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Archive for April, 2009

Family traits.

I learned something about my face the other day. 

I have this crinkle above my nose, which comes from looking at my husband like he’s nuts for the past 20ish years.  I’ve been putting wrinkle cream on it for months now, trying to at least make it less noticeable, though I realize that being more sanguine all these years would probably have been a better strategy. 

Come to find out, my crinkle is a family trait. 

My mother pointed this out the other day, that my dad has the same crease right between his eyebrows, slightly offset to one side.  She calls it his “scrowl.”  It’s the product of over 70 years of deep thought, puzzlement, frustration, and general pigheadedness, and lo and behold I have the same scrowl in the same location on my own face. 

Which stands to reason, as I am a good bit like my father, personality-wise.  Sensible, opinionated, and intensely private, all things that I am to a somewhat lesser degree.  Maybe in 30 more years I’ll be moreso. 

My father comes from a long line of deep-rooted English Catholics, ancestors chased into America by a king who broke with the Church and discriminated against their kind, an imminently practical bunch who do not suffer fools gladly.  For a couple hundred years it’s been like that with us.  But it’s the in-laws, the ones who have married into the family, who have softened the lot of them.  Where my dad is gruff and reticent, my mother is ebullient and chatty.  I am a curious mixture of the two. 

Which is why, I suppose, I hit upon the idea to say things to my family members that ordinarily they would not say to me or to one another.  My New Year’s Resolution this year, as last year, was to tell my family members that I love them. 

They rarely say it back to me, but upon leaving their company, when hugs are going around, I murmur those words to each of them.  I know they feel it, too, but are unaccustomed to saying it, and that’s okay.  My aunts and uncles are all getting older, quicker, these days.  I want them to hear it from me.  I want them to know, to have it spoken to them from my lips.  Hugs on my father’s side of the family tend to be one-armed, too, and I give a two-armed hug when I tell them I love them.  It’s my way of being the next generation of this family, of letting them know they matter and are appreciated.  Older folks don’t always get told that. 

My scrowl I get from the family.  My love is what I give to them. 

 

— Mox

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Deforestation.

The western side of my house is shaded by two large maple trees.  It’s great to have them there, because it keeps my house from getting too hot during summer afternoons, but the downside of it is this: 

maple_seedlings_331

Lots and lots and lots of little baby maple trees. 

I could sit in one spot for half an hour and do nothing but pull up sprouts, and not even have to move my feet.  They’re everywhere — in the yard, in the flower beds, in the gutters.  It’s an annual ritual for us, and one of the rites of spring. 

I always start out good-naturedly with it, not minding too awful much the picking and plucking.  But as spring progresses, more sprouts pop up, and if you turn your back they replicate in the same place you’ve just weeded.  Some stage a miraculous arrival amidst the shrubs, coming in suddenly at 18 inches tall and branching.  Those require a shovel. 

A lot of the time it feels like waging war. 

After a while it begins to feel like a losing battle, thinking you’ve gotten all of them in a certain area only to discover a fresh crop.  It’s just Mother Nature doing what she does best, of course, assuring the survival of a species, but it’s damned annoying. 

Both maple trees are in their declining years, because of windstorms and ice storms and general age.  We’ve already started plotting their demise and their replacements, which not coincidentally will not be such seedy trees.  We’ve planted an oak tree at the edge of the largest maple’s drip line, and with any luck it will be well on its’ way to shading the front of our house by the time the maples will need to come down.  If we have the money for it when the time comes, we’ll splurge on a larger tree to be trucked in and planted in the general area of the maples, to continue the generous shade we get on the front porch. 

Every now and then we talk about selling the house and moving but the truth is, I love my aged neighborhood and my little white house, regardless of the sags and wrinkles the old girl is sporting.  So we plant trees because that is an act of faith, a bet that we make with Time that we will still be here to see them get big. 

And we pull up a lot of little trees, too. 

 

— Mox

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Over the weekend, my husband’s fraternity held a 40th anniversary reunion for their chapter at his alma mater.  The last time the frat held an anniversary shindig, it was their 20th, and he and I were both graduating seniors.  We were both younger — unlined, ungrayed, and uncowed by life  — at that point in time, and it was a fine excuse to get dressed up and hang out with our friends before the majority of us went our separate ways. 

Fast forward 20 years.  There’s been a lot of water under the bridge in that period of time, silt-laden, swirling water filled with tree limbs and old tires.  The bridge itself has seen better days, too.  But as much as we’d like to believe that we’re not that far removed from the collegians we once were, this weekend proved that indeed, we are.  It’s fair to say we have become our parents. 

Of course, there’s nothing like pulling up to the dorm of yesteryear in a top-of-the-line new Audi convertible.  None of the undergraduates needed to know that it belonged to a friend’s mother; we were merely showing up looking like the wild successes we all thought we’d be in 20 years.  Now that I look back I see that probably the same scenario took place back then, too, but we were too unlearned to realize it. 

Upstairs on the fraternity’s floor, we marveled at the size of the chapter room (smaller and dirtier than we remembered), laughed over old photos of friends (hairstyles that have come back in style), and traced our fingers over the signatures of people we haven’t seen in years on the mural on one wall.  We were mentally, emotionally, back there again. 

It was mid-afternoon when we visited the fraternity, during a break in festivities, and I got a glimpse at college life caught off guard.  Many of the dorm room doors were open to take advantage of a cross breeze, and looking in I was appalled to see the squalor these young men lived in, happily.  The same squalor that my husband and his fraternity brothers lived in 20 years ago, a hodgepodge of unmade beds and cast-off furniture and dirty clothes on the floor.  Some things remain constants. 

In one of the rooms we passed, I saw a young man and woman asleep together on the twin-size bed.  A double-take assured me they were fully clothed, just napping beneath a breezy open window in the late afternoon.  How I remember fondly those lazy Saturday afternoon naps. 

One of the brothers was kind enough to visit with us old folks for a few minutes, and I looked him over — scrubby jeans, flip-flops, tank top, long hair and beard.  A very nice, polite young man, but in need of a shave and a haircut and possibly a shower.  And it occurred to me, it was the sort of thing that would have set my mother aghast 20 years ago.  Oh, now I understand, just as she said I would. 

While I still think of myself as that college student a lot of the time, the point was driven home for me this weekend that I’m pretty far removed from those days.  Truth is, I’m actually old enough to be some of these boys’ mother.  Nice. 

 

— Mox

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From time to time I give consideration to hiring a personal trainer.  Considering is just about as far as it gets, though, for a number of reasons, chief among them being money.  I mean, I think it would be a good idea and incredibly motivating for me, especially with laying out money for it.  The main reason I continue to go to the gym — albeit infrequently — is because I’m shelling out $35 a month for it. 

At the age of 39, I was in possibly the best physical shape of my life.  I’d lost ten pounds and was able to clip off a four-mile walk in just under an hour.  I could take a two-hour trail ride and not be bent out of shape and sore the next day.  Believe me, folks, I wasn’t that healthy in college. 

When I turned 40 I rocked it.  I was taking pretty good care of myself, eating a high-protein, low-carb diet, getting regular exercise, pushing my limits, getting regular massages.  I had a flat stomach.  Mentally, I was on an even keel.  I knew there was more I could be doing, to get further along and more toned, but I stopped just short of hiring a personal trainer. 

Truth is, I am a personal trainer’s worst nightmare. 

I am not incredibly motivated, for one thing.  Given my druthers, I’d be sacked out on the couch with a book.  I don’t find a lot of joy in physical exertion.  I mean, I like the idea of it, just not the practice of same.  And food, ho boy do I love food.  And I’m talking about good food, sloppy junk food and rich fattening food.  I believe one of the greatest pleasures in life is sitting down for a meal.  I also greatly enjoy beer.  But I could see myself falling into a trap of “if I eat/drink this then I’ll have to do x at the gym to make up for it tomorrow.”  And I don’t want to be THAT person. 

There are a lot of things that sound pretty good to me in theory.  I’d like to try yoga.  I also think rock climbing looks like fun.  I’ve given some thought to getting a new bike.  In my mind I am the sort of person who gets up at the crack of dawn and goes to the gym and then comes back for a healthy breakfast before work. 

The fact of the matter is, I sleep as late as I can get away with, and I don’t need much of an excuse to eat a cream-filled long john and wash it down with a cappuccino.  I can find many, many reasons to skip a workout. 

On one hand I am totally fine with all of this.  On the other, I take one look at my mother and see where I’m headed 30 years down the road if I don’t change my ways. 

It’s a challenge to reconcile these two sides of my personality. 

 

–Mox

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If you’ve read this space for any length of time, you know that I am mother to one of the most obstinate creatures on earth.  Spawn really has no recourse in said stubbornness, since both of the kid’s parents are mules.  I try cut the kid some slack because of this, but when an irresistible force meets an immovable object, things sometimes get out of hand. 

Our latest ongoing struggle has been in trying to get the kid to swallow a pill.  It’s a mind-over-matter issue, as we all well know, and if you’d ever gotten choked on a Jolly Rancher candy, you’d probably be a bit reluctant to try swallowing a little pill, too.  Over the course of months on this particular medication, we’d had no success, and had resorted to opening the pill and mixing it with chocolate syrup.  Do not believe what Mary Poppins tells you — a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down in any sort of delightful way. 

Spawn’s new doctor changed the medication to one that can’t be opened and sprinkled, chewed, or crushed. So it was do or die time to get the kid to swallow a pill. 

Frankly, it would be easier to put socks on a cat. 

Because I am not possessed of the enormous amount of patience required to convince an eight-year-old with a fear of choking to swallow a tiny pill, I turned the whole operation over to my husband.  As it turns out, his storehouse of patience is only slightly bigger than mine.  For three weeks, I busied myself with other tasks around the house, one ear tuned to the Sisyphean drama taking place in my kitchen, as my husband coached, coaxed, cajoled, threatened, begged, yelled, pleaded, and otherwise ineffectually tried to get Spawn to swallow a pill.  I vowed to stay out of it.  No way was I going to get into that. 

When I got the new prescription, I got out one of the pills, and I put it alongside the old pill to compare sizes for Spawn.  The new pill is much smaller than the old one, and Spawn thought that maybe, possibly, it might be easier to get it down the hatch.  But no promises. 

So I did what any desperate parent would do:  I bribed my kid. 

Say what you want about bribery as an effective means of parenting, but used sparingly it can get the job done.  I told Spawn that I had bought a new Littlest Pet Shop pet, the kind that comes with a sticker, and would give it up only if  the pill got swallowed.  The kid has been heavily invested in saving up stickers to send off in order to receive a special, limited edition LPS pet.  But at 5 bucks a pop, I haven’t been too terribly interested in helping the kid along.  Unless, of course, there’s something in it for me. 

This morning I did not have the advantage of additional parental backup to encourage Spawn to swallow the pill.  But I sallied forth, somehow managed to get Spawn to actually put it in the mouth and take a big swig of liquid.  It took five tries, but finally it went down the hatch. 

That sound you heard this morning was the heavens opening and a chorus of heavenly host singing Alleluia. 

I hugged my sweaty, teary, shaking kid and said “I knew you could do it” and “I’m so proud of you” about a dozen times. 

“Um, Mom?  You said you had a Littlest Pet for me…?” 

Motivation.  Comes in all forms.  Is what I’m saying. 

I’m not foolish enough to think that we are over this hurdle once and for all.  But for me, who is admittedly a glass-half-empty sort of person, a tiny thing like this is a huge victory and just exactly enough to make my whole day. 

 

— Mox

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Sunny and 70-plus degree days will do that to a person, I’ve found. 

Hands down, spring is my favorite season.  The weather is glorious, and everything is in bloom, and the birds are getting down to business.  Every thought I’ve ever had just flies right out of my head. 

I always look forward to that first spate of sunny and warm days, because at long last my seasonal depression starts to lift.  Unfortunately this year it coincided with unfair and crushing news and I’m still trying to right the rocking boat of my emotions. 

The dogwoods are blooming all up and down my street.  Every spring, the entire length of my street is a profusion of pink and white dogwood blossoms and it is, in my estimation, the most beautiful street in America at that point. 

I’m getting there. 

 

— Mox

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On the way back from spring break last week, we skirted the edge of Birmingham, Alabama, causing both of my parents to gaze upon the downtown skyline and remark, “I wouldn’t want to live there.”

When you have chosen a life in a small town, and you are content with that life in that small town, you tend to make remarks of that nature whenever confronted with anything larger than your small town. Especially when you have attained an age that is on the downslope of 70. 

When you are a person in your 40’s and you have been driving such people over hill and dell, and those people are your parents, and they have gotten on your last nerve already that day, you take offense.  Because at heart you are still 15 years old.  And the dynamics of your relationship are always going to be arrested. 

I said, “Oh, I don’t know, I wouldn’t mind it.  I’d like to work for Southern Living magazine.” 

My dad said, “Then go and do it.” 

Which made me about half mad. 

You see, as an only child, I am part and parcel of my parents whether I like it or not.  I don’t have siblings to dilute the guilt trips or the expectations, no one to share the blame or help spread around the manure. 

As a young college graduate, I set my sights on finding a job in a mid-size city in the South, and focused on Nashville.  My parents, who had already endured my being away at college for three years, were aghast.  But I persevered.  I set up job interviews, and my mother insisted on driving with me down to these interviews, during which she did some shopping.  And then I got an offer.  Not much of an offer, admittedly, but it was a job, a first job, a paying-your-dues kind of job, and my parents… well, they freaked out.  They convinced me that there was no way I would ever be able to survive on the pittance that was being offered, that it was too big, too scary, for me.  And I naively believed it and turned the offer down.  And finally found a job in Podunk. 

So, I’ve been out of college for over 20 years now and staring down the barrel of what will be the rest of my career.  The job I have now, admittedly, has a short shelf life, as my boss will be retiring in a few short years.  And the industry is such that I just don’t know if I can hack it much longer.  I realize that in order to reinvent my career, I’ve got to take the skillset I’ve developed in almost 20 years on the job and apply it elsewhere.  Because I’ve got 30 more years of this before I can hang it all up and just go fishing. 

And NOW it’s okay with my parents that I leave town for a job? 

It’s one of those life lessons that you look at from something of a distance and say, “Wow.  I’m not going to do that to my kids.” 

 

— Mox

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