It is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. I’m enjoying Todd’s extended family. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve gone out in pursuit of pie crusts 12 hours before we needed them and actually found them in the well stocked HEB. I’ve jogged. I’ve hiked up hills. I’ve been in touch with my people in other places and at home. And I’ve prayed.
Last night, Todd’s dad did a devotional for the entire extended family on Thankfulness. That’s what got me crying. I was afraid I wouldn’t stop, but I had pie duty, so I pulled it together. We read a few verses, among which were Philippians 4:6 and Colossians 3:15.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
It was mentioned that the opposites to thankfulness are worry (do not be anxious) and complaining. I have been guilty of both.
This has been a hard year for so many of my people. Some tables don’t look like they should this year, because they are missing important people. Some tables don’t have anyone sitting there at all. Life is hard. I saw a memory on Facebook of an old Thanksgiving post from 2015. I am pasting in an excerpt from it.
My family is moving into another phase of life with older, more active kids. I didn’t see it coming and I’m fighting this phase. I think a great deal of my own internal discord comes from my fighting the system instead of finding a way to thrive within it.
I read an article years ago about how to react if ever attacked by an alligator. Silly me, you may think. What a stupid waste of time to read articles about reacting to alligator attacks. Not really. I live on a river and I do stupid things. I think I have a reasonable chance of needing this advice at some point. If you are ever with me in a kayak, consider yourself covered. So I read the article. The point of it was that you can’t fight an alligator and win. He will win every time. The only way to deal with an attack is to roll with it. Literally. An alligator’s approach is to grab on and roll you over and under the water until you are dead by drowning. Then he stores you under a log and lets your meat rot and he’ll come back later and eat you. (You’re welcome. Now you know.) The best thing you can do in this situation is try to roll with the gator and come up to breathe and roll again. You try to keep rolling toward solid footing and give yourself time to be helped by someone else or get away. But you can’t go contrary to the gator. You can’t fight against it. You have to roll with it.
I’ve been fighting a system that is stronger than I am. A gator. I’m fighting something unchangeable. And I can’t. I have to roll with it. Come up for air. Work myself into the systems so that I can still be effective. Roll with it.
There are plenty of things right now that I have zero control over but wish I did. There are things I wish I could change. Things I wish I was less bothered by. Those things are the enemy of gratitude. I’m not thinking about them right now. Because what is right far outweighs what is wrong. And what is right is very clear to me today.
One of my favorite verses lately is I Samuel 2:9: It is not by strength that one prevails. If there’s a gator at your Thanksgiving table this year, deal with it carefully and you’ll prevail. Don’t feed it. Don’t fight it. Roll with it. And when you’ve made it out alive, look down river for someone else caught in the struggle. And help them roll.
I didn’t go to Savannah in pursuit of the perfect milkshake. But somehow, over the course of 4 days and as many failed attempts to find one, I ended up on the milkshake chase of a lifetime.
It became a whole thing.
But I want it known that it didn’t start out that way.
It all started on a sunny fall day in October, under skies so blue they made me achy for bottled Cokes and my grandmother. I was downtown with my 4 friends, one of whom was about to get into trouble with the law, but hadn’t yet. We were shopping. And eating. And planning to eat. And shop. And glancing at our watches to stay on track for a bus tour of the city we had booked for later that afternoon.
Since my grandmother has been gone since 1991 and bottled Cokes are hard to come by, my next Blue October Sky longing was a milkshake. A chocolate one.
My friends, all more seasoned shoppers than I am, wandered in and out of shops on Julian Street. I found myself standing in front of the Candy Kitchen, next door to River Street Sweets. I wasn’t shopping at the moment. It seemed like the right time to saunter in and order one. But something talked me out of it and I can’t for the life of me remember what that was. It was me talking to me inside my own head. I told myself to wait on it. For a better time. I think I had decided that evening would be better and I was falsely convinced we’d be back in this same spot that evening for our Ghost Tour. Whatever my reasons were, they led me away from my opportunities and I never ordered a shake that first day.
This was my first mistake. It wouldn’t be my last, or my biggest.
Friday night, after a day at the beach and the outlet mall, we were sitting around an elegant table eating some pretty expensive pork chops, when the other girls asked our waiter, Jackson, where I could find the best tasting milkshake on the planet. They knew I wasn’t going to let it go until I got one.
“Leopold’s,” he answered quickly. “Definitely.”
We had seen the place. We had heard about the place. We hadn’t gone into the place, because you couldn’t get within a square acre of it. There were always 50 people lined up out the door and down the sidewalk. It looked like a line to buy Bruno Mars tickets in Madison Square Garden. I don’t think I’ve ever met a milkshake good enough to justify that.
So we gave up on Leopold’s twice in one day.
But as we got closer to our townhouse on Lafayette Square, Parker’s Kitchen and General Store came into view. This store was like the Vegas strip in Savannah and had everything from crocheted rat figurines to candles to pints of Haagen Daz. They didn’t have fresh handspun milkshakes, but they did have a milkshake machine.
A milkshake vending machine. Done well, that’s a little slice of heaven. What could go wrong?
So I proceeded to fix myself a DIY gas station milkshake. I followed the process without reading any of the prompts. I skipped a couple of fairly important steps. Like picking a cup and placing it in under the spout where the liquid pours out.
I’d like to think this particular mistake was a result of being tired. The only other explanation is harder to swallow. I didn’t even notice I had skipped this step until the “milk” or whatever it was began to spew forcefully from a spout with no cup to catch it. But it amped up to a new level of upheaval when the stirring and shaking began.
Even then, I was still a little bit confused about my part in this fiasco.
“Missy! Did you put the cup in place?” Erin called out. Yeah. No. I didn’t do that. I didn’t know I needed to do that. At this point, I didn’t even know how much I should have known that I needed to do that. An employee was headed my direction in a panic, with a look on her face I couldn’t quite read. Oh man, I’m in trouble. What did I think was going to happen here? The next 2-3 minutes were fairly traumatic and I believe my psyche has blocked them out. There were processed fluids pouring out onto the floor. The mop bucket was brought out. People without higher education passed judgment. And I received a brief and somewhat terse tutorial from the employee about making myself another and what to say to the cashier as I checked out.
The milkshake thing was really going well.
At the end of my catastrophic romp through Parker’s, I walked out to the gas pump and took a sip of that bad boy. Ten seconds later, I threw it away.
I think they put me on a Do Not Serve list in that store and I tried to steer clear for the rest of the weekend. Truthfully, that wasn’t hard to do. I had already purchased a crocheted rat and a bad milkshake. There was nothing else there for me.
At 10:30 that night, in a moment of desperation, I ordered a chocolate shake from McDonalds on Uber Eats. I got made fun of for that, too, because it wasn’t deemed a worthy milkshake. But it was a heap better than the one I vended from a machine.
McDonalds didn’t count, though. And the hunt continued into Saturday.
Saturday was the last full day I had to get this done. In the late afternoon, after meandering all over historic Savannah, I had the good fortune to be facing the Candy Kitchen again on Julian Street. This time I was smart enough to go in.
“I’d like a medium chocolate shake, please,” I said, feeling like it was about to all be worth it. Everything I had suffered to this point would be brought into peaceful alignment with the universe.
“Oh, sorry. We are out of chocolate today,” a girl said through a cotton facemask.
Of course they were. If you’ve run out of chocolate and your name is Candy Kitchen, why are your doors even still open? Turn the light off and come back when you’ve made amends.
“Ok,” I said, hanging my head. “Thanks.”
One of my buddies walked out of a shop.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Out of chocolate,” I answered.
“Out of chocolate? Wow.”
I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t my shoulder popping, but I think I heard my spirit break. So I took a short walk down the block and settled on Ben and Jerry’s, which felt like the biggest sellout in the history of desserts.
They gave me a paper straw.
After several humiliating decisions and 4 days of hotly pursuing any milkshake at all, I was rewarded with a straw that disintegrated like moist toilet paper on my bottom lip.
I’ve written before about defining moments. We all have them. We all recognize them. Because they are few and infrequent, they are easily recognizable when they occur. Sometimed they even come in the mail.
I had one last night.
It was a doozie.
Honestly, last night may have been my finest hour. My crowning achievement. That one moment where everything comes together just right and a choir lines up and sings an anthem with your name in it.
None of this will matter to anyone else but me. I don’t care. I’m writing it down because I won.
But my achievement and the victory of my lifetime will mean nothing without a little background.
Recently I took a short trip to Savannah, GA with some of my favorite people—all locals. Without any masculine assistance, we hooked a hefty cargo basket to my trailer hitch (5 middle-aged women don’t pack light), arranged suitcases like a real world game of Tetris, figured out nets and straps, and drove off into the sunset. We drove my car, which seats 6 somewhat comfortably, depending on which seat you are in. I did much of the driving.
Me driving means a lot of things. It means getting places on time or early. It means spanky doodle playlists with 156 awesome tunes from the 80s and 90s.
And it means being willing to take criticism. Lots and lots and LOTS of criticism.
There were four other people in the vehicle. Passenger #1 never criticized my driving, not because she’s too noble, but because she refuses to do any driving herself, doesn’t drive any more impressively than I do, and doesn’t care to jump into most frays. She’d rather read a magazine and let the dumpster fires burn.
Passenger #2 never criticized my driving either, and probably is slightly more noble than the others. But though she was never overtly critical, she was voted to take over for me late that first night when I was deemed ‘unsafe’ by Passengers 3 and 4.
Passenger #3 wasn’t so much critical as she was amused by the criticism offered by anyone else. She was unwilling to lead a raid, but was running with the raiders. Passenger 3 is a pot stirrer. And she enjoyed the contents of the pot as often as possible.
Passenger #4 was the Informinator. The Knower of All Knowledge. The Finder of All Answers. The Chief of Police, Criticism and Complaints Branch. We’ll call her Elaine here, because her name is Elaine. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent.
There are no innocents to protect. Everyone is guilty.
And while we’re at it, Passenger 1 is Melissa, 2 is Becky, and 3 is Erin. And though I love them, they mostly all stink.
After a short drive, followed by a dinner, a longer drive, and then a stop at a gas station in East Georgia, I was voted out of the driver’s seat. Of my own car.
Walking back out to the car from the convenience store, I looked over at Becky who had a funny look on her face.
“What?” I asked. “You got a problem with me, too? Do you want to drive?” Becky chuckled and then said sheepishly.
“I don’t have a problem and I’m not dying to drive,” and then she paused. “But they want me to.” She nodded her head back toward Erin and Elaine.
“Of course they do,” I said. “Ok, fine. Whatever.” I wasn’t actually mad and truthfully, I was pretty tired by this point. “Have at it.” And I walked around to the passenger side of the front seat. “You two can shut your pie holes,” I added. But they didn’t. And they wouldn’t for the rest of the weekend.
All of that took place on a Wednesday night. Becky took us safely into Savannah where we stayed parked for the next 36 hours. On Thursday, we walked everywhere and drove nowhere.
On Friday, we had decided to hit the beach. That meant driving to Tybee Island, which was 40 minutes away. Still smarting from the flaming darts of Wednesday night, I handed the keys to Elaine.
“You’re driving to Tybee,” I announced. “I’m sure you’ll do better than I could do.” I didn’t really mean that. She wasn’t going to do better than I could have done. Elaine hemmed and hawed just a tad—enough to make it seem like she was putting up a fuss—and then conceded by getting behind the wheel.
We started the playlist up again and 4 of us sang at the top of our lungs to things like Livin’ on a Prayer and Ice Ice Baby and Wide Open Spaces. There were many places we could have stopped on the way to the beach to buy towels. We passed up a Target, for crying out loud. But for some reason we settled on a corner CVS, mistakenly thinking the seasonal aisle in Georgia in October would be a replica of the seasonal aisle in Florida in October. You know what Georgia sells on the seasonal aisle in late October? Mittens. Scarves. Hats. Chapstick.
Not beach towels.
So Elaine and I purchased a 2 pack of Bounty, the quicker picker upper, and called it a victory. That day was a magical combination of the stupid and the superb. It was laughing at the ones who I could fit into one of my pants legs but still couldn’t march up the lighthouse’s 174 steps without doubling over and gulping in air by the metric ton. It was introductions to strangers and ocean views that steal the words from your mouth. It was perfection.
But you know what? This post isn’t about any of that. It’s about the driving.
It was a great trip overall. Yeah. But it ended and we all came home, exchanged pictures, reminisced, and returned to the civilian living of jobs and carpools and early weekday alarms.
Then last week, I stood at the mailbox and peered into it. Sometimes if the mail looks bad enough, I’ll leave it in there for a day or two just to punish it. But on that day, I saw an official looking envelope addressed to me. So I opened it, hoping it was a rebate check or an invitation to run for office or something.
It was a ticket. A speeding ticket. A photographically enforced speeding ticket.
Dang it. Of all the things. After all the abuse I had endured from my friends, now I was receiving notice from the state of Georgia, by way of some law enforcement agency in Chatham County, Tennessee that the vehicle “pictured and described herein was photographed violating public safety in a school zone.” I was clocked going 58 in a 45. They apparently wouldn’t have enforced it if I’d been going 56. But of course.
I stewed on all of this for quite a while. I vented to Todd. I should have just paid the thing that afternoon and let it all go as Todd suggested. But that would have been way too emotionally healthy a choice to make. So I set the ticket aside for several days and thought about it constantly.
Finally, after too much time stewing, I picked the ticket back up from its spot on the game cabinet in the family room and decided I was going to take care of it. This was last night. I re-read the statement about how my driving was a hazard to southern school children everywhere, but most especially Georgia, and got angry all over again.
Then I decided to text Elaine as I was about to pay the ticket online.
“I go back and forth between ‘whatever’ and ‘NUH UH’ on the photo speeding ticket I just received from the state of GA by way of Chatham County, TN. It highlights that I was speeding in a school zone at improper times. $75 ticket plus $25 processing fee (oh brother!). I’m guessing I should just pay it and obviously I can. But the ridiculousness of the explanation makes me want to fight. Can’t fight GA, though. I’d have to go there to fight.” (I can be pretty verbose while texting.)
“Was that from our trip?!” Elaine typed back.
And then, she asked me a question. A question that in that moment would change my life.
“Was it me or Becky?”
Well, now. I hadn’t even considered that possibility. I was so quick to accept the anti-Missy propaganda I had been fed.
“Ha!” I responded. “I hadn’t even thought of that. It might have been you, lol. Friday at 10:29 a.m.”
“It me,” she typed back.
Ohhh man. I continued to text the following.
So at this point, there was a lot of back and forth about paying the ticket. Elaine insisted that she pay and DID pay. At the red arrow in the image above, less than 40 seconds from finding out she was the brazen lawbreaker, Elaine sent a Venmo payment for the entire amount. Following this payment, she insisted I inform the group about her crime and made statements like, “You need to bask in your superiority,” and “This is my journey,” and “I will sit in my shame.”
So here I am basking. As she sits in shame and takes the journey. How does it feel to walk the LOOOOONG plank of almost mowing down a Georgia 2nd grader while selfishly singing “I wear my sungleasses at night?” I wouldn’t know how that feels. Because I didn’t do it.
So, yeah. I’ve had some success in my life. I’ve had some good days and some really good days. But yesterday was the best day. The very best. This day–the day I shut Elaine’s mouth forever–is in my front pocket with my $100 bill, my rabbit’s foot, and a roll of Sweet Tarts that are heavy on the pinks and purples.
Somebody got a speeding ticket in Savannah for jeopardizing public safety and it wasn’t me.
My Friday began at 4:47 a.m. when my sciatic nerve woke me up. I didn’t even know where my sciatic was until 8 days ago. Now we are very well acquainted. Frenemies even. There was no more sleeping after I woke up this morning because there was no sleep position in which my sciatic wasn’t a major player. I got up and went to the gym. Before 8 a.m. I had exercised, washed and vacuumed my car, walked the dog, yelled at a couple of sleeping kids, and showered. At 9 I had breakfast with a friend that included a 2 hour conversation that was better than cheese grits. From 12-3, I did my errands and chores. At 3:30, I pulled back into my driveway as Andrew’s birth mother called my cellphone. I took the call and knew it had something to do with a plan in the works for tomorrow. Plans were made, but in the meantime, we actually talked about stuff. For 10 minutes. And it felt like a thing I needed to notice and treasure. With that in my head, I ran in and typed a strongly worded letter that’s been on the list for a week. The words weren’t that strong. Nothing will come of it. But I checked it off the list. Sometimes that’s all that really matters to me. I picked Jenna up from school at 4:20 (I know. It’s a ridiculously late end time for a school. Don’t get me started.) Once back at home, I ordered some food for the kids and Brady picked it up for me so that I could get ready to go to dinner with Todd and friends. The dinner was as good as my breakfast had been. So many of my local people in one room, laughing and telling stories with plates of food in front of us. During my dinner, Brady and Lucy texted that they were going together to Lucy’s friend’s house to carve a pumpkin. Three people, one pumpkin. In the shape of a rat. Two hours later, while they were still doing that, I returned home, grabbed Jenna, and took her to Wendy’s because she hadn’t eaten dinner. The rest of the evening was baking. I made 3 desserts with Jenna while Hamilton music played in the family room. One of those desserts was requested by Andrew, who ran through the kitchen several times with a headset over his ears. He was delighted to see people preparing food and to get in on the action. Brady and Lucy returned home and wanted to discuss the rat pumpkin and eat whatever I didn’t slap their hands away from. At points, my entire family was in one room with music going and the dog asleep on the couch.
It felt like something out of a dream. A superlative day. A Day in which almost everything felt exactly right. The Day Most Likely to Succeed. The Day I Will Remember as I am helping with college applications for a boy who carved a rat silhouette into a pumpkin with his younger sister and her friend. The Day Where I talked comfortably to the Woman who gifted me her son 20 years ago, about that son and about her own family. The Day I spent talking to friends about Heavy Things and Light Things. The Day Two Very Drunk Golfers tried to pick up my Friend at Dinner and we almost had to Rough Them Up. The Day I stayed up 21 hours without needing a rest. The Day I ended by baking. With my children. The Day I discovered there’s a Happy Days Channel on a free streaming service called Pluto.TV. (Sorry, kids. Mom doesn’t do laundry anymore. Happy Days is on.) A Day where there was Magic in the Mundane Minutia of an ordinary, unscheduled Friday in October.
It was a superlative day. And it felt like something out of a really good dream. But I know it wasn’t a dream. Cuz it’s been a long time since I slept.
I used to say that Fall was my favorite season. In truth, perhaps it is. But the older I get, the more I believe it is the change of the season that I appreciate, as much as the season itself. I have heard myself say this about all of the seasons. Summer brings long days and thunderstorms. More time with family or travel or sleep. Winter brings holidays and, for those of us who are heavy sweaters, less sweating. Spring brings new life. Baby ducks and gator sightings and a world that springs to life inside the bloom on the end of a stem.
But Fall. Fall is special. It represents surviving the heat. And the first of the school year. It ushers in long sleeve fashions and pumpkins and costumes made for tiny people. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. High school football. COLLEGE FOOTBALL. All the football. All of it. I can smell the hint of a backyard firepit when I walk the dog in the late afternoon shadows that reach longer in the shifting light. The days are shorter and people huddle on their couches together instead of finding things to do outside. The stale air of August becomes crisp and friendly, like a side hug from a friend in stead of a backslap from a linebacker.
Every season has a soundtrack. Summer’s is thunder and squealing children. In Spring it is the call of every bird I didn’t know existed. In Winter it is Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby. And in Fall, the soundtrack is the absence of sound. There is a hush I never noticed before. Why have I never noticed the quiet? I can hear it from my porch. I can hear it inside my house. With the dying cadence of the cicadas comes the quiet I can’t ignore. And wouldn’t want to.
Maybe you have to be 50 to hear it. Maybe you just have to be listening. Either way, I’m in.
a forceful quiet
September carries in a dry swirl of waning light and forceful quiet
Overnight the air has shaken off summer and wears a different cloak, deep gold, like liquid butter that drips through cypress branches and lounges reflected in a river that holds its breath. Afternoon shadows yawn and stretch across the lawn as the hush leans in. A forceful quiet that I can hear from any place if I am listening.
As the kids have become teenagers, it has become easier to get out of the house for an evening. Our instructions are no longer rambling missives to the babysitter with phone numbers for poison control. Our instructions now are called over our shoulders to anyone downstairs within earshot.
Saturday night, that wasn’t quite enough. There was a clog in the communication that started with a drywall guy.
Starting Friday, we stepped knee-deep into the project of converting the upstairs, walk-in attic into a livable, climate-controlled bedroom. Our girls have always shared a room. Until a year ago, they always wanted to. When they decided they no longer wanted to share, they really decided it. Like, really. And we’re not easy to convince on making big, sweeping changes. We tried to ride this one out. But it became clear that it was time to give each of them their own space and the only way to do that was with some construction.
By the end of Saturday, all of the framing was done before we left for dinner. We had made a 6:45 reservation to celebrate our anniversary at the Melting Pot. We ordered pizza for the rapscallions remaining behind. And we called out some last minute advice over our shoulder as we left. Be safe, we shouted to the one going out on the town. Don’t burn the house down, we called out to the others.
We should have been more specific
I was relaxed and happy on the way to the restaurant. We talked about garage sale fiascos that spanned the entire decade of 2000-2010 before Todd finally put his foot down and said he’d rather set himself on fire than ever host another garage sale. When we finally got seated in our private booth, I was feeling a little cocky. It was going almost too well.
But there were some apron strings still tied to home. And the texts started coming in.
The first text came in before we were even seated. It was innocent enough. The youngest texted me to ask Todd if it was okay to use the power in the attic. Could she run a load of laundry? Our attic, while being mostly converted into her new bedroom, is also the laundry room.
Sure, I said. It’s all fine.
The next text I received came in while the server was explaining the courses and describing our menu options. It seemed like pertinent information for the rest of my meal, so I had set my phone aside. I didn’t see that it was blowing up with a second series of texts. This second batch came in from our older daughter, who was relaxing in the living room on the first floor. It said something to the effect of, “I’m just going to ignore the fact that it sounds like it is raining from the upstairs into the living room.”
Her text about ignoring this obvious disturbance was immediately followed by a much more urgent text that read simply, “OHHHHHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOO.”
I hadn’t seen either text when the phone I had set aside began buzzing at my hip. I flipped it over to see who was calling and it was Lucy. I was fairly certain that she wouldn’t call about nothing. As I was deciding what to do about answering, I saw her unread “OHHHHHHH NOOOOOOOO” text on my lock screen and eliminated the “should I answer’ question.
She began with, “I don’t want to ruin your anniversary, but….”
And so it began.
The drywall guys hadn’t hooked the drain hose back up to the washer when they left for the day. Apparently they told us not to use it. They said so in Spanish. While we speak enough Spanish to ask for a bathroom and announce that the burrito is hot, we don’t know what “Don’t use the washer tonight” sounds like. So, you know. She used the washer.
And at the end of the wash cycle, instead of all that dirty, soapy water draining where washers drain, it projectile shot out into a half-constructed attic bedroom, soaked into the floor, and down into the ceiling of the living room below.
The next 30 minutes were a blur of tactical information. Where the shop vac was located and how to use it. Go get your brother. Make sure you empty the shop vac if it fills all the way up. Line up buckets under the ceiling leaks in the living room. Your typical this and that.
Meanwhile, the poor server thought we must be on the brink of calling it quits after 28 years together. She couldn’t get a word in. And there was never a “ha ha, house is flooding, sorry about the phone calls” moment in our chit chat. So she had to dance around a crisis she knew nothing about and we had to let that go.
After the crisis came the apologies. We’re sorry we did laundry. How much is fixing this going to cost? Is your dinner ruined?How’s Dad? We paid our bill after I did some fairly significant damage to the dessert plates and the chocolate fondue and headed home.
On the way home, I could tell Todd was focused on what we would walk in on. They had done a pretty good job–and when I say they, I mean Jenna–but we knew there was a totally separate clean-up phase waiting for the adults with adult skills.
But really. What did I expect?
About halfway home, I looked at Todd and said, “I wonder what we would have talked about tonight if the washer hadn’t overflowed into the attic and down into the living room?”
This has not been my best week. About 75% of that was my own fault and within my own control. The other 25% just was. I tried to slog through it looking as normal (for me) as was possible.
Sunday is Mother’s Day. If this is a surprise to you and your mom is within reach, you still have tomorrow to scrounge something up. I would not have considered this to be a triggering day, but this year it has been. It has as much to do with the ages of my children and the state of the world as it does with the fact that my own mother has been gone for 3 years now.
The real problem this week is not what’s going on around me. It’s that I went into it unprepared. There are a lot of quick moving storms that go just fine in a 14′ skiff. But if you try to ride one out on the upside of a sheet of cardboard, you’ll have a different experience.
The last few weeks I’ve been riding the cardboard. But I’m working on that one and I’m still floating.
It has been impossible not to think about my mother this week as I sift through people’s posts and plans and a few of my own regrets. My mother was gone a long time before she died. She was only a shell of herself toward the end. She still knew who I was. She could still speak to me, but her comments were slow and measured and emotionless. I’ve asked myself many times if I did enough while I could. If I said enough. If she heard what I said and what I didn’t say.
Was it enough? It wasn’t enough for me. But in the end, it had to be and I knew it was okay. I’m sure it could have been better. I’m sure I could have done better. If we’d had more time, I feel certain we would have gotten it right, because we never did stop trying.
But it was okay. We were okay. We were always vastly different people and we both knew that.
There was a time when the very pronounced differences between me and Mom caused us to grit our teeth and do battle. I couldn’t openly confront her like my brother could. I was too chicken and she was too smart and too fiery. So I fought back with passive aggressive behavior like sticking my tongue out when she turned her back or by wearing my cleats and softball pants to my first night of the 10-day etiquette class she forced me to attend.
On a crisp day in February of 1987, I had waltzed through the back door for dinner with my gym bag slung over my shoulder. Before I could pick a spot to drop it and then be told immediately to pick it back up, my mother looked up from her spot in the kitchen and said, “I signed you up for a 2-week etiquette class at Maas Brothers.” Her tone was so casual. So unapologetic. “Come see.”
“Are you joking?” I asked her. My tone certainly informed her tone that there needed to be a very good reason for this announcement.
I don’t know why I even asked her if she was joking. She didn’t joke about things like that. I hopped the three stairs into our kitchen from the family room and looked down at the newspaper clipping she had cut out for me. Teen Etiquette and Fashion Class! Teens and table manners. Fashion and form. Maas Brothers. Monday-Thursday, February 23-March 5. 6-8 p.m.
“Mom!” I looked up in shock. “I have practice! Why did you sign me up for this?”
“You won’t have to miss practice. Just practice, change, and go to the class from the field. You can eat after.” How did my mother not see that this plan was from the actual devil? “You need to learn a little refinement, Missy,” she smiled sweetly and sort of half winked at me. “You can’t spend your life in your softball uniform.” Oh, I think I can, Mom. Pretty sure I can.
Looking back, I wonder if I should’ve argued more. Why did I lead with “I have practice” when the real issue was that this entire concept was 100% detestable? Did she just have a look on her face and a tone in her voice that shut me down? Did I secretly believe she was right and that I needed to learn to walk with 12 place settings of Lenox Charleston on my head? I don’t remember. All I remember is that it was planned and paid for and that I was to report to the 2nd floor of Maas Brothers on Monday, February 23. It was as good as done.
On that Monday, I monitored the time pretty closely, feeling distracted and stressed out during batting practice. When Coach called the end of practice and let us go, I looked at my watch and saw that there wasn’t time for a full outfit change or a shower. I had to sprint to my car and drive above the speed limit to arrive at the Tallahassee Mall on time. At that point, I only had time to pull a clean shirt over my dirty one. I stepped out into the parking lot and looked down at myself. From my neck down, not one thing matched. I had a clean red polo pulled over a dirty practice t-shirt. My pants were smeared in the orange clay of an unnecessary slide into 2nd base. I hadn’t worn my stirrups over my unmatched socks. And my cleats were cleats. I had arrived at my first “refinement class” wearing a golf shirt, baseball pants, and cleats. My mother had made me show up there that day, but that round went to me.
I trotted across a mostly empty parking lot, listening to the cadence of my cleats against the pavement, and noticed a smell like Listerine in the air. I had no idea what to attribute it to. Maybe that was what etiquette smelled like. Once inside Maas Brothers. I walked the short straight path through some lingerie and perfumes to the escalator and spent the entire ride up trying to free my right shoe from the grooves where I had wedged it when I hopped on with too much umph. This was going to be a disaster.
The closer I got to the second floor, the more aware I became that I was about to walk into a class wearing the worst outfit any of them would ever have seen. I didn’t have much time to twist in my worries, though, because as I stepped off the escalator, I could see a group of teenage girls sitting in chairs in a circle, right out in the middle of the store. There was nothing to do but join them. Only one chair was empty, between two strangers, and I plopped down in it and tried to tuck my shoes under the chair. When I got up the nerve to look around the group and make eye contact, I saw the smiling green eyes of my middle school best friend, Meredith. She waved subtly from her waist, because she knew how not to draw attention to herself. Ah, Meredith. Nothing in that moment, besides being sent home immediately with $100, could have made me happier. I had a friend in this miserable class.
When we had a moment to chat, she laughed and looked me over quickly.
“You came straight from softball practice, I hope?”
“Yeah,” I chuckled. “I won’t be doing this again.”
I didn’t, either. I showed up each night to learn from Judy Turman, a graceful woman who looked like porcelain and moved like a fluid. She was tall and thin and well put together. From her, I learned to cross my feet at the ankles and tuck them under my chair at an angle. I learned what would happen to my legs over the course of a lifetime if I continued along the desperately misguided path of crossing my legs at the knees. I learned how to sit. How to stand. How to wave. How to smile. How to properly set a table. Which forks to use for which foods. And how to dress. I learned that Meredith was still my friend, though we were now at different schools, and that I would always, always be more comfortable in cleats than in heels.
On the second day of the second week of class, we began to hash out details of the course’s grand finale: a fashion show complete with a runway and the music and outfit of our choosing. Parents, friends, and any casual bystanders with nothing better to do were invited to witness the fruits of Judy’s labor, which would comprise the entire session on the final night of the class. She met with each of us to choose songs and to discuss our taste in clothing. It was obvious to Judy, from only a few days of teaching us, who should wear what. Judy knew a girl that came straight from softball every day was never going to wear wedges or power suits. She dressed me up in 1987 overalls and slipped some red flats on my feet. As much as I did not want any part of the class or the event, I remember feeling like I had won the outfit lottery. To be flat on my feet and wrapped in denim was my fashion show best case scenario.
When Thursday night regrettably arrived, I found myself standing in a clump of girls, outmatched and uncomfortable, waiting for my cue to walk. When I heard the words, “Hi there,” I stepped out onto the runway and strutted my white denim stuff to Peter Gabriel’s Big Time. I hated it. Every second. All of my empty spaces were filled with knots and nausea. When I was done and sweating through 1987 behind the stage, I scanned the audience for my family and caught my mother’s eye. What was the expression in her eyes? Was it joy? Was it an apology? Was it a truce? Was it concession? It was maybe a little of everything. I never asked her for any detail. If either of us had gone into this course with any doubt about who we were, there was no doubt now. She was her. I was me. She was skirts and matching shoes and hose with no runs in them. I was cleats and sneakers and denim and tube socks.
And by the end of that final night, I had a certificate in my hand that essentially stated we were agreeing to disagree. For the rest of our lives.
So to my mother, on this Mother’s Day weekend, I raise my shrimp fork, with a plate on my head. There are running shoes on my feet which I can clearly see because my legs are so egregiously crossed at the knees.
Through the years, a lot of my friends have managed to raise kids and hold down jobs at the same time. I don’t understand this extreme and skillful display of multitasking. I have never been able to do it myself. Those of you out there with this skill, I applaud you.
Lately, I can’t even live life and then blog about it. I’m just living. But that part is going pretty well.
I’ve been asked a lot about whether I have been Covid vaccinated. I haven’t. I plan to in the summer. I have also been thinking about Mother’s Day, which is next weekend. And in clicking around my blog, I found a little something that managed to ensconce motherhood, vaccinations, and my inability to multitask.
This particular day is probably the worst one I ever carried out as a mom. I can’t believe there wasn’t a social worker waiting in my driveway to take my children when I got home from the store.
They don’t remember this. I will never forget.
———————————————————–10 years ago….
Our fourth kid is a robust little sisterwoman. She’s chubby and tough and she doesn’t get sick. If she has ever been on an antibiotic, it’s only been one. And I’m not sure she’s ever had one at all. The others haven’t fared so well, so many of Jenna’s trips to the doctor have been as a spectator for some other very grotesque ailment. And then there was this whole “doctors charge too much” tirade I went off on, and I up and switched doctors, and charts were moving around faster than a suitcase trying to catch up to a frequent flier. And in all of the swirling chaos, I guess I just forgot about the whole “check ups” thing. I was checking her at home. She was fine.
But then one day quite recently, it seemed like maybe it was time to get her established with the pediatrician and figure out where we stood on the vaccinations issue. So I went. I didn’t tell her what we were doing. We just went to meet the doctor. He looked her over, met her, and then said: “Now, about her shots.”
“Oh yes. About that. How many are we behind?” I asked. I didn’t even bother to ask if we were. I knew we were behind. I think I even knew we were woefully behind. But I didn’t know we were devastatingly, woefully behind.
“Let’s see,” he said, referring to her chart. His eyes were down and his lips were moving. His head bobbed as he counted under his breath. One, two, three, four, five…..six, seven, eight….nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen…fourteen.” He said. His voice seemed unnaturally high and glib and he paused for just a fraction of a second to let that final number have some hang time before he said, “We’ll need to split that up over 5 visits.” Oh good. She’s going to love me for this, I thought. As if the doctor really needed to continue, he added one final note, “What I find funny about all of this is that you are pro vaccination!” Ha ha ha ha ha. I know! Isn’t that a gem? Welcome to my world, doctor. It’s crazy in here. I did manage to show shock, because it was a staggering number he’d proposed, “Have I taken her to any of her check ups?” He looked down at the chart again. “Yes, you took her for her 2 month and her 4 month.” Huh. She’s 3. His expression was blank. So was mine. Huh.
So, to add to the fun of that 14-shot diagnosis, on my way out he handed me a stack of papers to do some lead poison testing on the baby. This, I must admit, I have no intention of doing. Though I am pro-vaccination, I am anti-lead-poison-testing. That just reeks of doctor-insurance scam. Perhaps this thinking caused me to subconsciously place the stack of papers up against my windshield as I strapped the girls in the car. I’m not really sure about that. But the effect was clear. I pulled out into 56th street and 130,000 papers went flying into the Tampa sky like confetti in front of a fan. Well, pooh. That’s a problem. I had to pull into the median, and while my ridiculously bewildered girls watched, I darted into traffic, between spurts of passing cars, and collected the lead poison testing papers. Really. Does it get better? Yes, it does.
We were in a super big hurry that day, because it was a half day at school and because that’s just how these things seem to go. Before we could pick up the boys, we had to pick up a pie crust at the grocery store. We only needed this one thing. And in case you don’t see it coming yet: Super big hurry + quick stop = spontaneous catastrophic event. I am still so dumb in matters of daily living that I did not see this one coming. We threw Jenna into a cart, because she really cannot be trusted anywhere. Ever. And Lucy, who’s 4, was on foot. And as I was staring at the wall of Pillsbury products, Lucy began to cough. A lot.
“Are you okay?” I asked. “Yes, Mommy. I’m fine.” She replied, without hesitation. OK, good. That’s good. My eyes went back to shopping mode. The coughing started again, this time with some disturbing cadences thrown in. “Seriously,” I said. “Are you okay? Are you going to throw up?” I asked, growing more alarmed. “No, I’m not going to throw up. I’m okay.” OK. If you say so. But oh man. That cough. And those cadences. And there it came. Up came the Frosty I had bought her at Wendy’s just 20 minutes before. This all came as a complete shock to me, because…well, because I’ve chosen to block out all the other public vomits and catastrophic grocery visits that have occurred in the last 6 years. There’s no way this should have shocked me. I was just in denial. But as it was, I had NOTHING with me to use for catching a second-hand Frosty or cleaning up the after effects of the Frosty. So I did the only thing I could think of at the time: I grabbed the bottom of her t-shirt and used it as a bucket.
It kept coming. I kept holding that shirt. Patrons were walking around us, bug-eyed. What do you do in this situation? Totally pretend it isn’t happening? Make eye-contact and start offering giggly “it’s not viral” explanations? I couldn’t worry too much about all of that, because the Frosty was STILL coming up. And though I hate to say it, we were out of shirt.
In the intense pandemonium of the moment, I rolled up the nasty shirt, lifted it over her head and now she was shirtless and throwing up on the floor. Oh man. My head darted around like an owl until I saw a couple of employees chatting in the warehouse, behind double doors. I ran about 10 feet, banged on those doors, made some quick “we’re vomiting. it’s not viral” conversation and begged for a bucket or a mop or something. Anything. The lady came rushing back out with a mop and some paper towels and leaned down to start cleaning it up. Oh, no, ma’am. I’ll do that, I offered. I don’t want anyone else to have to do this. So I mopped up the floor, pulled Healthy Child out of the cart, put Shirtless Child into the cart, grabbed a silly pie crust and went running for the check out. On the way, I threw that shirt into a trash can. We had to stop in the bathroom to clean off her shoes. Twice she stood up in the cart…with no shirt on. “Sit down,” I whispered, mortified. “You have no shirt.”
As we checked out, I internally weighed the pros and cons of addressing the obvious fact that she was shirtless. Do you tell the cashier, ‘Oh yes, she’s shirtless because of all the vomit,’ or do you just let it sit there, unexplained, like it’s somehow what you meant to do that day? I went with ‘say nothing, make no eye contact.’ When in doubt, skulk. She does have a nice tan. I’ll say that for her.
So. When one silly pie crust can cause this much commotion, do you see why we are 14 shots behind? I think it makes perfect sense.
Ten years ago, I became friends with a dog on Facebook. I wouldn’t have thought about this again, except that a few days ago, a different dog friendship got the better of me.
And that got me to thinking.
Dogs are owned by no one. They are the true masters.
But back to my Facebook Friend Dog. Late one night in 2011, I noticed a red notification. It was a friend request. From a dog. Lucy Pug, the dog of my best friend in my childhood neighborhood, was there in my box requesting me as a friend on Facebook. I stared at that request for a couple of minutes while my finger wavered on the mouse button. Finally, I selected Confirm. Sure, Lucy Pug. I’ll be your friend. Far be it from me to be the lady who won’t be her friend’s dog’s friend on Facebook. It’s a mouthful, I know. Two minutes later, a message came up. It said simply: Lucy Pug has accepted your friend request.
Wait a second. What? She accepted MY friend request? Apparently I hadn’t been asked to be her friend. Facebook had suggested that I ask her. And I never saw it coming. I requested that a dog become my friend.
I was a sucker that day for all the right reasons.
Last Tuesday, it happened again.
My friend, Erin, has had a dog for 13 years. His name is Cobi and he’s the sweetest, easiest dog most of us have ever known. He was the group mascot. Cobi came to the park when our children were little and we had Tuesday morning play group. Cobi went camping. Cobi caught sticks and frisbees in his mouth like he was training for Cirque du Soleil. Cobi is the dog that helped my frightened, allergic children adjust to dogs. Cobi is a very good boy.
Last weekend, Cobi got sick. Very sick. He’s been getting older and slower for awhile now. We all knew he was nearing the outer fringe of his life expectancy rope. But none of us thought this would be the end. After all, it was Cobi. He just had to get better.
All weekend, leading up to the Super Bowl, Cobi dragged himself around refusing to eat and struggling to contain the food that was already in him. After watching him suffer, Erin took him to the vet on Monday morning. He was running a fever and it seemed like his kidneys were failing. Instead of running more expensive tests and prolonging his suffering, Erin and the vet set an appointment for Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. for Cobi to go the way of all the earth.
Cobi was being put down. Erin was heartbroken. We all were.
Because there were a few days to work with, Erin set a window of Tuesday afternoon, from 4 p.m. to 8, for anyone to come by that wanted to say goodbye to her sweet dog. She told us she’d be sitting in the yard with him that entire time.
I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to say goodbye to that dog or watch other people say goodbye to him. I didn’t want to face the future of someday saying goodbye to my own dog. I couldn’t even tell my daughters about the appointment without choking up a little.
But Tuesday afternoon at 5 p.m., we climbed on the golf cart and drove a short half mile to say our goodbyes. Erin was sitting in the yard. Cobi was lying beside her in the grass. The late afternoon sun was filtering through the oak trees and laying in patchwork swatches on the grass. Cobi raised his head when we walked up and then forced himself up to greet us. Before it was over, he was smiling in pictures with my girls and catching easy stick throws in his mouth.
He gave us a tiny glimpse into the good old days.
When Erin’s parents showed up with their dog, Cooper, I knew it was time to go. I couldn’t watch that one.
I didn’t actually say goodbye to Cobi or say anything profound to Erin. I just couldn’t do it. He seemed too much like the dog I remembered. I refused to think about Thursday morning.
For the rest of the night, visitors streamed into Cobi’s yard. Cobi’s actual brother came by. All of our local friend group was there at some point during the night.
That was the last time any of the rest of us would see Cobi alive.
The next morning—on Wednesday—we all received a text in the group chat from Erin.
“Yall are gonna think I’m insane, but Cobi had a great night and then woke up this morning and ate his entire bowl of food like he was perfectly normal. I’m going to cancel the appt for tomorrow.. I just can’t go through with it if he’s happy and eating. Which he is.”
Within moments, the celebration texts chimed in. And it was determined that maybe all Cobi needed were more parties where he is the star of the show.
Maybe this was even premeditated. He knew exactly what he was doing.
I’m so grateful to be typing a positive ending to this story. But I gotta be honest. I feel a little played. By a dog. And I’m not falling for that friend request thing again. If Cobi wants to be friends on Facebook, he’s going to have to come to me first.
I jumped into the Hillsborough River on December 28. Shortly thereafter, I celebrated turning 50. Turning 50 was a milestone that had initially bothered me. I can’t explain why 50 bothered me and 40 didn’t. I guess we all draw lines in our heads sometimes. I don’t mind gaining a few pounds, but 10 pounds is unacceptable. I didn’t mind turning 40, but 50 found me at the mailbox opening registrations forms from AARP, complete with a laminated card. It was a tad insulting.
50 comes with strings attached. Strings that seemed to be tied at one end to me and at the other to the coffin I’ll someday be placed in.
Not really. I’m being cremated.
I don’t really mean it like it sounds. I don’t look at other 50somethings, or even people older than that, and plan their memorials in my mind. It was just the harshness of the number, somehow.
But because it was hitting me funny, I had made a list. Fifty things to complete by the time I turned 50. I don’t really know how many of those I completed. There was this thing that happened called the Coronavirus, which took people’s bodies and minds and 50×50 lists and tossed them all into wind. And good luck to all of us in finding them.
I did all I could. And I was satisfied with how I ended the year. It was the first time in my 50 years that I entered into January already eating well and exercising.
But it’s almost February now and 50 is basking in the memories of that cold swim in the river. Time to move on to 51. I’m approaching 51 like I attempted to approach 50. I think I have a much better shot at finishing the list. My 12-year-old daughter climbed up onto my bed with me the other night and was looking over my shoulder at my list, which I was editing on my laptop. I probably should have closed my laptop and started an unrelated conversation with her about whatever she wanted to chat about. But I didn’t know I needed to do that at the time.
My list completely stressed her out. Before she finished reading it, she was in tears. I can assure you that was not my intention. I am deriving nothing but joy from the list. And I derive no joy at all from other people’s tears over the list.
“What’s wrong, Jenna?” I asked, trying to have sympathy without sacrificing any of my list items.
“Why can’t you just be normal?” She asked. “Why can’t you be like other 50 year olds? Why do you have to do things that will kill you?” I looked from her distress to the items on my list. #22 was clean out my email inbox…for the first time ever. It has over 100,000 unread emails from places like Sam’s Club and Neiman Marcus and Americans for the Americanization of American Democracy. Annoying yes. Dangerous, no. #28 was Organize Attic. That one is slightly more dangerous, because of the piles I have accumulated. #32 was Floss Regularly. Get a mammogram. Read all the books in my room before buying new ones. Etc. What’s the problem, man? I kept reading. #35 is Wear stilettos to walk the dog for any entire day. Any time I walk the dog, I wear the heels. Hmm. She found that one awkward. #50 is Hang Glide. #51 is Skydive. I guess I could see her point.
The list will continue, but I’m going to keep it a little more hush-hush around my youngest. And I intend to stay alive through all of it. If I do die this year, I have a strong inkling it won’t be a 51 List item that kills me.
As I go along, I will likely share a few of the adventures. Some will be worth sharing. Some will not. Sharing the mammogram would get me arrested. Sharing an appointment the podiatrist would cost me every friend I have. And sharing some of the items would be too much talking about me.
Item #4 was to take the jon boat across the river, tie up to a tree, and climb out on the other side to explore the woods I have looked at for 25 years. I have always wondered what is over there. When I said this to Jenna, as I wrote up my list, she had a quick answer for me.
“I know what’s over there,” she replied, her voice drenched in a tone of disdain. “Ticks. That’s what’s over there. You’re going to get bitten on the head by a tick and get Lyme Disease.”
Oh Jenna. What fatalistic thinking. I then Googled when ticks are most active and decided I’d check this item off sooner than later, while the weather is cool.
Last week, on Thursday, I tossed my friend, Melissa into the front of the boat and took off toward a spot I had been eyeing for awhile. Melissa is up for almost any adventure as long as she doesn’t have to get too tangled up in it. You won’t have to be involved, I said. You’ll just sit in the boat. That sounded good to me and to her both until I ran off into the overgrowth and left her floating alone on the Hillsborough. She didn’t exactly trust the knot I had tied. While exploring, I received a series of “Are you Alive/What the heck was that sound” texts from her.
I was alive. The sounds were me. I didn’t see any ticks. And I checked that bad boy off the list.