Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Three Day Rule

    For most every rule, there is always an exception. With that in mind, I share with you the three-day rule that my mother created many years ago. Whether it is heartache, indecision, or having your feelings hurt, you have three days to lick your wounds, assess the situation or throw an all-out pity party for yourself if you so desire. After three days, however, you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and move forward. 
    While I’m not even sure what a bootstrap is, I know what I am expected to do on day four. There is no promise it will be easy, but there is assurance that nothing good will come if you don’t pick up the pieces and move ahead. Nothing is ever gained from wallowing in the comforts of self-pity. The few exceptions to this rule include loss of a loved one and illness, those obvious mountains that can’t be climbed in three days.

    When I was 18, I decided to spend the summer, four states away, making my fortune waiting tables for minimum wage in a local Mexican restaurant. My mother looked on with great doubt. When my checking account was below zero and my safety was at stake, my mother snatched me home and informed me that I would go to college somewhere within a 200 mile radius. In shock and disbelief, I took to my bed for three days and called it the flu. My mother knew I was licking my wounds and on day four I was met by a team of family members who snatched me from my self pity and showed me the path forward.  That was my first taste of the three-day rule. My uncles showed up in a 1980’s conversion van and I sat in the back seat as we drove around town until I had no doubt about what comes next in the life of an unemployed 18 year old, unskilled at properly carrying a large tray of nachos and quesadillas.

    I have invoked the three day rule many times over the years to assist with broken hearts, missed opportunities, embarrassing moments, and bullies who somehow made it to adulthood. While I no longer disguise it as the flu, I have been known to sit in the dark and spend a weekend watching The Godfather Trilogy surrounded by empty bags of comfort food. Five pounds heavier and four days later, I arise from the depths of the couch with a renewed attitude, a prayer of thankfulness on my heart and the vision to see the good that clearly outweighs the bad.

    My children are already well versed in the three-day rule and I have watched them calmly accept bad news of lost pets, stolen items, failed projects, or being left out. While their hearts may be heavy, they emerge from their sadness after three days and never look back. Unlike their mother, they take to their rooms, wrapped up in auxiliary cords and headphones while they let music distract them from their worries. They don’t need a weekend with the Corleones. They just need time…  and three days is what they are allowed before that van full of family members shows up at their door ready to take them for a little ride. Take it from me and from Luca Brasi, a ride with family who disagree with your actions is never a good ride. As long as you are up by day four, you’ll never have to worry about such. 

    So, take your three days, mend what is broken, accept that healing may take some time, and set your sights forward. On day four, wake with a smile. Thank God for all that is good and take that first step towards happiness. It truly makes all the difference.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

As Simple As Peaches

My 51st birthday was upon us and all I really wanted was to travel north to see my son.  I needed a day with both children.  Unable to find a hotel room anywhere in Nashville, I thought I might try airbnb, a service that allows you to rent a room in a stranger's house.  My daughter cringed at the thought, but the reservation was made.

We arrived at my son's doorstep late Friday afternoon.  It seemed he and his sister had developed a birthday itinerary that was full of food, fun and laughter.  I eyed the stops we would make and the one that stood out above the rest was 9:30 a.m. - The Peach Truck. (Okay... and the nap)  As a former resident of Georgia, the sweet taste of Georgia peaches still calls to me. My mouth watered as I thought of the stand of peaches waiting for me on my birthday.  The itinerary included gourmet snow cones, shopping, too much food and a midnight movie.  There was a long day ahead of us and we would need sleep before we began.  

Afraid that our overnight lodging may be with an axe murderer, I had my son go with us to the house, for protection.  Three screams are better than two, so it couldn't hurt.  We arrived at a lovely home that seemed quite safe and secure.  The owners were out of town, but there were other guests who would be staying in another room. Something about it felt so wrong, but then the comforts of home beckoned us in and we shut the front door behind us.  We were the only ones in the large unfamiliar home with many locked doors and we settled into our room armed with cell phones and large curling brushes.  It was some time after my son left that we heard the front door open.  Frozen in our bed, unknowing who was mere steps away, we listened to our housemates disappear into the silent house.  I could only assume they were as curious about us as we were of them.  Eventually sleep took hold and we woke to a new day... my birthday.  

Of all the activities of this day, my favorite was the Farmer's Market where my children and I washed fresh fruit in a garden hose and ate it near the Peach Truck.  The sun was already hot and the taste of plums and peaches quenched our thirst.  Our fingers were sticky from the fruit juice running down our hands, but the taste was that of summer and it reminded me of days gone by.  Better than birthday cake, simple peaches delivered happiness on my special day.  

The day continued forward with many great stops and food fit for a queen.  At 11:07 p.m., I had to call it quits on the birthday itinerary of fun.  Perhaps I was too old for a midnight movie, or perhaps I had already achieved just the right amount of fun.  My children understood and we returned to our home away from home where we would once again sleep with strangers in the house.  When we arrived, the other guests were already home.  A chance meeting in the kitchen dispelled all of our fears as we learned that the two school teachers upstairs were just as worried about us as we were of them.  We laughed, made new friends and all returned to our rooms where we still locked our doors behind us because, really, what good is a curling brush when a stranger comes calling in the middle of the night.  

The birthday weekend was grand and we love our Nashville home. Our host family was wonderful and we hope to visit again.  As we traveled back to our own home, we took with us a small paper sack of peaches so that we could share a taste of summer with friends and family.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Three Spoon Balloon

    I spent the entire weekend packing up old toys, video games, board games and trading cards that my children haven't touched in years. As I sorted and sifted through hundreds of these items, I realized that we have spent a lot of money entertaining our children.  However, of all the games and toys in the house, the most memorable one, which was the greatest fun, was a game we invented, called Three Spoon Balloon.  It came with no cost, no rules and no shortage of laughter.

    My children and I armed ourselves with long handled, wooden spoons and batted a simple balloon around the living room.  Everyone was well aware that the balloon could never hit the floor.  We have jumped across chairs and tables with arms outstretched in order to catch a slowly falling balloon before it hit the ground.  We have each taken an elbow to the face and skinned our knees on the carpet as we crashed into one another in a group effort to keep the balloon "alive" and in flight.

   Perhaps, not the safest of games, it did come with gentler moments when each of us lightly tapped the balloon into a new course as it softly climbed and fell around the room.  As the peaceful rhythm of the wafting balloon became hypnotic, someone would always break free from the trance and take their wooden spoon and whack the balloon into oblivion.   It was game on at that point, and players became very territorial in their corners of the living room.  I preferred the far corner by the fireplace in an attempt to prevent children from flying into the brick.  Of course, while it was called "Three Spoon Balloon," no player was ever turned away. Others have joined in the fun with plastic swords and assorted kitchen utensils. Everyone worked hard to make sure the balloon didn't hit the ground in their area of the living room.  With spoons in the air, the balloon was protected at all costs.  We have had five or more players at times and while everyone had fun jumping and diving over one another, the best games were always with three spoons and the undivided attention of my two children.

  My daughter's spoon was covered in bling with dozens of stickers of penguins, smiley faces, lady bugs and more. My son's spoon is a few inches longer than the others, giving him some kind of unspoken edge over his sister and me.  My spoon is a simple no frills wooden spoon worn down on the edges from stirring Kool-Aid and spaghetti sauce, at different times, of course.

  Three Spoon Balloon delivered more fun than thousands of dollars worth of toys and games. Tonight, my house is full of teenage girls who are happily swimming in the pool.  Can you only imagine the looks on their faces, later tonight, when I hand each of them a wooden spoon? Only one will know what's coming next and I know she will smile when she takes hold of her decorated spoon.  It's game on, once again.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Start What You Finish

  It goes without saying that good parents teach their children to finish what they start.  My own children have discovered how difficult this can be, just days after receiving their soccer jerseys and realizing that soccer wasn't what they wanted to do.  They have completed a season on a team, giving their all, even when they did not enjoy that which they had signed up for.  It's a life lesson that will carry them far.

  My son was only six years old when he landed a solo in the school play.  He had practiced and practiced and had his three minute song memorized and perfected.  As luck would have it, a seasonal cold left him hoarse the day before the play. He reserved his voice, communicating only with finger points and head nods, in an attempt to heal his vocal chords in time for the big event.  There was a morning practice and an afternoon performance.  He made it through the morning with only a few crackles in his voice.  When afternoon came, and the auditorium was filled with proud parents, my shining star stood at the top of the stage and began belting out his solo.  The first few words were beautiful and delivered in perfect pitch.  And then it came, the harsh crackling of a voice being torn from the performer and suddenly, no sounds came out.  Had I been in his position, I'm not certain I wouldn't have left the stage and hoped that the director would move to the next scene.  It was first grade after all.  No parents would have judged him.  Instead, that tiny child with the once big voice, continued to sing without sound and never missed a word.  A stunned audience watched as a child moved forward, finishing what he had started, delivering a silent performance worthy of a standing ovation.   I could not have been more proud of him.

  My daughter, an outstanding gymnast, who spent the most part of her early years upside down in half twists as she catapulted herself from room to room, has also lived this philosophy of finishing what you start.  After years of gymnastics and after school practice, five days a week for long hours, her twelve year old bones began to creak and pop.  On a grey November day, she shared with me that she was tired.  This wasn't the kind of tired that a nap can cure. Her body was tired.  She finished the season and finished what she had started with the completion of the Spring program on a Sunday afternoon in May.  It was, indeed, a grand finish.

  I've taught my children to do these things, and yet, I find myself in a quandary, unable to start what I have finished.  Let me explain.... I've written a 25,000 word book that has been finished for over two years.  The ending is great, but the beginning keeps changing.  It has changed shape and form while the characters come and go.  Edits are made and just when I think the beginning is good, I change it all again.  I've finished what I started, but I can't seem to get the start right.  And then.... I gave up.  I shelved it.... left it in a digital folder.  Had my children quit what they started, I would have placed them back in the proverbial saddle, put on that jersey, or cheered them on from the stands.  Perhaps I need a good dose of my own medicine.

   My long lost book characters call to me from their digital silence and I find myself ignoring their call.  I should remember that I heard my child when no words came out.  Sometimes you need to listen even when you believe there is nothing worth listening too.  I suppose I should follow my guidance to my children and listen to what is calling me and truly finish that which I keep starting over and over again.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Frog Giggling

    Warm spring nights in the South wake us from our winter slumber and give us back our desire to be outside with Mother Nature.  My husband is much more of an outdoorsman than I, as my adventures are fairly limited to camping, boating and fishing.  That was not always the case, however.  I was invited, once, to participate in a frog gigging trip.  The thought of spearing a frog did not appeal to me, but, I was young and imagined that the outing might be fun.  I must remind you that I was only invited once, for very good reasons.

    My future husband, his nephew and I headed off into the flooded fields and ponds that teemed with spring frogs, snakes and alligators, none of which I actually wanted to be near. When we had motored out to the middle of a large body of water, the two men stepped outside of the boat and began walking around the dark, shallow lake with gigs in hand.  This was most unexpected and I was left in the boat with only a lantern and a prayer.  Uncertain what lurked in these waters, I feared at any moment I would see both of these men eaten by a large alligator. I watched as they flung snakes out of their way with the tips of their gigs and I wondered how crazy one must be to do this.  And then it hit me, I was alone in the boat and never asked the very important question, "Are snakes drawn to light?"  I doused the lantern and sat there enveloped in darkness.  I could hear the many unfamiliar sounds of the night and feared that the snakes might crawl in the boat with me and immediately turned the lantern back on. Still afraid I might be a beacon calling out to all the night critters, the light went out again.  For the next few hours I can only guess that it appeared as if someone was sending Morse code signals for help as a light flashed on and off from the middle of the darkness as I hid from view and repeatedly checked for incoming snakes.

    Eventually, the men returned with their catch and announced that it was time for me to go frog giggling.  This new sport, not quite the same as frog gigging, involved snatching a frog out of the darkness with your bare hands.  They motored us close to the bank and told me to watch for glowing eyes. Once I spied a pair, I was instructed to reach out and quickly grab them.  I blindly followed this instruction and safely nabbed an unsuspecting toad.  An afterthought occurred to me that I should have asked another important question, "Do snakes have glowing eyes?"

   With a boat full of frogs, it was soon time to leave.  Being the only one wide awake from an adrenaline rush, I drove us home as the two hunters slept. Still uncertain how this can happen, I, apparently, never noticed when the boat slipped from the trailer and slid onto the highway leaving the boat, motor and frogs miles from home.  As we cut through the night, traveling down back roads, I sang softly with the radio unaware of what was missing.  As I drove the vehicle over the railroad tracks in town, I looked back to make sure the boat was okay.  You can only imagine my surprise to discover that the boat was gone.  In a panic, I woke the men and asked the brilliant question, "Where's the boat?!?"  I whipped the truck around, crossing back over the tracks in a frenzied rush, sending the front of the vehicle down hard into the pavement, knocking the bumper and winch off the truck, bringing us to a sudden stop.  Much like a wounded animal, the vehicle moved slowly off the road, dragging the broken parts with it, shooting sparks into the night.  We were now boatless and broken.  I retired myself to the back seat and the men took over, placing the front of the truck into the back of the truck and returning us to the highway to find the boat.

    About twenty miles out of town, we pulled up to a very happy motorist who was loading an abandoned boat in the back of his truck.  The frogs croaked from the sack that still sat on the side of the highway.  We retrieved out boat and our frogs, but the motor was long gone.

    Warm spring nights still remind me of that time in the middle of the pond where I sat with my light and my faith listening to the symphony of frog songs, crickets, and night noises.  I think everyone should try this at least once, because sometimes once is all you get.   But most importantly, sometimes once is all you need.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

One Too Many Cats


    While driving to work the other day, a black cat ran out of the woods and darted across the road in front of my car.  They say that it is bad luck to have a black cat cross your path and this thought played in the back of my mind as I tried to figure out what this cat was carrying in its mouth as it ran, in a fevered pace, away from my car, into the woods, leaving its trail of bad luck for me to cross. And then it hit me.... it was carrying another black cat!   This was certainly the height of bad luck to have two black cats cross one's path, one in the mouth of another and I immediately spilled my coffee all over the passenger seat. The running cat did have a white spot on his back, so I convinced myself that this had to counter the double bad luck of this feline duo in the middle of the road.  In fact, I decided that this must be a sign of good things to come because what are the odds of having two cats run in front of a speeding car and nobody leaving the scene with coffee burns or road rash.  

    Later that day, I returned to my neighborhood where I spied a poodle who had been wandering our streets for days.  His ears and tail had been dyed blue and he was about as hard to miss as the two traveling cats of my morning.  I had to wonder why these oddities continued to cross my path, but more so, I wondered why anyone would dye an animal blue or any other color.

    As I pulled up to my house, my own feline pets greeted me with their little pollen covered feet and immediately walked across the hood of my once clean car.  I started to rethink this good luck/bad luck thing and wondered if I had assessed this all wrong.  A covey of cats sat on the fence and we eyed each other with uncertainty as I tried to recall if I actually knew each of their names.  It was a collection of critters brought home by my child who is unable to resist the call of an animal in need, no matter the color.  At some point, I simply stopped learning their names and they are known only for their personalities.  As "Good Cat" walked across my car, I wondered how bad the others were if she owned this title.

    I have known for years that my daughter possesses some kind of intangible force that draws animals of every kind to her.  A scene still plays in my head of her walking down the road in front of our house with an injured squirrel in her hands, a pet deer walking behind her, a white dog gently walking behind the deer, and a black cat bringing up the rear.  It was much like living with Snow White. The beautiful creatures of nature surrounded her.  My animal magnet seems to be a bit askew as I find myself surrounded by unnaturally colored dogs, yellow footed pets, and black cats resembling Russian nesting dolls.

When I grow old and my children are forced to take care of me, I hope they will pull out a copy of The Napping House and read it to me.  While only a child's book, it will remind me of the many animals who have passed our way, black, white, and dipped in blue.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Top Water Swimming

    From the time my children were only a few months old, they were taken to the pool where they were gently placed under the water and somehow, with some miraculous protection from above, they opened their eyes wide and began to naturally move through the water.  Perhaps it was genetic memory.  Perhaps it was dumb luck, but those babies could swim and had no fear of going under the water.  As I stood at the edge of the pool, nervously praying for their safety, my husband would cradle these tiny swimmers in his palms and gently blow a puff of air into their face.  Instinctively, they would inhale and that is when their underwater adventure began. I had seen it before and I knew exactly how it would occur, but the thought of placing a baby under water is more than a young mom can bear. Those underwater babies became powerful swimmers and our hearts swelled with pride as we had taught our children well.  

    As toddlers, they could jump in and swim back and forth across the pool.  Other families looked on in awe, as these tiny children had no fear of the water.  The problem, that we did not notice, was that they were skilled underwater swimmers and knew nothing about the top of the water.  Somewhere along the line, we forget to teach them about the breaststroke or the butterfly, because it was obvious they could cross an Olympic size pool with no problem and we were comfortable with the skills they had.

    The first realization that I may have forgotten a key part of the swimming program was when I entered my son in a summer swimming contest.  At the age of six, he eyed the lanes wondering what the black lines were for.  I was unaware that his view of the pool had always been from under the surface.  The children lined up with one goal of crossing to the other side.  I knew my dolphin child would excel at this race across the pool and I had already cleared a spot on the shelf for his trophy.  When the whistle blew, the children dove in and traveled in perfect breaststrokes down their lanes of pool traffic.  My son swam straight, about ten feet, disappeared under the water and took a hard left across the lanes.  He came up only to realize he was headed in the wrong direction.  He took a breath, reached across the water with arms wide open and sank back down under the now empty lanes of swimming children.  I knew we would never make it to the other side without some lessons on top water swimming.

    Ten years later, my daughter enrolled in lifeguard certification training.   She’s tiny, but she’s solid muscle and I knew floating might be an issue, as she has not an ounce of fat to help her float.   At the age of 50, I’m perfectly suited for bobbing in the pool with drink in hand and never having to actually move my feet.  I wished her luck and left her at the pool.  I had, once again, forgotten that my children were underwater swimmers.   When she texted me and told me she had to swim ten laps, I could only imagine a dog paddling girl flailing her arms in every direction, swimming directly into those who were making their way back and forth across the top of the pool in straight lines.   It didn’t take her long to realize that the kids wearing the suits, which read “Swim Team” had skills, she did not possess.  These kids moved in unison as they flew across the pool, hitting the wall with their feet in perfect underwater somersaults that catapulted them halfway across the pool for their next lap.  My dolphin child employed her underwater swimming skills to knock out the ten laps with ease and only broke the water a handful of times for a breath of air.    

    So, this summer, when I challenge my children to swim laps across the pool, they will have no idea that I’m secretly trying to squeeze in a chapter on swim lessons that I apparently forgot.    The breaststroke and the butterfly are definitely in our future.