Dust in the wind, and on my furniture

dustbunny

Dust bunnies are the bane of my existence.

Well, that might be a tad dramatic, but let’s just say that I pretty much hate dusting. Then again, my mother taught me to never use the word “hate” so let’s go with this: Dusting is an activity of which I am not particularly fond. (And I get bonus points for not ending with a preposition.)

You see, I just spent all last week cleaning my 100-year-old base house for a neighborhood party. Even though every military family on my street has the exact same old house with it’s government budget linoleum floors and gazillion layers of paint, we still try to spruce things up when we host each other.

So I cleaned the house for my guests. Sure, housework is pretty lousy all the way around, but dusting is, by far, the most frustrating and futile of household chores.

Take, for example, vacuuming. On the cleaning satisfaction scale (this doesn’t exist, but just go with it) vacuuming is a ten. There’s something about the whirring, the amps, and the way you can hear debris being slurped up the suction tube. Popcorn kernel on the rug? THWUMP! Gone. Crumbs on the cushion? SHLUSH! Gone. Sand on the hardwood? FFFWPT! Gone.

Other tasks such as folding laundry and ironing are not as exhilarating as vacuuming, but the monotony can be minimized by simply turning on the television. Putting a crease in my husband’s cammies is actually quite riveting if done while watching a catfight on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” And I must admit, there are days when I’d rather chew my own arm off than empty the dishwasher for the umpteenth time, but it’s really not so bad if I can catch a rerun of “House Hunters” on the kitchen TV in the process.

I think it’s safe to say that there’s not a soul on this planet who truly enjoys cleaning bathrooms. However, the revolting nature of this foul chore is so universally recognized, that there are a plethora of products on the market to make the job palatable. Flushable toilet scrubbing wands, automatic shower sprayers, disinfecting wipes, bleaching toilet tank tablets, and just in case you can’t even stomach harmless soap scum, there are Scrubbing Bubbles who will gladly do it for you.

But dusting? Dust is one of those sad facts of life, like stretch marks and male pattern balding. It’s always going to be there, so you’ve just got to deal with it.

And unfortunately, no one has invented anything to make dusting any easier. Here we are in the 21st Century, and in order to dust your house, you’ve still got to grab a rag – your son’s old football t-shirt is as good as anything else – and a can of furniture polish and get to work.

You may be able to catch a few minutes of a favorite show while tackling the family room, but that brief distraction is short-lived. You’ve still got to plod, slowly and methodically, room to room, spraying, rubbing, and wiping. Starting with the cob-webby ceiling fan blades and hitting every last desk, lampshade, molding, photo frame, table, piano key and baseboard, all the way down to the tumbleweeds of dusty dog hair on the floor.

Then, to make matters worse, the instant your ionic-ally charged ShamWow glides over the coffee table, there are millions more minute particles depositing themselves right back on the surface. We can’t see the little buggers, but every minute of every day, they’re there, coursing through our ductwork, wafting from room to room, floating from the ceiling to the floor, landing silently on every horizontal surface in our homes.

Where do these particles come from and why are they hell-bent on banishing us to a lifetime of dusting drudgery? Unless you want to read about dead skin cells, I don’t recommend Googling this question. Just accept dust as a fact of life, and be thankful that you have a house that needs dusting, because it means you have a home.

Don’t Mind the Gap

mindthegap

All my regular tables in the loft of the Starbucks are taken, so I grab the only available seat downstairs — a barstool right beside the restrooms.

I have work to do, but before I start, I spend the requisite amount of time dawdling.

Staring out the window, cleaning crumpled gum wrappers out of my purse, checking email on my laptop, people-watching. Although I would normally procrastinate in this way for at least a half-hour, I decide that people-watching beside the toilets is decidedly less entertaining than it is from the upstairs loft, and therefore not worth the effort.

I open a blank document, and breathe a great big sigh. Youve been a stay-at-home military spouse for a long time. The kids are old enough now. Its time to find a paying job.

“RESUME [return]… Lisa Smith Molinari,” I key onto the top center of the page.

I pick up steam, quickly tapping out my address, phone number and email, adding aesthetically pleasing fonts, underlining and bold. After a few thumps on the return key, I type “EDUCATION” and enjoy a trip down memory lane to the ivy-tangled Georgian architecture of Miami of Ohio, and the endless racks of thick casebooks at Thomas Cooley Law School in Michigan.

I add “law review” and “cum laude,” feeling a surge of confidence. Ah, that wasn’t so bad, I think to myself, onto the next section.

No sooner do I bold and underline the heading “WORK EXPERIENCE”, when my hands begin to tremble. It’s just the caffeine, I tell myself, and strain to recall the details of my last paying job.

Hmmlets see now, was it 1995? When I worked for that law firm in California while Francis was assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School? Seriously? I can’t put a job from almost two decades ago on my resume! I’ll be a laughing stock!

I realize that, since marrying my Navy husband in 1993, I have nothing to put in my resume for “work experience” except a few short-lived legal jobs between military moves. Recognizing that my Vente Skinny Vanilla Latte has nothing to do with my trembling hands, I press on, trying my best to make 20 years as a stay-at-home military mom read like a thriving professional career.

As I fill my work experience gap with various volunteer and freelance jobs I’ve had through the years, I “tsk” at how unfair the working world can be to military spouses. For most of us, managing our families through multiple moves, hardships, deployments, and constant change is the most challenging “work experience” we’ve ever had. Despite the bonbons-and-soap-operas stereotype, any SAHM who has successfully managed a three-child-and-one-sloppy-labradoodle household — and all the deployments, broken hot water heaters, clogged gutters, orthodontist appointments and parent-teacher conferences that come with it — is most-definitely worthy of gainful employment.

I resist the urge to add the cutesy cliché “Domestic Engineer” in hopes that potential employers will respect me for putting my own career aside to help my husband serve his country. Instead, under the heading “REMARKS” I write, “Despite gaps in my job history, I have always exemplified hard work and dedication, whether as a lawyer, writer, volunteer, mother or military spouse,” pounding the period button with a self-righteous poke.

I’ve been working hard for 20 years at the uniquely challenging job of being a military spouse, and perhaps that’s the kind of experience that just can’t be described on paper. Finished with my resume and my latte, I close my laptop with a steady hand, and hope that there are employers out there who won’t mind the gap.

I love Lucy, and her twin beds

lucytwinbeds

A fellow military spouse once told me that I reminded her of Lucille Ball’s character in the iconic 1960s television show, “I Love Lucy.” I’m a throwback kind of gal, so I took the comparison as a generous compliment.

However, although I can totally relate to Lucy as a scatterbrained housewife, yearning to make it in showbiz (well, writing anyway) and I think I’d look fabulous with a fiery ginger up-do, hot red lipstick, and a crinolined polka dot dress, Lucy had one thing I only dream about.

Lucy slept in a twin bed.

Insignificant detail, you say? Well then, why was Lucy so darned bright-eyed and bushy-tailed while I grope through my days in a perpetually drowsy fog? It’s the twin bed, I tell you.

Despite her ditzy disposition, Lucy was smarter than you think. She knew better than to snuggle up to snoring Desi night after night. When it was time to get her 40 winks, she did it right, snoozing soundly, all the way across the room. I, on the other hand, climb into bed each night with my husband of 20 years, and pray that I can manage to squeeze in five meager hours of shuteye over the racket of my husband’s rattling airways, located mere inches from my eardrums.

Mercifully, my husband is not a snorer who continually emits the decibel equivalent of a gas-powered buzz saw night after night. He is an inconsistent snorer, producing anything from mild wheezing, to mattress-vibrating snorting, and every buzz, rumble, snuffle and gasp in between.

Some evenings, my husband’s slackened sinuses project nothing more than a steady nose whistle punctuated by soft snorts here and there, and I am able to get a decent night’s sleep using a strategic combination of earplugs, elbowing and whispering, “Honey, turn on your side!” But typically, his snoring is more relentless, waking me several times throughout the night and turning my mornings into something out of “Dawn of the Living Dead.”

And on evenings when my husband makes the mistake of partaking in scotch and cigars with our base neighbors around our fire-pit, his snoring is so loud that I have been known to grab my pillows and retreat to the silence of our living room couch.

Recently, a Finnish study found that women who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation have significantly impaired ability to maintain peak cognitive performance. Furthermore, current headlines read “For snoring spouses, separate beds may save marriage,” “More couples getting ‘sleep divorces’,” and “When happily ever after means separate beds.” It seems that, scientifically, twin beds might be good for our relationship.

But the problem is, I can’t help but feel guilty when I stomp off to sleep on the couch.

Lucy and Desi got away with it, but in today’s society, sleeping in separate beds gives the impression that there’s something wrong in the marriage. As much as I secretly love to have our bed to myself when my Navy husband is away from home, I’m not willing to suggest that we trade in our queen for a of couple twins.

So, instead of Lucy’s hot red lipstick, I will apply concealer to the bags under my eyes, and hope that, despite my chronically impaired cognitive performance, I will remember that love is definitely worth losing sleep over.

Lucy kiss

Snack Duty: Fall’s most competitive sport

111_0224By now, the youth sports scrimmages are over, and regular fall season competition has begun. But what our kids don’t know is that another fierce game is about to start. A game that involves intense, some might say vicious, competition. A game that is not for the faint at heart. A game that requires superb skills, bloodthirsty drive, and aggressive ambition to win.

That game is the one that is waged between the parent volunteers.

A few days ago, my finger trembled as it hovered over the mouse. I had just typed an email to my daughter’s JV Girls’ Soccer Team coach, volunteering to coordinate snacks for our upcoming games. But I hesitated. I had played in this game before, and I wasn’t sure I wanted the Coach to send me back in.

Years ago, when our Navy family was stationed in Germany, I was at the height of my youth sports volunteer career. That fall, during our daughter’s U8 rec soccer season, an intense but unspoken rivalry developed among the parents over who would win the title for “Best Team Snack.”

I signed up for a game at the end of the season, hoping to have time to eye up my competitors. I combed the commissary and trinket stores, hoping to find a winning balance of nutritious edibles to please the health-conscious parents, and fun treats that would win the hearts of the players.

On game day, I was ready.

At half-time, I passed out orange wedges, which not only offered nutritional content, but also had comedic value when the kids cracked up over each other’s orange-peel smiles. But I was only just beginning. When the final whistle blew and the players ran off the field, I clinched the coveted title by giving the team ice-cold Gatorades, home-baked cookies, and “Goodie Bags” filled to their zip-locked brims with granola bars, lick-and-stick soccer ball tattoos, tiny cleat keychains, sugarless bubblegum, and miniature chocolate soccer balls.

In the tangle of minivans exiting the gravel parking lot beside the field, another mom yelled through her open window, “Hey, Molinari! Thanks for making the rest of us look bad with that stinking goodie bag!”

There was no denying it. I nailed it.

But just as I was basking in the glow of victory, our family was transferred to Florida. Thinking my snack skills unparalleled, I agreed to be my son’s high school football “Team Mom.” Little did I know, I had just entered the Parent Volunteer Thunderdome.

Innocently, I made a batch of cupcakes and offered them to the team after our home opener. I had just unknowingly thrown down the gauntlet to another parent, who brought home-baked cookies to the players after every game and was known as “The Cookie Lady.” She was not happy that I’d stepped on her turf, and shot daggers at me the rest of the season.

But The Cookie Lady was a pussycat compared to the “Concessions Queen” – a volunteer who had ruled the concessions booth with an iron fist for several years. When she got wind that there was a new “Football Mom” trying to win favor with the team, she gathered her minions to plot revenge. These women gave me so many dirty looks, I had to ask someone in the chain gang to escort me to the parking lot after the games, for fear that one of them might be hiding between the minivans with a shiv.

After two years of cowering in fear over cupcakes and cookies, my family is now stationed in Rhode Island, and I’m wary of entering the Parent Volunteer Battle again. Will I be able to reclaim my “Best Team Snack” title? Is it worth the sleepless nights spent wracking my brain for a new twist on crispy rice treats? Will I be strong enough to face gut-wrenching decisions like rainbow or chocolate sprinkles? Will I go out in a blaze of glory or suffer the agony of defeat? I just don’t know….

Reminding myself that it’s all about the kids, I mustered the courage to hit “Send” and started looking up the recipe for monster cookies.

Let the games begin.

Now What?

So much to do, so little time...

So much to do, so little time…

I remember it like it was yesterday. The shriek of my alarm going off at 6:15 am like the start of some second-rate dog race.

With a rat’s nest of hair and the same yoga pants I’d worn the day before, I was off and running: making beds, toasting waffles, packing lunches, dropping off, sorting laundry, picking up, flipping nuggets, filling tubs, reading stories, tucking in.

Other than 20 minutes spent wolfing down a turkey on wheat for lunch at our kitchen island between wash cycles, the closest thing I had to “free time” was falling asleep on the couch while clipping peanut butter coupons in front of the television after the kids went to bed.

And when my Navy husband was deployed, my daily routine was a total blur, teetering somewhere between precarious sanity and certifiable madness.

Thank the Good Lord those days are over.

After a couple of decades spent fulfilling the needs of our three kids, I’m finally free! With our oldest now off at college, our two girls in high school, and my husband on shore duty, no one is depending on me anymore. Hallelujah! It’s time for me to do what I want to do for once.

However, when school started this year, I didn’t want to traumatize our girls by drastically changing their routine. I thought it best to wean them gently, so I got up early each morning as usual, offering to scramble eggs, find soccer socks, slice oranges. But turns out, they can do it all by themselves.

What a relief!

On our morning ride to school in the minivan, I used to talk my kids through the day’s schedule, making sure they were organized and ready for any quizzes or tests. But the girls let me know the first week of school that, instead of talking to me, they prefer to motivate themselves on our morning drive by having a “Girl Dance Party,” which entails turning the minivan volume up to level nine and flailing their arms to the beat.

And my sixteen-year-old is quick to remind me that, in a few short months, they won’t even need me to drive them to school because she will have her driver’s license. What a welcome change that will be!

Back at home, I breathe a huge sigh of relief that there’s no one depending on me for the next 10 hours. I look around our empty house, ecstatic that I have the whole day to myself to finally do all the things I could never do before — go on a shopping spree, start a new career, take tennis lessons, meet friends for lunch, train for a marathon.

But, of course, I wouldn’t want to jump into my newfound freedom too quickly. Instead, I check to see if there’s any laundry to be done, then remember that I did it all yesterday. I peek at the computer every ten minutes to see if any pressing emails have come in. I wander the house looking for dust bunnies.

Eventually, I microwave the cup of lukewarm coffee I inadvertently left in the pantry, and plunk down at the kitchen table.

Now what?

Just then, I hear a thunk in the bedroom upstairs. Stirring from his morning nap, our 8-year-old labradoodle, Dinghy, comes down the back staircase of our old base house, his toenails clopping on the wood flooring. With a boney clunk, he sits in front of me, lifts a lanky paw, and scrapes it over my thigh.

Just when I was about to savor the sweet solitude of freedom, it dawns on me. I’m not free just yet — I’m still key and essential to this household.

With renewed purpose, I get out my To Do list and scribble, “1. Walk dog, 2. Feed dog, 3. Teach old dog new tricks, 4. Buy new dog toys, 5. Go to dog park …”

Looks like my work is never done.

The Last Laugh

Image via ticklemeentertainment.com

Image via ticklemeentertainment.com

I can see it now. A huge tufted nightclub booth, upholstered in spotless linen, floating on a cloud in the sky. A group of chuckling comedians is seated at the heavenly table, kibitzing over a bowl of perfectly salted cocktail peanuts.The comedians scoot over to make room, because one more has arrived.

It’s Joan Rivers.

Their earthly mission to make other people smile complete, Rivers, Williams, Belushi, Radner, Candy, Farley and other comedic legends, lounge comfortably with each other. Their laughter echoes softly in the stratosphere.

Funny people who have made it their life’s work to make the rest of us laugh deserve a good seat in Heaven. Especially when you consider that, many of them did not have it so easy here on Earth.

Humor is a gift, but like the people who possess a good sense of it, it’s often complicated. With a few exceptions, funny people tend to be complex individuals with insecurities and internal struggles, prone to over analysis and deep thinking about their own significance in the world.

Even though my life’s work has been making sandwiches and cleaning toilets as a Navy housewife and mother of three, I can totally relate.

As a tubby little daydreamer, I discovered at a young age that humor was my ticket out of social mediocrity. Knowing that there was no way I was going to meet my parents’ expectations for a slim, sophisticated, charming daughter, I began to secretly experiment with humor.

I loved to watch comedians like Flip Wilson, Soupy Sales, Carole Burnett, Bill Cosby, and my favorite, Jerry Lewis. I learned quickly that I could make people laugh by crossing my eyes, adopting a fake speech impediment, or using raisins to black out my teeth.

Self-deprecation seemed to be the most direct path to social acceptance, so I began poking fun at myself regularly. Initially, my parents did not find my new image funny at all, and made a last-ditch effort to get me back on the right track, signing me up for English horseback riding lessons and encouraging me to seek a serious career in business one day.

But it was already too late. By the end of my senior year in high school, I was elected 1984 Class Clown, making it official: I was the funny girl.

What I didn’t realize then, aside from the fact that my reputation as a clown would prevent me from getting a decent date to the prom, was that people would expect me to be funny for the rest of my life. Having a sense of humor became my job, and I had to punch the clock through good times and bad.

Thankfully, humor helped me find my husband, also a funny guy, and raise three funny kids. Through 20 years of military moves, it helped us all make new friends. And my own witty observations about military life, marriage, and parenting helped me put this column in print over five years ago.

Comedians spend their lives making people laugh despite enormous tragedy and private personal struggles. We praise them when they are funny, and ignore them when they are not. Then, when they die, we finally become curious about who they really were.

Robin Williams, who committed suicide last month at the age of 63, was a thoughtful person who suffered from bouts of devastating depression. Before her untimely death from cancer at age 43, Gilda Radner had a tough childhood, teased for being overweight and suffering the death of her beloved father when she was only a teenager. Chris Farley’s need for attention from his 600-pound alcoholic father motivated his hilarious physical comedy. But despite his kind heart, Farley inherited his father’s self-destructive tendencies, dying of a drug overdose at the age of 33, the same age as John Belushi when he died.

Joan Rivers was a comedic pioneer who could dish out the zingers, and take them, especially when it came to her multiple plastic surgeries. But behind the scenes, Rivers suffered personal tragedy when her beloved husband of 22 years, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide in 1987.

And the list goes on.

Clever, sensitive, deep-thinking, warm-hearted, and sometimes self-destructive, funny people are complicated. We should not wait for them to die to appreciate that their multiple facets and personal struggles are exactly what make them interesting in the first place.

As Joan herself once said, “I think anyone who’s perfectly happy isn’t particularly funny.”

Having the last laugh in that comedy club in the clouds...

Having the last laugh in that comedy club in the clouds…

john

robin

radner

farley

phyllis

belushi

Back to School Fashion Fears

I'll take a slab of bangs and a side of Colonel Sanders Ties.... hold the style!

I’ll take a slab of bangs and a side of Colonel Sanders Ties…. hold the style!

Unfortunately, I remember just about everything from middle school, from the Smurfs puffy stickers on my locker to that humiliating time I threw up in the cafeteria, and every awkwardly self-conscious moment in between.

During this gawky time in my life, I was clueless. It was as if I was hovering in a state of adolescent limbo between the days of carefree childhood and independent young adulthood.

I lay awake at night in my mock-brass twin bed staring at the Holly Hobby doll on my floral yellow Contact-papered shelf, wondering, “Who the heck am I, anyway?” I needed a little style, a decent group of friends, and maybe someday, a boyfriend. But other than practicing kissing on the back of my hand, I had no idea what to do.

Despite all that stuff my parents told me about being “beautiful on the inside”, I thought that wearing fashionable clothes to school was the first step to being cool. However, thanks to my absence of self-identity, putting together a stylish outfit was a particularly daunting task.

It was easy for my brother. All he needed was a pair of decent jeans, a few striped shirts left over from his color-coordinated Garanimals days, and some turf shoes. Part his hair straight down the middle with a huge plastic comb, put that comb in the back pocket of his new jeans and voile! He was totally in style.

For girls, however, it was more complicated. We had to keep up with an intimidating array of trends. Just getting a new pair of jeans was overwhelming. Pleated or plain front? Acid or stone washed? Tapered or Flared? Jordache or Lee?

There were madras shirts, Flashdance cut up sweatshirts, Members Only Jackets, cowl necks, Forenza sweaters, oversized blouses worn belted with a broach at the neck, Izod shirts with an upturned collar, turtlenecks printed with whales, and blazers with enormous shoulder pads. There were painter’s pants, Hammertime pants, parachute pants, stirrup pants, and overalls. There were Jellies, Converse Chucks, Tretorns, Reebok high tops, Vans, penny loafers, Capezios, Docksiders, and Candies faux wood slides.

Not to mention the dizzying assortment of accessories: fingerless gloves, leg warmers, Vuarnet sunglasses, Swatch watches, deely-boppers, bandanas, stick pins, braided headbands, mood rings, fanny packs and banana clips.

I was so confused, and I still had to decide whether rooster bangs or a bi-level would go better with my frosted purple eye shadow! Oh the agony!

Unable to discern my particular style, I never developed a real sense of fashion. I wore a lot of blouses that tied at the neck ala Colonel Sanders, and my hair long with a slab of bangs, or in a pseudo Dorothy Hamill that made me look like my face was framed with a ring of polska kielbasa.

Even when I managed to convince my mother to buy me something trendy from the juniors rack at Hills Department Store, I was still doomed. Like the time I accidentally flung the strap of my overalls into the girl’s restroom toilet before history class, or the time the boy sitting next to me in English took a bite out of my new root beer Bonne Bell Lip Smacker.

And now, as I take my girls back-to-school shopping, I’m amused that many of the trends that confounded me thirty years ago, are back on the racks. Although I am relieved that my girls have sense of style, I hope that less fashion-savvy kids are not stressing about what to wear to school like I did. Even if they can’t figure out the latest trends, it’s Okay because they’ll get another chance when those fashions reappear years later.

Regardless, what’s most important is that our kids learn enough at school that they don’t have to repeat English, Mathematics, Science or History. Besides, when it comes to back to school fashions, history has a tendency of repeating itself.

The Driver’s Ed Club

breakfastclub

“Mom?! Where r u?!” my daughter texted at the end of her first Driver’s Ed class. I pulled up to the community college parking lot ten minutes late thanks to a long line at the commissary, only to find Anna standing there with three other teens, looking mortified.

“O-M-G Mom! What took you so long?!” she said, hurriedly hopping into our old minivan. “Never-mind that, so how was Driver’s Ed?” I asked.

“Re-Donk! I’m going to die if I have to sit in that class all week… it is SO boring. The instructor is like a million years old and all he talked about was how to hold a steering wheel. Eight hours of hand and over hand? Like, seriously?”

“Well, I’m sure the material will get more complex as the week progresses, and besides, the other kids in the class looked nice,” I offered in a feeble attempt to retrieve Anna from her free-fall into an abyss of negativity.

“NO, Mom. Most of the boys wear those flat-billed hats way up on the top of their heads, and other than one dweeby kid, the rest of the boys just look dumb. One girl is my age and has a baby. Another girl keeps saying she’s going to ‘cut’ someone, and the rest are kind of awkward.”

Now, I was worried. But this was the last summer session of Driver’s Ed before the start of the school year, so Anna had no choice but to go.

In the days that followed, Anna became more entrenched in the micro-society that was developing out of her Driver’s Ed class. The forces of small group dynamics combined with the psychological effects of confinement, created an ironic camaraderie among the classmates. Having identified the teacher as their common enemy, the teen captives formed an underground alliance, hell bent on graduating and getting the heck outta there.

At four-o-clock every day, while I waited for Anna to be released from class, I would see the Driver’s Ed teacher, with a permanent smirk on his face, saunter out of the building toward his nondescript gold sedan. He wore drab Hawaiian-style shirt with khakis, and had a wispy comb-over that was an unnatural shade of Grecian Formula black.

Clearly, he saw himself as a sort of celebrity amongst the Driver’s Ed students. Nothing but a scurvy little spider in the grand scheme of things, in the realm of the Community College, this teacher had power, control, influence… and his own parking space.

Every day on our drive home, Anna would report what had happened in class. The first couple of days, she ranted about excruciating boredom. But things heated up mid-week, when at lunch, one of the girls admitted her romantic interest in one of the boys. The sophomoric revelation was welcome relief from the daily tedium, so the girls exploited this little tidbit of drama to make it last, going so far as writing the boy a giggly anonymous note from his “secret admirer.”

“Werr is u, Boo?” I texted Anna from the parking lot on the last day of class. I got no response, but a few minutes later, like some kind of reenactment of the final scene in “The Breakfast Club,” the teens came streaming out of the Community College entrance with their final test results in hand.

I realized that, although they had initially defined each other in the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions — The Dweeb, The Cutter, The Teen Mom, The Dumb Jocks, The Awkward Girls, The Boys with High Hats, and our daughter, The Goofy Military Kid – these uncommon teens discovered that they shared a common goal. And by accepting their suffering and each other, they found what they were looking for in the first place: freedom.

Tears on my toothbrush

20140819_145551

My son, Hayden, in his new dorm room at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

It didn’t hit me until I saw that smear of toothpaste on the sink this morning.

I’d heard the stories. “I cried for an hour in the bathtub.” “I couldn’t get out of bed for a week.” “I was a snotty, puffy-eyed mess.” “I didn’t think I’d make it to Thanksgiving.”

I listened to fellow military moms with genuine compassion, but I couldn’t personally relate. Those things would never happen to me.

Then, we dropped our son off at college last Tuesday.

“He’s only going to be three hours away,” I told a friend, “and besides, a little separation will be good for all of us. I won’t be one of those people who blubbers like a baby.”

“Oh, you will,” my friend warned. “Trust me.”

We helped him set up his dorm room with plastic bins, granola bars, power strips, extra sticks of deodorant, clip on lamps, new sheets that won’t be washed this semester, and cheapo particle board shelving that looked like it would buckle like a ramen noodle under the weight of the tiny microwave.

Dry-eyed as planned, I kissed his prickly cheek good-bye at four-o-clock, so that he could go to his first hall meeting and we could wolf down free hors d’oeuvres at the parent reception. After more than our share of chicken bites and veggies drenched in ranch, my husband and I spent a couple of carefree days exploring the nearby lakes of Upstate NY.

I awoke early this morning, after getting home late last night. I could’ve used another twenty minutes, but my husband needed a ride to the airport for a work trip to Korea, so I shuffled my way to our bathroom down the hall.

I stepped over our labradoodle, Dinghy, who had wedged himself between the toilet and the bathtub. Ever since we moved into this quirky old base house a year ago, I felt cheated. Not only did have to share the tiny bathroom with my huge hairy husband and son, the huge hairy dog decided that it was his favorite sleeping spot. It just wasn’t fair.

I looked, bleary-eyed into the mirror at my pillow-crimped bangs, and groped for my toothbrush. Glancing down, I saw my husband’s toothbrush. And mine. But where my son’s toothbrush usually lay, there was only a smear.

A smear that, up until that point, had always irritated me. Why do men refuse to thoroughly rinse the slobbery toothpaste out of their toothbrushes? Don’t they care that someone has to continuously clean the dried up smears on the sink?

But this time, I wasn’t annoyed. I stared at the smear, and then, it hit me.

He’s gone.

I felt a hot prickle behind my eyes and a flush in my cheeks. In a stupor, I left the bathroom and found myself at the open door of our son’s room.

How sweet … his unmade bed! I gulped and pulled a tissue from a box on his nightstand. Oh, and that odor of teenage boy sweat, I breathed in deeply. He never did take that bowl down to the kitchen like I asked, I smiled at the three-day-old tomato-sauce-enameled dish, and let a tear tumble down my cheek.

I explored my son’s abandoned room, noting every void in the dust where books, alarm clocks, and speakers used to be. With watery vision, I inventoried the vestiges—gum wrappers, crumbs, pennies, and tiny tumbleweeds of God-knows-what. All the things that had once been bones of contention were now cherished relics of the time, now past, when our son lived under the same roof.

And then, I gave in to the parental instinct I had denied myself based upon logic and reason, and I bawled like a baby.

Is it Thanksgiving yet? 

IMG_6731

How many days should I leave it this way before I turn it into a guest room?

Going Overboard

20140808_173201 (1)

“How do I look?” my husband asked, putting his hands on his hips and strutting down the marine supply store isle snuggly strapped into a new life vest. As if he was on a runway in Milan, he stopped, pivoted, and looked at me with a “come hither” stare.

“You’ll be the envy of everyone in our sailing class,” I lied.

Along with our new life jackets, we bought sailing gloves, non-marking deck shoes, sunglasses straps, waterproof phone pouches, and a humongous chart of the entire Narragansett Bay. At home, we assembled the rest of the recommended sailing apparel: hats, quick dry shorts, breathable collared shirts, waterproof watches, and gadgetry like pocket knives and compasses that would never see the light of day.

We had no idea how to sail, but Goshdarnit, we were going to look the part.

Besides, when military folks like us move somewhere new, we try our best to experience the local customs. Before the end of our tour of duty in Rhode Island, we will guzzle gallons of “chowdah”, stuff ourselves with “stuffies” (stuffed clams), and learn to love “lobstah” rolls. We will hike rocky coastlines, wade through cranberry bogs, and snap photos of squatty lighthouses. We might even start saying things like, “Hey, I have an idear…let’s go downcity for a gagga and a beah.” (Locals’ way of suggesting hot dogs and beers in Providence.)

And in a state like Rhode Island, where there are more boats than human beings, we must learn how to sail.

Last week, we showed up at the Naval Station Newport Base Marina on the first night of Basic Sail Training Class, with naïve visions of cruising on the Narragansett Bay in a 40-footer named something like “Moon Dancer”, my husband at the helm in his polo sweater, and me lounging in the cockpit with a glass of chardonnay like Jackie O.

About 20 of us – mostly middle-aged with a smattering of 20-something single sailors — mustered on the deck of the tiny marina office. We sized each other up while we waited for the instructors to show.

One by one, the volunteers appeared to give us instruction. They were all older, seasoned gentlemen, one of which smoked a calabash pipe and seemed the incarnation of Hemmingway’s Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea.

They broke us into smaller groups, and after discussing rigging, points of sail, knots and right of way, our minds were swimming with new terminology. Clew, Cleat, Cunningham, Close-hauled. Halyard, Heel, Helm, Hull. Batten, Beating, Boom, Beam-reach. Leeward, Leech, Luff. Starboard, Stern, Spreader. Shackle, Shroud, Sheet.

By the end of the first night, the only term I could remember was “S.O.S.” I wondered, After 20 years as a Navy wife, am I too old to learn something new?

Our next lesson was “on the water,” but thanks to torrential downpours, it was more like a reenactment of “The Perfect Storm.” Although I had faithfully read my instruction manual and practiced my square knots, cleat hitches, and bowlins with a length of rope while watching “Deadliest Catch,” my waterlogged brain went blank when I took the helm.

I yelled “Jibe Ho!” while tacking, I shouted “Helms-a-lee!” while jibing, I let my sails out while close-hauled, I sheeted the sails in on a broad reach. And during the man overboard drill, I ran right over the floating dummy.

My husband and I thought our instructors might ban us from the marina, but interestingly, they kept showing up to teach us, and eventually, we learned to sail.

Sure we went a little overboard with our sailing attire, and we had to let go of our dream of Kennedy-esque yachts, Egyptian cotton sweaters and fine wines. But my husband and I are now qualified to rent a small boat from the base marina, and sail like real Rhode Islanders.

We may not be salty, but there’s no denying it: these old dogs have learned a new trick.

%d bloggers like this: