Just listen: A father’s full story

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I stepped from airport baggage claim into the steamy Richmond sun, and found a bench at curbside pick up. I hadn’t seen my father in a while, and a twinge of nerves caught in my throat.

When in a good mood, Dad is fun, larger than life in every way. While watching his favorite sitcoms, his loud and uncontrollable laughter is infectious. Also, he has an uncanny ability to seek out the best restaurants, always over-ordering for the table, and insisting on paying the bill. But like many people, my father has moody side. When in angry, he makes it uncomfortable for everyone, especially those he loves the most. We had both traveled to Richmond for my cousin’s wedding, and agreed to share a hotel room. Knowing my father was a man of extremes, I didn’t know what to expect.

Suddenly, I heard three sharp blasts of a car horn. Then three more. I stood up to investigate, just as I heard the blasts again. They were coming from a car driven by my Dad. Good mood, I detected gratefully. I knew that the obnoxious greeting was my father’s way of being playful.

I hopped into the passenger’s seat, and while exchanging side hugs over the center console, I noticed that his skin was like crepe. Getting old, I thought.

“Okay,” my father said in his characteristically domineering voice, “we don’t have to be at the rehearsal dinner until six, so I thought I’d take you on a tour of Sandston.” I knew the excursion to my father’s hometown was more for him than me, but I was curious to see the setting of his  upbringing.

“When I was a kid, this road seemed to go on forever,” he said of Sandston’s sleepy main drag. He pointed to a faded drug store sign, explaining that his nanny, Irene, used to take him there for iced cream. “She wouldn’t go in with us, because she never wore shoes.”

We turned slowly down Garland Avenue, and my father told me about the “creek” he used to wade in, now a grassy ditch along the side of the road. Among the line of tiny steep-roofed houses, he pointed out the one he used to live in, where his parents divorced when he was only six years old. We rounded the corner to the school, and on to a small civil war cemetery, as my father told of being sent to Fork Union Military School at the age of ten.

For once, I let him do all the talking, and he told all the stories I’d heard before, and a few I hadn’t. Something in me sensed that my father needed to reflect on his life, and the best thing for me to do was to listen.

“I was devastated,” he commented about his father leaving. “I always wanted the kind of dad who would take me fishing, but he just wasn’t that way… After my mother sent me to Fork Union, I held the record for the most runaway attempts. But eventually, the school became like family to me.”

Later, in our hotel room, my father napped while I settled into a polite routine intended to minimize the awkwardness of the situation. Although we had visited each other many times over the years, sharing a hotel room was more chummy than we’d been in decades. But something in me sensed that my father simply needed a witness, not only to his stories, but to the advancement of his life.

Rather than armoring myself with defenses formed during rockier moments in our relationship, I opened myself to see my father as he was: a 73-year-old character with a unique story to tell. That weekend, I enjoyed his company, helping him with his buttons, brewing him coffee, researching local breakfast joints, and even plucking a particularly conspicuous white hair from his nose.

“This has been nice,” my father said after breakfast at The City Diner on our final morning together. Grateful for having had the opportunity to get to know my father in the context of his full life story, I genuinely agreed.

Traveling on Auto-Potty

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With gas prices at an 11-year low, people are packing up and heading out for a busy summer travel season. But the highways, bus stations and airports aren’t the only places that will see a lot of action this summer. With all those travelers on the go, and needing to go, public restrooms will be at maximum capacity.

Recently, I took a trip to Florida, requiring my 49-year-old bladder and I to frequent several airport bathrooms. It occurred to me that travel pottying has changed significantly over the years.

Growing up in the 70s, our station wagon simply pulled over to the side of the road for pit stops during long trips. And my husband’s family kept a mayonnaise container known as the “tinkle jar” in the back window of their vehicle. If we did manage to find a gas station with a bathroom, my mother would spread half a roll of toilet paper on the seat before I was allowed to sit down.

But those improvised methods of yesteryear are no longer considered apropos — or sanitary for that matter — so today, the transportation authorities have provided travelers with state-of-the-art public toilet facilities.

The problem is, the newly automated restrooms are so high-tech, they sometimes leave one longing for the simple practicality of a roadside patch of weeds.

During my recent visit to an airport restroom, I selected one of the many stalls, latched the door, straddled my humongous carry-on bag, and grabbed for the paper seat cover dispenser. The first three ripped in half, the fourth fell into the toilet while I was trying to position it, and the fifth one disappeared when the toilet unexpectedly flushed.

Known as “phantom flushes,” the sensor-triggered water swoosh in public restrooms not only suck down the paper seat covers, they can scare the you-know-what out of you, which by the way, would defeat the entire purpose of being in the toilet in the first place.

With a seat cover finally in place, I took my position.

Strangely, the otherwise noisy bathroom fell dead silent. I could see the feet of the occupants next to me, but could hear a pin drop. I prayed that someone would turn on the sink, while my bladder refused to release the 64 ounces of coffee I’d consumed that morning.

I had experienced “stage fright” on other occasions, most notably in college, when perpetually clogged bar toilets caused long lines in the bathrooms. The one working toilet usually had no toilet paper, a broken door lock, and gaps in the stall that allowed everyone in line to stare through the cracks. Once it was my turn, I was paralyzed by stage fright.

Waiting in the airport stall for someone to make noise, I fidgeted, and — WHOOSH! — set off my own phantom flusher again. It scared the bejeezus out of me, but provided the break I needed. Relief!

The toilet paper was affixed to some type of conservation dispenser that stopped the roll at each half turn. The flimsy tissue ripped with the slightest resistance, forcing me to make several attempts — roll, stop, rip, roll, stop, rip, roll, stop, rip — until I had enough scraps to do the job.

Finally, I stood up to trigger the flusher, which up until now seemed able to react to a falling eyelash from three stalls down. However, nothing happened. I stood there, wondering if the sensor had a tiny camera inside that transmitted to a flushing control room. Had the person on duty gone to lunch? I swiveled my hips, bobbed my head, and waved my hands to no avail.

With only minutes to boarding, I gave up on flushing and left the stall. Halfway to the sinks I heard it — WHOOSH! I imagined the flushing controller giggling over his ham and cheese.

The bank of sinks had no knobs, controls or buttons. “Here we go again,” I thought, waving my hands in search of automated soap and water. I had a choice of hand dryers: a high speed “air blade” that nearly blows your skin off, or the old fashioned kind that emits a warm breeze that requires you to give up and wipe your hands on your pants.

Frustrated with newfangled automation, I chose the latter.

“Coffee?” the flight attendant asked after we took off.

“Sure,” I said, “but do you happen to have an empty mayonnaise jar?”

Dresser’s Last Stand

thumb_20160526_131644 (1)_1024“Mom, can someone finally do something about my dresser?” my daughter Lilly demanded this week. 

“Oh, is it broken again?” I feigned ignorance.

“Yeah, the thing is like, totally falling apart this time,” she told me, but I already knew.

Two pulls were missing from the drawers. The mirror was perched precariously on its supporting wooden arms, one of which was wobbly. The drawers no longer slid easily on their brittle rails. With warped wood and ancient glue, the entire piece was coming apart at every joint and dovetail.

“Nothing a dab of Elmer’s won’t fix!”

Poor Lilly rolled her eyes. She knew it was no use. Not only is everything in our house showing its age, half of what we own was already old when we bought it. The treasures I lovingly refer to as “antique,” “vintage,” “retro,” or “shabby chic,” my family calls “a bunch of broken down used junk.”

Semantics!

I bought Lilly’s dresser for a cool $150 at an antique mall in Virginia back in 2005. It was tall, with a beveled mirror mounted on two curved arms, and a working skeleton keyhole on each of its six drawers. Its lovely bird’s eye maple veneer was a cheerful shade of yellow-gold.

“It’s used, Mom,” Lilly said quite accurately, begging for the new pink and purple particle board set imported from China that she saw at Walmart.

Much to my kids’ dismay, our entire house is filled with “used” furniture – hand-me-downs from family, discards from military friends who moved away, garage sale finds, and some legitimate antiques. The girls tell me they feel like they’re living in the midst of a flea market, and our son calls our house “The Rest Home.”

But what the kids don’t understand is that we furnished our home with affordable things out of the necessity of a tight military budget.

When my husband and I married back in 1993, he contributed a couch, a desk, and a bed to our new apartment, all of which we still use to this day. I contributed a bookcase that is currently in my daughter’s room, an old Singer Sewing table that is in our hallway, and the red-painted sideboard that sits in our mudroom. When Aunt Millie died, we got her dining room buffet, my husband’s dresser, and some end tables complete with Millie’s cigarette burns. And we filled in the gaps with items we found along the way.

Believe it or not, it isn’t all junk – while stationed in Europe, we bought a Victorian marble-topped wash stand, an English pine armoire, a 100-year old French bed frame, and a sturdy Belgian mid-century farmhouse kitchen table and chairs.

Sure, I’ll confess that I shamelessly salvaged a couple of items from other people’s trash. I once scrambled into a dumpster to save two sturdy solid oak English chairs that sit at our kitchen table today. And I just barely squeezed a channel-back armchair into our minivan after seeing it sitting on the side of a lonely Pennsylvania country road cradling a sign upon which was written the irresistible word, “Free.” It only took a year of fumigating in the garage before I put it in our living room, and that musty smell is almost all gone.

As for Lilly’s dresser, with some fresh glue and a few strategically placed clamps, I’ll get a couple more years out of it. Besides, it doesn’t really matter whether I pay top dollar at Pottery Barn or pocket change at Pete’s Salvage Emporium, as long as the love in our home is given freely.

Lost on Memory Lane

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Believe it or not, hoarding comes in pretty handy around high school graduation time.

Over the years, my family has been concerned about my propensity to save everything from hospital bracelets to matchbooks.  But I’ve always felt compelled to squirrel things away, like my old Holly Hobby sewing machine, our daughters’ confirmation dresses, my son’s sock puppet, and the collar from our long dead cat Zuzu.

When my son Hayden graduated two years ago, I sent 36 t-shirts I’d been saving since he was a baby — from Montessori preschool to tae kwan do to boy scouts to football to band — to a quilter to make him a one-of-a-kind bedspread for his dorm room that would memorialize his particular childhood experiences. The quilt was such a meaningful graduation gift, I’ve been vindicated.

Turns out, my hoarding actually had a purpose after all.

With our second child, Anna, about to graduate, I recently went down to our basement to find the t-shirts I’d saved for her quilt. However, what should’ve taken ten minutes, took an entire afternoon and a half box of tissues.

The first tub I opened was full of baby items that I hadn’t seen in years. There, in the musty fluorescent corner of our basement, I got lost in memories. I caressed the soft flannel receiving blankets, remembering that she was born while we were stationed in England, in a village hospital by an Irish midwife. Pastel afghans, a tiny gingham dress and Anna’s baptismal cloth took me further away.

The layers were like the rings of a tree. In between were lumps – a special rattle, a tattered pink doll, and a string of wooden beads. My eyes lost focus as I recalled Anna as a sleepy toddler, stroking the beads, over and over.

The next box was full of old toys. I saw the plastic yellow baton, gripped by Anna’s perpetually sticky fingers, relentlessly beating the chubby Fisher Price xylophone. The pink and purple play purse put me in our old house in Virginia, where Anna would strut around with the purse over one arm, stopping to apply the fake lipstick and pose precociously before a mirror.

Pink and yellow plates, cups and pots looked exactly like they did when Anna served up smorgasbords of plastic toy pizza slices, hamburgers, peas, bananas, cupcakes and cheese wedges. “Mmmmm,” I would say, smacking my lips loudly and pretending to chew in hopes of eliciting her brightly dimpled smile.

The doll at the bottom, still stained with an ink scribble in the middle of her forehead, looked serenely relieved to have retired to a cardboard box. Her life with Anna had not been easy. With the doll slumped in an umbrella stroller, Anna would push her around our cul-de-sac, sometimes hitting a crack that would catapult the poor doll head-first into the pavement. A quick kiss on the scuffed head, and Anna was off again.

A file box contained artwork, crafts, and primitive pottery – ancient relics with cracking macaroni and yellowing glue. The items, ironically, gave no indication that Anna would eventually develop a talent for art and design. Small spiral notebooks were scribbled with Anna’s endless ideas, garment sketches, and redecorating plans. “How to make money this summer: 1. Sell my old Barbies; 2. Make lemonade; 3. …” one page read. “Rules for Secret Club House,” another read.

It’s an incredible privilege to watch a human being grow, I thought. Cradling a helpless budding newborn in my arms, I could never predict the distinctive person that would take 18 years to bloom before my very own eyes.

Through the dusty basement air, I finally found the box of t-shirts, and the wonder of our exceptional daughter came into focus. Bossy, stubborn, controlling and pensive. Intelligent, driven, hilarious and creative. With big brown eyes, a sparkling smile, and an uncommon dimpled chin. Determined to become a successful fashion designer.

As I trudged sniffling up our basement stairs, I realized that I didn’t keep all those boxed basement relics for my kids, I kept them so I wouldn’t forget. Regardless, High School Graduation, the monumental milestone that heralds adulthood and independent life, has a way of making the last 18 years unforgettable.

Even if we don’t create quilts or shadow boxes or scrapbooks memorializing our child’s life, graduation has a way of melding past and present together into one great epiphanic flash, imprinting the incredible image of our children’s evolution in our minds … forever.

Housewife Burnout

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It took four punches of the snooze button to get me out of bed this morning.

I wasn’t tired. Or sick, for that matter.

But I was sick and tired. Sick and tired of the same old routine, minute after minute, day after day, year after year, since 1995, when I made the decision to stay at home to manage our family.

Now don’t get me wrong — I truly love my life and wouldn’t have it any other way. I am proud that I gave up my own professional ambitions for the humble satisfaction of providing home cooked meals, a warm and loving environment, and a constant and dependable presence to my family.

But frankly, after two decades, I’d rather chew my own arm off than empty the dishwasher again. I’d take a frying pan to the head to put me out of the misery of defrosting another pound of ground beef. If given the choice, I’d rather swallow a fistful of wriggling grubs than dust the ceiling fan blades one more time.

I often fear that I’m on the brink of some sort of total housewife breakdown. Emptying the lint trap gives me the shakes. Putting the steak knives away makes my left eye twitch. I can’t sponge another sticky spot off the countertop without feeling palpitations, and I have completely lost the ability to par-boil anything.

Over the last year, my poor family has been witness to the steady decline of my cooking, cleaning and parenting skills. It has come as somewhat of a shock to them, because for almost two decades, I was Supermom.

A licensed and gainfully employed litigation attorney, I made the decision to put my lucrative career aside two years into marriage, to raise the kids and support my husband Francis’ active duty military career no matter where it would take us. I’ll admit that my initial high standards and work ethic were based primarily on one thing: guilt. Since I wasn’t bringing in any income, I felt that I had to knock it out of the park as a homemaker.

But as the years passed, I saw the value of my choice. Not just during the obvious times when being at home was crucial, such as deployments, but also during the subtle everyday moments when my family was better off for having a dependable presence in their lives.

My kids knew that, no matter where we were stationed, I would always be there to walk them to school, pack their lunches, keep them home when sick, bring cupcakes to soccer games, and chaperone field trips. The subtle sense of security they felt was crucial in turning our typical military kids into the independent, accomplished, confident individuals they are today.

I was fortunate too, because I’ve had a front-row seat to our children’s lives. While Francis worked long hours to support our family, I got to see each kid get Citizen of the Month. I cheered at every raucous flag football game. I secretly cringed at every pitchy middle school band concert. I toasted every waffle, mashed every potato, posted every chore chart, and kissed every boo-boo.

Now, with only two more years left before our youngest goes off to college, I’ve lost sight of how lucky I’ve been. After fourth alarm went off this morning, it dawned on me. “Anna’s graduating in a month,” I scolded myself, “now, get up and fry her a lousy egg!”

“No thanks, Mom, we’re leaving early to have breakfast with our friends,” Anna told me, her hand held out in hopes that cash would land in it. With the melody of “Cat’s In the Cradle” playing in my head, I gave her my last $20, and watched out the kitchen window as they drove away.

That was all the motivation I needed.

I may not skip around the house in search of dust bunnies today. I won’t do any cartwheels over the latest Crock Pot recipe. I’ll probably avoid cleaning the rust stains off toilet bowl. But I won’t let myself get so bogged down in the mundane tasks of every day life, that I forget the subtle yet countless blessings of making a loving home for my family.

The Elephant in the Bedroom

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We’ve all seen those awkward commercials. Unrealistically tall, thin, good-looking actors holding hands in outdoor bathtubs and canoodling in public. The woman has silky long hair and flowing garments that might fall off at the slightest tug, and the man has a rugged jawline, piercing blue eyes and impossibly white teeth. They exchange “come hither” stares and knowing smiles, as one leads the other by the hand toward the bedroom…

But, for most couples who’ve been married a long time, igniting passion is not a matter of popping a little blue pill. There’s plenty of lead in the pencil — it’s the numerous other realities of everyday married life that get in the way of romance.

My husband, Francis, and I start yawning — not a particularly attractive human reflex I might add — about an hour after dinner, the sure sign that we only have one crime show in us before our eyelids drop. My yawns begin discretely, but as I reach maximum inhale, my face contorts, my nostrils flare and my double chin triples. Francis, on the other hand, makes a dramatic scene of every yawn, with a gasping deep inhale, followed by a hacking exhale that makes everyone around him duck for cover, and ending with a bizarre jaw-chattering finish that sounds something like, “Gi-gi-gi-gi-gi-gahhh!”

When we finally trudge upstairs to our bedroom, we don’t just hop in the sack. As a middle-aged couple with the typical achy joints, breathing issues and quirky habits, there is a whole rigmarole we have to go through before we can actually attempt sleep.

Unfortunately, this routine is not conducive to romance.

After the dog dutifully flops into his crate in our bedroom, Francis heads to the bathroom in his boxer shorts. With the door wide open, he makes all necessary deposits before flushing, and leaving the seat up. Then, he stands at the mirror, trying to decide whether it is worth brushing his teeth or not. Groggy eyed, we pass in the hallway just as Francis finishes up an especially noisy yawn. “Ah, ah (inhaling) … achhhhhh (the hacking exhale) … Gi, gi, gi, gi, gahhh (the dramatic finish)!”

After brushing and flossing, I take my fiber pills and ginkgo biloba, and then insert the bulky, drool producing-mouth guard that keeps me from grinding my teeth.

“I’m EX-THAUTH-TED,” I announce with a night-guard lisp after entering the bedroom. I put on my flannel pjs, while Francis fiddles with the equipment on his nightstand. It takes a few minutes for him to fix the complicated straps of his sleep apnea headgear, and at the same time, I wrestle with the Velcro fasteners of my plantar fasciitis night splint boot.

Francis flips a switch, and I hear the whirr of his C-Pap machine.

I place an extra pillow under my knees to stave off hip pains, and open my book. Francis can’t sleep with the lights on, so I grab the set of reading glasses I recently found a local discount store that have little LED lights built into them. I press the buttons on either side of the lenses, and two piercing rays illuminate the pages of my book.

“Good night Thweetie,” I lisp to my husband of 23 years in the dark.

Francis jerks out of a half slumber, and like something out of “The Alien”, turns his head toward me with four feet of flexible tubing extending from the rubber nose piece strapped to his face. I glance over at him from my contour pillow, looking like some kind of drooling underground miner, and nearly blind him with my laser beams.

He squints in recognition, and mumbles an airy reply through his plastic elephant trunk, “GNooo-Nihhht, Hhhonhhee.”

A few minutes later, in the white noise silence of our marital bedroom, ironically, the dog begins to snore.

Let’s face it, any couple who can get in the mood in the midst of all that middle aged reality has more passion in their marriage than any little blue pill could ever provide.

Mother’s Day: A cautionary tale

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I started dropping non-so-subtle hints last week.

“You DO know that Mother’s Day is coming, don’t you?” I said rather loudly to my husband, Francis.

“Yeah,” he replied defensively, “what about it?”

“Don’t you remember what happened last year?” I could tell from his blank stare that Francis was thinking about peanuts, or Greco-Roman wrestling, or “Deadliest Catch”, because he had no clue what I was talking about.

It was Sunday morning, May 10th, 2015, and I was the first one awake. Surprised that no one in my family had brought me a cup of coffee, I thought, “Surely they’ve got something planned for Mother’s Day.”

When I woke our teens for church, they were particularly grumpy. “Seriously?” Anna sassed, “I never get to sleep in!” In protest, Lilly hopped into the minivan wearing a ratty pair of jeans and flip flops.

Late, as usual, we slipped into a side pew during the first reading. Francis yawned during the gospel, Anna wouldn’t hold my hand during the “Our Father,” and no one but me sang the hymns. I would normally be annoyed, but I figured they were just pretending to be lazy, disrespectful and negligent, because then I’d be really surprised when they revealed their fabulous Mother’s Day plans.

“Go in peace, the mass has ended,” Father Kris said, adding, “And Happy Mother’s Day!”

I was halfway down the isle before I realized that my family was still in the pew, whispering to each other. “Oh, this is going to be fun,” I thought.

Francis drove us to La Forge, a locals’ favorite brunch spot. “Do you have reservations, Sir? We’re all booked up,” the host said politely. After exploring a few more dead ends, we got a mixed dozen in the Dunkin’ Donuts Drive Thru and headed home, Francis promising that something special was in store.

Francis and the kids darted into the house, presumably to get ready for those fabulous Mother’s Day plans, and I sat in our sunny back yard to get out of their way.

Suddenly, Francis, who didn’t see me in the backyard, rushed out to the minivan, the tires squealing as he drove away. Fifteen minutes later he was back, and as he ran past the backyard gate, he saw me sitting there.

In his hands were a 7-11 plastic bag that appeared to be holding a greeting card, and a cellophane cone wrapped around a sad-looking bouquet. From the look in his eyes, I knew the truth.

My family had completely forgotten about Mother’s Day.

If that weren’t bad enough, Francis had bought me something he knows I don’t like: cut flowers. When the kids were young, I loved the sticky bunches of dandelions they’d pick for me out of our backyard. I was so proud of their thoughtfulness, and I’d place the oozing stems in a little jelly jar in the center of our kitchen table. But I have never liked cut flowers bought from the store, and my family has known this for years.

Seeing Francis sneaking in the house, something snapped. Mothers work tirelessly and selflessly to raise kids and create a homes for their families. Many, like me, put their careers aside, giving up all aspirations for professional rewards and respect, to dedicate themselves to their families. This is the one day when mom should expect a pat on the back.

Determined that my family would not “get the check in the box,” I calmly walked into the house, called everyone into the kitchen and announced, “Mother’s Day is hereby cancelled.”

Thanks to the year-long guilt trip I put them on, I’m fairly confident that my family will have a fabulous day planned for me this year.

More not-so-subtle hints: Bring me a cup of coffee without spilling it on the staircase. Make your beds without griping. Let’s go to church on time for once, and at least pretend to sing the hymns. Find a sunny spot for a family picnic, without anyone complaining that someone else took the last bag of ranch Doritos. Later, the kids can cook something for dinner that doesn’t have chocolate chips, and clean up without suctioning each other with the Shop Vac. And lastly, a thoughtful homemade card with personal sentiments would be nice, instead of “Have a good Mother’s Day – Hayden Molinari.”

And if you must get flowers, I prefer dandelions.

The deed is done, but not forgotten

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“Ach! I’ve got to get rid of this albatross around my neck!” my husband Francis exclaimed recently, with plenty of overly-dramatic Italian gesturing with hairy arms.

“‘Albatross’? Don’t be so dramatic,” I retorted. “I love that house. Hayden will never forget his little blue room, Anna took her first steps in that cul-de-sac, Lilly was born there … and Zuzu is buried in the back yard for criminy’s sake!”

Last week, we put the house we’ve owned since 1998 on the market, and our emotions have been mixed.

After returning from a military tour of duty in England with a toddler and a newborn, we bought our first home in Virginia Beach, intending to stay a while. Even though “homesteading” was frowned upon, we didn’t care – our son had been diagnosed with developmental delays, and in order for his treatment to be effective, he needed stability. Lucky for us, Francis was offered competitive Navy orders to Second Fleet, Fleet Forces Command, and Joint Forces Command, enabling us to stay put without jeopardizing his career.

During the years we lived on our suburban cul-de-sac, the kids knew the shortcut to the local park. I planned the neighborhood Halloween Parade every year. We got our first puppy “Dinghy” after Zuzu the cat died. We went to the ice cream place down the street after Hayden’s flag football games. Lilly would toddle across the circle in nothing but a diaper to flirt with Jimmy, our 16-year-old neighbor. On Friday nights, we drank cold beer with our neighbors while sitting in lawn chairs on the driveway. And mornings, we could hear the Fairfield Elementary School announcements from our front porch.

In that happy little Dutch Colonial, I dabbled in home improvements, installing a new faucet, ceiling fans, lights, and built-in shelving in the playroom. Every spring, while the daffodils, azaleas, ferns and hostas pushed through the mulch, Francis and I argued about whether the lawn needed aerating. We added a screened porch, which became the site of many birthday dinners, afternoon coffee breaks, and Lilly’s first communion brunch. Anna broke her arm falling from our backyard playset, and the following year, Lilly got stitches in her head for the same reason.

Oblivious to the fact that the military would eventually force us to move from our sweet little family home, we meticulously scratched the height of each member of our growing brood, to include Dinghy the dog, into the pantry door.

Like I said, I loved that house.

When we got orders to Germany in 2008, we told ourselves, “We’ll definitely come back here one day.”

But we never did.

Now, before we have to face tricky capital gains taxes, we have decided to sell. Francis isn’t sad to see her go, because he is tired of the responsibilities and stresses of renting and maintaining a house from a distance. Unscrupulous property managers, surprise repairs, expensive maintenance, negligent renters, and those painful months between rentals when we had to pay our mortgage without receiving any rent checks, put Francis in the mood to sell.

I, on the other hand, feel the bittersweet pangs of melancholy as I prepare myself to sign away the deed to a decade of some of the most important years of our family’s life.

But it is time.

Time for another young family to grace her walls with baby photos. Time for another child to hang a swing from the branches of her big oak tree. Time for another husband to gripe about the leaves in her gutters, and for another wife to plant pansies in her front beds. Time for another pair of siblings to draw on her playroom walls with permanent marker. Time for another dog to sleep soundly in front of her fire-warmed hearth.

                                                           ————-

[According to the 2015 Census, about 64% of Americans own homes, but only 38% of military members buy houses. Some military families find home ownership too risky or simply not affordable. But there are special resources for military buyers and sellers. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development website (hud.gov) explains the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which limits interest on mortgages and provides debt relief for eligible military members. Housing counselors are available at 1-888-995-HOPE. The Military Housing Assistance Fund (usmhaf.org) offers monetary “gifts” to qualified service members who need help paying closing costs. Makinghomeaffordable.gov has information on foreclosure alternatives available to struggling homeowners. And buyers can calculate their VA Loan eligibility at www.veteransunited.com.]

The Naked Truth

via www.weknowmemes.com

What’s the true sign that spring has sprung? No, it’s not the crocuses, the bunnies, or the pussy willows.

You know spring is here, because I shaved my knees this week.

Now, you might be thinking, “Well, that’s an inappropriate way to start a column.” Stick with me – you’ll soon realize that news of my recent knee-shaving is actually the perfect launching point for a deeply philosophical endeavor.

You see, knee-shaving is not exactly a regular occurrence in my life. In fact, from October through March, the prickly hairs on my knees remain completely undisturbed. And as long as we’re being brutally honest, I’ll admit it: During the winter, I really only shave my ankles and armpits.

“Thanks for sharing,” you’re probably saying, “but what’s so philosophical about your personal hygiene habits?”

Listen folks, this is about more than just hairy knees. It’s about bodily exposure, natural inhibitions, the new meaning of modesty, and the pressure to conform to modern trends.

Ever since the founding of this great nation, America has been about one thing: freedom. More than any other country on Earth, we value certain individual liberties that we feel are our inalienable rights as human beings.

But in today’s modern culture, the need to escape from confining norms, no matter how practical or reasonable, has reached new extremes. The most obvious form of this human drive to break free from expectations and conventions, is our clothing.

Or the lack of it, to be more precise.

Ever since the 1920s flappers shocked their Victorian mothers by showing their ankles, exposure has been trendy. As the decades passed, that itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini got smaller and smaller; until today, when a perfectly acceptable bathing suit consists of about six square inches of Spandex and a few strings.

Modesty, which used to be a widely-recognized virtue, is now seen as prudish, frumpy, and frankly, uncool. In fact, it is now so fashionable to expose body parts, even flagrant nudity has become Bohemian.

Pop culture reflects this shift in our culture, with nudity-themed television shows such as “Naked Dating,” “Naked and Afraid,” “Naked Castaways,” “Buying Naked,” and “Skin Wars” popping up in TV broadcast schedules. Furthermore, Nudists are now “Naturalists” who are celebrated and no longer banished to the unaccepted fringe of modern society.

“We’re all born naked,” you might be thinking, “so what’s the big deal?” Certainly, shedding one’s clothing can be liberating and should not be seen as the scourge of humankind. Anyone who has ever seen a toddler rip their own diaper off and run buck naked through the house giggling knows that, on some level, nudity is a natural inclination.

I will never forget the day that my mother and I were painting my daughters’ room. We let my youngest, Lilly, play nearby while we rolled Sherwin Williams “Demur Rose” onto the white walls. While tackling the intricacies of the trim, we failed to notice that Lilly had toddled downstairs and out into the backyard. We panicked for a few moments before we saw her out the bedroom window, completely naked, petting the neighbor’s cat.

After returning from her naked safari, Lilly reported, “Kitty-cat no like my nakee stuff.”

Unlike Lilly, I’ve always been unusually modest, even during my swim team days back in high school and college, when I had to shower with twenty other females on a daily basis. I kept myself covered whenever possible, but my teammates’ attitudes ran the gamut, including Michelle Gordon, who we lovingly nicknamed “Flesh” because she would strip down to her birthday suit as soon as we set foot in the locker room.

So what am I saying?

In all my old-fashioned modesty, I have ironically become the ultimate non-conformist in today’s bare-it-all society. I might shave my knees each spring, but you won’t see me wearing a crop top and Daisy Dukes just because the bees are buzzing. The sun can shine all it wants, but I won’t put on anything with spaghetti straps, a plunging neckline or a mini skirt. And no matter how hot it gets, I won’t squeeze my 49-year-old-mother-of-three frame into a string bikini.

(You’re welcome.)

Hayden, Age 2

Hayden, Age 2

Mind over manners

airsickness bag“Now boarding … Group C … at Gate 19,” the agent announced over the loudspeakers. There were only a handful of poor slobs like me left in the line. The 737 was pretty packed, and since Southwest operates on a first-come-first-served basis, we were in for a real treat.

Only a few of the dreaded middle seats remained. The lucky passengers who snagged the isle and window seats looked up at us clutching our gigantic carry-ons, as if to say, “Don’t even think about squeezing in here between us.”

So I lumbered on, until I got to the back of the plane and had to take the last space left, which was between a heavyset man against the window, and a little old lady on the isle. I gestured with my hand to the middle seat, and their facial expressions replied, “Oh, terrific. Thanks for ruining my trip.”

Somehow, I wedged into my seat without banging the old lady in the head with my carry-on. I kicked it three times to jam it under the seat in front of me, and tried to settle in for the two-hour flight to Dayton. 

The man beside me was politely trying to be small, with his arms clasped unnaturally on top of his tensed round belly, and his thick knees hitched in tight. However, he was a human radiator, emanating a steady stream of sweltering breath, body heat, and general male exhaust. I reached up to the tiny air valve, otherwise known as the spewer of contagion, but it was already all the way open.

Southwest Airlines’ employees are known for their jokes, and I could hear people in the rows ahead laughing at something the flight attendant said during her “just in case we plummet to our death” spiel.

My stomach took a few nauseating dips during the bumpy take off which is to be expected, but the turbulence continued. The soggy airport tuna wrap I’d gobbled back at the gate inched it’s way back up my esophagus, as the Captain quipped, “Whoever that is shaking the plane … stop it!”

As a child, I was prone to motion sickness. Any drive of more than 20 minutes had to include a stop on the side of the road so Lisa could “toss her cookies.” One time, when I went with my father to Pittsburgh, I did just that. I’d eaten a fistful of Nutter Butter Cookies before getting into my father’s Buick, and somewhere along Route 286, they came back up. Problem was, the Buick door was so huge, my father had to run around to help me open it, and didn’t make it in time. Those old Buicks had a million nooks and crannies in their naugahyde dashboards. After that, we couldn’t use the car’s heat or air conditioning without being blasted with an odoriferous reminder of that day.

The turbulence was so bad, the pilot ordered the flight attendants to stay in their seats, and as a result, there would be no beverage service and no bathroom breaks. An every-man-for-himself mentality set in, and the guy beside me released his tensed muscles, allowing his full girth to invade my already confined space. The little old lady was so still, I worried that she might’ve died. But I realized that she’d been reading the same Spinal Surgery ad in the airline magazine for the last hour, and knew she must’ve fallen asleep.

Jealous, I prayed for sleep to deliver me from this putrid purgatory. Sometime during the second hour, my motion sickness degraded into a fitful, panting fever. As the plane began it’s rocky descent toward Ohio, I used my last ounce of sanity to grope for the airsickness bag.

Despite my delirium, I wondered, am I being rude? Shouldn’t I warn my seat mates that I’m about to become an erupting tuna salad volcano? Would Emily Post tell me to put a napkin on my lap first? Is there any etiquette to upchucking?

Panicked by the impending crisis of protocol and puke, I lowered my mouth to the little white bag and prayed for guidance …

The plane wheels squealed as they bumped the runway. “Welcome to Dayton,” our pilot joked, “home of … stuff.” Everyone laughed, and I managed a weak smile too, relieved that my mind and my manners were finally on solid ground.

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