Polar Vortex

It’s the fifth consecutive school day off.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, a boulder really, you know it’s downright frigid here in the Midwest.  Baby, it’s cold outside.  It’s cold inside too.

The frost is inside our kitchen. Inside!

When my babies were babies, Jody, their day care provider would usher them into her house with the warning that if they didn’t hustle, they’d “freeze their frips off.”  To this day, the exact meaning of “frips” remains a mystery to me, but I will guarantee that whatever frips you have would become fripcicles in an instant this week.  Bars are beer delivery are shut down.  IN WISCONSIN, you guys.  Delivery of the US Mail has been suspended, and workers whose jobs take them outdoors, like my husband, have been given the option to take vacation time instead of repairing streetlights, which this week is essentially a suicide mission.  Some vacay.  Well at least he’s still got his frips!

Cabin Fever has begun to set in however.  Ennui abounds (or lies there doing nothing, more accurately), and even my children, slaves to their electronic devices, want to go back to school.  They miss their friends.  That biology exam keeps getting pushed back, which sure, means more time to study, but let’s be honest about the fidelity of that process. . .  YouTube has lost some of its luster, and even my dear, dear roommates, the boys’ best TV friends, the Impractical Jokers guys, are enjoying a brief hiatus at Chez Weir.  Summer vacation is different–even when it rains, you won’t die going outside–there’s always somewhere to go, something to do.  You know the fever’s bad when the kids want to go to school.  And NOT until the end of June.  I’ll be curious to see how many of these days will be required to be made up and how the district determines just how it will make them up.

There are myriad activities to enjoy, or if not enjoy, then just do, when you’re housebound though.  I thought I’d share with you a few of the ways we’ve been passing the time this Polar Vortex.

  1. Yoga: I rolled out my mat Tuesday morning, and before I could remove my socks, my idiot dog had commandeered my mat, laid out, covering the whole thing in what I call his frog-dog position. *eye roll/sigh*  Caleb is better at downward facing dog than I am, but that’s only because his snout is in my face while I breathe deeply seeking zen.  Idiot.  I love him.
  2. Watching Bosch on Amazon Prime: I’ve faithfully read the entire Harry Bosch series from author Michael Connelly as he’s cranked out each volume, though ’til now have avoided the screen adaptation.  I’m one of those “it’s better in my imagination” types so I’ve stayed away, but they’re worthy mysteries.  I enjoy Titus Welliver’s embodiment of Bosch, and I like how the series has updated some of the details to lend a modern feel.  I love that Bosch remains an vinyl LP-spinning, old-school jazz guy, and that not every actor is a perfect physical specimen. I mean, they’re all TV-pretty, but not unbelievably so.
  3. Culling through stemware: As a rule, I’m a moderate-to poor housekeeper.  We don’t live in squalor, but I suck at making things pretty, and this includes my ability to display china and crystal.  I ditched three mismatched wine glasses (I’m guessing each the lone remnant from a one-time set of four), a couple vases and two candleholders. I purchased that Marie Kondo hold-onto-your-shit-and-see-if-it-sparks-joy book four years back.  It sat, spine barely cracked, on my nightstand every day since until I finally gave it to a coworker just last week.  You’d have to strap me down and tape my eyes open to make me watch the tidying up show.  Just not my jam.
  4. Culling through greeting cards: There is an excellent reason to keep some of these missives.  You’re reminded just how spectacular others believe you to be, even if only for a brief and shining moment.  It’s a happy stroll down memory lane mostly, with a few bittersweet moments–like the transition from the kids’ birthday cards being signed ” With love from Gramma Terry and Poppa” to only “With love from Gramma Terry.”  I held onto all our wedding cards, the welcome baby cards, and a few sympathy/support cards from when the big kid’s diagnosis was handed down.  I say this all the time, but you wish you had the friends I have, you really do.
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    In an example of my poor organizational strategy, I unearthed this photo, stashed in the greeting card drawer. Awwwwww. This is truly one of the best-ever photos of the tall one! So pure.

  5. Family Game Night:  There is nothing like a game of Sorry or Uno to learn exactly where family allegiances lie.  It’s generally agreed that the individual producing the highest volume of sass and trash-talk (my husband) is the common enemy.  I’m a little disturbed though at my children’s ease and delight in throwing down a Draw Four or Sorry card in my direction though.
  6. Reading a couple Harry Dolan books:  The two I’ve read are set in Ann Arbor, Michigan which is where my friend Kristen used to live.  According to her, Ann Arbor is cool (I’ve visited only once and had a lovely, murder-free experience), collegiate and literary like the novels, but not as vibrant with intrigue and killing.  Thinking about Kristen makes me think about how we met, through Barenaked Ladies (she, an uber-uber-uber-uber fan and pretty cool chick otherwise too), so there’s a totally weird connection that in all the world can only be made in my brain.  Then you can while away a surprisingly large sum of time thinking about the upcoming summer Barenaked Ladies tour, and the fact you’re not going.
  7. Baking a really shitty cake: You know those Pinterest pins and Facebook videos that suggest you can make a box-mix cake taste like a bakery cake if you simply add an extra egg, substitute milk for water, and melt butter?  DO NOT DO THIS.  Well, don’t do this unless you want a cake that rises, then settles like a brick.  We legit laughed out loud after we let it cool.  The “cake” did not retain even one inch of its height.
  8. Cleaning out the spice cabinet:  I have an entire kitchen cabinet of spices, not just what one might consider a spice cabinet, but a wall o’ flavor.  After our kitchen remodel, I organized them alphabetically, sorted by cooking vs. baking spices (nerd, and FYI, my closet is a rainbow, sorted by color).  Naturally, spice blends like Montreal Steak Seasoning, Emeril’s Essence, or Garam Masala occupied their own shelf.  Over time, I’ve come to just toss them back in (see Number 3 above for my statement about my housekeeping prowess), but now I’m good for another two years or so.
  9. Public Library Time:  I love spending time at the library, just hanging out, browsing amid the shelves.  I took the kids before the deepest segment of the deep freeze kicked in and the city closed the libraries.  I think about library patrons whose only warmth comes from an open public space, such as what libraries provide, and think I’m not as grateful as I should be for the good fortune of a thermostat.  And the house the thermostat serves.
  10. Preparing for my dog’s girlfriend’s birthday party: I’m just going to close with that entirely true statement here.

The one thing I absolutely cannot do is catch up on the mountain of work that was already a foothill of work before these days off.  When I left work last Thursday, I never in my wildest dreams believed I’d have a week off.  I can’t access any of my data, observation notes, or historical records from which to draft my reports. They are locked up nice and tight, safe and sound in my desk.

My kids wanna go back to school, a big enough shock to stand on its own merit, and *gasp* so do I!

It’s Been

One week since my child began high school.  I’ve adopted something of an air accomplishment, my freshman having gotten to school five days and home four to date.  I realized this is not an accomplishment, and even less so my accomplishment, but hey!  He made it, and so have I–our butts are draggin’ to be sure, but it’s Friday.  One week of high school under his belt, one more week of Fiscal Year 2019 under mine; one week of morning routines upended topsy-turvy; one week spent ratcheting back my alarm earlier each day to get him (us) to the city transit bus stop by 6:53 in the AM.

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I’m super time anxious, as most of you know.  I’m that nettlesome “I’m late if I’m ten minutes early” person.  My son does not share this same anxiety, afforded is he the special egocentrism through which teenagers float.  He does exhibit his own variation of time-related angst however.  His discomfort peeks out from the clouds when I frantically announce deadlines such as, YOU HAVE TO BE AT THE BUS STOP IN FOUR MINUTES AND YOU DON’T HAVE SHOES ON YET, or organization-related elements like, YOU HAVE GOT TO PACK THAT SHIT UP THE NIGHT BEFORE, SON! (and yeah, those are direct quotes).  My heart rate has hovered around 100 for much too much time this week.  It is no inverse relationship between my heart rate and my having to be or get someone somewhere on time, get someone somewhere early.

My son remarked that my morning stress levels are probably related to his new school routines.  He noticed (even he couldn’t not notice), and I felt terrible.  I wrote him this letter yesterday to explain, to try to anyway–

My Baby Who Is Not My Baby Anymore,

I am excited for you and proud of you for having stepped up and taken charge of a whole new high school world.  It’s one thing to have prepared for it–applying, touring, testing, purchasing supplies, even taking the bus for the practice run, but it’s another to be doing it in real life.

Any stress or weird behavior from me is MY responsibility; it’s all on me.  Of course I worry about you, and want things to go well for you.  I want you not to struggle, so I want things to go smoothly.  But my anxiety and my stress aren’t because of you being in high school.  I’m just wired differently than a lot of people.  Trying to work out timing of anything causes me to overthink and become unduly nervous.  When I get nervous and feel frustrated, I tend to swear or have those little fits.  I need to work on that, but it is important to me that you know it’s not because of you.

Your job is to focus on your studies, Kid.  You’re going to work more and harder than ever before.  Take it all in.  Try to see how you fit in to the world around you.  Look around and make connections between the world and your classroom learning.  Never settle.  Never.  Ever.  Always shoot for the “A.”  You will settle for a “B” from time to time, but I want you to think in terms of A, advanced.  IB (International Baccalaureate) will help you learn for life.  Great things don’t happen when your highest aim is to be proficient.  Every day of high school prepares you for what is to come in college and in life.  Be great, not just good enough.

Hard work and thoughtful attention to your studies and the people around you will make you a good student, and more importantly, a good person, a good friend.  No matter what you do, never settle for less than your best.  Even when it’s hard or it’s a subject you dislike, do your best.

Your grandparents always told me that if I gave anything my best effort, did all that I could, that’s all they’d ever ask of me.  And now I am telling you that same thing.  It’s good advice, son.

Congratulations on making it through week one of high school.  Can’t wait to see what you’re going to accomplish.

Love, Mom

Despite having places to be each night after work and school this week, I made a point to attend yoga last night.  I’m pleased to report that for the first time since re-re-starting, I didn’t wake up achy and stiff today.  Progress, that’s what we call that.  Before class, I attended the funereal visitation of a man whose son played baseball with mine three and four seasons ago.  I didn’t know him well, but his wife and I remained Facebook friends and continue to share inappropriate, sassy and snarky memes and baseball mom messages from time to time.  He lost his life at age 35, and all I can think about is how much he will miss.  Such an early passing is tragic, every passing is painful, but to be gone from your children so early is unthinkable.  My heart aches for his wife and three children.

My son read and saved my letter.  He may have even hugged me (but don’t tell anyone, OK?), and relief washed over me like a cleansing rain.  During last night’s final pose, shavasana (savasana?), lying on my back in a tightly cramped yoga studio, I shed tears.  I couldn’t help myself.  Though my body was present, my mind raced, reflecting on loss, love, connections, missed connections, growth, and how there is never enough time.  The tears refused to stop until I sat upright, but my heart knew peace.  I know that reads totally cheeseball, but my heart felt good.  I bowed and uttered namaste for the first time with not even a hint of fraud, sass, or irony.

Keep trying.  Do your best.  Admit when you’re wrong.  Apologize when a situation demands it.  Be good.  Do good.  All of this.

Namaste, Y’all

Book One

When we moved to our current home in 2005, an elderly lady, Miss Irene, owned the duplex next door.  Every day while my big kid napped, I would lounge around the patio table with my very pregnant feet up and read.  I read to my son every day, all the time, but I longed to read something with chapters!  Something longer and less sturdy than the steady diet of board books my son devoured.  My kid napped like a champ, so I usually had at least ninety connected minutes to disconnect from motherhood.

Typically more than half those ninety minutes were co-opted by Miss Irene.  She was a lonely soul whose “family”–daughter-in-law, granddaughter, grandson, and their crew–inflicted the worst kind of harm unto her.  Without reliving the experiences, let’s just say that her “family” drugged her (they were all in love with the heroin), and ran up her credit cards.  The goods they purchased they fenced from the front porch.  I came to know these details only much too late, after our neighbor, a long-time neighborhood resident filled us in.  He was the one who got her the help she needed, and the Department of Aging stepped in to remove her from her “family.”  We were new, so weren’t familiar with any of the players, and I kept busy trying my hardest not to throw up every minute of the day.  #2’s was a tough pregnancy, but I digress.

Miss Irene would amble over and chat me up each day the weather allowed me to sit outside.  I think she kept her eyes trained to her side window in hopes of a friendly face.  I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of silence as I made friends with yet another lawyer or homicide cop of some mystery author’s imagination.   But more often than not, I heard stories of Miss Irene’s youth–the dances she attended and the fancy dresses she chose, how the streets of Milwaukee had changed since streetcars were replaced by buses, her long-dead and deeply missed husband.  Her wonderful children.  (I didn’t know how truly awful they treated her.)

At that time, though I craved solitude, I listened to Irene’s tales.  Irene reminded me of my grandma, who would chat up every waitress, clerk, or bank teller in southeastern Wisconsin.  My grandma outlived most of her friends, so didn’t get much company as her years added up.  I always hoped that those souls who leaned in just a touch too long to listen to her stories were kind to her.  So that’s how I chose to be with Miss Irene.  I would hear the same stories nearly every day, sometimes twice or three times in quick succession.  Still, they were her memories and they mattered to her.  Talking to her made her happy I could tell.  So I let her talk, always hoping that someone would have shown my grandma the same kindness.

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I walked my dog late this morning, and met a woman clearly not 100% in control of her faculties.  She was carrying an open half-gallon jug of milk (still cold judging by the condensation on the jug), and within the first minute of our chat, I learned that her husband had died five years ago.  He was an alcoholic whose demise was sped by the passing of their pet cat, gone now nine years.  Sally from HUD was unforgivable due to the shoddy job she did handling the sale of her husband’s condo.  Andy, her late husband should have just paid off that condo instead of wasting his father’s inheritance on booze.  But not beer, because a man can’t be an alcoholic if he drinks only beer.  And eight employees of her current address had quit or been fired since 2016.  She shared these details with me, random stranger, in fewer than five minutes.  Then she told me most of them again.

I relay this to you here not to poke fun, no.  I tell you because I’m no martyr, but it cost nothing to be kind to this woman.  She talked, I’d say “we” talked, but really, it was all her for about ten minutes before I really did need to keep moving. It was hard to break from her, as whatever diminished capacity she had impaired her social interactions as well, but I managed to extricate myself and bid her a good day.  I hope she gained something in those ten minutes, even if it was just a random stranger’s ear to let her tell her stories.  I would like someone to do that for someone I loved, or hell, for me when that time comes.

Book Two

My big kid’s brain is normal.  I’m not sure whether I am supposed to be relieved or disappointed about that.  I pick relieved.   Reading the radiologist’s report on my son’s brain MRI was a throwback to graduate school gross anatomy, and I was able to piece together some meaningful info about his brain as I read.  My son’s neurologist hypothesized that in addition to his muscle weakness, presence of chorea suggested there may be some problem the way the nerves were being fired at the cortical level.   I have no idea what any of this means for his future, but don’t I sound like I do?

My little kid’s arm is abnormal.  He rode the bench for the first time last night, and I felt immensely proud of him.  He did go 2/3 at the plate, which pleased him no end, and he didn’t seem overly fazed not to play defense until it came time to trot out to first base during the first inning.  He looked as if a giant iron gate had slammed shut just catching the tops of his cleats on its way down, locking him out of the game.  He consciously had to sit his butt down, but he did.  Just like he was supposed to.  He said it felt weird, but he did keep his coaches entertained with his expert play-by-play.

Book Three

It didn’t kill me.

I’m three weeks into yoga, and I haven’t died.  I’m actually pretty good at it.  For a first timer.  For a forty-nine year old first timer, thank you very much.  Though it’s summer, my anxiety-riddled brain still races, and I am thoroughly amazed that I can find utter tranquility outside on a tennis court, surrounded by kids’ lessons and ladies who don’t exactly always call in/out entirely accurately.  Since my knees have determined my running career is done, I need to do something to keep my physical self in shape.  I’m not meant to be a thin person, but I prefer being thin to not being thin.  Plus I really like to eat.   On my first date with my husband, I told him that I wasn’t one of those girls who was gonna be all “Oh, I’ll just have a side salad and a Diet Coke.  I EAT, mister, and you have to be OK with that.”  Then I tore into a hamburger and fries, and it was pretty much love.  Obviously.

I can stretch and I can use my body to work against and for itself.  My son can’t do that, and I’m not finding quite the right metaphor here, but I’m going to keep moving somehow, and in some way.  Because I can.

 

Namaste.