Things lately

IT’S BEEN HARD RECENTLY to know what to write here. I’ve started a few posts, but nothing felt like it was coming together. Today, however, is the Winter Solstice, and as we noted in our eulogy, nobody anticipated the Solstice with more eagerness than our mom. Her fervent hatred of cold weather was unparalleled. And, while the Solstice marks the first day of winter, her glee was directed toward fact that from here on out, we get a few more minutes of daylight, and therefore less darkness with each passing day.

She hated darkness, too.

I was browsing through a batch of old photos that Mom had converted from slides – a real treasure trove of photos from back in the day. Many of them are overexposed and most are not particularly well composed (no one has ever accused anyone in my family of having above-average photographic skills), but some of them are gems. Like this one:

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She hated snow with unmatched zeal, but not even Young Rosemary could resist measuring the new-fallen snow with a yardstick and grinning for the camera.

I shared this one on Facebook because, well, Winter. And Snow. And, Mom. It’s a fun photo I hadn’t seen before – those slides languished in boxes for decades until she finally had them converted to digital images a few years ago. But after I posted it, I found myself frowning back at her smiling face wondering and why she had to leave us so soon. I mean, she was only 78. In the year 2018, why couldn’t Modern Medicine fix her?

And then I got angry at her.

How dare you not be available to commiserate with me when my Thanksgiving gravy was too salty!

How dare you leave me the tedious, time-consuming task of settling your estate!

How dare you leave us all of these boxes of STUFF to go through, leaving us to make decisions that you didn’t want to!

How dare you leave me to make decisions about investments and required distributions and other financial concerns that have to be dealt with!

How dare you not be here for me to call and share the excitement of the holidays!

How dare you succumb to your illness!

How dare you!

It’s been almost five months, and at times it still doesn’t seem real. Will it ever? To the end of her days, my mom remained wistful for her own mother, who died in 1992, and for her mother-in-law, who passed in 2005. Maybe it never gets better.

But if there’s one thing Mom would not want, it’s for me to pout. She’d probably clear her throat in that way she did when she wanted you to know she was being serious, call me Margaret Ellen, and remind me that she trained me to be a “steel magnolia.” After our dad died, leaving her a widow at age 42 with two young daughters, people would remark about how strong she was. “What choice do I have?” she would reply, with a shrug. “The rest of us are still here; life must go on.”

I allow myself to have these moments, because grief is a process, but then I take a deep breath and carry on. After all, I have much to be joyful about, always, but especially this time of year. And even though my first Christmas in a lovely new home** with Steve is offset by the first Christmas without my mom, it’s that first part I’m trying to hold onto.

So: Christmas is four days away, and I still have to bake the sand tarts. Mom didn’t bake a lot, but these were her specialty and if you ask me, it isn’t Christmas without ’em. The dough is made; I just need to roll / cut / bake. And while of course they made me think of her in the past, this year I’ll be summoning Mom’s spirit more than usual. “They’re too much work,” she said of these cookies in her later years. “Someone else can make them now.”

Challenge accepted, Mom. I’m on it.

 

**Did I tell you, we moved? Still in the same neighborhood, much nicer digs. I wish my Mom could see it – she’d approve.

 

Take me out to the ballgame

We went to see the Washington Nationals last night. I lucked into four tickets through work, so Steve and I brought Seth and Ross. It was hot and steamy and sticky, almost unbearably so, but we were very brave and (mostly) stoically suffered through it until the middle of the 8th inning, at which point I could stand no more. Yes, I realize it’s July in DC, and don’t mistake my discomfort for surprise that the weather conditions were what they were. It’s just… yuck. So, Steve and I retreated to the relative comfort of Metro’s air-conditioned cars, leaving Seth and Ross to return at the game’s end (the youth have a higher tolerance for discomfort, apparently).

It was a pretty typical ballgame: I spent way too much on a red Nationals tee-shirt. I bought my oldest son beer. (!!) I explained to him about tipping the concession guys working the stands. We ate hot dogs. We got frustrated as the Nats fell behind by like nine runs, then excited as they rallied to beat the Marlins, 14-12. We cheered for the guys on top of the dugout to lob a free, rolled-up tee-shirt our way and made noise when the stadium signs demanded we do so.

But the most important thing I need to record here is that last night, at long last, I finally got the answer to something I’ve been wondering about for 22 years. You see, when Seth and Ross were babies, I would sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while I rocked them to sleep. The song is short and sweet, I knew every word (if you know me, you know that’s not always the case), and it worked like a charm. And, we were big baseball fans, so it made sense.

As I rocked and sang, I thought to myself, I wonder if someday, many years from now, my adult offspring will be at a baseball game and, during the seventh inning stretch, will start singing the song, then experience an overwhelming urge to go right to sleep, there on the spot, like some post-hypnotic suggestion or something. It was a funny image, to me, and I had mostly forgotten about it until we stood up in the middle of the seventh last night. At last, here’s my chance, I thought! Ever vigilant, I was ready to catch one or both of the grown men who still call me “mommy” if they crumpled and passed out in a dead sleep, but I tried to play it cool so they wouldn’t catch on.

Well, friends, I am here to tell you that the answer to the question is NO, they were not overcome. Nobody who was born in the 1990s went to sleep in row T behind the first base dugout. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit disappointed. C’mon, it’d have been funny! On the other hand, their persistent consciousness did save us all from mild embarrassment. It felt… anticlimactic. Womp womp.

As we sat back down, I told them the story. They pretended to be amused. Oh, that mom of ours, they probably thought, exchanging knowing glances and rolling their eyes as I looked in the other direction. That’s completely silly and would never happen in real life. She is such a piece of work.

Hey, I am just continuing in my own mother’s tradition. I’m almost 51 years old, but she still likes to tell stories about funny things I did or said when I was little. It’s what moms do. So get used to it, boys. We’ve only just begun.

 

 

Natural consequences

AS I WAITED FOR MY GARAGE DOOR TO OPEN yesterday afternoon, I was met by Eli, who was fixing to leave on his bike with his basketball. He’s been enjoying that we live close to basketball courts, but it’s been too cold to play outside. He has discovered that sometimes, his school is open after hours and if one of the two gyms is not in use, he can shoot around inside.

The problem was, he was wearing crew socks and a pair of athletic slides. And a hoodie. And it was 20 degrees outside.

I tried to explain frostbite and hypothermia, but all he heard was BLAH BLAH COLD BLAH BLAH BLAH and off he went.

When he returned 15 minutes later, his feet were really cold. (No!) As he sat with them next to the fireplace, we had another discussion about how 20 degrees is a kind of cold one should not trifle with. This is the kind of cold that would freeze the canned sodas we used to leave on the shelf in our carport. It’s the kind of cold that helps you identify every broken seal on every window and door in your house. It’s the kind of cold that makes furnaces sputter and quit.

You would think the experience of self-inflicted cold feet would have left an impression. You would think he’d have been grateful that I dug out two winter coats so he could choose one to wear on his walk to school. You would think those things, but you are probably an adult with a fully-developed frontal lobe. The boy rolled his eyes and groaned when I insisted he wear a coat. Or, he groaned because it was the first day back after winter break. Probably some of both. Either way, he was running late this morning and asked me to drive him to school. (Only the second time this school year!)

He got into the car wearing just a hoodie. Coat’s in my backpack, he said in response to my side-eye. Do you have a hat? I asked. I have a hood. Gloves? One. But I have pockets.

At least he was wearing sneakers instead of slides.

WebMD illustrates natural consequences using the coat / cold example. They go on to say, “Learning through experiencing consequences is much more powerful than through a lecture or punishment. Using consequences for misbehavior is an effective teaching method for dealing with behavior problems in children and teens.”

Oh, WebMD! That’s precious! I thought it would be effective too, but I am a female adult. And I have learned from parenting two boys through their teen years that cause and effect is not the deterrent you’d expect it to be, at least when it comes to weather-appropriate dress. Eli’s brothers insisted upon leaving coats behind, lest they be forced to actually use their school lockers. And with Eli, I’ve had to establish a threshold of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, below which he will only reluctantly wear long pants to school, much to the chagrin of school administrators.

Despite it all, I do tend to agree that a “natural consequences” approach to parenting is probably the best way in most cases. Within reasonable limits, of course. But I’ll be counting the days until he demonstrates that he can decide on his own, based on weather reports and experience, whether or not it’s a good day to wear a coat.

I take comfort in knowing that my kids’ behavior places them in the fat part of the bell curve. A quick Google search of “shorts in snow” yields many images of bare legs on a white background, including in this feature story from the Coeur D’Alene (Idaho) Press that articulates adults’ perennial concern for children’s cold legs.

I have found my people.

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Area Boy wears summer attire in winter. School administrators remain exasperated.