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.


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. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

1993 to 2017 - some things stay the same...

This is from sometime in 1993. The green carpet's long gone. A flower bed is where the hydrant used to be. Chris's feet eventually stopped growing. There are things I wrote back then that I look at and say, "What was I thinking?" But then there are others like this one, when I actually got it right. Thanks for stopping by. Don't sweat the grape juice.

Close your eyes
Listen to the skies
All is calm, all is well
- Roger Miller

There's this spot in our back yard near the porch. It's a rectangle, about four feet by ten feet or so. The grass grows really thick and nice there, probably because the hydrant, with the garden hose hanging from it, is there, too, and our garden hoses always leak.

It didn't used to look like that. It used to be all dirt--or mud, depending on if anyone was using the hose--and littered with Tonka trucks and little green army men and Weebles and Fisher-Price people. There was usually a filthy little boy sitting in the middle of it. It drove me crazy.

So now there's no more mud, and the filthy little boy is 19 and in college and a lot bigger than I am. Like I said, the grass grows thick and nice there.

I hate it.

Several years back, some of my in-laws were coming for a weekend visit. They were coming on Saturday morning. Well, there was a basketball game on Friday night and my husband and I both had to work Saturday morning. To make a long story short, the house was a disaster from top to bottom and there was no time to clean it. So I cringed and worried and left a note for my kids when I left for work on Saturday morning. "Please," I wrote, "just mow a path through the living room."

As kids often do, they surprised me. When I got home, you could smell the Pine-Sol from the back yard. They gave me a guided tour of all they'd done.

"We swept and dusted and made beds," they said, gesturing at all the splendor. "Here are the dishes done, the stove wiped off, the grape juices spilled on the carpet, all the newspapers picked up."

Grape juice on the carpet? I picked up on that right away. Sure enough, right in the middle of the doorway between the kitchen and living room was a splattery purple spot on the green carpet. It was not, need I tell you, a pretty combination.

"Oh, well, get me a rag," I said. "It's a new stain. It'll come up."

"No, Mom. We tried."

"You just need to use a little elbow grease," I argued.

"It won't come up, Mom."

It wouldn't.

Until we cut that carpet away last year to enlarge the kitchen, we had a purple-on-green spot that leaped out at me as soon as I entered the room. I noticed it every time and it never bothered me the least bit. Because when I saw the purple spot, I remembered how hard the kids had worked that morning.

It more than equaled out.

The first time our older son went to basketball camp, since his feet were growing
at the rate of a full size every couple of days--at least, that's what it seemed like--I bought him a new pair of basketball shoes. They were really, really cheap, but they looked just like the ones that cost a whole lot. With what camp cost, I explained to Chris, there was no way we could buy expensive shoes, too. No problem, he lied. When he came home a week later, his feet were raw and bleeding where they had blistered and re-blistered.

A few years later, I was bemoaning our financial status when Chris walked through the room wearing his basketball shoes, ones that had cost that "whole lot" I mentioned above. Duane pointed at his feet. "There it goes," he said. "Do you really mind that?"

Well, no. No, I didn't mind.

When your kids grow up, which they do really fast no matter how you try to slow the process, sometimes people express envy that you have your child-raising days behind you. If only for the purpose of making you feel wise, they ask for your advice. You try to abstain from giving that advice, because no two children are alike, so you can't treat them as if they are.

But I can say this much. Buy them good shoes so they'll grow straight and sturdy. Let them play in mud so they'll learn about building up and tearing down. And most of all, whatever you do, don't sweat the grape juice.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Once upon a time...

This was from August of 1994. The grandparents I wrote about here were born in 1869 and 1873, which sounds incredible to me now. It makes me wish I'd asked a lot more questions and written a lot more down.

Have I ever told you about my grandmother? Well, that's a silly question, when I already know I haven't, but it was a good way to give you a clue I'm going to tell you about her now.

Her name was Elvira Pontius Shafer. She died in 1957 at the age of 84. I wore
Photo by Annette Wise
my favorite blue and white dress to the funeral and sat next to my cousin Ronnie and had to be really quiet for a long time, even longer than if I'd gone to school that day.

She used to sit in her kitchen and drink coffee out of a big white cup with a long crack down the side. I asked her why she always used that cup and she said it was to save the good ones for company. Evenings, she would sit in a small rocking chair near the stove in the living room and take down her long white hair and brush it while talk and noise went on around her. She never paid any attention to me and I was pretty sure she didn't like me.

That's all I remember.

Photo by Annette Wise
But I know she and my grandfather, William Washington Shafer, had two stillborn babies and that those babies were buried in the garden. "How could they?" I demanded of the person who told the story. "How could they have done something like that? We're talking babies here, not goldfish." I don't remember the answer, but years later, my sister Nancy told me how much time Elvira had spent in her rose garden. Alone.

When Amy, Elvira and William's firstborn child, was 23, she became a statistic in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Amy was buried in the cemetery, not the garden, but I'm sure Grandma grieved for her out there with her roses.

One time when Elvira was pregnant, which she was at least 10 times, a fire broke out in the house. According to pictures and to my memory, Elvira was a skinny little thing, but when the fire erupted, she picked up the sewing machine and carried it downstairs and out of the house. In those days, sewing machines were big things in heavy wooden cabinets with a treadle attached underneath. We have one of them sitting in the hallway downstairs. I, who haven't been pregnant in 20 years and who am by no one's measure a skinny little thing, can lift one end of it.

I know that when William went blind and spent most of the rest of his days on the couch in front of the big living room window, it didn't make any difference to her. They still laughed and had a good time until he died in 1952, when they'd been married something like 58 years.

That's what I know about my grandmother. It's not much, but I'm glad I know it. I'm glad I listened when aunts told stories in my hearing. What I know has taught me a couple of things that I'm sure she never intended. One, that I hope none of my grandkids ever think for one tiny minute that I don't like them. Two, that I never save anything for company, because there's no one more important than family.

Talking about Elvira makes me think of my roots, something I never gave much thought until recently. It makes me wonder if she's the reason I think it's so very important for women to be strong--like she was. Strong enough to survive the most grievous emotional assaults and still laugh with the man she loved. Strong enough to carry a sewing machine down the stairs.

So, if you get a chance, take a long hard look at the pages of your past. Listen to the stories told by those who remember things you can't. Then tell the stories again so that they live on. Tales of the past embroider the fabric of our lives today and lend them a little richness they wouldn't have had otherwise.

Thanks for listening. Pass it on.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Summertime, and the livin' is...busy @Liz Flaherty

This was written in June of 2008. It makes me realize that often, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm still reading Kathy Seidel and Pam Morsi books (although they don't write nearly fast enough to suit me), still spending family time where I can, and still hanging hummingbird feeders with hope every spring. But the grandkids are growing up way too fast and the days are still too short.'ll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky...
from "Summertime" by Heyward, Gershwin & Gershwin

Someone mentioned that I don't blog much, and she was right. I'm sorry, I moaned back, but the 24 hour days just aren't long enough anymore. And they're not. I'm just so tired all the time, I whined to a friend recently, and she said yes, everyone is. We are.

I remember summers of going to 40-some baseball games when my sons played on two different leagues. I remember the summer I sewed dresses for two flower girls, four bridesmaids, and my daughter the bride. I remember when we had a garden the size of--oh, I don't know, but it was way too big. If memory serves, there were only 24 hours in a day then, too, but somehow they lasted longer.

Well, complaining aside, it's a nice summer here in North Central Nowhere. The days are lovely and warm and the nights are lovely and cool.

I saw Mari, my oldest granddaughter, graduate from high school. I sniffled through the whole thing and I am so proud of her.

My daughter Kari and I went to Shipshewana, Indiana to the biggest flea market I've ever seen. We walked around until my feet were falling off, but I got two sets of sheets and we ate some truly excellent chicken and noodles for lunch.

My third grandson, Connor, played T-ball this summer. He played for the Yankees, and my husband said the Yankees were a big team from New York. Connor gave him a disapproving look and said No, they were from kindergarten.

I hung hummingbird feeders on the front porch as I always do, and was disappointed not to draw the usual crowd of the little birds. Until I realized we'd drawn another crowd. Two pairs of orioles feasted on hummingbird nectar for several weeks. They left as suddenly as they'd come.

Deer congregate in our three-acre yard. They drink water from the low spot and chomp on whatever deer chomp on. (Last year it was two new trees; they apparently don't like the ones we planted this year.) We sit on the back porch and watch them. They stare up at us once in a while, then go back to whatever they were doing.

Oops, I need to throw a reading commercial in here. Kathleen Gilles Seidel's Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige is a splendid addition to the keeper shelf. Likewise Pamela Morsi's Last Dance at the Jitterbug Lounge.

As I read this, it seems as though I'm spending these summer days watching life rather than participating in it. And maybe I am. But I'm enjoying it, every single too-short day of it, no matter how much I complain.

I hope you are, too.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Will you still need me... @Liz Flaherty

This is only 10 years old, downright new in the scheme of things for this reopened Window. But now I'm 66, even more than the song says.

And it's still exciting.
Me at 64--I'm sure I look even better now!

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four..." - Lennon / McCartney

It was exciting when I was six. I got a doll for Christmas and a new red wagon for my birthday. My sister worked at a department store and bought me cool clothes and married the mysterious stranger who would raise my brother count to four. A huge limb came through a kitchen window during a storm and I climbed my brother Joe like a tree, knowing beyond all doubt that I was going to be taken care of.

Sixteen was exciting, too. I was able to date as soon as someone asked me and I could drive a car on the road instead of in the back pasture. I could wear makeup as long as my mother wasn’t paying a lot of attention, and every now and then I used swear words in public. I’d already witnessed that long, sad weekend when President Kennedy was shot, and the even sadder one — for me  when my grandfather died, so I knew by then that my brother couldn’t keep me safe anymore.  
I loved being 26. I was done having babies and we were buying our own house. Vietnam was finally over and I could vote and even drink if I wanted to. My oldest son started playing baseball and what fun that wasI had no idea I’d be spending the next 12 or so summers on bleachers. It was an exciting time.

It wasn’t long till I was 36, ten years into my bleacher time, and I was getting wrinkles. My kids were in varying stages of adolescence and my hair was getting really, really gray. At least, I think it was; I’ve never let the roots get long enough to be sure. It was the best of times, being young enough to get up and down without groaning but old enough to try and talk someone else into doing it for me.

Fifteen minutes later, I was 46. I was catching onto having grandchildren, using a computer, and cooking in one-quart saucepans. My husband and I rediscovered ourselves as a couple and found out we canceled each other out in the voting booth. I discovered Walmart and he discovered golf and the grandkids found out just how easy it is to run over both of us. We started making a lot of age jokes even though they’re not all that funny anymore and the veins in my legs took on a spidery look. And it was exciting, being a couple again, with no one in the back seat criticizing our driving.

And in the blink of an eye, it’s 2007 and I’m 56. I remember my mom being 56 and she was a whole lot older than I am, a phenomenon I haven’t quite figured out. My veins are worse, but I don’t care, and we’re not even going to talk about my roots. 

We’ve seen more horror in the past few years than any of us can bear to think about. More than we can begin to understand. There are more things in life to create anger than I can remember there being before: terrorism, gas prices, politics, greed, “not my job, man,” and the cost of prescription medicine, to name but a few. I catch myself saying, “It wasn’t like that when I was your age,” because ... well, because it wasn’t.

But you know what? It doesn’t help a thing for me to wax nostalgic about what once was. It doesn’t bring back good service, reasonable prices, or kindness. Like the generations before us, we’ve made a bunch .. .oh, good grief, a huge bunch ... of mistakes that our kids and grandkids have to clean up after. When I was your age, we were messing up the air big time then because we didn’t know any better. But you do. Littering was rude and inconsiderate; now it’s downright dangerous.

And there are things that have stayed the same. Although cherry cokes and ice cream cones cost a lot less when I was a kid, they tasted just the same. Pizza is just as sinfully good now as it was then, even if you eat it cold the next day. Hot dogs and hamburgers still taste special when they’re cooked on the grill and there’s not much that’s better than a burned-to-a-crisp marshmallow. 

Oh, and then there are the things that are better. My car was seven years old and had 165,000 miles on it when I got a new one, and we kept the old one because there was nothing wrong with it! I don’t remember cars lasting that well when I was young. And this computer, while it does have its tantrums, is so much easier to deal with than a typewriter. My oven cleans itself and I have a machine that washes the dishes. Oh, yes, much better.  
So, like I said, I’m 56. And you know what? It’s fun. Healthy days are not things you take for granted and sunshine is a joy that fills your soul, not just your eyes. Grandkids are the reward you get for having done something right with their parents, and if you don’t have any of your own, it’s perfectly all right to borrow someone else’s. 

We’ve just passed New Year’s, so spring will be coming up soon. Days will be longer, grass green and new, and the sky even bluer than we remember it from last year. Flowers and children will cover the landscape with bright colors and sweetness. We’ll eat ice cream and strawberries still warm from the sun and we’ll hold close the beauty of springtime graduates and early summer brides. I’m 56. And it’s exciting.

Till next time.

Friday, May 19, 2017

How not to be a grouchy old person @Liz Flaherty

I'm not sure when I wrote this, but since the granddaughter I mentioned is--gasp--21, it's been a while. 

"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time." - James Taylor

In the seventies, Gail Sheehy wrote a book called Passages. Since it was a period of life for me that involved three children, one husband, a house, and a full-time job, I didn’t read the book. It didn’t sound very entertaining, and believe me, if I had the time to read in those days, I wanted the subject matter to be entertaining. 

Now, in the last decade of the century, I still haven’t read the book, but I do think more about passages these days. A death in our family of someone who left us too soon, before his life was even in full summer, caused some of this introspection. The births of my second, third, and fourth grandchildren in scarcely more than a year created more.
The passages make me sad.

I followed a school bus the other day and thought about all the years my kids rode a bus. For the entire 13 years I had students in this school system, they had the same driver. The bus I followed the other day didn’t even slow down when it passed our house and the driver who kept my children safe all those hundreds of days — not counting the ones my little darlings skipped — has passed away.

This morning, eating breakfast in a restaurant, I watched a father with his four children. He drank his coffee, ordered for the two youngest, kept the baby from taking unscheduled flights out of the high chair, talked with his kids, and chatted with people at other tables, all without blinking an eye.

Unless you’re a caregiver or a teacher, I suppose being able to keep up with a horde. Somewhere, somehow, the ability to think about all those different things and keep track of reaching fingers and kicking feet while still maintaining a grip on both a coffee cup and some semblance of reality passes you by. of kids isn’t a marketable skill when you’ve finished raising your family, and after a while you lose it.

For all of the at least 100 years that my kids were adolescents, I thought teenagers were the smartest, neatest, funniest people in the world. The times I spent with them were some of the most productive and memory-producing years of my life. I still think spectator entertainment doesn’t come any better than high school sports and that most clothing looks better on 17-year-olds than on anyone else on earth. But nowadays I catch myself thinking things like “why doesn’t he wash that hair?” or “I wonder if he can speak a complete sentence without using a four-letter-word” or, worst of all, “if that was my kid, I’d — 

I’d what? Who am I to criticize anyone’s parenting skills when I made every mistake there was to make at least once, more often two or three times? Is this what passages do? Do they turn you into a grouchy old person who forgets how things were once upon a time?
I guess, if you let them, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

But they can do other things, too.

I recently saw both of our sons dressed up at the same time. They wore suits, the one with a beard had it neatly trimmed, their shoes were freshly polished. While we sat, necessarily quiet, I didn’t have to tell either of them to stop kicking the chair in front of him, to stop whispering, to not smack his gum, to leave his brother alone. Their father did not have to point the finger that promised trouble later on or deliver on that promise. When we took them to lunch and they both ordered beer, I didn’t feel compelled to deliver the alcohol lecture I’d perfected over the years.

When we separated later in the day, I told them, “I love you. Be careful driving home,” just as I have told them since the first time they palmed a set of car keys, but the pressure was off. Although I love my children more and am prouder of them than I’ve ever been, they are no longer my responsibility.

And when I held my newest granddaughter and counted her fingers and toes as I counted my endless blessings, I looked at her wonderful, tired mother and thought about how she was just beginning.

I’m glad it’s her instead of me. I’m glad that when the baby stiffens up and her face turns red and she lets out a wail, I can hand her to one of her parents and say, “Here. Do something.” I’m glad that although she fits my arms like a warm and comfortable sweater, I’m not cold when I hand her back.

A few years ago, I had to drive my youngest son to his home an hour away during a snowstorm. It was black dark and the roads were getting nasty. When I let my son out of the car, he leaned back in before closing the door, looking at me in the glare of the interior light, and said, “I love you. Be careful driving home.”

Did I say passages made me sad? Maybe, sometimes. And sometimes not. Sometimes the discovery that things have indeed passed can brighten a gloomy day or brighten a dark night. It might even keep you from becoming a grouchy old person who forgets too much.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Deepening the dash @Liz Flaherty

Unlike the person I've quoted below, I do hate funerals. My faith tells me they are celebrations of beginnings, but the truth is they still feel like endings to me. That being said, I think things are different now--we laugh during funerals without trying to hide it, because the memories people leave behind are often both precious and funny; we really do celebrate the lives of those we've lost

Photo by Annette Wise

Some people hate funerals. I find them comforting. They hit the pause button on life and remind us that it has an end. Every eulogy reminds me to deepen my dash, that place on he tombstone between our birth and our death. - Regina Brett

Do you ever wonder what people will think and say about you after you've died? I never did, either, until today.

My aunt died this week at 97. She'd lived a full and happy life, working outside the home and remaining childless during a time when those just weren't the things to do. She loved and cherished her husband, but after he died, she carried on for over 30 years without him.

Today was her funeral, and the minister who officiated there had never met her. She wasn't a churchgoer, and since she came from out of state, the man who spoke the usual words of comfort and parting was a stranger both to her and to most of us who attended. I thought he did a great job. But the one who did the best job was the one who signed the card accompanying a floral arrangement with the words, "For the best friend I ever had."

On the way home from the cemetery, while the mud dried on my high heels and I tried to keep the hem of my dress coat off the not-very-clean floor of my car, I thought about those words. And, since I've spent the last 24 years of my life, since the day my first child was born, feeling either guilty or worried or both, I got worried about the whole situation.

Would my sons remember that I drove them to at least 10,000 games and practices or would they remember that sometimes I yelled at them because I was just too tired to cope one more minute?

Would my daughter remember all the fun we had shopping and talking and being together or would she only recall the times I'd grounded her "for life, not one minute less"?

Would they remember the movies I took them to or the ones I didn't?

Would my husband mourn me forever, which I wouldn't want him to do, or forget me in the space of time it took him to learn how to buy his own socks, which I wouldn't want him to do, either?

Would my mother-in-law remember how much I loved her or would she remember my hit and miss (mostly miss) housekeeping, so opposite of hers?

Would people say, "she tried hard," or would they say, "she never could get anything quite right"?

Fortunately, it's only about six miles from the cemetery to my house, so that was all the time I had for worrying about things like that. But I thought about them all evening, as I thought about my aunt. I thought about the eulogies I've heard--both the ones that moved me to tears and the ones that left me cold and wondering who or what on earth the officiant was talking about.

It's nothing you can control. You just do the best you can and hope it's enough. You don't, or at least you shouldn't, worry about things like the ones I fretted about today in the car. You should worry about what you do while you're alive.

And if you have a best friend, maybe you should send them some flowers or a card and tell them how you feel about them. Soon. Because while it was a lovely eulogy to my aunt, they are words that should be spoken among the living, too.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Such are the dreams... @Liz Flaherty

This was written for Mother's Day of 1991. It wasn't my last Mother's Day column, but it was my first. It's kind of nice to know I still like it, although I'm not sure I remember the original dreams--the reality was so much better. What do you think?

"She looks in the mirror and stares at the wrinkles that weren't there yesterday..." - Chris Gantry

When she was young, before she had formula stains on her clothes or stretch marks or crows feet, your mother had dreams. In those dreams, she was a singer or dancer or writer or CEO. She wore designer clothes and her hair was always perfect and she had the kind of checkbook balance that dreams are made of. Her plans for vacation never included McDonald's or Motel 6.

For many mothers, there was a man in those dreams. He was always strong and handsome and intelligent and sensitive. He never forgot important dates, never left dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, never for one moment considered anything in life to be as important as the woman whose dreams he was inhibiting.

Sometimes there were children in the dreams, children who behaved well and wore miniature designer clothes that stayed clean. Children who ate their vegetables without complaint and did their homework without fail and who never watched tasteless television or hid dirty magazines under their beds. Even after your mother gave birth to these children (painlessly--we're dreaming here) she maintained her figure and her perfect hair and flawless skin that defied crows feet to appear.

Her home was a portrait of good taste and comfort. In her dreams its plumbing was never iffy, its windows never leaky, its floors never sloped and scarred with the passage of time. The furniture shone with the patina of quality and good wax. The beds were made each morning and the pillows arranged in the artful disarray the magazines make look easy. The house was even paid for.

It is said that dreams die hard.

Not for most of us. For most of us, they change rather than die. We wear what is comfortable and what we can afford, we have bad hair days and not-so-bad hair days, and time leaves its obvious footprints on our skin. Instead of glamorous careers, most of us have jobs we may or may not like but which help keep the checkbook balance in the black. Not the very black, maybe, but close enough to keep the wolves from the door.

The men in our lives are different from what we dreamed, as fallible and faulty as we ourselves are. Although on any given day, they will probably have some of the characteristics of the men of our dreams, chances are good they'll never have all of them at once.

Which brings us to the children of our dreams. Speaking for myself only, I must say that mine were not. If one of them happened to be behaving well, the other two probably weren't. They dressed okay, but were seldom clean at any point in time previous to their 12th birthdays, when they suddenly started taking two showers a day and setting up housekeeping in front of the bathroom mirror. They did homework spasmodically and subsisted on diets that even now the memory of makes my stomach clench. They watched, read, and listened to every single thing I ever didn't want them to.

They turned the house of my dreams into what seemed at times like a three-ring circus. There was no single day in which every bed in the house was made or every dish clean at the same time. The house has leaky windows and iffy plumbing and a few floors that would feel right at home on a ski lift. The patina on the furniture is marred by marks from compasses and baseball cleats and the rubber soles of size 12 basketball shoes.

There is nothing I would change. Nothing.

When I was young, I had dreams. Somewhere in the passage of time, those dreams underwent changes, but they all--every one of them--came true. I hope yours did, too.

Happy Mother's Day to us all, and thanks, Mom. Both of you.

My mom, Evelyn Shafer
Duane's mom, my other mom, Mary Farrell

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

...let's keep dancing... @Liz Flaherty

This is from 2005, I think--Duane and I were both still working. I thought my writing days were winding down (that was about 10 books ago) and I was on the reinvention wheel once again. I'm not sure I've ever gotten off. Anyone else been on that ride?

"If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing..." 

from "Is That All There Is?" by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, sung by Peggy Lee.

There are times — long, achy days of a bad knee and raging sinuses and throbbing finger joints — when I resent that I’m 50some and tumbling inexorably down the wrong side of the middle age slope. Is this all there is? I whine, channeling Peggy Lee. Have I worked all these years so I could afford to go more places and see and do more things just to learn I’m too old, too sore, and too damn tired?

I have time, now that I no longer preside over carpools, hold down bleachers, or operate a short-order kitchen and 24-hour laundry, to read all I want to. I have stacks of books and magazines beside my chair, along with a strong reading lamp, a spot for my coffee cup, and a blanket to cover my cold feet. However, if I sit in one spot for more than 15 minutes, I fall asleep. Most of my reading these days is done in the car, where I feed CDs of my to-be-read list into the player and “read” all the way to work and back. I love audio books, and listening to them makes my commute downright enjoyable, but there’s something lacking without the reading lamp, the cup, and the blanket.

Now that tuition, six-boxes-of-cereal weeks, and expensive shoes and jeans are in my past, I could, if I was interested, buy much nicer clothing for myself. But gravity and years of eating too much and exercising too little have made buying clothes a nightmare instead of a pleasure.

At this stage of the game, we could spend our vacations in exotic places, where my husband could play golf as often as he wanted and I could lie in the sun reading and sipping drinks that come with straws, spoons, and umbrellas. Except my skin is already dry and taking on a leathery consistency and reading in the sunlight gives me a headache. Right before I fall asleep, that is.

There is time to write nowadays, especially in the lengthening evenings of spring. But I’m no longer sure I have anything to say. I used to think — only to myself, thank goodness — that I’d never have writer’s block because I was way too full of hot air to ever run out of words. But the hot air has flattened and stilled and, in full panic mode now, I’m afraid I’ll never get it back.

And then there are other times.

I spent a week in Vermont with my son’s family. While my year-old grandson’s parents worked, I got to spend my days with him. We crawled around on the floor, played with noisy toys, and squealed with laughter at nothing and everything. I read to him and he listened and watched my face with his father’s bright blue eyes before falling asleep in my arms.  I’d push back the recliner and pull the quilt his mother had made over us both and we’d nap together in warm and sweet contentment.

Another of my grandsons comes here on Thursday evenings while his brothers have Cub Scout meetings. He’s newly housebroken and toddler-verbal and has his grandfather and me firmly wrapped around his sticky little finger. The half bath in our house is now his, since it’s small and so is he, and the full bath is mine, which leaves grandpa without one. This is okay, though. Grandpa can use Nana’s. If he asks first.

Each day for the last week I have walked my couple of miles and my knee has not protested. My hands, though stiff and a little swollen, have not ached. The roar of my sinuses has quieted to a dull murmur. The finches are putting on their bright yellow summer coats as they jabber at the feeders. Everywhere I look, lilies and crocuses and spiky green shoots are lightening the landscape. They’re brighter now than they were in my 20s, when I was too busy to look at them properly.

This morning, as I drove to work, the quarter moon hung huge and orange in the eastern sky. God’s thumbnail. Beautiful. I opened the car window and breathed deep of the soft pre-dawn air.

I’m grateful one more time that I no longer smoke. It’s been three and a half years, though I hardly ever count anymore, and there is an almost spiritual joy in having beaten it.

It’s not so bad after all, this wrong side of the slope, where the colors are brighter and sharper and scents are sweeter and laughter is like music and grandchildren — anyone’s; they don’t have to be yours — are your reward for the difficult climb up the other side. Sometimes it’s almost … yes, it really is … better than it used to be. Yeah, Peggy, that’s all there is, and sometimes … most times … it’s enough.