Tag Archives: children

The Grand Moments

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I remember—exactly—how my red, wrinkly, newborn babies’ feet felt to my fingers the first time I touched them. I can feel, even now, twenty-eight years later, the heat from my husband’s breath when he bent his head to kiss me for the first time.

Of course, these moments are the very definition of cliché. Milestones like these are common to us all. They are the high-water tides that break over our heads, ripple out in every direction, and determine the course of the rest of our lives.

Often, it’s the firsts in our lives that define us—a new job, a fortunate meeting, or a path taken or not taken in a meandering journey. We have no idea what the repercussions will be when we live, as we so rarely do except in these clichéd firsts, entirely present in the moment.

When these freeze-frame moments of incalculable import come out of nowhere when we least expect them, and when there is little or no time to consider, weigh, or debate, that’s when we often choose to leap off the high dive to see what will happen next.

I’m fascinated by these grand moments. They are small slices of our lives in terms of time, but they have the power to change us irrevocably for better or worse and for all time. The split second when a choice must be made that will define our own personal ethics forevermore—to do the right thing when no one is looking, for example—will ultimately declare who we are, what we believe deep-down, and what we can or can’t live with for the rest of our days.

What makes a person decide in a fraction of a second to risk his or her life to rescue a stranger? What drives another to a moment of infidelity? How does a lone protester suddenly find the courage to stand up to oppressors?

What we leave behind when we die are the chain reactions begun by each of us in our “first” moments, our split-second decisions, and the choices we make when we are courageous enough to take a chance.

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Pre-dawn Mopping

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Is it wrong to mop at 5:30 am? What if it’s the only time I have to mop? Does that make a difference? Is pre-dawn mopping a sign of mental instability? After threatening to do so for years, am I finally, truly, losing my mind?

I hate summer. I do. I don’t care if all the rest of you love it. I dread it. It’s one long, hot, humid slog for me. Sure, I can summon up a vodka-and fruit-juice-induced smile when I have to, but my heart’s not in it. I don’t like to be hot. Even as a kid, I never liked baking in the sun like a beached whale. I like schedules, a bustling routine, and the threat of wind, cold, and the warmth of hearth and home to look forward to when the sun goes down early on winter evenings.

I know I’m in the minority on this, maybe a minority of one. Heard it. Don’t want to hear it again. When all my kids are home for summer, it’s a madhouse here. Nobody gets up at the same time. My kids have camps, activities, and summer jobs with weird hours. My teenagers believe they are entitled to stay out til curfew every night and then come home at midnight, turn on their stereos, shower, chat with friends, and watch movies til the wee hours—never mind that my husband and I still have the same work schedule as always. There are so many seatings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that I feel like the cook on a cruise ship.

I tell you this to explain how I ended up mopping at 5:30 am like it was a perfectly reasonable, sane, smart thing to do.

Every day, my goal is to do a bit of cleaning, about an hour’s worth, whenever I can fit it in. Mondays, I dust and clean glass. Party on! Tuesdays, it’s sweep and vacuum fun. Mopping and cursing on Wednesday. Thursdays are the worst: bathroom atrocities. Fridays are kitchen duty. Fridays are horrendous if I clean the stove and do a major fridge clean out, or they can be a slacker day with a mostly countertop clean. Depends on my mood. I like to keep Fridays flexible. It’s the beginning of the weekend, after all.

OF COURSE, I have to skip some days. The price for that: double dip with chores on another day. It’s not a perfect plan, not by a long shot, but it’s something—a bone to throw to the cleaning gods. I like to say I clean like the maid. In other words, I do a so-so job. I don’t clean like I live here and personally care about how clean things are. I clean like it’s my job to do it, and I do the least I can get away with and still get paid.

I’ve tried all sorts of mind games with house cleaning over the years, like splitting jobs with my husband and kids and hiring outside help when I could afford it, but I’ve never really found anything that worked for our family. The truth is: I’m a neat freak. My husband is neat, too, but only because he’s been married to me for 26 years. He does it to make me happy, but he doesn’t NEED the clean like I do. My kids are messy, filthy, disgusting creatures who feel no natural inclination toward cleanliness at all and who don’t care one bit what I think about that.

Therein lies the inevitable conflict. Although I awoke with joy to Wednesday morning mop day, I knew from experience that my kids would be racked out in bed until noon. I could wait around all day on their rooms to be vacant. I don’t know how this happened, honestly, but I have somehow been reduced to the status of highly educated hotel maid. I wait around every morning for the occupants to check out so I can clean their rooms, gather laundry, pick up trash and half-eaten food items, collect glassware and assorted flotsam and jetsam, and generally wonder how anyone who shares my DNA could leave a dribbling pudding cup in the bathroom.

I sat on the stairs to contemplate my options: Would I get the chair or life if I went in my kids’ rooms and knocked them into next week with my mop? Would it be worth the hassle of rousting them out of bed and getting them to pitch in, which is certainly the lesson a responsible parent would teach? Nope. I’m just too tired for that, I decided. Suffice it to say, even though I probably should have been, as usual, counting my blessings, I was not.

And, yes, I even make myself tired sometimes.

Then I had a mopping epiphany. My three teenagers sleep like the dead. (Which is another thing I blame them for, even though it’s illogical and unfair. They can sleep through anything: a noisy burglar, 4th of July fireworks, and tornado sirens. I battle insomnia on a nightly basis, and I’m convinced I could be a nicer parent if I could just get more sleep.) I knew without a doubt that I could open those bedroom doors, cruise in like a woman with a plan, mop, and the ungrateful wretches WOULD NEVER KNOW I WAS THERE. The floors would be dry before they poked their entitled tootsies from under the covers.

Grabbing my mop and bucket, I decided to go for it. I charged into my son’s bedroom, a woman on a mission with a space-launch-worthy deadline. Sure, it was a little early, but I was up, and I wanted my jobs out of the way. I made it all the way around the bed without waking the 6’3”, 185-pound lump sprawled diagonally across the bed. I finished the bathroom in between my boys’ rooms and was just about to retreat gleefully when I accidently slapped my soaking mop into the side of a long arm dangling over the edge of the bed.

An eye peeled open. I decided to brazen my way through the early morning interaction. I didn’t have a lot of choices.

“Mom?” my son growled.

“Good morning, son! It’s a beautiful day!” I announced.

One hairy eyeball slid from the top of my mismatched exercise clothes down to my hot-pink house slippers, over the mop I held defensively in front of me like a sword from Braveheart, and finally landed with a blink on the bucket of dirty water I clutched tightly to my side like I’d just baptized someone with it in the Jordan River.

“What are you doing in here, Mom?” my teenage son asked.

I decided to go with a cheery response.

“I’m mopping, of course. It’s Wednesday. I’ll be out in two minutes,” I responded.

“Seriously, Mom? It’s 5:30 in the morning. This is totally whacked. You know that, right?” he demanded in a sleepy voice.

“Well . . . yeah. Possibly. I’m doing the best I can, son,” I admitted with a sigh.

Sadly, this is who I am. I’m afraid my well-deserved epitaph is going to be like the ones we chuckle over while standing in line for the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World: “Here lies Mel. She did the best she could,” or maybe, “Here lies Mel. She meant well.”

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Chance Encounters, The Chaos Theory, and Jesus

Have you ever noticed how our smallest encounters with other people, even perfect strangers, can be life-changing? These days, my life seems to be moving at Mach speed. The visual metaphor that pops in my mind to describe this pace is the military’s new high-tech wave rider which promises to get a person—or a bomb, I presume—half-way around the world in less than ten minutes. Have you seen the footage on CNN? It looks like a toy Batman or James Bond would play with. Imagine: Europe in under an hour—traveling at nearly 4,000 miles per hour. Talk about jet lag!

This week, I dropped off my firstborn at college, registered my other two kids for a new school year, tried to work a bit on a new book, fought the good fight against steroid-engorged dust bunnies, cooked, washed clothes, sang in the choir, and attended to the usual births, deaths, and cultural milestones in the lives of friends traveling life’s path beside me. My forties have been busy, let me tell you. I don’t like rushing headlong through my day. I feel like I never finish a thought. If I were a dog, a squirrel would undoubtedly dash across my path every few minutes. It makes me wonder if I’m losing my mind. Seriously. I might REALLY be losing my mind this time. My brain feels leaky—like an overflowing colander.

Because of this frenetic pace, I often fail to stop and savor moments like I should. Do you do this, too? I don’t want to live the rest of my life this way! I feel like I just barely keep my nose above water. After watching the Olympics, let’s just say that if I were a water polo player, I’d be dead.

At the most inconvenient moment possible, when the washing machine is overflowing, and the cat has escaped out the front door into traffic, and my daughter can’t find her cheerleader ribbon, and my mother-in-law is talking to me on the telephone–all at the same time–that’s the moment when I usually experience an epiphany, or as I prefer to call it:  a smack down by Jesus.

A smack down by Jesus is the Southern colloquial equivalent of the standard literary term, “epiphany.” I am like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” I, too, “would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Yep. That’s me, or to be more grammatically precise: I am she.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? I know, but it is. Trust me. This is the kind of useless information I have embedded in the wrinkles of my brain. If you want to arrange flowers on the cheap, feed a bunch of hungry boys, write a quick essay, sing a little, or check your grammar, I’m your woman. I’d have been a heck of a catch a few centuries ago. Here–not so much. Try making a living with my talents. I dare you. I’m not a prodigy by any stretch of the imagination. My gifts don’t make for deep pockets.

End of digression.

Where you sit on a plane, the time you walk into a building to go to work, where you choose to see a movie—any of these random events can change your life forever. I have a friend whose parents were scheduled to tour the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001–at 11:00 AM. I know someone who met her husband on the side of the interstate when he stopped to help her change a tire.

What if . . . that’s the question. Chance. Fate. Kismet. Predestination. Luck. Pick a reason. All of our lives can change on a dime—for good or for ill.

The Chaos theory in economics says that there is an inherent order in the seemingly random nature of the world. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Most religions claim there is a divine plan or a benevolent God overseeing it all, at the very least. If I didn’t believe that, I don’t think I could get out of bed in the morning.

The meaning of life is a debate above my pay grade, to say the least, but I’m determined be more open to the small, seemingly insignificant events unraveling around me. I believe with all my heart that the greatest joys in life lie in the smallest details—ordinary moments that are easily overlooked.

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Washed Up

In an act of pure spitefulness every year, the appliance god chooses December to call the roll up yonder in appliance heaven and gather up faithful senior citizen stoves, refrigerators, freezers, and furnaces from all over the country to their final landfill resting place. This is a sad day in ordinary American households like mine. In today’s economy, the purchase of a new appliance usually means credit card debt or points from a loan shark. Same difference, I think.

December is the most expensive month of the year without adding unexpected, big-ticket appliance purchases. December requires shopping, cooking, decorating, and entertaining–even for the most Scrooge-minded among us. I dread squeezing an extra bottle of wine out of the December grocery budget, so the demise of an appliance makes me want to hide under the bedcovers.

You know what happens next, right?

I blame our recent washing machine loss on the water heater that exploded in our basement last summer. Apparently, this is the way you know you need a new one. Determined to avoid a future water heater disaster, I asked our plumber, “How do you know when you need a new water heater?” His reply: “This happens.”

The plumber thought that was hilarious. Me—not so much.

When the water heater blew up in July, it flooded our basement. Naturally, we were on our way to the Gulf Coast for the single long weekend all summer when we actually planned to be out of town. We were piggybacking a family vacation weekend onto the end of a work conference.  Two nights of family time—that didn’t seem too much to ask out of an entire summer.

Let me tell you something I learned: You know who your friends are when you have to call them to vacuum water out of your basement. If you’re stretched out on a lounger on the beach soaking up the rays and clutching a drink with a tiny umbrella in it while your friend sucks up gallons of water from your carpet with a shop vac, you better bring home one heck of a nice thank-you present.

Although no one can explain it, everyone agrees that when one appliance goes south, every other appliance within 100 feet tends to give up the ghost, too. It’s some type of appliance union solidarity statement. Previously healthy stoves, refrigerators, and clothes dryers–which have been gamely plugging along with nothing more than a little duct tape support for years–suddenly develop life-threatening tics and God-awful sounds. Within days, every appliance in the house is on its way to the street. Appliance diseases are highly contagious. Everyone knows that.

As a parent, I am always on the lookout for teaching moments in daily life. Sickly appliances present perfect case studies for teenagers with regard to financial choices. It’s a quick lesson in the distinction between “want” and “need.” For example, mama wants a fancy, new gas stove, but mama needs a working washing machine.

Nothing says “Happy Holidays!” to one’s spouse better than a marital field trip to the discount store to replace an appliance.  My not-even-seven-years-old front-loading, Duet washing machine was officially pronounced DNR on December 15th. No amount of cursing, kicking, Google-trolling for advice, YouTube video watching, or frantic emails and texts to handy friends and family members resulted in a Christmas miracle. I responded as any mother of three laundry-producing monsters would likely respond.  I let ‘er rip with a stream of colorful, hair-curling, heartfelt obscenities—in every language in which I claim gutter fluency. Yes, indeed. I cursed that hunk of future landfill metal into oblivion.

After I got that out of my system, I poured myself a Christmas toddy and sat on the basement steps to contemplate my options. The washing machine was groaning loudly enough to be heard on three floors. It sounded exactly like a metal canoe being dragged down a driveway paved with oyster shells. I’ve since learned that sound is easily diagnosed as a drum bearings problem. If you hear this noise in your own basement, your washer is toast. Trust me.  Save yourself a service call. Every few minutes, I caught sight of the washing machine in my peripheral vision, and another stream of profanity leapt from my lips like a geyser at Yellowstone.

The facts were indisputable. I could not afford to buy a new washing machine in December. The fat man was scheduled to squeeze down my chimney in less than two weeks, and my teenagers had penned very expensive lists. (Years ago, my middle child asked me if I’d like him to put something for me on his Christmas list for Santa. “After all,” he reminded me, “It’s free.” Thoughtful, I thought. Those were sweet days.)

On a regular day—not counting tablecloths and cloth napkins used for holiday entertaining, I wash four loads of laundry. You read that correctly. I had to replace the washer. It was as simple as that, and sooner rather than later. Like kudzu left unattended in the South where I live, dirty laundry would creep up my basement stairs in a matter of days, spill into the hallway, and slowly smother sofas, beds, and eventually the children sleeping in their beds and cars in the driveway. It was time to suck it up and shop.

Armed with sale circulars, Internet price comparisons, and a bad attitude, I strong-armed my husband into accompanying me to the store.

“Why do you need me to go with you?” he whined. “I don’t know anything about washing machines!”

“I know that,” I said, “but we live in a sexist world. You’re more likely to get a good deal than I am from the appliance guys.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he claimed.

“I agree, but it’s the truth,” I told him. “I’m not condoning sexism in the market place! I’m just acknowledging it. I can’t change the world today. I need a cheap washer. You’re more likely to get that than I am. Come with me now before my head explodes.”

“Fine,” he capitulated, not very nicely.

Our entry into the appliance store confirmed all my worst expectations. My husband was greeted with a handshake and a hearty, “What are you shopping for today, sir?” I, on the other hand, was ignored like a big, hairy mole everyone could clearly see but no one wanted to call attention to.

Sure, it’s possible that I was ignored because I was clutching numerous newspaper circulars haphazardly in my hands, and my reading glasses were perched precariously on my nose. These are dollar-store beauties, so they are most often slightly askew, an accessory that adds a certain je ne sais quoi to a slight whiff of crazy I sometimes emit when I’m focused on a mission. I am quite sure I gave off a loaded-for-bear, don’t-try-to-pull-a-fast-one-on-me-buddy vibe of scary, menopausal woman in serious panic mode.

“WE NEED TO BUY A NEW WASHING MACHINE!” I announced loudly to the air in front of me. Clearly, my announcement was a jarring interruption in the friendly football bowl game jawing going on between my husband and the salesman.

I was not in the mood.

Once I had everyone’s attention, I barreled straight ahead.

“My front-loading washing machine died. I hate it. I should never have bought it. I knew it would leak one day and flood my basement, and it did. I don’t want another front-loader ever again. Also, I want knobs. Do you have anything with old-fashioned knobs instead of computer screens, which always malfunction? I can’t get anyone to come to my house to repair an appliance for love or money. I want a washing machine that will last. Do you have anything like that? Nobody makes anything that lasts anymore. Everything is disposable. It’s so wasteful! It’s bad for the environment and just plain wrong on so many levels. What does it say about our culture that everything is designed to be replaced rather than repaired? It’s a metaphor for the decline of civilization; don’t you agree?”

My tirade was greeted with complete silence on the showroom floor.

I looked up from my papers, over the top of my reading glasses, and made eye contact with the salesman. He was standing side-by-side with my husband like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Both had their hands in their pockets and their mouths hanging open.

“What?” I asked, mystified by the fish-mouth response.

“I think there’s some Tylenol in the car if you want it,” my husband offered.

“I don’t need Tylenol!” I responded, outraged at the male urge to medicate the hysterical female in their midst.

“Could we focus on the appliances, please?” I demanded in my most withering tone.

“Absolutely,” my husband answered wisely.

The salesman studied his clipboard in silence. He was clearly afraid to make eye contact with me again.

“I guess you aren’t interested in hearing about the warranty today, are you, ma’am?”

“Not in the slightest,” I responded.

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