Freshman Orientation and Other Alien Mind Tricks

My son, Hayden, being beamed aboard the mothership at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

My son being beamed aboard the mothership at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

My son was recently abducted by aliens. These strange creatures from a far off land lured him to their institution, garbed him in their apparel, and claimed him as their own.

To make matters worse, our son went with them willingly.

Even worse than that, my husband and I have agreed, through a complex combination of loans, financial aid, the GI Bill and possibly human sacrifice, to pay these aliens $64,000 a year to keep him.

No, we have not fallen prey to a Vulcan mind warp. The Galactic Empire has not injected us with the RNA brainwashing virus. We have not been hypnotized by Sleestaks. We merely took our son to his college orientation.

When we arrived, they separated us from our son immediately, whisking him off with the other starry-eyed newcomers to “start a memorable and important time in their academic and professional journeys.” We knew that they were really intending to erase our son’s memory. Eighteen years of our hard work, down the drain.

In order to placate the parents, they pumped us full of coffee, plied us with shiny new pens, and herded us around to “informative sessions” such as “Letting Go” and “Money Matters” in a suspiciously space ship-shaped building they referred to as “EMPAC” — The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.

While the parents were locked in the EMPAC mothership with the institution’s leaders, our children were off playing “ice breaker” games with legions of bubbly upperclassmen dressed in matching college t-shirts and well-worn sneakers. The incoming freshmen were encouraged to become “independent,” i.e., to make all decisions without involving their parents other than to send them the bills.

The institution’s leaders tried to allay our fears, characterizing the terrifying experience of handing over our flesh and blood to complete strangers as a “normal rite of passage.” They told us not to be concerned, because our children would have all sorts of “advisors” to guide them. There would be Student Orientation Advisors, Resident Advisors, Academic Advisors, Graduate Assistants, Learning Assistants and Peer Tutors. But all we were thinking was, “Yea, but who’s going to tell him to wear his retainer?”

They said our kids would be well-nourished with a variety of meal plans ranging from the “unlimited access” plan, otherwise known as the “Fast-track-to-morbid-obesity” plan, to the “custom plan”, commonly referred to as the “Go-broke-on-take-out-after-you-expend-your-dining-hall-allotment” plan. Rest assured, they told us, the students would never go hungry thanks to an impossibly confusing supplemental system of “flex dollars” and “student advantage dollars” which could be used to buy an endless array of well-balanced meals (READ: pizza, chocolate milk, and potato chips) all over campus, 24/7.

They paraded a series of experts from the health clinic and campus security before us, telling us that, without our adult children’s express consents, we were not permitted to know if they got arrested or pregnant. And lastly, we were informed that we had no right to access our children’s grades, despite the fact that we had to take second mortgages on our homes to pay their tuition.

Finally, we were released into the blinding sunlight to find our newly-indoctrinated children milling about the quad. In order to squeeze every last dollar from our increasingly shallow pockets, we were funneled through the campus bookstore, where we bought our son a lanyard with a hook large enough to hold his student ID, his military ID, his room key, his bike lock key, his asthma inhaler, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a stick of lip balm, a thumb drive, and — most importantly — a framed eight-by-ten photograph of me, his mother.

In six short weeks, we will surrender our son to this alien academic institution for good, and hope that he will heed the words of one well-known extra-terrestrial and always remember to “phone home.”

Mom’s Summer Lecture Series

Graphic via Newport Navalog

Graphic via Newport Navalog

A couple of weeks ago, my husband came home after running errands on base with our daughter and said, “Wait ‘til you hear this one.” Knowing my 16-year-old’s goofball tendencies, I knew that anything was possible. “Go on, tell her,” my husband ordered our daughter, who was giggling uncontrollably.

Eager to relay the story, he took over. “So, I’m driving down Peary Street, and I pull up to that mailbox that’s by the coffee shop there …” He shook his head for maximum effect. “Then I give Anna the exterminator payment envelope and tell her to go mail it …” So far so good, I thought. “And do you know what your 16-year-old daughter does?”

“What?!” I demand impatiently.

“She gets out, and proceeds to walk around the mailbox three times, looking totally confused. I am motioning to her to open the little door and deposit the envelope, but she just stands there holding the envelope, shrugging her shoulders … at 16-years-of-age mind you! Who knew, our daughter has absolutely no clue how to put an envelope into a flipping mailbox!”

“Seriously?” I ask my daughter whose giggling had escalated into convulsions of silent laughter.

I walked away from the amusing exchange chuckling to myself, but midway through folding a basket of laundry it dawned on me: I have completely failed as a mother.

My eyes bugged out as panic gripped my soul. If our 16-year-old cant even figure out how to mail a letter, then how on earth can our 19-year-old son be expected to survive when he goes off to college at the end of the summer?

In an instant, I knew I had to act fast. With only six weeks left before Freshman Orientation, I instituted a mandatory practical education class, much to the consternation of our three teenagers. Knowing that there was no way to sugar coat what would surely be received with eye rolling and long sighs, I bluntly named my crash course “Mom’s Summer Lecture Series.”

The children mustered for their first lesson –“How to launder your clothes without turning every garment into a pastel pink size 00” — reluctantly as expected. But before the excruciating half hour was up, we covered detergent measurement, water temperature, color-fastness, stain removal, and the perils of dryer lint. I was going to go over folding as well, but the kids looked like they might internally combust if they heard another word, so I decided to save that for another day.

This week, I have planned a stimulating tutorial on how to boil spaghetti, and next week’s topic is all about warding off fungal growth. I’m keeping it a surprise, but future lessons will cover balancing checkbooks, reading bus schedules, disinfecting bathrooms, and my personal favorite: making your bed and lying in it. Oh, what fun!

Thank goodness I realized the error of my ways, and have been given this chance to make amends. I may have failed my children over the course of the last decade, but I am now completely dedicated to helping my kids to help themselves.

As someone once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, do as your Mother told you.”

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Winnebago Woes

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Photo by hustonwelanded.blogspot.com

“Can I have that one? Hu? Can I? Puleeese?” I begged my mother, pointing desperately to the sleeping compartment above the cab of our rented RV. Permission was granted, and I could hardly contain my excitement.

Much like today, economic times were tough for my middle class parents, who thought renting an RV would make for a cost-effective summer vacation in 1979. My mother was hesitant due to her propensity for motion sickness, but after assurances of a smooth ride from my father, she soon envisioned herself a virtual traveling June Cleaver, serving cold cuts and Shasta in the spiffy little moving kitchen.

My brother was concerned about the outdated 8-track tape player, until one of his buddies lent him a pretty decent mix tape for the trip. I had spent a decade happily playing with my Barbie Country Camper, even though I had to pretend Barbie suffered a grizzly attack when my brother ripped the tent off the side. So, for me, this trip was like a dream come true.

After packing our belongings into the appropriate compartments, we were off! My father hadn’t fully backed out of the driveway when my mother grabbed the countertop to steady herself and yelled, “Stop! I feel sick!” Despite Mom’s vision of serving happy children a mobile lunch over a game of Parcheesi on the convertible table, she spent the rest of the drive firmly planted in the passenger’s seat where she could watch the road.

From my perch above the cab, I had a panoramic view, climbing down occasionally for a cold can of Tab from the handy-dandy refrigerator. My brother played cards at the table and sang along with mix tape hits like “Devil went down to Georgia” and “Ring My Bell.” My parents settled in, and our Golden Retriever, Cinnamon, found a comfortable spot to nap. We were all beginning to enjoy the RV lifestyle.

Three days later, we were in pure hell.

We soon discovered that, the slightest turn of the wheel caused the refrigerator to fly open, leaving pickle jars and soda cans rolling around on the cabin floor. The constantly-looping eight-track tape seemed more like an enhanced interrogation technique after a few hours. It also became quickly became apparent that the air conditioner was not adequate to cool the cabin, making the living areas muggy and my upper hideout into a veritable sauna.

Camping stops were not idyllic either. In a KOA campground outside of Annapolis, my father sweltered in the buggy gnat-infested heat to complete the complicated series of RV hookups, only to find that the family wanted to go out for seafood. At another scorching southern campground, the water and lights in the communal shower house shut down promptly at 8pm, to the surprise of my father and brother who had just lathered up. Another night, I whined incessantly about the heat when the cabin’s finicky AC unit finally gave up the ghost, prompting nearby campers to yell, “Can’t you keep her quiet!”

To make matters worse, after paying the exorbitant gas prices just outside of Chincoteague, Maryland, my father inadvertently backed into the gas pump, ripping the spare tire cover. My brother also tore a 6” hole in the vinyl upholstery, when he forgot about a screwdriver in his back pocket. The pis de resistance happened while in the searing heat of North Carolina, when my brother left a bag of fish he caught in a compartment under one of the seats, which wasn’t discovered until we were hit with a blast of pungent aroma two days later.

By the time we headed home from our summer vacation, our top-of-the-line RV looked more like a rolling ghetto careening down I-95, reeking of dead fish, with curtains flying out open windows, soda cans rolling around the cabin floor, and the ripped tire cover and dog’s tongue flapping in the wind.

On a dirt road somewhere outside of Cumberland, West Virginia, we all kept a lookout while Dad illegally emptied the septic tank into a ditch. From my sweltering lookout, I decided right then and there that my Barbie Country Camper would soon be taking a trip straight to the Goodwill.

Sweet Hospitality: NSNC’s best asset

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Weaving through the complimentary-beverage-clutching crowd on Saturday night in Room 940 at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Conference in Washington, DC, one hears a mixed cacophony of chatter and laughter. Columnists are everywhere: smooshed together on furniture, clustered in corners, and leaning against windowsills.

“But really, what’s the best measure of the value of online columns?” one conference attendee poses to two colleagues perched on the edge of a hotel settee. “Is it clicks? Comments? Time spent?” They dissect the industry’s new parlance, and move on to examine headline SEO strategies, web teasers and “click bait.”

Across the room, others are smacking their heads trying to remember the speech in which then-President Nixon mentioned his dog, Checkers. Ironically, the youngest columnist in the group interjected with the right answer, admitting that she’d learned the trivia while touring the Washington, DC Newseum earlier that day.

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Capping fresh beers from the ice-filled bathtub, another contingency discusses the ethics of writing critical columns about public figures, postmortem.

Near the veggies and hummus, a small group debates the best late night take out at their respective alma maters. Philly cheese steaks “with Wiz”, Cincinnati Chili, and Slop Dogs are offered up with no consensus, until one columnist describes the hot pizza slices that were so delicious, she forgot about the molten lava sauce that always burned her mouth, leaving a shredded curtain of skin hanging from its roof the next morning. The group erupts with shared laughter.

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Conference speakers make an appearance, grabbing a cold bottle of beer or a plastic glass of chilled chardonnay. Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Weingarten, renown humorist Gina Barreca, and others chat casually with those they treat like colleagues. Just as in previous conferences when speakers such as Dave Barry and Ellen Goodman squeezed into the hospitality suite, elbows are rubbed both literally and figuratively.

Conversations in Room 940 run the gamut: from the poignant speech given by 2014 Will Rogers Humanitarian Award winner Michael Paul Williams of the Richmond Times-Dispatch at the dinner inside the Capital Building, to confessions regarding whose spouse hogs the bed, to intense deliberations about how columnists should adapt to changes in the industry.

“Shhhhhhhh!” a conscientious member reminds the crowd, “Try to keep it down everyone … we don’t want to get kicked out of the hospitality suite like we did last year!” Despite her warnings, the group cackles on into the night, unable to help themselves.

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In the end, when conference attendees are on their respective trains and planes on their way back home, they smile while swiping through conference photos on their smart phones. A combination of overindulgence in valuable information and lack of adequate sleep has left them feeling groggy, but they are nonetheless rejuvenated by a renewed sense of camaraderie and a replenished cache of lasting memories.

NSNC is undoubtedly a group of columnists of all sorts, who come together annually to learn, to develop professionally and to network. But also, this tight-knit group gathers every year because, simply put, good friends like to get together and have a good time.

And that, my friends, we certainly did.

Teen dreams and summer jobs

Clip Art Illustration of a Boy Mowing the Lawn

Image via computerclipart.com

Despite the fact that the school year has ended for our kids, I started my normal morning routine this week on autopilot — scrambling eggs, fluffing laundry, mopping the kitchen floor, and microwaving the same cup of coffee three times.

I darted out to the base commissary at about ten, in desperate need of paper towels and lunchmeat, completely forgetting that the kids were still upstairs slobbering into their pillows. It wasn’t until I sunk my teeth into a leftover leg of chicken to quell a pang of hunger at 11:45, that I remembered.

“Do you realize that it is almost noon?!” I blasted across the rumpled bed containing my 19-year-old son. His hairy leg was hiked over a pile of dirty clothes tangled in his comforter. The floor was littered with headphones, magazines, discarded school papers, dropped pretzels and empty soda cans.

“Huh …. wha?” he said as the brain under his crazy hair tried to process the scene. While he smacked his lips and stretched, I ranted.

“Have you followed up on those job applications yet? Well, Mister, if you’re dreaming of lounging around the house for the next three months, not earning any spending money for college next year, you’ve got another thing coming!”

After making the rounds to each of our three children’s rooms, I stormed downstairs, grumbling to myself, “Why are kids today so daggone lazy? Sleeping into the afternoon, no sense of responsibility! That sort of thing was not allowed in my day! Hrmph!”

While stuffing the washer with cold darks, I thought of my summers as a teen. My father had brainwashed me into believing that, if I did not work over the summer, the planet might implode. I had to make money, and a lot of it, to ensure my financial survival over the next year of school.

I cut three acres of grass with a tractor for $20 bucks a week. I sold garden vegetables on the side of the road. I did office work. I painted houses. I bar tended at a golf club. I worked at a bank. And one stressful summer, I took a job as a traveling salesperson for my father’s chemical company even though I knew nothing about the products or how they worked.

I had very little time to lay out, go to the drive-in theater, or hang out at the mall — all the things we did in small towns in the 80s — but I always made enough spending money to last me through the next school year.

I dreamt of a summer job waitressing at the beach. Living in a seaside shack with other waitresses, not saving much money but having the time of our lives. I thought the beach job could be a life-changing experience, turning me into one of those cool, mature, sun-kissed girls with long flowy skirts and dangly earrings shaped like dolphin tails. Who cares about the money … I could transform my life.

But my father’s warnings always prevailed. I certainly didn’t want the Earth to implode, so I never got that dream beach job. I wondered, should I allow my kids to follow their dreams, or insist that they get to work?

I set the washer for permanent press and gathered my semi-conscious teens in the kitchen under the guise of pancakes.

“Hey guys, listen,” I cajoled, “maybe I over-reacted. You can lounge around the house and make money for school, because there are plenty of things you can do here for me! I’ll give you twenty whole bucks each week to scrub the toilets and sinks, but don’t forget to pull those gooey hair clogs out of the drains. And there’s always the basement to be cleaned out. Just watch for those fuzzy wolf spiders, they love to jump right in your hair. Oh, and I was thinking that all the garbage cans could use a good scrubbing because they smell like rotten meat….”

I went on for another twenty minutes or so, while the kids stared like does in the headlights.

My prediction: the Earth will remain intact, because they’ll have summer jobs within a week.

Bathing suit shopping season begins

Photo via Retronaut

Photo via Retronaut

Ah, summer is officially here! This balmiest of seasons evokes sunny scenes of kids running through sprinklers, smoky whiffs of charcoal grills, soft sensations of waves lapping bared toes, and sweet sounds of crickets on steamy starlit nights.

Who doesn’t love summer and all that comes with it, right?

But, hold up a minute. Believe it or not, summertime is not all popsicles and dandelions. Actually, this beloved season heralds an annual occurrence that strikes dread in the hearts of women like me.

No, I’m not talking about relatively innocuous summer pests like blood-sucking mosquitoes. I’m not referring to comparatively harmless nuisances such as hairdo-wrecking humidity. I’m not even referencing the reasonably annoying obligation of vacationing with relatives.

I’m talking about — brace yourselves ladies — bathing suit shopping.

After nine months of covering our delicate and sometimes ample flesh with layers of protective clothing and binding spandex, we women are expected to abruptly strip down and let it all hang out.

Social morays dictate that at the beach or pool, I should don an itsy-bitsy garment that exposes everything but my naughty bits. However, after birthing three large babies and two decades of yo-yo dieting, my abdomen has more rolls than a Mega Pack of Cottonelle. Bikinis are entirely out of the question.

Thus, every year at this time, I am on a quest to find a new one-piece bathing suit for the summer season that lifts, separates, covers and conceals. Of course, these suits are usually the skirted kind worn by older women with bunions and flowered swim caps who play bridge on Tuesdays and clip denture cream coupons.

So, I hit the local department store, grab an assortment of bathing suits with a combination of style and function, and head for the dressing room.

Ah, the dressing room. That bastion of garish fluorescent lighting and fun house mirrors, where women come to hate themselves. I hang the plastic number “9” given to me by the attendant on one hook, the bathing suits on the other, and begin to undress.

Considering that it is federal law (or maybe just a local ordinance — either way, I’m fairly certain you can get arrested for violating it) one must wear underwear when trying on bathing suits in the store dressing room, despite the fact that it is next to impossible to fully appreciate a bathing suit when one is wearing it over a pair of humongous cotton briefs like mine.

And then, comes the moment that every woman on earth dreads. Under the unforgiving fluorescent lights, I face the mirror, stripped down to nothing but my large Jockeys for Her.

No matter that I undress at home everyday of my life, I am always shocked by what I see in the dressing room mirror.

Gasp What!? Why is that so spongy? Is that a dent in my thigh? When did those get down there? Is that wiggling? Is that hanging over? Seriously? Good Lord …

Traumatized, I contemplate giving up on buying a new bathing suit, but always persevere when I remember that my suit from last year always gives me a wedgie. One after the other, I squirm and wiggle my way into those little Lycra instruments of torture, hoping to find one that does not trigger my gag reflex.

Three suits accentuated my ponch. Another highlighted my back fat. A tummy control suit nearly ruptured my spleen. One showed my armpit chicken fat. Another gave me “old lady cleavage.” And one had underwire that I feared might puncture my lung.

Finally, I found an ultra supportive suit that was both flattering and had the added bonus of allowing me to breathe by taking frequent shallow gasps.

Eventually, I emerge from the dressing room, battered, broken but not defeated. With my last morsel of humility, I toss the chosen suit to the cashier, relieved that I have found an appropriate garment to enjoy the splash of the surf, the smell of cut grass, and the rejuvenating warmth of summer. My bathing suit shopping ordeal is finally over and I survived.

At least until next year.

Life, hot flashing before my eyes

SweatingLast week, on the morning of my 48th birthday, I had my very first hot flash.

The uncanny coincidence of this occurrence made it seem psychosomatic. However, I could not deny the unsettling reality of the sweat moustache that had formed while I was eating my scrambled eggs. I tried to pass the event off as a fluke, but while going about my day, I started thinking, You know, I’m getting kind of old. Really old.

I had always been content with the progression of my life as a Navy wife and mother of three, generally gratified to have found a calling to serve my family, rather than selfish endeavors like my own career and living location preferences. I had said many times, “As long as the kids are happy, I’m happy.”

But suddenly, life was passing before my eyes as if death was imminent. I thought about my education and quickly decided that I’d wasted it. I thought about my early work experiences as a young attorney before Navy life, and summarily concluded that my brain had atrophied from lack of use, and must now be the size of a tangerine. I thought about my homemaking skills, swiftly determining that I was mediocre at best.

After decades of gleaning my own identity from the contentment of my family members, it was suddenly all about me.

Although I normally would not mercilessly rip myself to shreds, there was something about this particular birthday that had me wallowing in panicked self-loathing. Perhaps it was the hair that seemed to be clinging damply to the back of my perspiring neck. Or maybe it was the sudden lack of bladder control. Did I detect a throbbing bunion? Was I sprouting age spots?

As my 48th birthday progressed, I relentlessly berated, harangued, nit-picked, criticized and condemned myself until I could feel my spider veins bulge.

Why do I snap at the kids so much? Why can’t I seem to cook a decent meal without turning meat into shoe leather? Why do I watch so much TV at night? Why couldn’t I ever get rid of this paunch? Why didn’t I moisturize when I was younger? Why do I always forget to bring my coupons to the commissary? Why? Why? Why?!

By the time my husband came home from work, I was slumped in a kitchen chair, staring into a cup of coffee that had gone cold. I’d hit rock bottom.

“Happy birthday, Honey!” he offered with a grin. I looked up weakly, and said, “I think I’m having some kind of mid-life crisis … can you sit down and listen to me for a sec?” For the next 20 minutes, my husband sat calmly in his cammies at our kitchen table, permitting me to tell him all about the hot flash and the resulting epiphany that revealed the harsh truth: I had never really amounted to much and it was definitely too late to do anything about it.

At the risk of sounding sexist, I find that men have a unique ability to simplify complex emotional situations that women tend to over complicate; or maybe they just don’t get it. Either way, it can be helpful.

A quintessential male, my husband waited until the end of my rant, then simply got up and poured us each a glass of wine. I wondered whether he had heard anything I’d just said. Then, holding his glass up to toast mine, he delivered the birthday joke that had become his annual tradition: “Honey, you might have turned 48 today, but you’re built like you’re 47.”

I couldn’t help but laugh like I always do, and in that instant, my hot flash turned into a flash flood of gratitude for the ups and downs of life, the simplicity of love, and the boundless support of my little family.

Pomp and Unusual Circumstances

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By the time the Abbey’s headmaster got to the graduates whose names started with an “M,” my feet were bloody stumps. I thought I’d be fine in two-inch sling backs, but an hour into the ceremony, my toe knuckles stung rawly and the pointed heels sunk into the grass under the enormous tent.

I got up from our reserved row of seats to get a better vantage point to take photographs. Our motley crew of relatives — sisters, aunts, grandmothers, an uncle, a cousin, and my husband who had already spilled coffee on his tie — had all come to see our son receive his high school diploma. We were essentially the same as the other families seated around us, but somehow, I felt like our family was different.

The Abbey was our son’s third high school in four years. Our Navy family was required to move after his 9th grade year at an army barracks high school in Germany, to an inner-city public school in Florida, and finally to Rhode Island where our son finished his senior year at the Abbey, a local boarding school. We were surprised when our son was accepted to the school as a day student, and we were elated when the school offered us enough financial aid to make it affordable on our tight military budget.

At the Abbey’s pre-season football camp, our son made his debut as the new senior. He was quirky, husky, and lacked the personal hygiene skills necessary to keep up with the school’s strict dress code. A sort of “nutty professor” type.

In past schools, our unusual son was received with mixed reviews. In Germany, the students saw him as smart and uniquely funny — someone everyone wanted to know. In Florida, he was perceived as odd, and after two years, he did not manage to make any real friends. Would the Abbey’s wealthy, preppy boarding school students be able to look beyond our son’s sloppy appearance and odd demeanor to appreciate his distinctive sense of humor and extraordinary intellect? Only time would tell.

Throughout the year, we had mixed clues to our son’s reputation at the Abbey. The football coach smiled widely when speaking about our son; however, the English teacher grimaced when describing the “odd British accent of questionable origin” our son employed when reciting poetry. The students and faculty reported that he “stole the show” in the winter musical; however, of the four boys our son invited to our house for his April birthday party, only one showed up.

“Emily Magnifico,” the headmaster called and several students stood to cheer on their graduating friend. As I wobbled on painful shoes up the rows with my camera, my mind raced with random thoughts. These students have had four years to bond. Our son wasn’t here long enough to be understood.

“Sean McDonough,” I heard with more applause as I inched closer to the stage.

Has our military lifestyle robbed our son of the opportunity to form close relationships with his peers? Does he think that it’s his fault?

“Julian Minondo,” emanated from the loud speakers as I raised the camera to my eyes with shaking hands and waited for my son’s name to be called.

“Hayden Clark Molinari,” I snapped the shutter, frantically catching glimpses through the viewfinder of my son making his way through the crowd of navy jacketed students to the smiling headmaster. In a fog of emotion, I could not coordinate the still images I saw with my eyes with what I distinctly heard with my ears.

I took the camera away for a moment and realized, they are giving him a standing ovation.

Students and teachers leapt to their feet to cheer for an unusual boy who had been with them for nine short months. Through the din of applause and shouts, I managed to take a dozen more photographs before bursting into tears.

Minutes later, the students spilled out of the tent, milling around in a sort of preppy mosh pit in the bright sunlight. Fighting the celebratory crowd, we found our son amongst the jovial graduates, slapping each other’s backs. He smiled broadly as I kissed his prickly cheek and thought, stay true to yourself and you will always be loved.

My Annual Dose of Dirt

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I’ve got dirt under my fingernails. There’s a blister the size of Delaware on my thumb. My face is sunburned in a distinctive raccoon pattern around my sunglasses. I’m walking with slight limp, thanks to the pain in my knee from too much squatting.

This happens to me every spring. As the bees begin to buzz, I get the bug to plant things in my garden. The grocery stores display flats of pansies outside the entrances and the hardware stores offer specials on grass seed, and I find myself heaping my cart with annuals, perennials, shrubs, vegetables and herbs.

We moved into base housing at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island last July, too late to plant. So this spring, as soon as winter gave up its death grip on the soil, I was ready. I dropped a pretty penny at the local Garden Center, and informed my husband that we had to dig out the overgrown shrubs running along the driveway of our base house.

We found our shovels that hadn’t been unpacked since our last move, and went to work. We thought we’d leaver the root ball of each shrub out with a few scoops of the shovel, but of course, the overgrown plants wouldn’t budge. One inch under the topsoil was a complex tangle of woody roots and random rocky deposits, the removal of which could have warranted the use of combat grade explosives.

For an hour, we chopped, hacked, tugged, and pulled, but still hadn’t uprooted the first shrub, despite spewing every expletive in the book. We guzzled water between breathless attempts, as sweat soaked through our shirts. My husband began grunting and groaning with every heave of the shovel, like a middle-aged male version of Monica Seles. Finally, the last stubborn root broke free, and we triumphantly hurled the severed bush away.

One down, only five more to go.

Needless to day, the next day after we removed all six shrubs and two diseased rhododendrons, my husband and I could barely walk. It took me a week to recover enough energy to plant the new perennials I’d purchased at the Garden Center, and my knee still feels like it’s going to buckle like some kind of hyperextended Barbie Doll leg.

This week, I finally managed to get everything in the ground, the pots, and the window boxes, and although it doesn’t exactly look like the recreation of Epcot that I’d imagined, I’ve satisfied my annual spring gardening fix.

Thankfully, my horticultural urgings are more about the process than the end result.

Every spring, I crave the catharsis of digging in the dirt, and long to revive my hibernating muscles with the rigors of yard work. I can smell the aroma of freshly mulched borders, see the hues of artistically arranged beds, and taste the refreshment of a cold beer after a long day outdoors. I envision myself, in a flowered sundress and straw hat, walking through my abundant garden barefoot on a hot midsummer day, placing my own freshly cut flowers, aromatic herbs, and plump vegetables into a basket.

Come summer, it never quite turns out the way I’d hoped, and I usually find myself totally dumbfounded when my tomatoes suffer from bottom rot and my azaleas have blight. My thumb might be blistered, but unfortunately, it isn’t green. But let’s face it, I can buy whatever I want at a grocery store. And besides, when it comes to the fulfillment of gardening, I’ve been paid back in spades.

Breaking up is hard to do

 

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We used to be so good together. You comforted me. You made me happy. I loved you

But after all these years, I’ve become too dependent. I want you too much, and I now realize, it’s just not healthy. I need to strike out on my own and try new things.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Carbohydrates, I’m breaking up with you.

In the early days, I couldn’t foresee how addicting our relationship would become. I didn’t fear our love affair, because I believed the science of the 1990′s, which decreed that low fat carbs were healthy fuel for my body. I was so naive, ignorantly indulging in second helpings of sticky rice, snacking on crackers, and adding a hunk of ciabatta bread alongside my pasta. Oh, the ciabatta bread!

When I gained weight, I never blamed you. I thought cheese, meat, butter, cream and nuts were my enemies. As long as I didn’t put mayo or cheese on my sandwich, it was health food. As long as I ladled red sauce on my spaghetti, it was good for me. As long as I used skim milk — a bowl of cereal, a glass of juice and a butterless slice of toast was the perfect breakfast. What a fool I was!

When I married a Navy man, you didn’t leave me. In fact, our threesome was quite happy in an open relationship. Together, you and I won my new husband’s heart, and his stomach, too.

While stationed in Monterey, California, you introduced us to the wiles of sourdough — we felt so naughty as we loaded chowder into your bread bowls. While stationed in England, you never told us that the baked beans the English dollop on their breakfast plates, pour over their toast, and glob on their baked potatoes were as bad as the scones, biscuits and puddings. Excess glucose surged through our blood while we were stationed in Germany, as we washed pretzels, noodles and potatoes down with wheaty beers and sweet wines. In the South, we were so busy avoiding fried chicken, sausage gravy and bacon fat, we didn’t notice that you were secretly feeding our addiction with sweet tea, sticky barbecue sauce, and starchy corn bread.

Worst of all, I could never seem to resist the chocolate with which you regularly seduced me. How could you smugly stand by while I wallowed in guilt over the fat content? Little did I know, your sugar was the culprit all along!

You betrayed me, and as hard as it is for me to say this, it’s over.

Sure, you will always be a part of my life, but I’m ready to explore the rest of the food pyramid. The rotisserie chickens with their crisp skins, the creamy camemberts, the olive oils, the avocados, and the bacon … the glorious bacon! I don’t mean to hurt you, but there are a lot more fish (like salmon with a generous slathering of creamy dill sauce) in the sea.

When we do run into each other, I hope we can be civil. I won’t rudely turn away from you on special occasions (especially if you come in the form of homemade macaroni and cheese with buttered breadcrumbs on top), but let’s keep our contact to a minimum. Of course, the kids will still want to have you around, but during scheduled visitations, please keep your high fructose corn syrup to yourself.

One last thing before you go. If, by chance, I should have a moment of weakness over, let’s say, a bag of Hershey Kisses with Almonds during a hormone spike, I can tell you right now that it will be a nothing more than a meaningless fling.

So long, Carbohydrates. It’s been nice knowing you.

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