage hasn't been a prision sentence, where time dragged mercilessly on. I can't believe it's been eighteen years.

I feel for the woman at the laundromat. It's got to be tough to look back on life and wish you had taken a left instead of a right.  It's tough to be glad your husband is dead, to know you would NEVER marry again because it was a hassle.  My reality is better, even if no one can really understand it except our Youngest Son.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Right before we hung up on the phone together, Oldest said, "Okay then, Teeteewhyel!"

My eyebrows arched. I amost stopped breathing. Was this a moment where I had totally lost touch with my son? Where words no longer had meaning? Where my brain had stopped working?

"Yeah, right."  Something in my brain clicked. I should know what that word meant.  Teeteewhyel. Sure. I've heard it before.  But for some reason I didn't know it. And even though I could have called him right back and asked, I paused, uncertain if I could handle him knowing that I couldn't figure out something he said.

You see, we just got back from a Florida trip.  While traipsing around Disneyworld, I found that everything on me hurt, especially three painful blisters under my feet and my hips.  I couldn't walk as fast as he could. He's only fifteen, healthy and strong.  What must it be like to charge forward, only to have to stop and see your little mother coming along at an almost snail's pace (comparatively) and have to wait?

To his credit, he never once complained. Not one word of unkindness. Just so you know, griping is what he likes to do best. I wasn't short of breath or anything. I just hurt. But I had to admit that I was holding him back, slowing him down. And if you don't think that hurts, well, think again.

I felt rather badly about it, until my hubby asked him to slow up on their walk around town the other night.  "Son," said The Man Who Puts Up With Me.  "You might not remember how slow I walked for you when you were only this tall," and he held his hand down by his knee, " and holding on to my pinkie. But maybe you can slow up for me now."

We are not old. Just that he's so young. That's what I keep telling myself. Maybe the body simply can't move so quickly with a brain carrying so much wisdom.  There, that's a better excuse. But his knees aren't ruined from racquetball and hiking, and other wear-and-tear activities. He isn't missing an organ or two, hasn't had implants. Nope, he just floats along like we used to when we were his age: carefree and fast.

So tonight when he used a word that I had never heard, I hesitated asking just because I felt once again like I was slowing him down. In the back of my mind, I figured the word would be more easily explained by the eleven-year-old sitting next to me in the car.

"Teeteewhyl." I said, chewing the word over carefully in my mouth as I said it.

"Yeah!" said Youngest. "Talk to you later!"

Now that's just not fair!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The One Finger Wave

"You're such a snob!" said my realtor one morning last summer. "Everytime I go by you on the road, you never wave."

His words hit me hard. Half the time I didn't even know I had passed him on the road. And inwardly I groaned. I'd been gone so long that I had forgotten that waving is as much a part of rural culture as bagels are a part of New York.  But I remember the kind of people that zoomed past our house as children, their nose up in the air, too busy or stuck up to wave.  Old man H- was like that.  "Jerk," I'd say whenever he sped by, not even looking to see who was waving.

See, if you aren't from this part of the world, you have to be brought up to speed on waving. There's the "boat wave." It's a full fledged, move your hand and forearm aerobic exercise designed to make sure the people on shore know you are being friendly to your neighbors. No, it's not okay to wave like the Queen of England where only the hand slightly moves. This is serious waving. When people don't wave back, or if they are the ones on the boat ignoring you, they might just as well be sold to the nearest Alien Space Invaders. It's just better to get them out of the gene pool.

Then there's the "Cool Farmer Wave." It's a quick move of the hand to let someone know you have acknowledged their presence. It's casual enough to say, "Howya doin'?" or "Hey there." But it's not making you work up a sweat. It's good for farmers who are driving by in their pickups, guys who've had too much pot to smoke or business people with way too much to think about that don't want the waving recipient to think they are being insincere.  It's got just the right amount of speed and motion to not make someone else feel obligated to invite you in for coffee. 

Then there's the "Type A Personality" wave. This one is from the person who had waaaaay too many cups of coffee at breakfast.  It's often followed by small pebbles flying from the tires, dust or a streak of motion from the vehicle that is usually driving too fast.  You don't truly want to run into these people anyway.  They'll tell you busy they are, or gabble on about how they need help.  Once you see that wave, hide behind a tree or something.

I was contemplating this when trying to devise how to change the error of my way.  I needed to wave to everybody now, just so I didn't tick any off!  But what's a wave that's good for me?  I puzzled and puzzled. The waves mentioned above came to mind, but I rejected them all for good reasons. Still, I felt compelled to do something.

The answer came several days later when passing someone on the road that I probably didn't know.  The driver raised his first finger on the hand that was grasping the steering wheel in the twelve o'clock position.  I was enthralled.  It was a wonderful wave!  One that said, "Hey! I see ya!  Looking good!" or "Hey!  Howya doing?"  There is no obligation in this quick acknowledgement.  Just something easy and cool.

So I'm out doing the one finger wave.  It's too early to tell if I'm going to hear from anyone that they totally get my new form of communication. And since I wave at every car I pass on the road now, no one can gripe about me being egotistical any more.  I just give them my one finger wave.  And I celebrate that I am not using the one finger that might make them take a shot at me.