Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The passing of old red

We parted with a table today. A funny old red table, straight out of the 50s or thereabouts, and some chairs as well. We inherited the set indirectly with the purchase of our current home, and a home can only hold so many tables… After some discussion, we decided to sell old red.

I tried to find it a good home; I looked around online for any furniture resale possibilities, and after much fruitless searching, I was hopeful we could unload it with a hip retro-only furniture shop in nearby Homestead. Although the owners found our table quite charming, they had a surplus of such stock and had to say No, thank you. They assured me that we’d find a home for it. I doubted them.

Well, those retro-store gals knew of what they spoke. I finally gave in and listed the set on craigslist. (Why do I bother with any other resale forum? Honestly?) I called it a retro 50s dinette, attached a few photos, wrote a quirky description detailing its good looks, its sturdy and dependable nature, its everlasting style and steadfast appeal…and waited without much expectation.

Lo and behold, within 12 hours I had four intensely interested potential buyers. All female, all willing to buy it on the spot. Only one asked if I’d come down in price; all the rest offered what we’d listed. One wanted to pick it up immediately, still another later in the day, and one poor, doomed latecomer couldn’t take a look until tomorrow…

Needless to say, the table is gone from our lives, less than 24 hours after posting the sale. I am really, really sorry I didn’t charge more money. Mostly, I am amazed at the power of nostalgia. What made all those ladies so desperate for such an item? The woman who successfully bagged the table told me she’d been searching for one and had missed out on a few because they sell so quickly. It reminded her, she said, “of her grandmother’s.” We’d heard that before, from just about anyone who’d ever glimpsed the table in our basement. But what makes that memory so precious? It’s a table, an old, somewhat scarred piece of furniture. It’s not hand-carved of rare wood by Grandpa, it’s not one of a kind, it was probably never an expensive item even when brand new. Yet now, it’s a coveted piece of memorabilia, a sought-after treasure. Why?

I wondered, as the woman and her son-in-law carted the table out of our home and into his truck, just what delighted her so—and she was visibly delighted, smiling and with a spring in her step as she talked aloud about where she’d put it. I wondered if, sitting at that table in her grandmother’s kitchen, this woman had first learned to make cookies. Perhaps they’d shared secrets, told family stories. Perhaps this table was like the one where her family had gathered for holiday meals.

Or maybe it wasn’t the memories of what happened at the table that make her happy; perhaps instead it’s the memories of her own self at such a table that are sweet. Perhaps at a table like old red, this woman had dreamed of all she would be, had wondered about her future husband, had planned her life’s successes and milestones. At such a table, she might have flipped her hair and displayed such cocky self-assurance that she almost convinced herself it was real.

It could be that all those women miss the world that surrounded that table when it was new—a world full of promise, a world where the facts of life were still fuzzy and able to be rewritten. Perhaps that softer, gentler world hadn’t yet established that life isn’t fair, that sometimes the bad guy wins, that even your own heart can be broken. Perhaps at that table when it was new, it was impossible to believe that there are people who are mean, people who hurt children and animals and old folks. There might have been an innocence that was nurtured at a table like this—an innocence that has since been dashed, many times.

For whatever reason, old red spoke to some fellow ‘burghers. Nostalgia in the form of a dining set swept through a few homes; a mere photo was all it took to bring memories sweeping back. Those memories must have been good, or at least bittersweet—an aroma from the past, appealing and heady and almost without equal in the world of marketing.

And now, old red moves onto a new life.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The downward “contacts” spiral

We ventured back to the zoo recently to see the baby elephant, and were fortunate to snap a photo. She was quite cute, hanging out underneath her mom and peeking out at the crowd of admirers across the fence. There was a baby tiger, too, although our only glimpse of him (through countless heads of other observers, of course) was of his furry body lying asleep on a folding lawn chair.

What with baby animals to view, and it being summertime and all, the zoo was crawling with folks. There were bazillions of kids. There were parents who spent much of the time just ticking off heads to make sure everyone was still with the group. There were moms, dads, and the inordinate amount of what appeared to be grandparents, all herding children through the park.

My old college roommate was there with her hoard.

I saw her just outside the monkey house, pushing a stroller with one child, surrounded by other small ones. I was pretty certain about who it was, as she was relatively unchanged from the last time I’d seen her a few years after we’d graduated. She looked great, slim as ever, unlined face, no bags or sags that I could discern (darn her). And then her twin sister came up behind her, also pushing a kid and leading another, and the kids were all cute and well-behaved, and this sister looked just as good as the first sister.

And I stepped back to let the masses pass, and I kept my sunglasses firmly on my face and said nothing. They never really looked at me, intent as they were on keeping the gang together, and I never spoke up or tried to get their attention.

I don’t know why, really. The last time I saw that girl, we spoke and were friendly and things were fine. We’d parted a little roughly after being roommates, that’s true; we had shared a dorm room and for the first half of the year, things were great and we had a lot in common, and then she had the nerve (tee hee) to become a Christian and suddenly we had nothing in common, she hated my music, was against all parties, was a tad aloof with my friends… Needless to say we did not room together again. But honestly, there are no hard feelings that I’m aware of. I just didn’t feel like a reunion. (Well, I’d never liked her sister much, either—she always flirted shamelessly with my boyfriend at the time, the coquette.) But seriously, it was hot and crowded and there were kids everywhere and we didn’t go to the zoo to get together with old friends; we went to see the animals, to give the kids a fun time, to be outside instead of in. We did not go to reminisce. At least that was my stance.

It’s funny—in this day and age, it’s quite common for people to switch directions several times in a life: kid-dom, college/post-school, career with multiple jobs, marriage perhaps, maybe a family, another career with more jobs… The average person has known many more people than he or she can capably stay connected to. And yet, we have more ways than ever of being in touch with people—so there seems to be this palpable pressure to keep in contact with everyone you’ve ever known. I wonder sometimes how people used to keep in touch with so many folks in the “old days” before technology enabled us to communicate so easily… and then I ponder that perhaps there just weren’t as many people to keep in touch with. We’ve created our own monster, first with frequent and speedy life changes, then with crowds of people to accompany each change and beyond, and lastly with innumerable gadgets to help you blab with someone incessantly.

Something similar happened to me last spring; I was shopping with the kid, minding my own business, and the next thing I knew someone was saying, “Mel, is that you? Mel?” And sure enough, it was another girl I’d known in college, a friend of a friend, who’d spent time in some of the same circles I had. She was shopping too, with her children, and we chatted and caught up a bit and then she whipped out her cell phone and asked for my number so we could get together sometime. I dutifully whipped out mine, too, and we exchanged numbers and parted ways with warm smiles. And that was that. I’ve never called her; she’s never called me. And it was honestly nice to see her. But that doesn’t mean we want to see each other again, intentionally.

The truth is, if we wanted to get together, then chances are good we’d have kept each other’s phone numbers handy for years prior to bumping into each other at the department store. I know there are exceptions, people lose touch or someone moves and the new address is lost, etc., but in most cases people who want to keep in contact do just that: they keep in contact. They go out of their way to talk, to meet, whatever.

I’m hesitant to admit that I have very few contacts that have remained with me through my many life changes. The truth is, I’m just not the same person I used to be. If I’d talked to that former roommate at the zoo, it would have felt like talking to someone who used to know someone I knew… but that’s all. That woman doesn’t know me any more than she knows a stranger. At least that’s how far away that world that we shared seems to me now.

Or am I just a bad friend, the one who lets the relationship slip? I know a handful of dedicated folks who still write letters to the people they knew decades ago. My own parents are still close to the same people they were friends with over 50, even 60 years ago. I try to tell them how rare that is…but maybe I’m the rare one.

I don’t know. All I know is that if I start to recall all the people from my past who I haven’t seen or spoken to for years, my head hurts and I feel guilty. And Lord knows there’s enough of that going around; I’m not going to encourage it. Now, please excuse me while I put on my dark glasses.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The dangers of kidspace

You’ve heard of MySpace, right? That huge, frighteningly addictive website that contains excruciating details (many of which are lies, I might add) about millions of people? Well, today I’m inventing the word kidspace. It’s not even remotely related to MySpace. Or perhaps it is, since the wide availability of kidspace opens up countless hours of time dedicated to MySpace…among other pursuits.

Kidspace is the alarming amount of space given to young people who not so long ago were considered to be children. And I’m not talking about literal space here—I’m talking about the amount of time these kids spend unsupervised or, worse, alone in a home or apartment.

I grew up during the end of a different era; my mom stayed home with us when we were tots, and then after we were all safely ensconced in school, my mom picked up part-time work; the stipulation was that the work must always allow her to be home with us after school and in evenings. It was wonderful when I was small, and frankly, it probably kept me out of trouble when I was bigger. We didn’t eat out much but we ate well, we had plenty of acres and hobbies and pets to keep us busy, and I am thankful to this day that my childhood was so idyllic.

Too often, this is not the case nowadays. A lot of folks have lots of new stuff, take big yearly vacations, are involved in more activities than you can count…and their children are first reared by strangers, and then when of age, are abandoned to their own pursuits for many hours each day. Summertime brings this situation to a head. I’ve heard many parents long out loud for the start of school, not so they can send the kids back to classes for education, but so they don’t have to pay the sitter every day. You can see Mom or Dad counting the years until their darlings will be self sufficient enough to stay home unsupervised for hours at a time.

Case in point: We have neighbors, a couple, and they have kids. The youngest is in high school. She’s 16; her boyfriend is in college. Both of her parents work. All day. Every day. This gal’s the only one still living at home. And nearly every morning this summer, her boyfriend’s car has been parked outside the house from 9 or 10 a.m. through lunchtime or beyond. Now, I want to believe the best about this young lady. But I dimly recall being 16, and I clearly recall the goal of just about every boy between the ages of 14 and 35.

No one has ever checked with me about what goes on there during the day, even though they’ve commented more than once about my being “home all day.” I don’t go out of my way to notice, but there’s that car, morning after morning. What’s going on? And I can’t help but wonder: wasn’t there some way to get that girl out of the house? A job? Day camp? Something? And if not, then why isn’t there any level of curiosity from her folks? I’d be curious. It seems they’re more concerned about buying the girl her own car, a plan they’ve shared with us a few times, than they are about whether said car can accommodate a baby seat. They both work, a lot, the mom more than one job… Is it worth it? I’m sure they know more than I do about this young lady, about the situation. Right?

I want to trust, but I don’t want to be a fool. I will do everything in my power to keep my son from ever having an empty house at his disposal when he’s a teen. At least that’s my plan now. Perhaps I, too, will someday be lulled into a comfort zone where I feel perfectly okay about leaving him unwatched, unchecked, for hours each day. I hope not. It’s no accident that America’s insatiable desire for “things,” and how it’s come to outweigh family time, also coincides with the increasing baby boom among our teens. If you take an alcoholic to a bar, he or she is likely to fall off the wagon. If you give a shopaholic a credit card and drop him or her at the mall, that person is likely to spend. And if you leave a teenager alone, free to entertain members of the opposite sex, they are likely to delve deeper than they should into a world that has some pretty heavy consequences. And pregnancy isn’t necessarily the most heavy of those consequences. Think about it.

Too much kidspace is not good. This neighborly example is one of many—and I’d guess a lot of the kids in question are younger than this particular chica. Even if these kids emerge, unscathed by pregnancy or disease, from this premature freedom, I’d venture to guess they are scarred anyway. Kids are not adults. We shouldn’t confuse them with adults. And even when it’s easier for us as parents to grant freedoms, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best thing for those youngsters. I pray that this nation will open its eyes wider and start shouldering the responsibility they accepted when the burden was new and squalling and smelled like baby powder.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Am I?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vocabulary lesson from Marcus

Here are some of my son's favorite utterances:

Ambulinx-this is the vehicle that transports injured or very ill people.

Hopsipple-this is the place where the ambulinx takes you.

Gocery market-this is a store where you purchase food.

Tomato bug-otherwise known as a potato bug, these are the little gray critters that roll into a ball when you harass them.

Aminal-if you have to “aks” me what this means, I’ll be forced to explain what “metathesis” is.

Whynchoobee-a combination of separate words, broken down as “why don’t you be…” which is my son’s way of cuing my lines when we play make-believe.

Here’s a new word that I just learned: mondegreen. It means a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung. That isn’t at all what I’d think it meant; it just doesn’t sound like that kind of word. Alas, I am not the dictionary dictator, so the definition will stand.

My least favorite word has remained the same for many years: phlegm. Now THAT is a word that fits its definition perfectly, don’t you think? It even sounds disgusting.

See you around.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The second gray hair [is silver]

The first one didn’t bother me when I found it in the mirror a few months ago. It was a fluke, I assured myself—a trick of the poor lighting, my imagination, perhaps even a very blonde hair. (Remember, I’m someone who doesn’t believe something until it’s inarguably in front of my face.) I summarily pulled the single gray strand out by the root and thought no more of it.

And then, last week, the second one showed up. And this one bothered me, more than the first one had. In the same way that being 31 bothered me a tiny bit more than being 30— “in my 30s” was worse, and finding gray “hairs” was infinitely worse.

It was undeniably gray, sprouting right from the line of my part on my scalp, in the most noticeable and obvious place on my head. I’m not sure why it offended me so. I haven’t lived under the delusion of immortality for many years; before my junior year of college, I’d lost two close friends—to cancer and a drunk driver. I’ve been well aware for a couple of decades now that we all come to an end someday, often sooner than expected. I thought for a long time that my time would come sooner than expected.

Perhaps that’s why the gray hair is so foreign and wrong to me… You see, I spent the first half of my 20s firmly convinced that I would die at 25. I never had any inkling why I thought this, never had a vision about what would cause my demise, but I was filled with a growing certainty that my future would be relatively short. Perhaps it was just my irresponsible way of excusing my typical 20s stupidity—too many late nights, not enough sleep, not enough exercise, unhealthy diet, etc. I had to fit in as much living as I could, right? My days were numbered. I didn’t need to waste time taking care of myself.

And then the “final” year came and went. My 26th birthday sneaked up on me, and then without any drama it was past and I was still alive. I was rather surprised, as you can imagine. Had I misunderstood the impression I’d had? Was that 25-year milestone merely an approximate end date? I waited, and survived. For many more years, in fact.

Now here I am in my late 30s, feeling the effects of those years I’ve accumulated and finding gray hairs, plural. Me, who wasn’t even supposed to make it into my 30s. Me, who now, suddenly, must take care of myself and eat right and try to exercise more and appreciate each day.

I’m pretty glad I was wrong. Think of all I would have missed—not just these pesky gray strands, but also my husband, my child, my salvation and the opportunities to make things better around me. I hope I can always see those gray hairs as silver—the silver lining of being given more time than I’d anticipated.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Little beginnings

At least the plants have been enjoying all the recent rainfall.

Just look at these zucchini plants. Flourishing. Big, shade-making leaves, bright and sunny blooms—they’re loving the rain.

It still amazes me, even after all these years, how plants grow. Some dirt, a diminutive spindly green thing—and a few weeks and several inches of water later, you get these monstrous vines with sturdy stems and buds and the promise of wonderful veggies in just a week or two. And they began so humbly. I didn’t even think the tiny starters would survive. I stuck them in the dirt, and they wilted, hung droopily, looked shellshocked. So small, so vulnerable in that relentless sun. So defenseless through the driving storms. A few times in the first days after planting, they sat literally in pools of water that had run off our patio.

And now look at them. I’m so proud. And a tiny bit nervous.

From small beginnings come big things: An oak tree grows from a minute acorn, and one day towers over its surroundings. A tiny dancer commences her career with a stumbling, awkward performance at the recital—and a couple of decades later, conquers the stage in NYC. The average math student begins as all of us do, with addition, subtraction, reciting his multiplication tables…and then as an adult he devises an amazing formula that improves our lives. The first stones are laid in a monument that, at its completion, becomes an icon of human achievement.

But. Sometimes small beginnings can grow out of control. That first experimental cup of Starbucks may birth a pricey little habit. A simple electronic day planner or telephone or music storage machine is purchased—but then, on a frighteningly regular basis, a more fancy and more expensive machine must replace its predecessor. “Just this once,” a big, silly purchase is made with a credit card… and you know how that often ends.

Yes, beware those humble beginnings. They’re unimpressive, can even pass unnoticed, but that’s no guarantee they’ll stay that way. If it’s a vegetable plant, that’s probably okay; I don’t anticipate a little shop of horrors in our backyard. But if that unobtrusive beginning involves something bigger and more ominous, well, don’t say the zucchini and I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How I came to be diabetic

By the time you've finished reading this post, some of you might think I’ve flipped my lid. Ah well, that’s the beauty of the blog: No one is forcing anyone to read it...or to affirm its contents.

Many of you already know that inside my big file at the doctor’s office, I’ve been diagnosed as prediabetic. It showed up during my pregnancy as gestational diabetes, about two thirds of the way through the experience. It was a pain in the hind end, and I really missed ice cream, cake, real yogurt, chocolate, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and all those other staples of pregnancy…but my GD wasn’t as severe as it could have been; I never had to take insulin, or give myself a shot, and although I still hate to stick myself for blood samples, it really wasn’t so bad. I lost my pregnancy weight pretty quickly, and the diet worked because my dear little boy was just under 7 pounds—not a huge kid at all.

Typically, the condition of gestational diabetes disappears as soon as the child emerges. However, developing GD increases your chances of developing plain ol’ diabetes later in life. In my case, I just felt weird in the months following the birth of Marcus, and even though the doctors felt no need to re-test me when all was said and done, I wanted to have it done just for peace of mind. So I asked them to do so, and they agreed. But just as with many other tests, getting results for the blood test that measures glucose levels can take a few days of waiting.

Now, during those months after I had my son, another drama was unfolding. A gal I know, not really well but semi-well, had discovered that she had cancer. She was going for daily radiation treatments even while I was waiting for my blood test results from the diabetes re-check. She is married, with a nice-sized family. Small children—and since this was a couple years back, the kids were even smaller then. She’s very nice, very sweet, has nothing negative to say about anyone, is a good mom and wife, and is simply a pleasant and friendly woman. She’s a great person.

And I was driving one day with my baby securely in the back seat, running errands, and I was praying. (With my eyes open, of course—don’t worry!) First I was praying for my test results, and I don’t remember the exact words, but you can guess the gist: Lord, please let those results come back negative, please let my paranoia be just that, etc. And then, I was praying for this friend, praying that the treatments worked, praying that she would be healed completely.

And suddenly I was convicted in my heart, because here she was fighting a much bigger fight than me, fighting to stay alive, to stay here on this Earth and raise her family… and I was bemoaning the potential loss of chocolate cake from my daily existence. Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it. I stopped praying for a minute to let that sink in. I felt a bit selfish.

And I heard a voice; it said, “Would you be willing to accept diabetes if this woman can be healed?” or something quite close to that. I kid you not, it was as if the voice was in my head. It was not a big, booming voice or a still whisper or anything like that—just a voice, a clear vein of thought. And I knew who was asking, and I knew what my answer should be. I am happy to tell you that my honest, gut response matched the response that in my heart I knew was desirable to the One who was asking: Yes, I answered. Yes, of course, if it means that she is here and well.

And that was that. The light changed or traffic sped up or something took my mind off the exchange—and it had been an exchange, at least to me. Within a few days, I had the call from the doc’s office, asking me to come back in. Yes, I was, indeed, still diabetic, but just barely so. Yes, I still needed to do what I’d done when pregnant, although not to the same extreme. Yes, it could worsen at any time—but thus far, it has not.

The conclusion of the story? My friend finished her treatments, and no, she has not had any recurrences. I pray that will always be the case. Would my answer to that inside-my-head question be the same today? You bet it would.

(I’d love to see you right now, reader, and see whether you are shaking your head and compressing your lips in doubt. All I can say is that if you know me, you also know that I lack imagination and have often been accused of believing thing only when they slap me across the face. If you know me, then you know I couldn’t make this up. Enough said.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Aren't you gonna play?!" NO.

‘Tis the season of picnics, and that’s a wonderful thing. However. It does come with its downside.

The cooking aspect I don’t mind at all; I love to cook and prepare new dishes, and the summer potlucks are an excellent forum in which to be creative. Picnickers are hungry but honest. You’ll know in an instant if you have a hit, and will be equally certain if you’ve fallen flat (the container you brought will still be full come picnic’s end).

I love the outdoors, so that’s great too. I’m not one of those people who hate to sit outside, or won’t be seen without shoes on; I don’t suffer from misophobia (fear of dirt or being contaminated by dirt), and although I despise most flying insects, I’m always stocked with various Deet products to fend them off.

No, the food’s fine, the outdoors are good. It’s the sports—those dastardly sports. Or, perhaps I should rephrase that: it’s not the sports, but the sporty, coordinated people who insist on everyone’s participation in whatever senseless game is being played. I’m not a sports person. I love watching most of them, will root for the Stillers and Pens and even the Pirates in a pinch. I have a very basic understanding of popular professional games, and I’m quite happy to observe many sporting events.

But to play a sport? Look, I’m not competitive, not about that anyway. And I'm a klutz to boot. I’ve always been. I mastered walking after much practice, and it’s been pretty much downhill since. Middle and high school activities forced me into band membership, and although I did enjoy it and still love music, I have to admit that it was partly my sports illiteracy that kept me there. Even marching was a challenge, not because I lack rhythm, but because I am graceless—discord in motion. I was always in step, though!

And now that it’s picnic season, I’ll be silently dreading the end of each meal, the first eager calls of “Who’s up for some softball?” God forbid they be a competitive crowd; that’s the kiss of death for me. I used to feel slightly ill before attending a yearly 4th of July picnic because I knew how fiercely the other attendees would square off in the volleyball games. I’d rather have been on the “fat guys” team (yes, they had one) than have to serve that @#*! ball and not reach the net. Again. (I haven’t been to that gathering for some time… Wonder if they’ve mellowed with age, or if they still spike that ball at people’s faces?)

So, I’ll be enjoying the great outdoors with the rest of you in these next few weeks—we've already picnicked a few times, in fact. And each time I’ve tossed my paper plate in the trash, I’ll be hoping against hope that this year, instead of a bag of balls and bats and nets and racquets, someone will uncover a pile of books or sketch pads. It could happen. Right?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Hope for the future

A few nights ago, Todd and the boy and I had the type of experience that reaffirms one’s faith in humanity.

We attended a talent show.

Now, it was no average talent show—it was a variety show featuring the many gifts of the middle and high-school age children at our church. And it was fabulous.

I, as usual, didn’t really want to go. I could foresee only another lost evening, more time away from home, more time at church… I dragged my feet a bit. But Todd had already picked up tickets, had told some of his students he’d be there, and I knew, in my heart, that if I went I’d be glad I did.

Boy, was I ever.

Those kids rocked. They sang, they danced, they did acrobatics and even performed some theatrical stuff. One amazing boy played the piano like a young Beethoven; another young lady pranced around the stage, coltish and lovely, leaping with joy. A street-wise boy slinked onto the platform and moved with such grace and natural rhythm that I knew, just knew, I’d see him on Broadway some day. Another big, beautiful gal sang a first uncertain, then bold and confident Amazing Grace that brought the house down.

And to match the incredible talent, our audience of many teenagers was appreciative and enthusiastic. In an era of ridiculous competition among our youth, this gathering clapped, shouted, whistled, and stood to applaud the acts before them. There was never a jeer, never a catcall, only genuine love and admiration for the performers. I’ve rarely been more proud to be part of a congregation of observers.

Most amazing of all was the cause: these kids, these gifted kids, were all performing by choice, for no other reason than to help raise money for themselves and their friends who are planning to make missions trips in the next month or two. The missionary students are volunteering portions of their summer vacations, and working to raise money, so they can go and work for strangers, for free—work merely to help others who are experiencing hardship.

Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that make you proud to be part of this country, of a God-fearing culture that can inspire kids to do something selfless, something of that magnitude?

I’m sure that in many ways, the kids I saw are still typical teens—I witnessed lots of texting at the show, as well as plenty of whispers and flirting. But mostly, I saw a shining hope for their future and mine.

And on the dawn of Independence Day, I wanted to share that with you.