Friday, July 14, 2017

Independence days

Believe it or not, this is a new entry to the Window Over the Sink. The word independence was a prompt at this month's writers' group meeting, and when I got to thinking of all it meant just to me...well, it was a lot. It made me think it doesn't mean the same thing to everyone and I'd love to know others' thoughts on it--so if you'd like to share, feel free. Other than that, thanks for coming by--have a great week. 

      I love the word Independence. It’s a strong word, like knowledge or excruciating or warrior. It elicits strong feelings in the same way as make my day, pilgrim—never mind that I’m mixing my cowboys--or adventure or love you, too.
          When I grew up, way back in the late middle of the last century, I craved
independence with a yearning I later saved for things like Marlboro Lights, longhorn cheese, and Pringles potato chips. I knew with no doubt whatsoever that somewhere out there in the land of jobs and no curfew and never again having to watch television was Independence.
          I was right. And I embraced it. I made every mistake an 18-year-old girl could think of to make and then some. I made decisions that changed my life forever in ways I could not have foreseen. I did every single thing I wanted to do—and then some.  Smoked way too many Marlboro Lights. Ate a lot of longhorn cheese on whatever crackers were available. Said love you, too to the wrong person more than once. I married the right one, and didn’t promise to obey. A good thing, too. An independent thing then.
          Independence as a young mother meant different things. It meant going to the bathroom by myself and sitting up late talking to girlfriends while our children slept. We were living lives we chose and loved, and we didn’t admit until much, much later how overwhelmed we were. We were working moms when it wasn’t popular, expected more emotional support from our husbands than our mothers ever would have dreamed of, and even expected help in the house in exchange for pumping our own gas and changing our own tires. These weren’t always things we got, you understand, but that didn’t stop us from expecting them. In turn, we got some Independence. Our own money, checking accounts, cars, and even credit. Later, we agreed, we would get some sleep and be able to go to the bathroom alone more often.
          As a “hear me roar” feminist, I was always proud to do my part at work—
and then some. I did my crying in the restroom, didn’t ask for help unless I was desperate, and didn’t flinch from hearing the language I still don’t like. It was hard occasionally, watching a few other women play the age-old game between the genders that meant they didn’t have to carry heavy objects or do unpleasant jobs. I’ll bet they didn’t know how to change their tires, either, but that could just be me being…you know, independent.
I was masterful, I can admit now in long retrospect, at cutting off my nose to spite my face. If I had it to do over again, perhaps I would…no, no, I wouldn’t. I would still do my best to not play the game, still cry in the restroom, still not ask for help unless there was absolutely no other way.  It was a legacy I owed to my daughter and daughters-in-law and granddaughters. It was how not having to play the good-old-boy game became much more common than it used to be.
Now, in my semi-retirement, independence has taken on yet other meanings. My husband’s and my at-home jobs have become more traditional. He mows. I cook. We both clean. Some. We make the bed together from opposite sides of its king size. We are at the life stage when, for the most part, we are only spectators at workplace, political, and relationship games. It's not that we no longer care; it's that we've learned our limits.
I will not deny that some things still hurt, that anger still scrapes along every nerve, that every now and then a regret will create an itch I can’t quite scratch. But—and here’s the good part—I know and sometimes even accept that which I cannot change. I know more than I want to about life’s costs, but also know the payoff it offers; that is, for every worst day, a lot more best ones will follow.
This, then, is Independence.



Friday, July 7, 2017

Endings and beginnings

This is from 1992, in the fall, I think, before the youngest left for college. I've learned a lot since then, about redefining myself, about how cool it is having adult children, about how right I was to look at endings as beginnings. I've always said that my favorite time is Now, and it's always been true. Still is. But it's fun to remember other favorite times.



“When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.” - Erma Bombeck

It's sneaking up on me. People have gone into therapy over it, gotten divorces because of it, lost or gained weight, started or stopped smoking--the list goes on and on. I'm pretty sure some movie star is going to write a bestseller about it, then an expert with initials after his name is going to write another one explaining the deep, hidden meaning of the first one.

Women have bought new wardrobes, changed their hair colors and even their professions because of it. Men have spent more time on golf courses and their jobs and their appearances because of it.

Are you curious yet?

What "it" is, of course, is "Empty Nest Syndrome." I'm not really sure if it should be quotation marked and capitalized like that, but since I'm the one facing it, at almost the same time as my 42nd birthday and in the same time period as wrecking my car and my annual trip to the gynecologist, I think it deserves big letters and quotation marks.

Laura Wray & Jock Flaherty in high school in the early 1990s. Now they've been married 19 years. 
For the first time in more than 22 years, I will not have to do laundry every day, cook enough for an army, or be the voice of authority. I won't have to share my shampoo, my package of razors, the only pieces of my wardrobe that are new, or the full-length mirror in my bedroom. A gallon of milk will last longer than the time it takes to open it, a box of cereal will make it to the cabinet shelf before it is decimated, and no one will eat all the middle pieces out of the brownie pan.

I will be able to take a shower without someone knocking on the bathroom door and saying, "Mom, are you about done?" I can lay a book down and find it in the same place when I go back to it. I can rent a three-Kleenex movie without anyone bagging over it. I can play Nintendo (note from 2017--remember this is 25 years ago, okay?) without anyone coaching me or beating me so badly I have to go to the kitchen and pout. I could, if having two children in college allowed me to have any money, spend it on myself without feeling guilty.

Whoopee.

It will be fun, in a way, my husband and I agree, to have the house to ourselves. We will, for the first time since we've lived here, have the biggest bedroom in the house as soon as our son moves out of it. We'll have better meals because the picky eaters will be being picky at school instead of at home. We'll be able to used the big thick towels instead of the little thin ones that are all that's left when everyone is home. We can both take classes or have dinner out if we like, without worrying about missing an important school function.

The possibilities are endless. Endings are something I'm not to fond of and I avoid them by looking at them as beginnings. That's what I'm going to do now, when the house is too empty and the phone is too quiet and being "Mom" is no long all-encompassing. Letting go of any child is hard, and I think letting go of the last-born is going to be the hardest of all. However, releasing the kid is allowing yourself to begin to know the young adult.

So I've decided I'm going to look forward to all the endless possibilities, to the beginnings. I am. Really.

Friday, June 30, 2017

"...out with the crowd..."

This is a springtime post and here we are in summer, but we drive by busy softball and baseball fields nearly every day. In the town closest to us, for instance--Denver, Indiana; population in the area of 500--there are two fields in the town park. Players range from knee-high to adult-size and the parking lot is always full-to-bursting. Kids are on the playground and conversations going on in the picnic pavilion. People are lined up for candy, drinks, and popcorn at the concession stand or up the street just a little piece, for ice cream, sandwiches, or pizza at D'Angelo's

There are a lot of things that epitomize rural and small-town living, and some of those things are hard to deal with. Conveniences are...well...inconvenient. The politics can be polarizing. We worry a lot about our public schools because they're small and they're in the cross-hairs of the guns of change. 

But these ball fields on sunny summer days, where "everybody knows your name" and, when it comes right down to it, everyone has everyone else's back--these are the essence of this life we've chosen here in North Central Nowhere. 

In baseball, there' s always the next day. - Ryne Sandberg

They're back.

I don’t mean spring flowers or myriad shades of green or much-needed rain or too much wind, though they’re here, too.  I’m talking about the boys and girls of summer who dot baseball diamonds and softball fields like the brightest flowers of all.

They all wear caps and they all chew massive wads of gum or something worse.  They swing their bats around above their heads and scuff up the dirt at the bases so they can get their uniform pants good and dirty.  Then they slide into base a few times to grind that dirt in so that it doesn’t ever come completely out.  That’s what they’re supposed to do; they’re ballplayers.

The players’ parents sit in the stands.  They eat popcorn and swig on Coca Cola and talk to each other about what they should be doing but can’t because Johnny has a game tonight and Jimmy has a game tomorrow night and Lucy plays on Friday nights and Sundays.  They really get tired of sitting at baseball games, they tell each other, but wait a minute!  Johnny’s up to bat.  The conversation changes, gets louder and more urgent.  Good swing.  Just get a piece of it.  You can do it.  Good eye, Johnny.  It’s okay, just do the best you can

But parents do more than talk at ballgames.  They knit, do paperwork, fall asleep in their cars if the day’s started too early and gone on too long.  They work in the concession stand and hand out ice packs and free drinks after the game.  They dig into their pockets when a kid really wants a Blow Pop but only has a nickel.  Then they go home and wash uniforms and talk about how glad they’ll be when it’s all over for the year and they’ll have time to do what the really should have been doing all along.

One summer, when my two sons were playing on separate leagues, I logged the number of baseball games I attended.  Forty-two.  That was 42 afternoons and evenings I could never get back.  Good heavens, I had kids in baseball for 13 years.  How many games was that?

To be honest, I do have some regrets about the raising of my kids.  I’m sorry I worried about how they wore their hair, that they wore high-tops with dress pants, that their rooms weren’t clean.  I’m sorry for the times I was unfair, the times I defended them when I shouldn’t have and didn’t when I should.  I wish I’d been a smarter parent and a better example.  I regret opportunities missed: when I should have shut up and listened or when I should have said encouraging words instead of their cruel opposite.

But I don’t regret any of those 42 evenings and afternoons a year sitting at baseball games.  Buying hot dogs and nachos for the family and calling it supper.  Washing uniforms and handing them back to the kids before they were completely dry because it was time to leave for the next game.  Talking and laughing with other parents and working in the concession stand when I’d already spent eight hours on my feet that day.  I’ve never once been sorry for calling Good eye, Just get a piece of it, Good job.

Life stays rich when your kids are grown.  You get to do things you haven’t done in far too long.  You can make travel arrangements for two, buy milk and bread once a week, and cook dinner with the surety no one’s going to say, “I don’t like that,” and eat Cheerios instead.  You can call your car your own, do laundry a couple of times a week instead of every day, and go for weeks on end without yelling, “turn that thing down,” even once.  You don’t have to share your makeup, the bathroom, or your clothes.  You can spend money on yourself without lying awake suffering from guilt.  No doubt about it; it’s nice.

But sometimes it’s too quiet.  Sometimes there’s too much alone time.  Sometimes you’d like to sit on bleachers and yell Good swing,  Just do your best.  Because those are words you never regret saying and your kids always need to hear.

And because when it’s over, when the fat lady of parenthood sings, neither baseball nor summer are ever the same again.

Enjoy every minute.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Say yes to mammograms...

This was written in 2009. I know there's not that much to it and that it's not Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but it is my month to make my appointment. And, truth to tell, I remember every month of my life that my mom died from breast cancer. And I remember every month of my life that my friends Dottie Eberle and Inge Pitman left us way too soon because of breast cancer. 

I also have friends who have survived. As much as in memory of the losses I mentioned above, I'm posting this--and urging you to make your appointment--in celebration of their wellness.


Okay, I know this is pink. I know it looks dumb on this blog, but, hey...we're talking about breasts here. Boobs. Jugs. Tatas. Other euph--I've forgotten how to spell that word--that are even less elegant. And we're talking about breast cancer. You know, that nasty disease represented by that ribbon over there?

We've got some "experts" saying don't bother with mammograms, don't examine yourself. I'd venture to say most of them have not buried their mothers or sisters or daughters. Most of them don't know and celebrate the survivors the way those of us do who knew and loved women who didn't survive.

So make the appointment, okay? And make the jokes and maybe go out for lunch afterwards, preferably a lunch where you laugh a lot and get a little loud and drink a toast to yourself because you've done something for yourself today. Maybe your husband or partner or your kids will make the toast--because you've done something for them, too.


Friday, June 16, 2017

"Don't miss it--don't even be late."

Next week is fair week here in Miami County. It's a lot different from when I was a kid. It's way earlier, for one thing. Smaller. The rides are...I don't know--less? I volunteer out there now, as a member of Extension Homemakers, but we didn't go for a long time. Until this year back in the 90s...




Last night my husband and I went to the fair. We didn't get there until about eight o'clock. We were going to get something to eat, take a quick run around the exhibits, and be home in an hour and a half or so.

After all, we said, the fair Isn't What It Used To Be. We don't ride on the rides anymore, or play the games offered on the midway. Since our kids are all out of school, we can't even look up many of their friends 4-H exhibits anymore. It's just not the same.

When I was a little kid, a hundred or so years ago, the fair took place during the week of my birthday. On one day during the week, not necessarily my birthday, my mother would work in one of the the food places at the fair and I would take my birthday money and run wild until she came and found me and told me we had to go home.

I never got to run wild very often, so I always took full advantage of it. I picked up duckies and won wonderful little bamboo canes. I laid nickels on numbers and went fishing with the little crane and threw more nickels at shell-shocked goldfish. One year, I talked one of my brothers into taking me on the Bullet--I was scared to death to go by myself--and I lost all my money while I was on it and a whole bunch of cotton candy and caramel corn as soon as I stumbled away from it a couple of traumatic minutes later.


It was probably a good ten years before I braved the Bullet again, and then only after I'd left all my worldly goods with someone intelligent enough to remain on the ground and before I'd had time to eat anything I stood a good chance of losing the hard way.

The fair remained wonderful through my teenage years. There was nothing more romantic than smooching with someone on top of the Ferris wheel or toting home a hideous teddy bear won for you by someone. Another side to that romantic thing was fighting with someone while you were there and having to ride home with your girlfriends while you cried and said you never wanted to see him again. Ever. (Note from 2017. If this happened, I don't remember it. That's either a sign my memory's truly gone or indicative it wasn't all that serious of a relationship.) 

But then things kind of changed. The only time we went to the fair was on family day when the rides wouldn't entirely break the bank and the only ones who rode were our kids. Except for when their dad rode the Bullet with them while I held everyone's money and a good supply of wet paper towels.

Pretty soon the kids were going to the fair without us. We would manage to go out one night to eat pork chops and do a quick run through the exhibits and get home in an hour and a half. All the way home, I would complain that It Just Wasn't What It Used To Be.

Until last night.

When we spent some quality time talking to people we hadn't seen in years and remembered how much we miss them.

When I stuffed myself with a tenderloin the size of a dinner plate that tasted just as wonderful as they did that hundred years or so ago I mentioned up there.

When we walked, not ran, through the exhibits and marveled at the talent and hard work of those doing the exhibiting. When we looked up our favorite 4-H members' entries and crowed proudly at their blue ribbons.

When we strolled through the midway and smiled at laughing babies in strollers and their excited siblings on the rides. Their parents waited patiently and tiredly with the strollers, talking to others doing the same, and we knew what they were saying. "The fair just isn't the same anymore."

When we sat in hard chairs in a big tent and watched dozens of cloggers doing their thing. The noise form their shoes was deafening. And rhythmic. And pretty-sounding. The bobbing black ponytail in the front row was captivating, nearly as much so as the smile on the face of the ponytail owner.

Exhibits. Smiling cloggers. Laughing babies. Good friends. Good food.

Maybe the fair's not the same anymore. But it's still the fair. I hope you don't miss it.

Thanks for coming by. Here's the website for the fair. I hope you go and have a good time. And eat a tenderloin.