Another Summer In The Books

“Hey Mom, can you just call me on my cell phone so I don’t have to get up to answer the phone from now on?”  

The above quote was an actual text received to my cell phone from my 14 year old son today.  He must have been joking.  He was not joking.  It’s a good thing the reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic is starting on Monday, cause I’m one sink full of dirty dishes away from finding me a big old hick’ry stick.  The audacity of this working mother to check in on her sons and expect them to unfold themselves from their fetal positions long enough to answer the telephone. Easy there sonny, pace yourself. Really, what was I thinking, I must be mad. I should have learned my lesson from the morning gym workouts I lovingly scheduled for them this summer. If you are wondering what a “look that could kill’ looks like, try dragging your kids from their air conditioned dens to the YMCA on a sticky  morning for some outdoor calisthenics with a hard bodied trainer. The race to the Summer finish line is in sight.  One. More. Day.

I didn’t have to check the calender to know that summer vacation was winding down, the FaceBook postings by the aliens took care of that.  The aliens have started lamenting the end of summer and some are even upset that it appears the darlings are getting out a few days later next June.  I’m sorry, but I am a mere mortal..how much more of their vacation am I expected to endure?  How many trips to the grocery store can one person make in a week?  How many times can I screech about their slow progress on their Summer math and reading assignments? How many more days can I leave for work with my heart skipping beats…”don’t open the door, don’t forget to turn the stove off.”  It’s time to pull this Summer over to the curb and search my kids for grey matter.  I am praying that this isn’t the summer that hormones and XBox has wiped their slates clean. 

Before I am voted Queen of Bitchy Mothers, let me say, it hasn’t been all bad.  We had some fun.  Our cherished family trip to the shore..weekend trips..new adventures..visits with friends..cookouts and fireworks and swimming pools…summer camps.  Simple joys like taking our Labs swimming, dropping some chicken necks in the bay and pulling up crabs, playing Crazy Eights and Five Card Draw in the dim evening light.  While I looked like I was totally engaged in all those activities, mostly I was just loving being together, treasuring every hug and fleeting hand holding that I could get. They’re growing fast and  I am startled now when my baby answers me in a suddenly deep voice while sporting a fuzzy upper lip.

I’m not sure I am ready for the emotional hit coming next week when I take my son to his first day of High School. I will cry as sure as I am crying typing this.  Gets me every single time. I have choked up since pre-K, watching them walk into the building.  There’s always that last look towards the car before they disappear into school and I give a thumbs up before pulling away, wailing like a banshee.  Maybe a couple more weeks of vacation wouldn’t be so bad after all. Image

 

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Adirondack Angels

I met some angels last year in the Adirondacks.  They looked like people, but I realize now that they had must have had their wings tucked up tight, probably some sort of Spanx  for angels, allowing them to work unnoticed here on earth.  They wait up there in a historic lodge on crystal clear mountain lake, in a museum holding a beautiful quilt made from your grandmother’s aprons, baking pies in a historic lodge, even in a smelly auto mechanic shop.  They’re pros at gently thumping city folk upside their neatly coiffed heads, opening their eyes before they miss it all.  They shake your soul up and slap it around a little bit too.  True story, it happened to me.

Last September ,I loaded up the family in the old minivan for our first road trip to the Adirondacks, an adventure sparked by my grandmother’s aprons.  A few weeks prior, I had contacted a fiber artist, Maria Wulf ,  and asked if she could make a quilt from the aprons.  The aprons were special, worn every Sunday by an Italian grandmother, “Neno”, who gathered, fed and loved us.   Maria asked if she could display the quilt in an Adirondack museum where she was doing a show, before mailing it to me.  After googling the area , I knew we had to go get it, I was being summoned to the mountain and taking hostages. My kids, not used to surprise trips or Mom cancelling a school day were game.

We arrived nine hours later, passing many signs with the word “bear” in them. The Bear Laundromat, The Bear Motel, The Bear Diner.  We gave up trying to convince the kids that we didn’t have to worry about being eaten by a bear, as a matter of fact, when we pulled into the lodge and were greeted by three carved bears waving happily to us, I was convinced of it. The lodge owner, Pat , welcomed us warmly, we felt like family, how wonderful..and odd.  We hustled down to see the lake and Oh My God, Trip Adviser told no lies.  A clear mountain lake, my first one.  I don’t know how I went 48 years without thinking about mountain lakes, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  The Family Von Wynn, wearing their play clothes fashioned from the lodge drapes, canoed and frolicked in the mountains, it was glorious, and so unlike us. I loved it. The food was too good to be true, maybe we had died and gone to heaven?

The next day we went to meet Maria and pick up  the quilt at the museum. She was truly lovely and simply glowed with creativity, I know Neno would have loved her, and appreciated her talent.   A perfect day, followed by another perfect evening back at the lodge.

The next morning after another perfectly prepared meal by the perfect staff, we said our goodbyes to what felt like old friends, packed up old Bessie, the minivan, and headed down the mountain.  Ten minutes into our trip, out of cell service range, Bessie’s temperature gauge started bonging an alarm, the needle reading hot.  Oh, crap. We turned around and made our way back to heaven.  The lodge owner welcomed us back with open arms and helped us get our van towed to the only mechanic in town, Jamie, whose shop was closed on Sunday.  We were stuck.  No problem, the lodge would “take care of us”, let us stay another night for free. Now I was getting a little freaked out, especially after a guest in a NY Yankees hat helped me out of my canoe..this place was not for real. Paranoia setting in completely after another delicious dinner that evening, when the owner introduced us to the entire dining room as “the stranded family”, and they all turned to face us, smiling and clapping.  Suddenly, I was in my own version of “The Shining”.  I told Joe that we were never leaving and would soon find out that all these people were dead and we were probably already dead too.  I noticed that my son had won a raccoon, “Daniel Boone” style hat playing Bingo with the other ghosts, was wearing it happily and seemed to have adjusted completely to his new life, because we were never getting off the mountain, ever.  Suspicions confirmed of this when we reached Jamie the mechanic in a full panic, and he explained that he was closed the next day as well.  Jamie sensing our desperation, agreed to go check out the van, despite being closed. Now, I began wishing we were dead, because how the hell much was that going to cost??  A mechanic who has us bent over a barrel in a town in the middle of nowhere?  Of course he will lie and cheat, that’s what mechanics do, at least where I’m from.  Panic. We had to get back.

The next morning, Joe and I were anxious, calling our jobs, calling the kids school, waiting to hear from Jamie, who was probably replacing perfectly good parts with his damaged  parts,  We were both shouting into our cell phones, while people glided by us in canoes, waving to the stranded family.  The lodge owner had put my son to work, no longer a paying guest, he was stacking wood, still wearing his raccoon hat.  Jamie called a while later.  He had fixed the van..wondered if  $80.00 seemed fair.  Gulp. We felt like heels.  He opened his shop on his day off and didn’t charge us a thousand..that would not have happened at home, ever. Thank you angel.

I went looking for the boys to tell them that we were home free and found them laying face down staring into the  lake, the trees above them reflected like a mirror.  It could wait.  Image

Hey Bailey

Clink, tinkle, clink..I heard the sound of something metal dropping  in the next room, probably my car keys, better go retrieve them before I forget this moment and launch on my umpteenth frantic key search of the week..(ugh, 49 year old brain, I guess I have just used up my available space, the rest must be  stored up in The Cloud , if only I knew how to download it). Upon investigation, I found not my keys, but, an old dog collar with tags still attached..Bailey’s.  Oh, hey Bailey.  Old man.  You trying to say something?  A wave of emotion grabbed me as I stood with his collar, rubbed his name tag and sniffed it (you dog lovers will understand that last one), stalling it’s return to it’s rightful hook.  I owe you one , Big Brown Hound, this one’s for you. 

On St.Patrick’s Day, 17 years ago, I received a call from a surgeon I worked with, imploring me to take his puppy, a Chocolate Lab,  he could no longer care for.  He was studying for his Boards, never home, and not suppose to have a dog in his rental anyway. (Sometimes the smartest people..*sigh,* don’t judge Tess.)   I had spent the prior few weeks coaching him on all things Lab, since we were the owners of Clancy, another Chocolate, our first dog,  Joe and I had discussed getting Clancy a friend, wondering if he was lonely during the day. After spending a fortune trying to diagnose why Clancy’s fur was falling out, the vet guessed that he was just licking it obsessively out of boredom or stress when we were at work, though we never saw him do it .  We ultimately decided that we could barely afford the care and feeding of one big dog and should probably not get another..until the St. Paddy’s day call.  Fresh off a round or two of Guinness, my normally logical husband, was, er, a bit loosened up and agreed we should go “take a look” at the pup. We were greeted by a little brown bear when we arrived, insanely cute, he was ours. Enter King of the Goofs. Bail-holio, a Beavis and Butthead spin off of “Cornholio’.. all code for asshole.

Bailey was thrilled to have a friend in Clancy. They were the odd couple, Clancy a product of backyard breeding (we didn’t know any better) often mistaken for a female, and Bailey., an overgrown Lab, strong of personality, a presence at the front door, most salespeople just gave up trying to shout over his barking and walked away. Thanks for that, Bailey. Bailey, who devoured every pile of crap he could steal from my constant surveillance, even after I laced it once with a bottle of hot sauce..he loved it.  But, if I had a video of his first bite of it, I’m pretty sure we would have won big money.  Bailey, who had to be sawed out of trash cans wedged around his rib cage. Bailey, who escaped from the house during our new furniture delivery, only to return from his mad dash, covered in mud and slobber which he immediately covered the new furniture with, just as the shocked deliverymen were lifting the protective plastic off. Clancy was so busy worrying about Bailey’s antics, his fur grew back.  Clancy would be waiting for me at the front door when I returned from work with the “you’re not going to believe this” look on his face, right before Bailey would enthusiastically greet me covered in evidence from a latest exploit.  He cracked the code on every trashcan I ever bought, working diligently until he figured it out.  I thought I had him stumped with the disappearing trashcan, sliding out from under the counter, until I discovered him at night, lying on his back like a repairman, trying to work the door. He did it.   We loved Bailey and Clancy, they were our kids, we weren’t having kids. We were married nearly 9 years, no kids we said, guess it  wasn’t meant to be.  Not so fast, luck of the Irish,  we added our first son a few St. Patrick Days later.  Our second son two years later. 

Clancy and Bailey loved their little humans,  easy food targets that they were. I wish I had a picture of finding Bailey on his back, sucking the final drops of formula from a bottle held between his paws, looking at me like, “is this wrong?”.  Bailey loved it all, formula, pureed jars of baby food, dirty diapers and finally, solid food, joy!  A child’s birthday party was punctuated by screams of “he stole my ice cream!!”  Besides being a vacuum cleaner, Bailey appointed himself Guard Dog.  While Clancy would greet every stranger who approached his fence with his ears down and his tongue out, Bailey turned Cujo if the boys were playing outside and a stranger approached.  Hackles up, a “Get The Hell Away From My Kids” bark, that set me running to see who was there.  He never failed me.  I don’t know what the strange looking man was intending on doing that day when I saw him reaching over to unlatch my gate , perhaps to pet my dogs, perhaps not. But he quickly walked away when Bailey turned on. I called out to the man, but he was gone. 

Clancy died at age 8, old age not to be for this sweet, worried boy, cancer took him quickly.  Joe and I were heartbroken, our sons were still too young to fully understand, ages 2 and 4 at the time. We buried him before the boys arrived home from daycare, Bailey stood over the open grave, staying with his buddy to the end. Bailey stayed an only dog for years.  He helped raise his boys, knew what time the first school bell rang, and would bark his head off at the front door at 7:50 a.m. every morning, “HURRY UP” he insisted.  He drove the kids to school, riding shotgun.  He was greeted by his fan club at St. Mark School, barely visible sometimes beneath the crushing love of little people and accepted it all calmly and happily. He grew lumpy, gimpy and gray, but never lost his love of  people, food and yes, crap. His hearing became selective and he would trot off on little old man jaunts, launching a frantic neighborhood search with reinforcements called in, only to have limp back in a few minutes, “huh? what’s the big deal?”.  

Around age 13, the tables turned on Bailey.  The babies he kept safe (and cleaned from all food residue) were now strong boys carrying him up the stairs, or snuggling with him on his dog bed when getting up was just too much. We welcomed a beautiful Black Lab puppy, Beau, to our family, and Bailey immediately shared his bed with him and was a calming presence. He was like an adoring grandfather, showing the lad around the yard that he would one day inherit, keeping his cloudy eyes on him, the way he had done with his human boys.  Bailey became a crash course on aging, teaching my children tolerance and patience, watching their kindness with him was powerful stuff for me, the memories bring tears still.  Shortly after his 14th birthday, Bailey died peacefully in our arms, blessed euthanasia. We brought him home, wrapped in a sheet.  His head was exposed and he looked so peaceful and distinguished that an impromptu wake ensued. Family came, and we gathered around him, thanking him and giving the kids an unhurried time to say goodbye.  A private letter between my son and Bailey was placed in his grave….if there is a dog heaven , I hope Bailey brings that letter when I get there, I’m dying to read it.  Still miss you Bail-holio. Good old boy, I hope there’s a million overflowing trashcans where Imageever you are.

 

Death, Get Over Yourself

“Don’t put me in one of those.” I blurted this out recently while riding shotgun with Joe at the wheel.  “Huh? Put you in what?”  “The ugly black hearse being driven by what looks to be an already dead, grim reaper of a chauffeur, don’t do that to me…okay?”  A familiar look of confusion (the look that accompanies most conversations that I start with him)  flashed across his face.  I continued..”don’t lay me out in front of those ugly, out-dated , velvet goth drapes at the funeral home and then put me in that sad, ugly car..and don’t play that sad music either.”  I could tell Joe’s wheels were turning, and he was getting a touch exasperated..”what in the hell am I suppose to put you in? A clown bus?? You want a bunch of clowns to pile out of a fun bus, big floppy shoes, red noses?”   Hmmm…sort of!

I don’t know if it’s a pushing 50 thing or the universe sending me a message that my luck is running out on my command of a murky medical issue, but death has been on my mind lately.  Funny though, death mostly conjures annoyance in me, not fear.  Funeral service salesmen are slick , lots of dough in peddling souped-up caskets that burn clean fuel, or something like that.  I don’t know much, but I do know I don’t want THAT guy’s idea of what a funeral should look like. So, I know I have to get planning, otherwise my proper and loving husband will do it all by the book, and I will be hovering above it all making a ghostly gagging face, sticking my finger down my throat. Death, you need a new attitude, Queer Eye for the Dead Guy, those drapes are over, so 1900. 

People, there will be a party. Not an “after” party, but a “during” party. There’s your closure.  Rock out, eat and drink and celebrate, courtesy of Erie Life Insurance. Please don’t refer to me as a “loss”. I am not lost to anyone, like those dang car keys.  And, for Christ sake, stop whispering.  I’m dead, you won’t wake me .  Please don’t talk about your “bucket lists” at my party or the one I didn’t have- I hate the term and find it very bull shitty. A bucket list to me implies that we all have 90 years to get it done and a million to spend doing it.  No day is wasted if you don’t think it is.  Know that I was just as happy curled up with my book at home as you were being hunted like prey by some rare tribe in a jungle somewhere. Know that sharing a bowl of popcorn with my boys, snuggled up on the couch on a chilly winter day brought me more joy than a trip to Disney ever could. Don’t do whatever you like, like whatever you do..a note written on the last birthday message my grandmother gave me…has stuck with me all these years.  You nailed it Neno.

Oh, and Joe, no clowns driving me inImage the fun bus, they’re creepy. I am thinking of something like a cross between the Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers. Beep, Beep.

 

Thar She Blows!

Aside

john's female piratesfemale piratesPirates!  Pirates have been on my mind lately…many years ago my friend and artist, John Kachik, illustrated a story about female pirates and asked myself and a friend to model as such.  An evening of posing , waving weapons at each other, and making the fiercest faces we could muster through our laughter ensued.  Recently, a retrospective of John’s art from the 80’s and 90’s was featured in an art gallery here and the pirates enjoyed a weekend in the limelight.  I stared at the picture hanging in the gallery for a long time…it got to me.

When the pirates were swashbuckling all over John’s apartment, stopping for quick sips of a beer or a drag on a cigarette, our college years were still in the rear view mirror.  We were still the adventure seeking, fun loving girls we were in college, just now with paying jobs, little else had changed, yet.  In my pirate face I saw the girl who  wrote  poetry in college and read it aloud. When my English professor called the poem I wrote about my grandfather “shit” , I simply wrote another one, only this time about sex (we figured out pretty fast that was all he wanted to hear) , and got an “A”.  Ahh,  Academia.  To his credit, my professor did implore me to keep writing after graduation.  I didn’t write, I studied science night and day and became a nurse.  Then a wife.  Then a  mother.  My cutlass was permanently sheathed, or so I thought.  Enter the blog.

I am finding the powerful draw of the blog  very curious.  It attracts as many people as it repels.  I have been the recipient of praise and rolled eyes since embarking on this little joyride.  “Why?” is the usual response from the skeptics. “To what end?” is another.   I was nervous, a little paranoid at my coming out.  With trembling (for real) fingers I first posted on a group designed to encourage and support, a haven for scared bloggers.  A “send” to Mom was next. I knew Mom would like it, but she liked that poem about my grandfather too.   Still, a tiny step into reality.  The group loved it, Mom loved it, so  I hit the enter key on my FaceBook page….silence.  Ouch.  Funny, I remember dozens of people wanting to engage in my rants during election time.  Hmmmm.

Slowly I began to receive some feedback , I think some friends and family are enjoying it..but guess what me Mateys?  I don’t care what people think anymore!  Oh, beautiful day  to realize I am doing this just for me!  That’s the power of the blog, I get it now.  You don’t have to like it, I do!  The plank is right over there if you want to get off my blog, it’s ok with me.  Told ya, that pirate girl got to me.