An oldie but a goodie

This piece of mine was originally published in 2005, back when I was still the parent of a preschooler. Enjoy!

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

Thursday, 11:20 am
We find Impossible Mission Special Agent (code name: Cheryl) on the way to the local mall. Her assignment: exchange two clothing items. She has only 25 minutes to get to the mall, park, get to the store, return the two items, choose two new ones, make the purchase, and get out of there. If she isn’t back to preschool for the noon pick-up, her four-year-old will self-destruct.

11:25 am
Parking goes off without a hitch. Kidless, our agent enters the mall, successfully dodging the super rip-off kiddie rides. She enters the store.

11:30 am
Our agent selects two properly fitting items and proceeds to the checkout counter to execute “the exchange.” Two counters are manned. Neither has the “I’m open” light on. The cashier at counter A is with a customer. When she’s finished, she flippantly informs our agent, “I’m closed,” and walks away. At counter B, the customer first in line has ten items and a credit card application. The second customer has a cell phone (on which he is speaking, loudly), but is otherwise empty-handed…a definite sign of trouble.

11:35 am
Our agent languishes behind Credit Application Girl and Cell Phone Man. She observes at least six other salespeople busying themselves around the store, including one who is unloading Pampered Chef boxes from the UPS man, while talking to the cashier who was formerly working. Our agent aggressively clears her throat.

11:40 am
The sole working cashier is now on the phone. She appears to be speaking to the credit card division, but our agent suspects that they are trading coded message about how to keep her there indefinitely. In a bold and unexpected move, our agent says loudly, “I don’t want to be rude, but this looks like it’s going to take a while. Can you please open another checkout?” Crippled as if by an electromagnetic pulse, everyone at the counter freezes. After reviving, Pampered Chef guy says, “Uh, sure,” and radios his underlings.

11:45 am
An unidentified sales operative appears at the counter furthest away from our agent’s present location. She feebly offers, “I’ll take the next customer in line.” Our agent waves Cell Phone Man on, then follows him to the Forbidden Outpost. Meanwhile, a fresh-faced couple takes their place behind Credit Card Girl, whose sale has just been completed.

11:50 am
Back at the Forbidden Outpost, the cashier has completed her quest to locate a rare and valuable store gift card for Cell Phone Man. But she has to call for back-up when her ID mysteriously comes up “invalid” and her system “locks up.” All heads turn back to the original checkout, where the fresh-faced couple has now come and gone, and the customer is now a grey-haired woman with a greyer-haired man (considering the circumstances, our agent discounts the possible use of an evil, rapid-aging formula). The cashier presses a few buttons, looks over at Pampered Chef Guy, and says, “I’m locked up too.” At that moment, we scream into the transmitter, “Abort! Abort! Abort!” The transmission terminates. We lose contact.

11:59 am
Cheryl pulls up in front of the preschool with one minute to spare. Sure, she broke a few (dozen) traffic laws to get there in time, but, hey, who would pull over a minivan? Relishing her final thirty seconds of free time before pick up, our agent leans back in her seat and sighs. Mission accomplished.

This piece originally appeared in FORUM, the national newsletter for Mothers & More.

Summing up a life – Part 2

In writing my blog entry of the other day, which focused on my semi-obsession with reading the obituaries of people I don’t know, I discovered several links that one may find helpful when, shall we say, the time comes.

My research turned up this wonderful quote from Jim Nicholson, then with Philadelphia Daily News: “…every person is a lead obit. There are no unimportant obits.” The quote can be found at the online magazine obit, whose section “Mourning Roundup” asks the question, “Why is Seth Rogen in so many cancer comedies?” Note to self: maybe don’t linger on this topic too long.

Seth Rogen aside, it’s an important point. Whether you’re Steve Jobs (whose life story has been one of the stories in the past several days) or Steve Prior (whose 2010 obituary noted that he had recently toured with a band from Scotland called “Little Buddha”), your story should be worth reading because it’s already worth telling.

In fact, early birds (read here: control freaks) can get started now, well before the death knell sounds. Using the website Obituary Guide.com, you can craft your own obituary, and, in the words of the website writer, “…know that you have had your say.” And for those in the group who find it hard to get projects across the finish line, the website advises, “Don’t put off writing your own obituary because it seems too big to finish. Here’s the good news: you don’t have to worry about finishing it!”

Some tips for autobiographical obituary from Obituary Guide.com (my comments in parentheses):

  • Harvest ideas from other people’s obits (it’s not plagiarism, I guess…plus they can’t sue you when they’re dead)

     

  • Sum up your life in three to six words a la a Twitter or Facebook post (but please, for the love of everything holy, do not mention coffee or your migraines!)

     

  • Be an inspiration…to yourself! (Remember our friend Hank Zimmerman? His lovely obit read, “Hank was truly a person who made a difference in the world, and his contagious smile will be greatly missed by those who knew and loved him.” Makes you want to be somebody, doesn’t it?)

     

  • Live a life that makes good obituary material (or get started now on the made-up memoirs of the life you’d never dare live)

     

  • My favorite tip: try to capture in words what your life means to you (all kidding aside—that one’s pretty staggering, isn’t it?)

Those who find getting started to be the biggest challenge may find help from The REMEMBERING Site, a web service that helps you walk through and document your story. The site offers to house personal stories for a $25 fee, but free to anyone who visits is a list of thought-provoking questions about everything from first cars to romance and relationships to your personal politics. I especially appreciated these questions on moods, attitudes, and philosophies:

  • Do you like rainy days? What do you do on them?

     

  • As an old dog, have you learned new tricks?

     

  • What heroic attributes do you have? What not-so-heroic-at-all attitudes do you have?

     

  • Would you say you’re a doer or a procrastinator?

     

  • Would you say you’re blessed? How so? [questions here are quoted verbatim from The REMEMBERING Site]

My advice? Write your life story if you wish, but then release it from your grip. You have one way of looking at your life, and you have much to tell the world, no doubt. But leave room for others to tell your story too. Your presence and impact may be much more than you realize.

I confessed to someone once my perception of myself as always in the process of falling apart—a mother with a bit of an “out of control” family—and usually very noisy about it. But her perception was entirely different. She said that I came across to her like a post-modern flower child, the model of calm-acceptance of my children’s self-expression. And you know what? I like that label better than the one I gave myself, so I’ll take it. I’m much harder on myself than others are on me, so my self-written obit could be the worst read ever—and inaccurate to boot.

Summing up a life – Part 1

This week I received another in a series of “You should write a book about that!” comments from my friends.

This time it was about my habit of reading the obituaries of people I don’t know because they’re just so darn sweet. I mean who can ignore the sheer human joy evident in the obituary of a recently deceased gentleman who, for whatever character flaws have gone unmentioned, will be remembered for his signature hot dog stew? And what possesses a family to use a headshot with extra-large afro circa 1975 for the obituary portrait of dear old dad? Do you think he was buried in his platform shoes?

Obituaries may seem morbid, but really, they are a good read. Take this line from the story of Hank Zimmerman, age 87: “He was a dedicated husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather who enjoyed farming, cooking, and eventually cats.” On the flip side, here’s a tidbit about Horace B. Willey, Jr., age 89: “He served as President of the Diamond State Beagle Club…” And I love this one about Ruth M. Lee, age 87: “[She] was given her angel wings on October 2, 2011. Ruth enjoyed life, caring for her cats and dogs, feeding the wild birds and chipmunks, cooking, especially baking, gardening, and going to lunch with her best friend Joanna. She was known for her green thumb and growing the biggest tomatoes.”

During the conversation, someone mentioned the obit of notorious Delaware killer Thomas Capano, who was found dead in his prison cell back in September. To that point he’d served about 14 years of a life sentence for the murder of Anne Marie Fahey who was then Delaware governor’s scheduling secretary and he died of natural causes, possibly a heart attack.

What struck my friends was that the obituary was a glowing affirmation of the life of community servant, loving father, and all around man of good taste. One person speculated that Mr. Capano’s daughters must have believed he was innocent (after all, what daughter could live her life even imagining that her father was capable of killing his young mistress and disposing of her dead body by stuffing it in a cooler and dumping it off the Jersey shore—it would be hard for Meadow Soprano to get her head around that one, I think). I suspect this may be the case.

Regardless, I think there’s something beautiful about how the remembrance of the Capano family separates the noble, the sweet, the precious memories of their loved one from his unfaithful, ruinous, and monstrous actions. The exercise of mining a life for the good parts is an amazing lesson in finding light even in the darkest of situations. This may not be 100% of the story, but it’s enough to you’re your personal narrative into a palatable form and to help you put one foot in front of the other for another day.

Kudos to the Capano family for getting it right.

 

Obituary excerpts from The Dover Post newspaper and The News Journal online edition

 

Spontaneous combustion–rubbish?

That old rubbish pile in your garage? Watch out. It may ignite.

That’s what they told me in elementary school. Only you can prevent the rubbish pile fire that will burn your house down to the ground. [Fast fact from Discover magazine’s “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Fire”: “…a typical house fire will double in size every minute.” (October 2011)]

It’s true. The chemical reactions in decomposing rubbish, defined here as piles of old newspapers and magazines, oily rags, and sawdust can generate enough heat to ignite. [Consider this, from an article in Popular Science magazine, circa 1946: “Such fires aren’t ‘black magic.'”]

Convicted by the rubbish pile risk, I got off the bus and went right to work on the mess under my bed. I don’t know if books and stuffed animals count as rubbish, but I don’t even think my flame retardant PJs would save me if my bed went up. Thank goodness I wasn’t storing any pistachios under my bed. [Another fast fact from Discover: “Pistachios have so much natural oil and are so prone to heat-generating fat decomposition that the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code regards them as dangerous.”]

The phenomenon in rubbish piles (‘rubbish’ being a word I have now used more in this blog entry than cumulatively in my life to this point) is not unlike that of haystacks that, given the right temperature and moisture conditions, can spontaneously burst into flame. [Consider this, from William T.W. Woodward, of Washington State University: “Wet hay is more likely to lead to a spontaneous combustion fire than dry hay…High moisture hay stacks can have chemical reactions that build heat. Hay insulates, so the larger the haystack, the less cooling there is to offset the heat. When the internal temperature of hay rises above 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees C), a chemical reaction begins to produce flammable gas that can ignite if the temperature goes high enough.” The wetter the hay, the higher the risk of spontaneous combustion. The enigma that is fire, right?]

Spontaneous combustion: it’s just another hazard of living on earth, the only known planet with enough oxygen so that fire can burn.

Thanks, Discover. I did not know that.

I Heart BTR

Saturday evening found me with the family in York, PA, making up for the Big Time Rush concert we missed in Harrington, DE. Yes, on 9/10/11 we made the 2.5 hour interstate trek to see the Nickelodeon boy band that we failed to get tickets for when they were just a piece down the road from us at the Delaware State Fair. Crazy? Perhaps. Worth it? You bet.

For one thing, I’ve never been to the Delaware State Fair, but I don’t think I would be far off in estimating that the temperature of Saturday night’s concert was easily 30 degrees cooler than that of the July 24th Delaware tour date. Summer heat, combined with the extra 10 degrees generated by the VERY excited girls in the audience likely made BTR’s Delaware appearance a blistering 110 degrees, compared to York’s almost autumn temperature of 80. My blistering eardrums were likely due to all the Beatlemania-style screaming about 2 rows behind me, and, despite reports, was not heat-related.

Unfortunately, the cooler temperatures didn’t keep the lead singer of the opening act from taking off his jacket to reveal what is probably one of the top 10 least appropriate message t-shirts to wear in front of an audience of the Nickelodeon demographic. Kendall Schmidt of BTR wore a Spiderman T-shirt. Nice. Ryan Follese of Hot Chelle Ray wore a shirt that said “VAN F***IN’ HALEN” in huge capital letters, minus my placeholder asterisks. Huh? Can somebody give that guy a detention? This is an audience of 11-year-old girls, dude! They don’t know who Van Halen is!!!!!!

I am thankful, though, that before our trek to York, the Target store right here in Dover, DE still had a couple of extra BTR t-shirts to unload, at the bargain price of $4.48. The money we saved compared with buying a shirt at the concert surely covered the half-gallon bag of swedish fish my kids bought at the concession stand and the 16 oz pre-concert pickle that my son and husband split while we watched Shane Speal, three string cigar box guitar manufacturer and performer, belting out what the York Daily Record describes as “blues and gospel and country and Hawaiian and ragtime…[put] through a meat grinder that’s missing some teeth.” Check him out at his website. It has to be heard to be believed–and heard on a recording to be understood.

All in all, the BTR concert in York was a great experience…all except for the part where the BTR boys dedicated a song to all the parents in the audience. I’m not sure what song I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Listen up, BTR guys: Paul Mcartney is older than my dad. Maybe you should talk to the Van Halen guy from the opening band…that is if he’s not getting beat up behind the tour bus by a couple of outraged parents. He may be missing some teeth after his York appearance, but maybe he can give you a more age-appropriate recommendation for next time.

Last week’s rant, continued (Unrighteous avoidance, Part 2)

What gives?

The new website for my church calls me and all my fellow congregants “attendees.” Not “attenders.”

Huh?

It may sound like quibbling to you, but this one small element of an otherwise perfectly lovely website is making me writch around not unlike the unwitting princess who still felt that pea under her mattresses. (Perhaps despite appearances, I’m fragile.) Adding to my somewhat repentant 9/1 post describing my unwillingness to watch the church website tutorials, I find that I now have a grammatical obstacle in my way, the likes of which I have not had since I went an entire dictionary-less day wondering whether the name “Stealth Bomber” implies that ‘stealth’ is an adjective, despite its normal usage as a noun.

You’re on your own with that one.

Research on englishforums.com suggested that ‘attendee’ works like ‘retiree’ (one who retires), ‘escapee’ (one who escapes), and ‘abscondee’ (one who absconds), the last of which I used just the other day, when I said, “Fie!! Thou hast absconded with my tankard of gruel, thou heartless abscondee! Nay, I shall slay thee anon!” Thus, ‘attendee’ would mean one who attends, and in the case of the church website, someone who attends the church.

A bit of a controversy, though, comparing this to research on grammartogo.com, which advised me to think about the relationship between ’employer’ and ’employee.’ The employer employs and the employee is employed by the employer. So the ‘attender’ attends and the ‘attendee’ is attended to. Got that?

Does this imply that my church attends to my needs? That is sweet, isn’t it? I could use a personal attendant sometimes, mainly to hold the hymnal at an appropriate reading distance when I forget my progressive lenses. Isn’t that nice of them?

The best word on ‘attendee’ that I found was in the British Medical Journal (Vol 323, published 8/18/2001) There, Andrew West, specialist registrar in child and adolescent psychiatry (whatever that is) at Oxford wrote a short, decidedly non-medical piece on how he doesn’t use the word ‘attendee.’ He reports the results of his own research in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, which revealed no meanings for the suffix ‘-ee’ that identify the person doing an action (such as one who attends a meeting). West describes himself as one who has taken refuge from a meeting, perhaps making him a refugee despite the fact that the meeting necessitated rather than provided the refuge.

Interestingly, West also refers to the meaning of ‘-ee’ as being a diminutive suffix, as in a ‘coatee’ being a small coat (does that make a ‘goatee’ a small goat?) This makes me wonder how in the world we came up with ‘Slurpee’ (by this definition, possibly a small slurp), a beverage that can be ordered as an oxymoronic ‘Big Gulp.”

Stupid Americans.

I think I’m with West. ‘Attender’ is A-OK. Anything else makes my head hurt.

Rejected 8th Grade Social Studies current events stories (No. 1)

Title: Another Human Foot Washes Up In British Columbia (source: FoxNews.com)

Priceless quote: “The discovery marks the eighth human foot to wash up in British Columbia since August 2007 and is the 12th to appear in the coastal region from British Columbia to northwestern Washington in that time….two [of the eight washed up feet] found in Richmond, British Columbia, have been confirmed as belonging to the same woman. Police said they do not suspect foul play and believe that the feet detached naturally in the water.” (emphases mine)

I don’t know how it works in Canada, but my feet have never naturally detached at the Jersey Shore. Not even in the ’80s when all that medical waste was floating around.

Ugh.

Unrighteous avoidance?

I am not a boy scout. And not just because I’m a girl.

I am not a boy scout because if you tell me to do something, I will most likely not do it, simply because you told me to. Seriously.

I know it’s backwards. It borders on disrespectful. But I just don’t like being obligated…to do anything.

And in case you’re worried, it’s not you. I am an equal opportunity ignorer.

My quandary of late: to educate myself on the mechanics of the new website for my church per the request of a church staff member. All he wants me to do is watch a couple of tutorial videos. And it’s a minister asking, for goodness sake. But I haven’t done it. And maybe I’m not gonna.

Here’s the background: I participate in and lead a couple of church ministries (6th grade Sunday School, mentoring for engaged couples, missions, and others). I’m sure the website can help me to connect to the church community in a variety of ways. I’m sure that it can take my ministries where they’ve never gone before. I’m sure that uploading my photo there will open doors of social mediation (mediation?) the likes of which Facebook only dreams about after a really big birthday dinner (OK, that last comment had a mocking tone, but this is my blog, and I have to be snarky, right?).

But I’m having a serious block for watching these videos. Believe me, it’s not procrastination. It’s not a protest. It’s…I don’t know. I guess it’s me. Me and my not wanting to get on the computer for one more moment than I need to. That’s really what it comes down to.

But if you’re reading this, though, you’re probably wondering, “If she’s blogging then why doesn’t she just watch the videos and quit whining? Same difference.” Well, you got me there. If I have time for this, I have time for that. But I’m still probably not going to watch the videos (I’m such an enigma, aren’t I?).

Maybe my unwillingness to watch the tutorials is the techno version of not reading the directions. I think, “I’ll just poke around, and I’ll figure out what I need to know. Besides, what’s it going to hurt? If the website asks me whether I want to play a game of global thermonuclear war, I’m going to say no. Feel better now?”

But even as I write this, I believe I’m waxing smug. And nobody likes a smug churchgoer, except perhaps the smug churchgoer herself. So fine, I’ll watch the tutorials. I will. I promise.

Drop me a comment about something you’ve been avoiding and why. And don’t worry—I don’t judge people.

Elusive responsibility

What has the face of an angel, the wardrobe of a cartoon character, and the memory of a goldfish?

That would be my 12-year-old son, Jake.

Oh, responsibility! That so important life trait that stands continually just a smidgen outside of Jake’s grasp—when will it finally click? When will his room stay clean? When will his papers be right where he thinks they are? When will we stop finding 3-month-old, unsold raffle tickets from the long gone Halloween band fundraiser and notes to last year’s teachers? When, oh when, will Jake get all of his homework done in one sitting because he remembered all of his assignments all at one time?

Woe is me, but I think perhaps never.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s a good guy, Jake. He’s talented. He’s funny. He’s awfully personable. I just wish he’s put it together…get it together…keep it together, just long enough for whatever “it” is to take root so that it’s in his memory banks for whenever “it” pops up again.

As I think about it, though, even with the first 12 years behind us, growing up still has its phases, and responsibility is the challenge of now. We’ve already tackled sleeping through the night, antisocial biting, throwing food on the floor, running out into the street, taking turns, reading, writing, basic math, taking out the trash, being a team player, manners, pitching in to help, and basic money management. And, believe me, I couldn’t be more thankful that non-confrontational vegetarianism just came naturally to him. So with this, I encourage myself in the process. Responsibility is elusive now, but he’ll get it.

Then again, once he gets it, will he remember where he put it?

Just drive

I am a bad person.

Yesterday I made the one and only phone call I’ve ever made to an elected official, and it was to beg my local councilman to block measures to slow down traffic on the main roads near my house.

I know that this goes against everything I’m supposed to stand for as a mother. I know I’m supposed to be outraged by speeding. I know I’m supposed to take up the mantel of my New Jersey ancestors and shout “slow down!” while sitting in my lawn chair and shaking my cane at lousy speeders who treat neighborhood streets, parking lots, and school pick-up zones as proverbial racetracks (minus the logo shirts and drunken fans).

To be honest, though, the roots of my anti-traffic slowing activism go back to one day, about 10 years ago, when I was pushing a stroller down State Street—just one block from my home—and witnessed Car A smashing into the rear end of Car B because Car B had slowed suddenly and dramatically to avoid being snared in the radar speed trap Police Officer X, who happened to be lurking on the next corner. Conveniently, Officer X was also an eyewitness and appeared immediately on the accident scene, but, still, it gives one pause—if radar is intended to slow traffic because slowing traffic is intended to prevent accidents…then who is really responsible for the damage?

Add to that my observation that my local roadways aren’t speeding up—more like they’re slowing down. Just last week, I was driving away from my son’s first marching band parade and wound up behind a guy going 15 miles an hour! If he’d have been dressed as a scarecrow, blasting the theme music from Hee Haw, and driving 4 donkeys dressed like his most favorite (least favorite?) members of the Democratic party in the flatbed of his pick-up truck, then I’d have realized that he was caught up in the slow-moving parade spirit. But no, he was just a guy, driving a sedan, texting while he should have been driving, if driving is defined as propelling one’s car down the roadway at a speed faster than that of slugs, sloths, and disabled tortoises.

Unfortunately, even without distracted driving, we’ve still got problems. What MapQuest doesn’t tell you about driving in Dover, Delaware is that you should add 15 minutes to your estimated travel time to account for slow-moving Amish buggies, cars parked at 50 miles an hour in the left lane on the highway, and late model Buicks that take 30 seconds to 5 and a half minutes to complete a right-hand turn.

It’s not like being trapped in a mine for 69 days, but let me tell you, sometimes it’s torture.

So here’s my position on roadway safety: let’s be responsible, people. Speed is associated with a higher severity of injury in auto/pedestrian accidents, so please, obey the speed limit. Speed humps, slow-you-down poles, and tricky changes to road size and shape are the alternative, and not only are they unsightly and annoying, they’re ready to take a big bite out of your car at just that moment when you forget they’re there because you got carried away belting out the chorus to “We Are the Champions” with Freddy Mercury on the radio.

But while you’re at it, please, do at least the speed limit. Do it so that you don’t have to listen to me behind you, crying, “The parade is over–just drive!!!” like a whining little girl. Not only is my whining unsightly and annoying, it’s bound to distract me, you, and everyone else from keeping our eyes on the road. And nobody will benefit from that.

« Older entries