Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

One is a very odd number.

Pretty is.

February 23, 2011 7 comments

At 53, try as she might, she cannot remember a single day in her life when she felt attractive. Never mind pretty. Beautiful is straight out of the question. And, at 53 and fairly well-worn by life and circumstances, that day is not likely to dawn anytime soon.

Sometimes, when she is down (which is a lot) or tired (all the time) images of herself appear and move slowly in her mind, cycling through like a Powerpoint presentation.

There’s one from the day she was on the Poopdeck Paul kids’ TV show at age six. She wanted to wear her pink taffeta party dress but her mom said, “no, wear your blue plaid skirt and matching sweater.” So she did. Then she spent the entire time on the show – which featured a bowling competition – watching the other little girl competitors in their party dresses and staring at her own, plain outfit in the TV monitors. She bowled horribly and lost, then began to sob on live TV when Poopdeck Paul himself handed over the first place trophy and all the prizes to another girl who stood there smiling and victorious in HER pink taffeta party dress.

In another image, she is a gangly 10-year-old – all legs – getting her hair cut at a fancy Detroit salon. Her aunt had her own, personal hairdresser – an elegant, perfectly coiffed, silver-haired gentleman named “Prince,” as he was both formerly AND formally known. His  real name was Prentice. He owned his own shop – with his much older wife – yet he actually drove to his customer’s home, picked up the aunt in his ruby-red Cadillac, drove back to the shop and performed his once weekly magic on her hair.

That late summer day, she rode along with the aunt for her own hair appointment. She enjoyed the drive to the shop in the red convertible – loved the sun and breeze on a summer day, loved listening to the grown-up talk in the front seat as the Prince and the Aunt chatted and laughed, excited about getting her hair “done” at a real salon! Two hours later, she sat miserably the  back seat, quiet and unhappy, peeking up every other minute to look through red-rimmed eyes at her hair, as reflected in the rearview mirror. Prince had clipped her thick, frizzy brown hair incredibly short – Audrey Hepburn short – all around, leaving a half-inch row of bangs – Moe Howard of the Three Stooges-style – across the front of her head.

It wasn’t long and blonde and straight and silky the way she had imagined that a Prince could magically transform her hair. It was ugly and thin and short – scalped, nearly – and made her head look unbelievably tiny while at the same time forcing her body to look enormous in comparison. She spent the weekend in her bed, sobbing and hiding her head under a pillow, wondering if she could get by with wearing a stocking cap until she turned 14.

She couldn’t. Her bushy, unmanageable hair is far longer in the next image – taken at 14, the night of her eighth-grade graduation. It’s an image that exists in a real Kodak moment that rests somewhere in the bottom of a pile of old family photographs, hidden away for decades. It’s a fuzzy, Polaroid picture her brother snapped of her as she opened a graduation gift from their mother. The gift is a Louisville slugger baseball bat (she always was an avid Detroit Tigers fan). In the image, she is grinning broadly and thrusting the new bat toward the camera. Her hair is horrible – frizzy and out-of-place – but the rest of her is even worse.

She is wearing a pink knit dress adorned with gold buttons down the front and tied – somewhat unfortunately – around her pudgy waist. The dress is a size 18 to accommodate her 180-pound, body that is already riddled with stretch marks. Her rectangular, black plastic framed eyeglasses, which she must wear all the time just to make her way through her fuzzy world, are like huge scabs resting on her broad, blotchy, sweaty cheeks. In the photo, she looks like a mentally challenged 40-year-old as she brandishes the gift bat that could, in an instant she thinks, turn into a weapon to use against the boys who moo and bark at her every day as she walks down the street to school.

Just a week before graduation, her eighth-grade class had taken a day trip to a local amusement park. It was on an island in the Detroit River – Boblo Island – and the only way to get there was on a huge boat. A boy who was her good friend – the one who understood her humor and her intelligence and love for sports and her disdain for most people – said he would ride all the rides with her once they got to the island. Did she mind, though, that he really couldn’t let anyone see them together on the island? That they’d have to ride rides together “by accident” because he had promised Cindy – blonde, pretty, skinny Cindy who wore blue eyeshadow and showed off her tan thighs in white, short-shorts – that he would be her boyfriend that day and hold hands with her.

She couldn’t argue. What could she say? How could she compete? She was fat and pasty white. Her hair was kinky and frizzy in the early summer heat. She hadn’t worn shorts in public in four years. Sweat rolled down her face, diverting around the acne pimples and scars that dotted that sad landscape. The sweat stung her eyes and dripped onto the legs of her stiff jeans – her size 18 jeans. Burned into the image from that day is Cindy, flipping her long, pretty blonde hair and covering her lovely blue eyes with cool sunglasses. Suddenly, there is the boy – her friend – striding toward Cindy and quickly putting great distance between himself and his friend. She watches as they go off, hand-in-hand, whispering and laughing. Then she gets off the boat with his apologies ringing in her ears and sits alone on a bench for the next seven hours until it is time for the boat ride back home.

Other images flash by as her brain clicks faster through the Powerpoint. A humid summer day at age 15 and she is dressed in a bulky navy sweater and white jeans imprinted with large red and blue squares. Her curly hair is flat and dull, pasted down on her head with some sort of gel.  Her fat cheeks are imprinted with the marks from her glasses that no longer fit her face at all. She looks miserable and she is.

Here’s one from her first day on a college campus. She lumbers across the campus – alone – feeling ugly and out-of-place among scores of thin, pretty young women all looking like cast members from Charlie’s Angels. Dressed entirely in brown polyester, she’s looking more like a middle-aged cafeteria lady than a college coed. Sloppy Joes anyone?

There’s another from her wedding day: she is not a wedding gown person and that day – especially that day – she should have known it. She had dieted for months and was down to a size 12 but in her off-white, plain satin gown with a short veil held by a clumsy floral wreath…she still looked like a sad and graceless spinster trying to fool too many people. Shades of Miss Havisham.

There are many other slides in this Powerpoint. Shots of her, much younger, spending miserable days on the beach dressed like all the other old women while the tan, thin 20-somethings frolicked nearby. Jealous glances at Facebook photos of the cute new girlfriends – with their straight teeth, athletic bodies and smooth hair – of old boyfriends and classmates. Uncomfortable afternoons trapped in business meetings wearing last year’s business suit – fitting a little too tightly and bearing ragged cuffs and sagging shoulder pads.

She hardly ever looks at the text in the Powerpoint. Still, sometimes, because she is a writer and a thinker and can no longer bear to look at any more photos, certain words will catch her eye and draw her attention away.

Like this, from a love letter written too many years too late: “You are a wonderful person, full of love, joy, humor and beauty.  You can make a room light up when you come in.  There are people who literally owe you their lives.  You are one of a kind.”

Or this, whispered just yesterday: “I cannot imagine not being with you for the rest of my life.”

Or this emailed from a former coworker and friend: “You are brilliant and funny and competent…maybe too competent for your colleagues to understand. And sometimes, you have to swallow your pride and let them think THEY came up with idea. You can do that because you are an amazing person.”

Yeah, she’s not pretty. Never will be. But when she reads the fine print, she guesses that, in the end, she’ll do in a pinch.

With apologies to Hallmark, St. Valentine, and Corinthians…

February 14, 2011 2 comments

I used to think that I knew what love was.

I knew it as a naive, dewy-eyed pre-teen who had watched her parents’ loving and way-too-short marriage through the eyes of an 11-year-old…which is how old I was when my father died.

From watching Ann and Patrick O’Connor, I thought love was a husband who accepted his wife’s chronic asthma and bookended his long workdays spent outside toiling as a forester for the City of Detroit with stints making breakfast for his four children and later, long into the evening, scrubbing dozens of pairs of kids’ dirty socks by hand on a washboard because that’s the way his mother used to do it.

Watching them, I thought love was when Pat gently teased Ann about her “elephant” pajamas as she stood ironing school uniform shirts and blouses early one morning.  She looked less than sexy as she stood over the board, sweat dripping down her neck, her bed-head hair poking out in all directions, her baggy pajamas, covered with large, printed elephants balancing on orange circus barrels. Yet as he got ready to go to work, he walked to her side, whispered in her ear, gave her a long, deep kiss, then reached down and gently squeezed her backside, before walking out the door whistling.

I watched this love scene from behind the bedroom door, unwilling to interrupt their most private moment, but wanting more than anything to be right there, snuggled between them, soaking up their love like the thirstiest of sponges.

I thought I knew what love was, as I saw them, night after night, stretched out on their matching vinyl couches in the living room, watching TV as we kids sat on the floor, and knowing that when we went to bed, they’d pull out sheets and pillows and sleep on those same couches (because they never had their own bedroom in our home). They’d watch Johnny Carson together and share their only “alone time” of the long day.  That’s what love was, I told myself.

And I thought I knew what love was when I watched them have the only “fight” I can ever remember them having: Mom wanted to go to a Jerry Vale concert in Windsor at the Top Hat Supper Club. Dad said they couldn’t afford it. She put her head down and wept, quietly, while he put his arm around her and told her he understood her disappointment, but that he just couldn’t change his mind about spending money they didn’t have. That was it. No ill will. No angry words. No blame. No resentment. Just sadness and then resolution, and then, moving forward to another day. Together.

For Ann and Pat, it wasn’t about money, or travel, or gifts, or “working out” together, or “date night” or worrying about what top college we kids would get into, or stressing how much they had in their IRA…because they never even owned their own home. For Ann and Pat, it was about the sheer joy they found in simply being with one another…no matter what. To put it simply, Pat and Ann were, as a dear friend of mine recently said about his own love life, “dumbass happy.”

So, since all I knew of love back was filtered by the brain of an 11-year-old, when I became  an older-but-still-naive bride who did not relish the pomp and circumstance of a big wedding but had one anyway, I thought that “love” was pretty easy: all we had to do was follow what was written in the 1 Corinthians passage that was read at our wedding. It was a neat, little roadmap for a marriage, all wrapped up in a few beautiful lines.

You remember:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

And I thought, based on everything I was sure I knew about love, that it would be a cinch to make that happen in my marriage.

It wasn’t.

We tried. We really did. But love wasn’t always patient. It wasn’t always kind. It didn’t always bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things. And in the end, it didn’t endure all things. And when that happens, one tends to forget all about what one thinks love is.

Since our 20-year marriage ended nearly four years ago, I like to think I’ve relearned a bit more about what love…is.

Love is cooperative. It works out its problems together. It doesn’t say, “I don’t know what to say and I’m not going to counseling but you can if you want.”

Love is flexible. It accepts moodiness and the tendency to spend too much, to worry too much, to whine too much.

Love is dependable. It shows up when it says it will, does what it promises, and hangs around no matter how many unpleasant, nasty, miserable and scary things life conjures up.

Love is tolerant. It sticks around even when the other person is overweight and unattractive, or sometimes has messy hair, unshaven legs  and a fairly loud snore. No matter what, Love sees the beautiful soul and loving heart beneath the elephant pajamas.

Love doesn’t quit. It stays around, no matter how tough the going gets. It works long and hard to renew itself, to find every reason in the world to keep going…and no reason whatsoever to throw in the towel.

Love  is thoughtful. It is the husband in a 50-year marriage asking the intensive care nurse for a tweezers so he can pluck the stray hairs that have grown on his wife’s chin since she fell into a coma.

Love is fearless. It talks out its fears and weaknesses and seeks to learn and grow from them and never let them get in the way of living life to its fullest.

Love is deep; it is never superficial. Love is listening to the same story for the 1,000th time. Love is listening to whining, bitching and complaining…and thanking God that you are able to still hear the other person’s voice. Love is truth…and sometimes, its little white lies that make the other person feel better at exactly the moment she needs it. Love is acceptance…and talking the unacceptable things through to a resolution. Love is a partnership in which both parties have equal footing…even when one of them needs help getting up the stairs. Love is a fairly young man understanding that his wife’s devastating illness has robbed her of a normal life, so he spends every waking hour making her laugh and tending to her every need.

And mostly what love is, is really, finally for once and for all, understanding that in the end, love is simply all about being dumbass happy.

Faith: working without a net

February 6, 2011 3 comments

Years ago, my second cousin died in an awful, tragic car accident when he was a senior in high school.  As you would expect, the young man’s funeral was unbearably sad. Hundreds of stricken teenagers and our entire extended family – in shock.

At the end of the funeral Mass,  his mom –  my first cousin – her husband and six other children walked up the aisle of the church, following the coffin. They were crying, as one might expect. The amazing thing was they were also all smiling – broadly. Through the shock and grief they leaned heavily on one another…but more importantly, on their faith. Each one of them seemed to have an absolute, complete, unshakable faith that this beautiful young man, despite dying far too young, had gone to a better place.

And although it sounds awful, I envy them. I’ve never experienced deep faith in that way… not that day nor any day since.

My mother had complete faith in God. Despite a terrible chronic illness that robbed her of a “normal” adult life, she kept the faith. Even after losing her second child in a premature birth, she kept the faith. And when she was four-and-a-half months pregnant with her sixth child – at age 44 – and her husband of only 15 years, my dad, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm, she kept the faith.

In fact, it was even stronger. The night before Dad’s funeral, with dozens of relatives roaming around trying to “help” and her four children staggering around the house in a mixture of grief, disbelief and utter terror over losing their father, Mom lay in her bed, trying not to have a miscarriage.

The stress of losing her husband and preparing to bury him had taken its toll. Mom was bleeding and her pregnancy was in danger. The family doctor had told her to remain on bedrest…even advised that if she wanted to keep the baby, she needed to seriously consider missing Dad’s funeral.

Mom listened politely to the doctor, who was also her good friend. She had some cousins put bricks under the foot of her bed, propping her feet up, and did what the doctor said, for the most part. Then, throughout that sweltering night, while the rest of us slept, she prayed the Rosary, talking to God, to her husband, and to Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. She literally WILLED that baby back up into a safer spot in her womb and trusted that God would make sure it stayed there. And in the morning, Mom went to Dad’s funeral. Four months later, a healthy baby Patty was born.

Yes, my mother had faith. She was faith personified. Unfortunately, she died before she could share her secret with me.

How does one believe when belief seems impossible? How does one trust when disappointment is a daily occurrence? How does one let go – completely – of trying to control a situation that by its very nature is out of control?

Despite attending weekly Mass, reading the New Testament whenever I can, and consulting often with a priest who happens to be a good friend – and hell, even after teaching fifth grade catechism for a decade, I still wrestle with the concept of faith. I still have a hard time believing what I can’t see. A hard time trusting in what I can’t control. And a hard time being assured that there is a reason for everything and that somehow, some way, things will turn out okay, even when many times…they haven’t.

I’ve had a few tests of my faith (such as it is). I was tested at 11 when I found my dad unconscious on the bathroom floor. And again at 15 when I was diagnosed with a chronic pain and inflammatory disorder and later that year, when Mom was rewarded for her lifelong faith by getting to discuss it face-to-face with God.

My faith has been tested a dozen times more since then and I still feel weak and frightened, as  battle-scarred as I’ve been by life’s usual challenges.  At 53, it bothers me that I am still seeking answers, that I feel that I am always walking on eggshells with God, and that each day I feel the stomach-twisting fear that I am convinced must go hand-in-hand with a lack of true faith.

I am not sure I know what the answer is. Right now, I am struggling with another of life’s many challenges that seem to be around every corner. It’s a situation that demands ultimate faith. And I am…well, still a little weak on the concept.

Because every time I remember my cousins and their ultimate show of faith…and every time I hear my mother’s voice in my head assuring me that everything would be all right…all I can think of are the Flying Wallendas.

You remember the famous aerial artist Wallenda family act that toured the world?  They thrilled thousands of fans around the world for decades, entertaining people by soaring high above the ground, doing amazing, fancy tricks on tightropes and swings, flying through the air, performing, death-defying, dangerous highwire acts without a net. Kind of like I feel like on many of my days.

And we all know what happened to the Wallendas, don’t we?

Things I’ll never do before I die

September 23, 2010 2 comments

I watched The Bucket List recently for the 30th-something time. Other than the fact that I have a huge old guy “thing” for both Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson (yeah, I like the bad boys) that watching this movie satisfies, I always come away from that flick with a new bucket list of my own.

Only on my latest list, the things aren’t what I WILL do before I die…they are what I will be sure NEVER to do before I kick the bucket.

Public dancing of any sort: waltz, salsa, ballroom, tango, country line, swing, popping, waving, tutting or even the merengue. It doesn’t look good on Margaret Cho or David Hasselhoff and it sure as hell won’t look good on me.

Drive a SMART Car. There isn’t anything intelligent about sitting on top of a blender motor, wrapping oneself in aluminum foil, and then driving 65 MPH on the freeway.

Dye my hair blonde. It’ll never happen because if it did, in my mind’s eye, I’d see myself as the trim, lovely, ultra-cool, Tippi Hedren as she starred in Marnie, circa 1964. In reality, I’d look like Marilyn Monroe, as she starred in her autopsy photos, circa 1962.

Visit the Great Wall of China. So, to visit the Great Wall, I have to fly 13 hours, take a five-hour bus ride from the nearest nice hotel, walk all day and then take photos of a rock wall while being jostled by 1,000,000 other visitors and the locals, all angling for the best shot. Hmm. There’s a reason people build walls: they want everyone to stay on the other side. Consider me compliant.

Allow my grandchildren to call me pet names. Nothing says disgustingly-cute-yet-disrespectful like hearing a little kid pipe up, “I love you, MeeMaw!” Or, “Pop-Pop, can you give me a horsey-back ride?” Ugh. If I had ever called my Grandfather Ryan “Pop-Pop” to his face, I would have been spitting Chiclets for the rest of the day. Note to future grand-offspring: call me Peggy (or Grandma, if you must) if you want to stay in the will (and keep your teeth).

Eat kale. It’s green. It’s slimy. It has loads of vitamins and minerals and absolutely no taste. Pass me the garden hose. I’d rather eat that.

Watch the “Matrix.” I hate migraines. That movie is a $63 million migraine waiting to happen to me. Not enough Advil in the world to ease that cinematic pain in the brain.

Cheer for the New York Yankees. No way. I’d rather die. Or eat kale. Same difference.

Let a mime entertain me. The “work” of mimes, clowns and any incarnation of the Blue Man Group or Cirque du Soleil is “entertainment” in the loosest form of the word. I despise nonsensical, in-your-face entertainment – the calling card of mimes and clowns. Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil take that freakishness to a whole new level: bizarre, pointless, un-funny intrusions of my space bubble emanating  from grimacing, writhing, blue- or snakeskin-painted bodies. It is my long-held belief that Cirque du Soleil escaped from the LSD-soaked mind of Dr. Timothy Leary. I hope someone will taser it and send it back where it belongs.

Join a booster or fan club. Have you ever MET me?

Eat Turducken. Although the Food Network cooking shows make it look fun and tasty, this quaint little dish – consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed into a de-boned turkey – just can’t be on any of my menus. Let’s just say I make it a policy never to eat anything that has the word “turd” in it.

Tweet. Oh, sure, my workplace is connected to Twitter. I am not. People who have egos bloated enough to need to constantly remind others of every minute detail of their lives are the people who put the “twit” in Twitter. Besides, if I am ever doing something as fascinating and unbelievable as eating kale and watching the Matrix while wearing my Yankee cap and dancing the cha-cha on the Great Wall of China…I’ll be dead.

And I’ll need a helluva lot more than 140 characters to “tweet” about that.

I had this friend…

September 22, 2010 6 comments

When I was in the sixth grade, my best friend Margaret Kearney moved to California. I was devastated. I was shy and introverted and didn’t make friends easily…but Margaret was my true friend.

She was little and pixie-like and fun and lively and we hung out together after school every day. We whispered our little girl secrets, talked about crushes on boys, giggled a lot, played baseball whenever we could, and sang Monkees songs until we were hoarse. Best of all, we had a special bond that came from sharing our weird, old-lady name: Margaret. Then, she was gone.

So, that year, when I was 12, my mom soon tired of me moping around and made me call up other classmates to set up what we would now call play-dates. Back then, it was just a call to see if these “friends” would like to come over and hang out. I called three people. They all refused. I cried for two days. “That’s what I get for trying,” I yelled at my mom, who probably wondered how she had gotten me, a painfully shy, shrinking wallflower, in the midst of the other three rambunctious funseekers that were her other children.

Making friends hasn’t gotten a lot easier for me in the intervening 41 years. I have what can best be described as a “difficult” personality. I am rather direct and, some might say, I have a slight tendency toward the negative. In reality, I am a realist with lots of real-life experience in what’s real. Really.

Still, I sometimes envy groups of women I see out together enjoying “girls night out,” a special “friends” ritual to which I have never been invited. I’ve missed out on things like “girl talk,” and “playing cards with the girls.” When I was married, I had some work friends; together, we had no “couples” friends at all.  Even today, I am a little jealous of couples who dine with, travel with and can count on their close, “couples” friends to invite them to barbecues and bonfires and football games.

Sometimes, when I watch these friends couples, I feel a little like Barbara Stanwyck in the weepy old movie Stella Dallas: standing in the rain, wearing a cheesy dress, mascara running down my teary face, outside the restaurant window looking in at the shiny, happy couples enjoying the high life with their friends.

So, why don’t I have many friends?

Well, I am definitely not a “hope, love, faith, bubbles, rainbows, puppies, kitties, pink ribbons and Care Bears” kind of gal. I call a spade a spade…and a moron, a moron. I can be moody. I swear and complain and am sort of a Glass-Half-Empty-Old-Milk-Ring-on the-Bottom-of-the-Glass-Not-To-Mention-A- Big-Chip-On-The Rim-of-the-Glass kind of person. Some people find that off-putting.

And some people don’t. I like to call them my friends. And I have had friends.

I had this friend…

…who wrote a story about me in which she described my personality as “navy blue…with flashes of orange.” A shy girl, she also stood up in a high school class meeting and told the other juniors to be nice to me and help me out after I returned to school after a year-long illness. We shared a love of baseball and the Detroit Tigers, of books and movies, and of relishing our status as “nerds.” Never invited to a prom, we nevertheless dressed up in prom dresses and posed for prom pictures with our invisible dates. We had many happy times together…went on road trips across the country…drove to our shared urban university together every day for the first two years of college. Then she moved on…to grad school, marriage and a child, and a job a two-hour drive from where I lived, worked and had my own family. I’ve only seen her five or six times since 1992. I miss her a lot.

I had this friend…

…who loved hockey as much as I do. We played hockey on a women’s club team. We went to Red Wings’ games together for years. We traveled to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. We got all dressed up for the traditional New Year’s Eve Red Wings’ game every year for a decade. We got hilariously drunk together at parties on summer weekends at my sister’s house. She and I babysat a lot…watching the children of friends and relatives because we loved babies but didn’t have any of our own. We laughed at world’s skinny, pretty princesses together. We went on crash diets together with the unspoken desire of being skinny, pretty princesses ourselves…just for one day. It was one of my life’s most special moments when she called me to be present at the emergency C-section when she gave birth to her daughter. Then and now, I’d trust her with my life. She’s busy with her own life now, owning a business and taking care of her mom, her husband and daughter. I haven’t hugged her in two years and that hurts my heart.

I had this friend…

…who made me laugh the first day we met. I was wearing my usual tough-chick-doesn’t-need-anybody-screw-you-buddy look on my face when we were introduced. He was the new reporter/photographer at the weekly rag where I was the sports writer. Ten years older, he was witty and fun and just two hours after we met, he shattered my tough-girl facade when he read aloud a news story about a famous young starlet who had just been married. “To whom,” I said, feigning interest. “Leo Durocher,” he shot back, not missing a beat. A friendship was born.

Over the years, my favorite U.S. Marine and I had lots of interesting times: writing comedy scripts, poking fun at the world and spending too many Friday nights drinking rum and coke at the local drive-in, watching awful horror movies until 2 a.m., and then retiring to his house (full blessings from his wife and kids) to eat pizza, finish off the rum, laugh at Monty Python reruns and watch the sun rise. He’s divorced now and lives alone back in Michigan, working doggedly toward retirement. He emails me every now and then…but hasn’t been around in about a decade to give me a real belly laugh. I miss that and I miss him.

I had this friend…

…who seemed like he could see right into my soul. He’s told me things about myself that I never knew and it turned out that he was mostly right. Ten years younger and from a very different background, he was smart and funny and “got it.” Hanging out with him was exciting and dangerous and flat-out fun…things I could never be all by myself. 

We’ve laughed and bantered, argued sports and debated religion and guzzled copious amounts of pricey wine together. We’ve watched tons of our favorite sports, navigated many rough roads together at work, and had a blast traveling on business and coming back with the stories to prove it. He listened to me sing my one and only karaoke song – appropriately enough, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” – and told me that when I sang, he could “hear my inner teenager.” We’ve danced to Sinatra in his living room at midnight on a school night and sang Kid Rock in his car on the way to the Tigers’ game. He has shared a shoulder while I cried about my children’s challenges. And I’ve held his hand while he cried about never finding his true love or real peace in his life. We’ve grown apart recently – I don’t really understand why- and it’s awkward. I miss him terribly.

But I do sense a pattern. And, thinking about these friendships then and now, I suddenly realize that once again, there’s a big hole in my heart where a good friend would fit perfectly. I wonder what Margaret Kearney is doing these days.

Cheeseburgers scream. Cupcakes only whisper…

August 25, 2010 4 comments

It occurred to me today that I have been overweight for nearly 40 of my 53 years on Earth. I can say this without feeling too awful about that fact because I just lost 27 pounds in two months.  


I first gained weight at age 12 when my dad died, my mom had her fifth child, and our grieving but very busy family fell into some bad eating habits (each of us eating a huge cheeseburger and fries from the old Red Barn restaurant every Friday night was probably ill-advised…as were the Instant Mashed Potato Flakes served at nearly every meal).   

I remember weighing about 90 pounds when I began seventh grade, a year after Dad died of a brain aneurysm. By the end of that school year, I weighed 170 pounds and every cookie I ate was because I was a lonely little girl looking to fill the very big void her daddy left.   

As you may have guessed, the rest of my middle and high school years were an ugly blur of fat jokes that continued on through college and well into my 20s. Even today, my closet has three full sets of clothes, complete with labels: Pretty Princess Skinny, Not-Doing-So-Well-But-Only-One-Chin, and Moving into Muu-Muu Territory…Hide the Fragile Chairs.   

I have gained and lost enough weight over the years to construct a couple dozen regular sized adult human beings from scratch. There are probably 10,000 diets and I’ve tried every one. I joined Weight Watchers at age 13 and again at the ages of 29, 35, and 47. The story was the same: immediate weight loss success followed immediately by a return to poor eating habits and no exercise followed by immediate weight gain. I am obviously not Weight Watchers material. Like Groucho Marx,  I wouldn’t belong to a club that would have me as a member.   

I tried all the geographically related weight loss programs: LA, South Beach, Scarsdale, Shangri-La, Sonoma and Mediterranean. Sadly, I never got anywhere with these plans.   

Then there were the funny-sounding-name diets: Breatharian (stop breathing and weigh nothing in months!), Elemental (eat all the dirt you want and never count calories!), Fatfield (no, they don’t remove your fat and take it to a field), Flexitarian (I think the colon was involved and not in any fun way), Fruitarian (works for a while but there are only so many kumquat one can eat), Hackers (cough up the calories!), Hallelujah (“this one will never work, fatty,” a chorus sang in my ear), Inuit (you’ve gotta eat blubber to lose blubber!), Israeli Army diet (eat, Bubala, eat), and the Pescetarian diet (something was definitely fishy about that one).   

Even now there are 47 different “diet” cookbooks on the shelf in my kitchen. There are another two dozen “This is the last diet book you’ll ever buy!” diet plan books on my library shelf. Someday, I’ll light them all on fire and grill up some nice marinated beef kabobs – served with a side of garlic pine nut couscous – for dinner.   

This time, a serious illness earlier this summer jump-started my weight loss. A real lack of appetite since I got sick continues to plague me…or save me…I haven’t figured out which it is.  When I felt better, I devised a “plan” and continue to stick with it; it’s ingenious, really.   

In fact, I ought to get a patent. It’s complicated, but try to follow me on this: see, you actually just count calories and watch what you eat. One sensible serving of your food choices at each meal…very minimal snacking…make sure it adds up to only 1,200 calories in a day, lots of veggies and fruit, lean proteins, hardly any bread, not much fat or sugar, eat mostly whole foods and drink lots of water.

The real key (and I won’t charge any extra for this innovative tip) is to actually get my ass up off the chair and go outside and walk a couple of miles every day, or ride my exercise bike and then lift small weights. (And shhhh: I do it EVERY day. What a concept!).   

I have a lot of weight left to lose: 60 pounds or so more until I am at the healthiest weight recommended for my height, age and lifestyle (it does occur to me that I wouldn’t have to work this hard if I was an 8-foot-tall hummingbird).   

The best part of it all is that, for the most part, I’ve stopped hearing the voices. See, for years, food has talked to me. Seriously. And I always listened to food. Listening to food was  prettier, easier, smarter, sexier and lots more fun than hearing the gospel according to Dr. Atkins or Jenny Craig.

“We’re here at Josef’s Bakery…right on the bottom shelf,” called the double-chocolate cookies. “Please come buy us and eat us right away,” wailed the flaky, buttery, spinach-feta croissant at another Grosse Pointe pastry shop. “You haven’t stopped by in AGES to eat one of us,” shrieked the grilled cheeseburgers as they sat, dripping gloriously delicious fat while cooking to an even “medium well” on the grill at The Irish Coffee bar.   

The cupcakes are the worst. They only whisper…but they never stop. They started calling to me 40 years ago when Floyd The  Bakerman would bring a six-pack of chocolate frosted deliciousness from Sanders’ Bakery directly to our house – and put it on our tab!   

They continued their sensuous whisper to me from the freezer case at Kroger and they never shut up even when I would jam a carton full of Sara Lee chocolate heaven into my purse – my purse for God’s sake! – to hide them from my family and eat them all by myself.   

Even now, from the incredible Confetti Cupcakes in Issaquah – some six miles away – I can hear their siren song: “Come on, Peggy. Just one. Just one tasty, delicious chocolate squiggle cupcake,” they whisper quietly. “Only a few hundred calories. And no one but you will know.”   

Yes, food after food from place after place and year after year joined their voices until the sounds swelled into an incredibly deafening crescendo that pounded my ears and assaulted all my senses: “Eat us! Scarf us down! We’re delicious! You can’t just walk away!”  

And until now, I never could.   

I feel pretty good about what I’ve accomplished and not-too-bad about what is yet to come. I know I have to work on this every day for the rest of my life. My sister Claire did it: she lost 100 pounds by watching what she ate and writing it all down for a year…and riding her stationary bike to the best place on the planet: freedom from fat.   

It won’t be easy, I know. After all, a waist is a terrible thing to mind.

Taking a swim in Lake Me

August 8, 2010 3 comments

I once was on a team of private school administrators assembled for the purpose of interviewing a candidate for a newly created, executive position at our school.

The female candidate was a professional educator with many years experience. She had all the appropriate responses to our questions. She even had some of us dabbing tears from our eyes when she recounted her story of how she had spent the previous two and a half years nursing her beloved husband through his final illness.

“And now, “she said, perking up and brightening considerably. “It’s time to get back into my life. It’s time for me to do what I want to do,” she said, sounding far more cheerful than called for at that moment. “It’s time to take a swim in Lake Me!”

Shuddering ever so slightly, I closed my notebook and smiled a polite smile at our candidate. Although she was eventually hired (with mixed results some two years down the road), it wasn’t by my recommendation.

Take a swim in Lake Me?

I suppose it’s not surprising these days that so many people elect to put themselves first ahead of others, to worry about their own needs and wants ahead of those of the larger community, and in general, adopt a certain attitude of pride over deciding to be “selfish and worry first about me!”  I’m just a little amazed that so many people feel the need to share with others the somewhat embarrassing news of their deep and abiding love for and rededication to…themselves.

Oh, we all know people like this. We ARE people like this sometimes:  “Sorry I haven’t (fill in the blank) called…listened…cared… said I love you and really meant it…paid child support on time…acknowleged paternity…always taken the high road…was honest on taxes…took good care of aging parents…admitted I was wrong…apologized…forgiven you…treated you with respect…been kind for no reason other than it might be the right thing to do.”

And we usually have a million excuses: “I was (fill in the blanks): tired…sick…bored…overworked…underpaid…found someone who was prettier/sexier/skinnier/wealthier than you…scared of your “baggage”…worried about whether it would make me look bad…needed the money…wanted a promotion…”in a bad place”…in a good place and knew that you’d bring me down…didn’t have time…didn’t have energy…felt like taking care of myself first…couldn’t help myself…didn’t know what to say.

But that’s where we are in the world today. And maybe here’s how we got there: Dr. Jean Twenge writes in her book, Generation Me, “Generation Me (those born in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s) has never known a world that put duty before self, and believes that the needs of the individual should come first. This is not the same thing as being selfish – it is captured, instead, in the phrases we so often hear: “Be yourself,” “Believe in yourself,” and “You must love yourself before you can love someone else.”

Uh, okay. So when there is no one left except those born in the “Me” generation and those that came after, will the concepts of selflessness and sacrifice die along with the rest of the
Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers and the Generation Xers?

Who wants to settle for second when you’ve told since birth that you deserve first?  Why would anyone who hears, “believe in yourself” so many times it becomes an audible drumbeat of his own ego ever believe in anyone else? And is there ever enough room for two people  in a relationship with someone who “has to love themselves before they can love anyone else”?

It’s the kind of world in which a LeBron James can easily do what he did to the city of Cleveland without thinking of the fallout, or caring about it after the fact – and even celebrating his selfishness in on a prime time special. It’s the kind of place where Wall Street geniuses destroy hundreds of thousands of lives, get bailed out and then give themselves bonuses the next year. It’s the kind of place where a big oil executive can actually say – out loud and to the entire world – that his company’s careless, reckless and profit-driven murder of 11 human beings, the forever destruction of nature and the misery of hundreds of thousands of poor working folks were mere inconveniences that stood rudely in the way of him “getting his life back.”

It’s the kind of place where young women drown their babies or leave them in hot cars to die because the kids get in the way of a hair appointment or cramp their style with the new boyfriend. A place where millions of Americans ignore global famine, war and genocide, not to mention a frightening pattern of growing, unbridled hate in our own country that passes for partisan politics…but never miss a minute of TV shows like “Bachelorette” or “Real Wives” or “Bridezillas” where treating everyone like crap to get whatever you want is emulated, imitated and widely celebrated.

In that kind of world, I envision “Lake Me” as one of those tiny, man-made lakes where there are twice as many jet boats and wave-runners (driving shoulder to shoulder and never letting the other guy get ahead) than there are fish in the water. They are crowded, nasty, scary, polluted lakes with hundreds of “big foot” homes jammed tightly on the shore, built by design to block out the neighbors’ lakefront view and over-the-top enough to pay the appropriate homage to the owner.

No thanks. Oh, it’s tempting to paddle around in Lake Me and only worry about myself and what I want. Probably easier a lot of days, too. Although it’s a little too crowded and I’d prefer not to get hit in the head by a Ski-Doo and then yelled at for getting in the driver’s way.

No, I think I’d rather dive right in to cool, clear, refreshing, uncrowded Lake Eyes-Wide Open-Giving-A-Damn-About-Others, no matter how swift the current or dangerous the undertow.  Care to join me? Jump right in…the water’s fine.

Driving Miss Crazy

Last week, President Obama did something that made me bristle with envy: during his visit to Michigan and Detroit-area auto plants, he got into, started up, and drove a shiny new Chevy Volt.

It wasn’t the fact that he got to drive this much-anticipated, long-awaited extended range electric car that is so new that it isn’t even on the streets yet. It wasn’t that, as president, he had hundreds of adoring fans and attentive media focused on his every driving move.

It was that he drove just 10 feet, put the car into park, got out, pumped his fist and…walked away from the car.

He walked away from the car. AFTER DRIVING JUST TEN FEET!

It’s good to be the president. I want that job. Well, without the wars and the bad economy and the unemployment and the partisan fighting and the stress and national security and all that serious stuff.

It’s not a bad job if you can spend most of your days being chauffeured around. I’d love a job where – usually when spinning up the voters at the local plant or doing a photo opp and driving around in a pick up to clear the brush down on the ranch – I’d only need to climb behind the wheel of a car and drive it myself once or twice a year.

Yeah, I’d trade jobs in a nano-second. No matter what. I know this because I am…”Mom Who Drives Teens”, also known as the star of the remake titled Driving Miss Crazy.

I haven’t always felt this way. Back when I was a teenager myself, I couldn’t wait to drive. The freedom, the ability to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. The sheer, unbridled joy at being able to rely on myself – and no one else – to get me where I wanted to go. The feel of being adult and on my own…a full tank of gas, the wind in my hair, and having to be nowhere in particular. God, what an amazing feeling that was!

Thirty-seven years and hundreds of thousands of miles later, I can wait already. Over those 37 years, I have averaged something like 57,000 hours on the road. Driving. Picking up and dropping off. Parking and waiting. Running from work or school or sleep to drive to pick up a friend, relative, child, stranger, young person, old person, sick person, healthy person, married, single, divorced, widowed, gay, straight and ambiguous. I’ve driven priests, nuns and atheists. Siblings, singers, dates, dancers, grandparents, golfers, cherubs and cheerleaders.

I’ve driven dozens of different cars; I owned some, I borrowed some, rented some, and others I worked hard to get to use for a few precious hours. Ford Mavericks, Granadas and Country Squires. Mercury Montegos. Buicks. Four-ton Uhauls. Every model in the Jeep line. Olds 88s. PT Cruisers – first model year and last.

I’ve piloted most members of the Dodge/Daimler/Chrysler/Plymouth/Fiat family:  Colt, Caravan, Durango, Pacifica, Omni, Horizon, a big, old Ram pickup, Acclaim, Reliant, Caliber, and too many others to remember. There was even a cute, little red Renault Alliance purchased in its first model year – the first car I ever owned – which three years later blew up and was towed away still smoking and grinning its demonic, headlight/grille grin.

I’ve driven those vehicles and others to  school, work, stores, doctors, games, practices, funerals, weddings, college campuses, theaters, stadiums, TV stations, bus stops, parlors – the tattoo, beauty and funeral variety – meat-packing plants, IRS offices, drug stores, feed stores, nurseries and nursery schools, food stamp offices, birthday parties, choir practices and colonoscopies, drug tests, festivals, fireworks, fast food joints, bars, grills, restaurants, bowling alleys, billiard rooms, libraries, lunch counters, loony bins, car dealerships, and yes, driver’s training classes.

Which is where I am now. Well, not right now, but at 10 a.m. and noon every week day for the next month. The kids are taking driver’s ed classes. Both of them. Right now, I am their Travis Bickle without the fomenting insanity. I am the less blustery Ralph Cramden to their calm, cool Ed Norton…if Ed had ever ridden in Ralph’s bus. I am their Jim Ignatowski with way better hair. In short, I am their ticket to ride.

So, every day for the rest of the summer I will drive four miles to work at 7:30 a.m., leave work at 9:30 a.m. to drive four miles back to pick up the kids, drive six miles to Issaquah, drop them off in time for the 10 a.m. class, drive six miles back to work, work for a while, then at 11:45, drive six miles back to Issaquah to pick them up at noon and take them home, then turn around and drive four miles back to work for the day (except on the days when Erin has to go to work at Mickey D’s – then I get to wait at home for an hour while she changes and eats lunch, then drive her BACK six miles to Issaquah to work, turn around and drive back to MY work for the rest of the day…until Erin gets off work and then I get to drive back to Issaquah to pick her up and drive her home.

God help me (and my ringing cell phone) if I am not at any of the pickup/drop-off points on time. That’s basically my day. Get in the car. Drive. Drive some more. Stop, turn around and then drive again, fighting traffic, boredom and frustration all the way. Or, more to the point: Get in a Lather. Rinse (away my fatigue with alcohol). Repeat.

As you can guess, after nearly four decades of being the chief chauffeur in my family, the luster of driving has faded a bit. Just in time for Patrick and Erin to take over. And when they do, maybe I can provide some outstanding memories for them as young and excited new drivers…just the way so many folks did for me when I was a new driver.

I remember the endless Saturdays of my teen years, spent driving crazy Aunt Bert around to all her errands from 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.:  early morning Mass, then off to the beauty salon, the bank, a quick stop for lunch, then on to the grocery store, drug store, paper products store, eye doctor, hosiery department at Hudson’s, drop in on a friend, “oh, I forgot I had a dentist appointment!” – and finally home. “You can have the car tonight to go out with your friends,” she would say each Saturday evening, smiling her satisfied smile. “Oh, don’t forget: your curfew is 9 p.m. Have fun!”

Bert was the same one who rode with me to the hospital the day my mother died. I was 15 and driving on a learner’s permit. Having received the word from the hospital that my mom had “taken a turn for the worse” and knowing full well what that meant, I told Bert that we needed to head to the hospital at once. She was weeping and wailing and wringing her hands, without a clue about what to do. I told her to get into the passenger seat and I would drive.

Along the way, she begged me to join her in praying out loud for my mother’s soul – and to ask God to keep us safe from my driving. At one point, she ordered me to pull over so that we could smell the beautiful magnolias that had just burst into blossom on the trees along the way to the hospital. “Snap out of it, Bert!” I yelled into her face. “My mother is dead. I don’t need you to start acting like the engineer on the crazy train! Screw the magnolia blossoms!” We drove on, the car silent except for the deafening noise of our own thoughts as we began to ponder what was ahead for both of us.

I also remember the many days recently spent driving my beloved Aunt Margie around when the infirmities of age had slowed her down (I had to take her keys away when she drove 23 miles to get to her 11:15 hair appointment and never noticed until she had awoken her hairdresser that she had driven to the poor woman’s house at 11:15 AT NIGHT.)

At age 80, Margie was prone to car-sickness as a passenger after her life-long stint as a driver. I kept a towel and a garbage bag in the front seat for just those occasions when her stomach was upset. Usually she just grabbed the bag and used it while I pulled over to stop and give her a rest from the ride. One day, though, she grabbed for my open purse and launched her lunch directly onto the contents of said purse…never missing a minute of the story she was telling me at the time. As I pulled over, looking grimly at the sad fate of my once-favorite purse,  I saw her smiling sweetly, her hands closed tightly over her own handbag which sat untouched and pristine in her lap.  Margie has been gone for five years, but sometimes I still wonder…

Ah, Patrick and Erin. Savor these special days and the idea of how the car and your newfound driving skills will set you free. Before you know it, just like the Leader of the Free World, I’ll give up driving and I’ll be enjoying life in the back seat of your car, clutching my purse and wondering out loud about how the magnolias smell.

Vacation: what a concept!

July 28, 2010 1 comment

“Cool,” people said when I got my first job working at a school. “You’ll get your entire summers off!”

Yeah, cool. I could only imagine: entire summers of not working. Of staying up late and sleeping in. Of traveling to Europe or the Middle East.  Of reading all day or picking berries or taking long, restful vacations to the shore or the mountains or “up North.”

Excuse me while I have the dry heaves from laughing too much.

Now, I know not all teachers can take the summer off. I’ve known my brother-in-law David, an elementary school teacher, for 26 years and he’s never had more than two consecutive weeks off in a summer.

Some can’t afford it. Others are busy with things like summer teaching, running sports camps, going back to school to enhance their professional development, reviewing textbooks, rewriting curriculum. That’s work, not vacation, the teachers tell me.

Okaaaayyy. Well, all I know is that  the last eight summers that I have been back working in schools you could drive a tractor-trailer through any of the buildings on those campuses and only risk hitting maintenance guys, summer-schoolers, fundraisers and me. And don’t think I haven’t thought more than once about doing just that.

As I said yesterday to a friend (who was on her way to the airport), “Schools are not the real world. Who – besides teachers – can go off on vacation for six straight weeks?” Or even three?” She listened sympathetically, then she chuckled, gave me the princess wave, and headed out of school for her…vacation.

I missed work for six weeks once. It was to stay home with my newborn baby. Thank God this was before laptops and the ability to stay connected 24/7 or there I would have been: a nursing baby connected to my breast and the rest of me, hooked up via a third nipple to the school network, toiling away.

My contract says I get 30 days of vacation in addition to school holidays.  That’s a freaking month. Wow. I am not sure I’ve taken 30 days of vacation in the last five years.

But hey, that’s me. Maybe it was the way I was raised. My dad died when he was 45 and I cannot remember him even taking one day off during the summers before. That was his busy time (he worked as a forester for the City of Detroit, taking care of trees, planting them, trimming them, removing the dead ones).

Besides, I think my dad enough “travel” and seeing the world during the years 1942-45, enjoying the hospitality of the U.S. Marines and visiting the garden spots of the South Pacific: sand, sun, ocean breezes, palm trees and all the bullets, dead bodies and war atrocities one can imagine.

So, he spent summers when he wasn’t at work doing what he loved: puttering around the house, toiling in the yard, listening to baseball on the radio, and hanging with us kids. Enjoying peace.

We did go on vacations one or two summers. They were odd little car-trip vacations that lasted three or four days and always to the same destination: Dad would stay home and Mom, aunt Margie and sometimes, my grandmother Ryan would pile us into Margie’s Oldsmobile for the five-hour drive down I-75 to Cincinnati.

My mom’s “people” – the Ryans – came from Cincinnati. It’s only a few hundred miles away from Detroit, but we kids thought it rather exotic. People talked funny there, we thought. When they pronounced the word “Coke,” it  sounded like “Kay-oak.” And they gave directions by saying things like, “You’ll drive three squares down that street, then bear right and you’ll be there.” Huh?

The summer vacations we spent in Cincinnati (or, as my mom and her sisters called it, “Cin-cinn-at-uh,”) were spent with dozens of cousins we only saw every two years, just running around playing and having fun. The adults stayed in the house or on the porch, drinking massive quantities of Hudepohl beer and watching Uncle Tommy cook beautiful roasts on the grill. That wonderful smell of the lovely cuts of meat rubbed with herbs and spices and cooking slowly over the coals was enough to make our mouths water from wherever we were playing in Uncle Tommy’s neighborhood. At dinner time, we came running home with hungry stomachs and great anticipation.

Unfortunately…the beautiful beef roasts and delicious pork loins weren’t for us kids. We ate hot dogs and beans. The beer-swilling elders didn’t care to eat. Tommy’s dogs Mitzi and Peggy, however, were very well-fed…and the envy of everyone in the house who had remained sober.

Mind you…we always had a ball in Cincinnati. We’d drive around the old neighborhoods and visit my grandma’s old friends, who would pat our heads, pinch our cheeks and give us silver dollars. Heck, we even got to hang around inside a real, live “beer garden,” drinking “Kay-oak” and watching the old gals and guys pounding down the brews and talking old people smack to one another…which seems pretty cool when you are 9 or 10 years old.

One year we even spent the entire day at the amusement park they had there: Coney Island. It was a blast and very memorable, riding on rides with three dozen cousins and eating our fill of corn dogs, elephant ears, and Cincinnati chili.

Then we headed home, north on I-75. Only it happened that year was July 1967…the year of the riots in Detroit. And Cincinnati. When we got to Lima, Ohio, the halfway point in our journey home, we heard on the radio that both Detroit and Cincinnati were in the middle of civil unrest. We nearly headed back to Cinci until we heard that Lima was experiencing a few dust-ups as well. So we pressed on toward Detroit on that sweltering night, listening to the news on the radio along the way.

Just outside Toledo, National Guard was posted along the highway, forcing the long lines of traffic off the freeway in order to keep more combatants from entering the cities. We sat for many hours in a long, scary traffic jam in the 90-degree heat and humidity, holding tight to our Grandma as she sat between us in the middle of the back seat, smiling her beatific smile while praying the Rosary.

We only worried a little about the snipers the radio was telling us about. We worried a lot about Mom’s traveling oxygen tank which was stowed in the trunk of the car. In all that heat. With all those bullets flying around. We whispered worries about what would happen if the (explosive) oxygen heated up inside the trunk of the car right near the (explosive) gas tank or got hit by an (explosive) bullet and our car became a hurtling (explosive) missile of deat…

“Knock it off! You guys watch too much TV,” Margie snapped, her hands tight on the steering wheel, piloting the car along Fort Street, inching slowly north toward home on the smoky, hazy, downriver streets, never stopping for red lights if she could help it. “Nothing’s going to happen. Stop worrying your mother.”

And nothing did happen. We made it home at around 1 in the morning to find Dad there, standing on the porch, smoking a cigarette, and waiting. He was on vacation, yet he moved off the porch and right to the car in one leap, shepherding us into the house in a hurry. I will never forget the look of relief on his face when we pulled into the driveway, safe if not completely sound. Looking back, I guess I know why he never liked going on vacation.

Most of  the vacations in my adult  life have been less memorable. On a couple of long weekends we took the kids to Niagara Falls, Chicago and Mackinac island. Mike and I went to Toronto and to Chicago for long weekends to celebrate our anniversary. And for four or five years in a row, I got brave and rented a little overnight cottage on Lake Huron for two or three days at a time.

It was lovely to sit by the water and relax and do nothing. Nothing except supervise little kids swimming in the lake…blow up big floaties and rafts so kids could float in the lake when they got tired of swimming…clean sand out of the million creases and crevices on their tiny kid bodies…break up fights…do dishes…kill bugs…locate lost hermit crabs…cook meals…do more dishes…fix skinned knees sustained in shuffleboard (?) games…hang up wet bathing suits and towels…pick up additional wet bathing suits and towels from sandy floors…make cottage beds…remake cottage beds after entire mornings spent inside the cottage because of tornado warnings in the area…kill flies annoying OCD child…convince younger child that – despite outward appearances –  the cottage owner was NOT an axe-wielding murderer who stalked young cottage guests at night…thank older child for his input on said cottage owner…help build campfire…cook s’mores…fish s’mores out of sand…make s’more…keep kids from falling into campfire…clean s’more marshmallows off  sandy little faces…break up marshmallow roasting-stick sword fights next to campfire…drive 60 miles home to retrieve favorite stuffed animal needed at bedtime and 60 miles back to cottage…

Yes, very relaxing indeed.

I was so relaxed from those vacations that about eight years ago, I figured that it would only be fair to let someone else have the fun for a while.  And, since I am back working at a school, my summer schedule and the nature of my work don’t seem to allow me the time to relax so much.

Maybe someday I’ll travel to Ireland in the summer. Or take a tour of baseball parks throughout the U.S. Or go on a cruise. Or rent a beach house on Maui. Or spend a month on Cape Cod. Or take gourmet cooking classes. Or write a novel. Or hike the Cumberland Trail. Or spend my time doing it all! Now THAT’s what I call fun.

I think it’s also called “retirement.”

Categories: Family, Writing Tags: , , ,
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