Monday, July 30, 2012

Yellow Car

If necessity is the mother of invention, desperation is its grandmother.

I’m driving home from picking up two grandsons from school.  They are both strapped into the back seat when the yelling starts.  I hear a swat, then a howl followed by a bloodcurdling battle cry, and the scrimmage begins.

I’m merging onto a stretch of expressway that resembles a French braid and our three lives depend on my total concentration.

          “Let’s play a game.”  I shout over the battle of fists coming from the back seat of my Jeep.

They answer with another smack and another cry of pain.

“There can only be one winner; everyone else will be losers.” I singsong the word “losers” knowing that might divert their attention.

I merge left thanks to the kindness of a young man in a yellow car.

The older one asks over the screams of his younger brother, “What kind of game?”

“Let’s count trucks.  We like trucks.” I try not to sound desperate.

“That’s no fun.  That isn’t special.” There is a whine in his voice.  He detests math in every form and cannot be seduced into doing “work.”

I merge left again and this time I give the yellow car a break.

“Yellow cars,” I say.  “Have you two ever noticed how few there are?” The game will be fair. The three-year-old knows his colors and can count up to twenty.

The back seat is quiet now as I merge left one last time.  We are now safely on our route, and I settle in for the 30-minute ride. “Whoever sees a yellow car or truck first gets to claim it, and the person with the highest number by the time we get to grandma’s is the winner.”

“One,” the oldest says, claiming the yellow car we pass on our right.

*   *   *

Thus we three invented a game that we feel is uniquely ours.   

They love it so much the boys teach it to everyone they know, and it has now become a familiar game among our families and friends. Because some of us will do anything to win, we “clarified” the rules to include any yellow vehicle that moves on its own or is hitched to a vehicle with an engine. Busses, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, or a yellow crop duster count, but trailers or other equipment must be presently hitched to a moving vehicle. Unattached trailers do not count.

A yard full of yellow school busses or a lot full of yellow construction trucks is a gold mine for its claimant, but you must have someone witness your yellow find. Stating it was “back there” is a no. Also, the vehicle must be “mostly” yellow and can have markings of another color but it cannot be another color with yellow markings.  (Like I said, some folks will do anything to win.)

In case of a dispute, the oldest person inside the car is the final judge and quitting before reaching the Finish Line is equivalent to forfeiting but you can choose who to give your points if the game continues without you.

My grandsons have recently come up with a more challenging version of Yellow Car.  They now count “police cars” – any version thereof: sheriffs, constables, patrol, etc. As my oldest says, “They are even rarer on the streets.”

Out of the mouth of babes. 

Monday, July 23, 2012


Alone won’t let you wear your fancy bracelet, the kind that has a latch and needs three hands to get it onto your wrist.  

Alone says no to that becoming dress, the one with the tight bodice that won’t give so you can scootch it up in back, and you can zip it all the way to the top.  

Alone thinks it’s a bad idea to bake your favorite cake recipe or that meatloaf you love to make with real mashed potatoes and the green bean casserole - unless you want to eat it all week long or freeze the remainder into a dozen plastic lunch containers.

Alone won’t listen to your joke or your story, and it gives useless advice on your latest wacky idea.   

Alone doesn’t care if you steal the covers, hide the remote, or lie about the bathroom scales.

Alone gladly gives up the second seat at the theatre or the symphony so you can use it for your purse and coat.

Alone lets you be the hero of your life’s story, wear the pants, be the boss of you. It gladly lets you swat at the spider, squash the water bug, and shoo the salamander, but then refuses to help dispose of their dead bodies afterwards.

Alone ignores you as you struggle with that clumsy box Fed Ex just left on your front step.  It looks the other way as you drag the trash bin to the curb and just sits, like a lump, in the front seat of the car while you figure out how to jump start the dead battery.

Alone doesn’t take up much room at the restaurant at your table for one. It lets you eat all the tortilla chips and won’t steal your guacamole.

Alone doesn’t care that you watch too many musicals and chick flicks, and doesn’t eat your dark chocolate candy or your Blue Bell then hide the empties at the bottom of the trash can.  

Alone won’t get you a bandage, warm you a bowl of chicken soup, or check on those noises coming from the kitchen in the middle of the night.

Alone doesn’t care about your feelings but that is okay.  You can live alone.  It’s when Alone sometimes brings home an unwanted guest – Loneliness - most often it is in the middle of the night or on a weekend, and suddenly being alone looks different.   

Loneliness amplifies everything, and everything you see loses its color or its fun or its warmth. Problems become insurmountable.

You hate bracelets and hard-to-zip dresses.  You want to haggle with someone over the covers or the remote or what movies to watch at the cinema.  You wish someone was stealing your chocolate or the guacamole off your Number One Mexican Special.  You want someone (besides your pillows or the cats) who talks and listens, laughs and argues, and takes turns with you taking out the trash.  Best of all, you want someone – another human being – who cares enough about you to get you a Band Aid, eat your cooking, and get up in the middle of the night to check for zombies.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Raising Jake

             Jacob’s mommy needed a babysitter for the next eighteen months while she returned to college for an advanced degree, and I was two months into a hard-earned retirement and wasn’t very excited about this request.

My baby grandson was five months old, so he couldn’t talk, couldn’t crawl, and couldn’t stop filling his diaper.  Up to now, his life had been spent eating, sleeping, and smiling at everyone around him.  If I couldn’t take care of him, the alternative was to send him to a daycare.

I had announced my retirement after thirty-seven years in education. I took the engraved clock I was given as a memento for all my dedication (it has never worked and only gathers dust), and was looking forward to doing nothing but recovering my health and sanity. I suffered from a nervous tic in my right eye, a compulsive eating disorder, and work-induced PTSD. I no longer smiled nor slept and my blood pressure read like a Texas Lotto billboard. 

I don’t know who needed who more, but while I figured it out, I decided to help with Jake.  

For the next twelve months, I ditched my executive suits for Capri’s and Wal-Mart sweat pants. My power lunches downgraded to diet frozen dinners and PBJ’s, and I spent many happy hours at McDonald’s and the neighborhood park.

After years studying all about learning theories, educational innovations, and other academic mumbo-jumbo, it was time to put it into practice.  

When he wasn’t eating, sleeping, or filling his diaper, Jake and I read.  We started with one-word books and soon progressed to the peek-a-boos and the kind you press a button and it makes noise.

We explored everything both indoors and outside, and long before he could talk, we conversed.  He pointed to things when I asked him questions.  He went and got objects when I asked him for them.

He learned to crawl reaching for his favorite books, and he learned to stand picking out a book off his book shelf.  Once he learned to walk, he would toddle over to me with armloads of books he wanted us to read. He also learned to sing and dance to his grandma’s favorite music videos.  

At the end of one year, it was time to go our separate ways. I hated saying goodbye to Jacob, but he is very social and needed kids his own age.  I needed folks a little closer to mine. I was still available if he needed me, but we needed to send him to daycare.

Before we parted, he told me I was his best friend (and I was probably his first), but there will be many more friends in his life. I will always count him as one of mine.  The year I spent raising Jake changed me forever.

Monday, July 9, 2012

My Summer Vacation - The Up-To-Now Untold Story

To get to the pagoda, we had to march through a Chinese village. Our tour guide warned us to ignore the gauntlet of street peddlers and beggars, then he asked us to turn on our voice boxes so that he could lecture as we walked. I wasn’t feeling well, so I was already grumpy about the strenuous trek ahead.  

Thirty minutes later, we reached a long suspension bridge and beyond it was the pagoda. We all started across, and the more we jumped and stomped, the more it moved and swayed – not a good thing for those of us who suffer from vertigo and were already feeling queasy. I yelled at all the frolickers in my mean, teacher voice, and everyone made it to the opposite side a little more subdued.

Our guide rattled on about the wonders of the pagoda and how nowadays visitors approach via the bridge and the easy walkway, but the monks who once owned the well-protected fortress had to climb the rock face using only hand and toe holds.

According to legend, those who venture inside and attempt the many steps will achieve heaven.  He warned though that because of the heavy flow of tourist traffic, once we started up there would be no turning back and no slowing down; everyone had to move in one direction. 

Several of my fellow travelers sneaked peeks at me but avoided eye contact in case I yelled at them again. I could guess what they were thinking – maybe I should stay back and wait for the group by the suspension bridge.  

I don’t remember much about the guide’s lecture - gods, legends, blah-blah-blah – (I was concentrating on the formidable task before me), but I do remember the dark, the dampness, and the narrow, itty-bitty steps.  Heat, illness, claustrophobia, and my vertigo - I was in full panic mode, but no one calls me a coward. The steps got narrower, shorter (only the tips of my shoes fit on each rung), and more slippery the closer to heaven we got.

I. Was. In. Hell.

I ended up doing the last few landings on my hands and knees.  I didn’t cry but I think I cussed. (I know I was thinking it.) I don’t know if I imagined it or not, but someone used a shoulder and both hands on my rear a couple of times.  I hope it was HoneyBunch. I remember him talking to me and urging me on. God bless you, sweetheart.

I was so, SO happy when I hit sunshine at the top that I wanted to kiss everyone in sight (even the bridge bouncers), but I recovered some of my shredded dignity and resisted the impulse.  When it was time to head back (and my BP was quasi-normal again), I inched my way across the suspension bridge.  It was a breeze in comparison to what I had survived inside the pagoda.  

HoneyBunch keeps telling me that he was so proud that I persevered through my fears, and I tell him that the metaphor of the pagoda steps is not lost on me.

Many of us will reach heaven on our hands and knees, yelling and kicking all the way.  Though we are dependent on the kindness and urging of others, in the end we each have to achieve it on our own.

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to Celebrate the 4th of July

Dad, as Man of the House, you are In Charge of Entertainment and Grilling, so

1.    Take off early, use Mom’s sedan, and head out of town.  Stop at the first fireworks stand that looks clear of the peering eyes of local law enforcement.  Buy the big, deluxe package of fireworks for the big kids (you and your buds), and a couple of dozen sparklers for the little kids. Stow the loot in the trunk of Mom’s car and take a circuitous route back into town in case you are being followed.

2.    Stop at the first Home Depot or Lowes you come across and buy an American flag kit.  Make sure and read the instructions and get the one that says “Easy to install.”  Also stop by the garden department and buy heavy-duty yard spray – something that will kill all biting insects within a 200-yard radius.

3.    Next drive to a Wal-Mart and buy charcoal, lighter fluid, a Bic lighter, and (again) an easy to install yard game (horse shoes, a volleyball kit, water guns).

4.    Drive home.  Unload loot.  Mow the lawn. Install flag and yard game equipment.

5.    Wait until the cover of dark (if you are under drought restrictions) to water the yard well.  You don’t want “the kids” to start an accidental fire when they play with the sparklers (or the Black Cats).

Mom, you’re In charge of The Healthy, Nutritious Menu and The Overall Ambiance.

6.    First decide on the dessert(s).  Will it be the tri-color fruit, cookie pizza or the ever-popular American flag cake (you know the one – the red velvet sheet cake covered in white frosting, blueberries and strawberries creating the realistic flag design)?

7.    Dad overcooks everything, so go easy on everyone’s digestive tract and load up on hot dogs and hamburgers. Go for the healthy, whole wheat route or go processed all the way.  Your choice.

8.    One can NEVER go wrong with a side of cold watermelon or Blue Bell.

9.    Don’t forget to stop by the mall and take advantage of the summer sales on shorts, tops, and cute sandals to match. Dad could probably use a new shirt.

Oh yeah –

10. Somewhere among all these “to do’s,” let us all try and remember the real reason we’re enjoying this holiday:  Our American freedom – not once in the last 236 years has it ever, truly been “free” – thousands and thousands of American patriots (and their families) paid for it with their lives and continue to do so while we enjoy our picnics.