Sunday, July 27, 2014

Best Days

Optima dies...prima fugit. Translation: "The best days are the first to flee."

This particular theme of Willa Cather's My Antonia struck me last weekend as I finished re-reading the novel on our trip to the Iowa Games. It was almost eerie.

best days of our li-i-ves
Cole is a pretty happy kid. But when you set him in an environment with his buddies to play soccer, swim, and watch sci-fi movies... he's beyond euphoric. We could hardly convince him to eat a cheesburger–which is basically his fuel. He was too busy hanging with the guys.

When all the festivities came to that screech of a halt, and we found ourselves on the ride back home, I noticed Cole's glum expression.

"Sad, buddy?"

"I just didn't want it to end."

optima dies...prima fugit.

When I asked him the other day how he would've ranked the weekend, he told me he was waking up every day, wishing he were still at the Iowa Games. He said he's feeling nostalgic. Nostalgic. And he's twelve.

It certainly seems our memory tends to look back and pick out certain times of our lives as the best days. Now that my daughter is edging closer to entering college, I'm constantly telling her how this will most likely be the best time of her life. While it's been twenty-some years, I think back to Iowa City so fondly. The smell of the trees. The scampering squirrels. Walking by the Iowa River to class. I might've even attended a party or two.

The mind seems to do wonderful tricks, doesn't it? Because I'm almost certain my college days weren't quite so picture perfect. My mom might attest to a few teary phone calls. Being completely broke is usually not a lot of fun. And I'm pretty sure I didn't ace every class, like I intended. But I rarely think about those times. I usually divulge my memories with those times when my senses were most happily engaged.

With no disrespect to the estimable Willa Cather, (who actually quoted Virgil), I'm not so sure if the best days are the first to flee. I think it just feels like it at times. Just the other day, I was feeling pretty nostalgic about last summer...and those certainly aren't my first days! As a matter of fact, I'm really looking forward to a few other things (mainly trips) that I have planned for me and my family. Is it possible to be nostalgic about future events?

I was listening to a 90-year-old author on NPR the other day. She was asked about the favorite time of her life. She said her favorite decade was in her fifties. This response certainly could be different for everyone–especially when you're in your nineties. But as I think about how my life has evolved, I have to admit, I'd probably say the best time of my life is right now. Unless a time machine is invented, this is what I'll tell my kids they need to believe every day: The best time in your life needs to be now.
Buddies!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Embrace the Hills


Everyone said it. But deep down, I thought, not me though.

Ha Ha.

So the time had come when 'soft' wanted to make its presence known. Tummy. Triceps. Muffin tops. Yesterday, I'm like twenty-something, fallaciously worried about my weight. Then I wake up and I'm in my forties! And it did happened. I couldn't just walk twenty minutes and burn off the ice cream I ate last night. It was gonna take decidedly more effort...heart-pumping exercise and focused diet restraints. (It's no wonder all my friends are running marathons these days. It's not because they want to–it's because they HAVE to.)

Percy ponders the first hill.
I actually used to jog. Then we moved to the country with all these freaking hills, so I stopped. It was simply too hard. But now that I'm starting to appear like I'm in my first trimester (despite the hysterectomy), I determined to boost my workout by jogging. And tackle those freaking hills. And they are not just hills. They are freaking hills.

At first the inclines nearly killed me. Admittedly, I needed to stop a few times. But now, I'm proud to say, I can run the two miles non-stop. (Hey, no judging. Two miles is an awesome feat for me! I'm thinking of getting a bumper sticker that says "2 Miles.") And what's more? I embrace those hills. I go faster on those hills than any other part of the run.

Another part of my jog that was once an annoyance has now become a pleasing ritual. Mud stomping. Navigating mush feels a bit adventurous to this banker girl as she plows through some of the dirty parts of our country roads. I no longer care about the grit that sticks to my shoes. It's just wet dirt. It comes off. Wow. Isn't running the most awesome metaphor for life? Embracing hills! Tackling the mud!

I've been quite proud of my increased workout efforts lately. And I thought it timely, since I believe my son needed to re-focus his workout efforts with his current hiatus from soccer. Knowing his competitive spirit, I kept badgering him to a challenge.

"Come on! Just to the highway and back."

He was reluctant. Obviously, he knew I could beat him. One day, even though he tried to plead exhaustion, he agreed to a race. It was on.

Before we began the race, I coached him a bit–explaining he probably would need to pace himself.

"You might feel like starting fast. But trust me. These hills are killers."

 He nodded in a respectable deference.

So we took off. He began at my pace. Then after a short distance, he muttered, "This is way too slow." Then he darted away. And even though I calculated an eventual fade, it never happened. Nope.

The kid slaughtered me.

I'm still trying to find the life lesson here. Perhaps it's that...kids are, well, young. Dammit.

Twelve is a far cry from 44. And that baby got track.
Winner of the 2M Kramer Run.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Declaration of Independence

"You teach your kids to be independent."

I heard this often muttered by my mother as I was growing up. The words tend to ring in my ear a bit. As I think back on it, I believe Mom might have been speaking out loud more as an encouragement to herself than as a lesson for my young self. Because learning to become independent can hardly be as difficult as learning to let go.

My daughter is on a two-week visit to The Netherlands. I'm elated about this opportunity for her, since I, myself, have never been to Europe. But there's this gigantic pit in my stomach as I attempt to absorb her absence in the house. How will I ever survive her away in college?

When we bid her farewell at the airport, I couldn't even speak. I attempted some words, but only ended up choking up a few incoherent phrases. "Fun time. Really. Love you. Pieces." (The tears in her father's eyes didn't help.) Finally, I straightened up enough to hug her tightly and kiss her goodbye. I held strong as we watched her skip through security. Then I went straight to the restroom and sobbed.

It's not like I never saw it coming. Her independent soul, I mean. When she was young and my hubby was away, I'd attempt to coax her into cuddling with me in our bed. She'd politely decline. She's a girl who appreciates her space. Of course, my son made up for this in the next few years...I think we finally broke him of crawling in bed with us when he was eight. (Independence might be a trickier lesson for him, I'm guessing.)

Alex was always the one to wander off by herself. I remember once after fiddling with the baby in the stroller, I turned around to find I had lost her in the mall. Completely. After a few frantic minutes and shuffling through the crowd, I had found her at the entrance of the restroom. She blinked at me blankly, telling me she needed to go potty. Duh. She still wanders off to places. Still forgets to tell me where she's going.

But truthfully, I'm proud of my daughter: her wanderlust and resourcefulness. I hope she never loses her curiosity to explore and see the world. We told her if she wanted to go to Europe, she'd need to pay for it. And she did...(most of it anyway). I received an email from the mother of the family she's staying with. She informed me how kind and enjoyable Alex is...they'd just as soon keep her. This made me smile–not because they wanted to keep her. But because it reminded me of why there's a pit in my stomach. And that having her fly out of our nest might just be a bigger transition for me than her!

As we walked out of the airport, Cole said, "I hope I never have the opportunity to go to The Netherlands." Obviously, in his mind, he'd be obligated to go no matter what his preference. So. My son isn't too excited about leaving the lair. I realize his 12-year-old heart could change on the matter, but at this point, I felt a certain comfort with his admission.

After all, our basement is pretty sweet. And could be sweet for him for many years to come. And I'm just really learning about this independence stuff.

Away she goes...

Friday, June 6, 2014

On Daughters

On this day my daughter turns seventeen, I reflect on the benefits of having a daughter in a family with two other males.


  • Food: Not that my daughter feeds me, but now I have an ally with a palate that twists toward a cuisine not lusting after meat and potatoes. It's quite refreshing to hear those words, "I'm craving Thai" or "We should have a tomato and basil pizza."  Right on Sister, uh, I mean, Daughter.
  • Technology without Condescendence: I love my son. I do. And I realize his age of twelve puts him at the height of his digital career. But when I need to figure out how to finagle a FB page or edit a pic on Instagram, I'd rather work with the more forgiving attitude of my daughter–even if her ancient 17 years seem beyond the electronic prime. "Here Mom. Let me help you," she'll say with her sympathetic eyes and caring smile. It's like she's feeding me at a nursing home. Thanks Al. I appreciate it. #daughter'sareablessing
  • Fashion Critic: Having my own personal Stacey London has probably saved me several years of embarrassing fashion faux pas'. I've caught a few pics of myself when Alex was a toddler. Never will I forgive my hairdresser (whom I claim as a friend) for allowing one horrific, tightly-wound perm. Needless to say, my daughter has been my savior a few times before walking out the door. ("Mom! Untuck that shirt!" I guess high waisted fashion is for the youthful.) Although, I'm not sure I've done the same for her. There were a few trends she insisted upon sporting. Canary yellow tights...A year of nothing but Paramore t-shirts...the turquoise denim studded vest...okay, she never wore that...inside joke.
  • Pop Culture Briefings: Sometime in my thirties, I sort of forgot to keep track of pop culture. So, thank goodness I have my daughter to tell me about music not made in the 80's (hallelujah) and what screenplays are being translated from books (more importantly, who's starring in them). Otherwise, I might only be plaguing my brain with stuff like when interest rates are going to rise or the crisis in the Ukraine. Now, I can interrupt those serious issues with stuff like how the opening scene of Star Wars was filmed. Or what's Chelsea Handler's next gig. What is her next gig, Alex? 
  • Diffuser of Testosterone: The women in this house have been accused of being overly-sensitive, crying too much about puppies and kitties. We also tend to cry when the lack of male verbal filters kick in. However, I appreciate the fact my daughter and I can relate to each other about our emotions in this way. If no one noticed those animals on the Sarah McLachlin  commercial, maybe we'd never have saved Percy, our dog. Or gotten ourselves that evil cat that makes us laugh so much. So, it's nice to have two overly-sensitive souls in the house. It equalizes the action/sports/gun themes that tend to dominate the household.
Not only do I enjoy having a daughter in our house, I enjoy having my daughter in our house. Beyond a few housekeeping issues, she's smart, clever, and beautiful–in just about every way a person could be. She might be flinching at my horrible use of cliches, but I can't think of any other way to put it.

Here's to you my baby girl–God bless. I love you.
Hey Power Puff Girl.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Kindness


"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

-Maya Angelou


The words of the late and profound poetess have been humming through my mind lately...thinking how we can be so caught up in routine that we don't give any consideration to the impact of our actions.

  • Could I have offered a smile or a hello to the stranger in the grocery store?
  • Did I really need to be so smug in proving myself "right" to my husband, only to make him feel bad?
  • Did I say thanks to my kids for the chores they finished? Instead of muttering to myself about the parts they didn't?

My mother was telling me a story about a customer the other day. Okay, not a customer–a person who visited her shop. The lady wanted to purchase a baby gift (a hat specifically), but hated everything my mother presented her and expressed her dissatisfaction with gusto. (Now, my mother is a people-pleaser and was quite apologetic, but there was no pleasing the woman. She left the store, basically announcing her disgust with a few choice words. When Mom told me the story, I felt my skin prickle. Obviously, not everyone is going to be pleased with particular merchandise, but why the rudeness? My mother commented, "I would've reprimanded my three-year-old for acting that way." 

How sad for the woman. I'm guessing she's avoided by a few people because of her condescending nature. Perhaps she doesn't even know how she makes people feel. Luckily, most of my mother's stories in the shop or exactly the opposite of this. My mama is nice. People are generally happy in her store.

We tell our kids to study hard, pick up after themselves, keep up their practice in sports or instruments. But how much time do we devote to teaching them to offer kindness? 

Probably not enough.

Thanks Maya Angelou for your beautiful words.

R.I.P.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Soccer Mom Journal

I confess.

I initiate my fair share of harping at the kids. There's probably a reason they don't dash to greet me with open arms when I get home from work. My intent is always, always, always to greet them with a smile and ask them about their day. But inevitably, I become distracted by a mess in the kitchen or piles of sweatshirts, shoes and duffle bags on the floor. By the time I walk into the living room with the TV blasting of Spongebob, this idea of a good and patient mom has vanished into thin air.

Yet...I've been thinking lately.

I need to let my kids know something. I like adore how happy they are.

There are few families who will disagree about the insanity of the month of May. End of the year band and vocal concerts. Dance recitals. Graduation parties. Compound this with the soccer/baseball/track season, and one parent probably needs to resign from their day job in order to keep up. I hear some people bicker about how kids are too busy these days. But I'm not so sure. It seems, to me, the more involved kids are, the happier they become.

Case in point #1:

Cole has been a soccer aficionado since he was very young. (Luckily for us, he intends on playing in the Premier League someday which will make us very rich.) The kid has played soccer almost every season, fall and spring, since he was four. Now he intends to add cross country and basketball to his list of activities. (He's mentioned a career in the NBA as well as the soccer league things... Of course, he needs to learn to beat his mother at HORSE.) No matter, the kid likes to be busy and he definitely squirms with a zestful glee.

Case in point #2:

On a whim Alex decided to go out for soccer  this year. It's her first appearance since middle school. We questioned whether she could handle a sport after taking off so many years, then mix the intense sport into her whirl of other activities. Ultimately, we commend her on the move. She might not realize this, but her joy level has multiplied enormously. Yay for soccer.

I've come up with this most awesome logarithm:

Activity=endorphins, Endorphins=happy kids. Happy kids=Productive citizens (not necessarily NEAT citizens). Productive citizens=Bragging parents. Bragging parents=World Peace. Because everyone loves bragging parents, right?

Now that school, soccer, vocal, band, religious ed, and every other club known to man is finally winding down for the year, how will I ensure these kids will remain involved and happy?

Maybe they can clean the house! Or...more realistically, they can go outside and tackle each other.

Who won this one?




Thursday, January 2, 2014

For the Love of Animals

Our Percy

The other day we started to watch The Family—a movie about a mobster family who’s been put into a witness protection program. In one of the opening scenes the family is seen traveling along in the car with their German Shepherd. My son commented, “I hope nothing happens to the dog.” We all concurred. (Well, most of us did—not sure if Doug voiced an opinion.) Sure, I would've felt bad if any of the people got gunned down—and quite a few did. But I was most nervous about the pup. (Those movie writers...ingenious with pet scenery!)

Which brings me to my next, sad (non-fictional) story. I came home the other day and asked Doug how his day was. He said he found one of his cows dead in the creek. No! I exclaimed. A mommy? He nodded. But how? Must’ve been pushed in, lost her footing, he stated solemnly. A horrible death. Will her calf be alright,I asked. Doug said so, but I couldn’t help but feel sad for a cute little cow looking for his mother. Tears emerged. Doug said my daughter had the same reaction. No, I didn’t even know the cow. And I eat cows. But I can hardly stand to think of any creature suffering.

I've decided every day should be spent with just a tiny does of animal musings. It brings about a certain joy that humans can't replicate.

Here are some examples: 

  • Every morning I pass a beautiful horse on the way to work. It takes me less than five seconds to enjoy one of the most noble creations on earth. Sometimes I pass by and forget to look at the chestnut equine and my heart feels a little sad. 
  • Our wiry dog has gotten into the habit of snuggling up with Cole every morning after we let him in. Even though he’s probably creating a huge hairball mess on my son’s bed, it’s the most heartwarming scene you could imagine—seeing the mutt sidled up to a skinny twelve-year old boy with the hair of Medusa. Precious.
  • Even the self-absorbed cat gives us quite a few chuckles as it plans guerrilla attacks on a Terrier who could bite its head off in one taking. Oh the joys of violent animal outbursts.
Anyway, when Doug and I began our family, we definitely weren't on the same page when it came to pets. He absolutely said, "No pets in the house." That lasted about six months. Pretty soon a kitten showed up. Then there was a dog. Now we're on our second dog...and we've had several cats come and go. But I can't imagine our household without a little animal animosity. Because even when there is some "human" tension in the air, animals always find a magical way to dissolve it.