RIP little red bus

21 02 2010

In these old houses, one innocent project always leads the way to ten unexpected detours.  I suppose it starts back at getting our bamboo fence put in last summer.  Next was having the massive, ugly white pine taken out of the front yard which opened up the view to the porch and exposed how badly we need a paint job.  That put me in a bind because I can’t for the life of me figure out what TWO colors I want the trim painted…the body of the house will stay the same but I just need to settle on TWO.  But they should be in line with the roof color, right?  And the gutter work we had done with the new roof two summers ago…

That led to the fact that the basement window frames are showing their 100 year-plus age and needed serious work -which lead me to thinking about finally having glass-block windows put in, thus doing away with the frames.  So we got the estimate months ago and found that getting work done in the winter is cheaper.  Sure – no brainer but they have to do the install before the end of February before their busy time of Home and Garden trade shows starts in March.

That is where my funk began.  It messed with all my glorious plans of escaping the gray and saving my sanity with a Cali trip…not to mention my Best Boy / Mimi deficit.  Being old enough for an AARP card, it is time to act my age, bite the bullet and make a grown-up decision.  Trip cancelled and install scheduled for Tuesday of this week, although I have a sneaking suspicion it will be canceled till the following week since they are predicting 8″ of snow over the next four days.  THAT is a 25 lb. bag of salt in my open wound.

They need access to all six windows from the inside.  So I swallow the bitter pill and begin to do what is seems like I have been doing for the last two years in Billy’s basement on my own rat’s nest of stuff.  I am finally figuring out why I’ve been in such a bad mood for so long.

It is an emotionally exhausting process on top of the horrid assault to my sinuses to be digging through years of memories.  There are almost 40 boxes of books that represent the grueling years of graduate and post-graduate study that are going to be donated to a not-for-profit that takes theological libraries and redistributes them around the world.  That was a lot of groceries not purchased…alot of old cars that randomly wouldn’t start…rental, after rental, after rental…and no cruises on the Caribbean.

Then there are the boxes that held the early creative years of Best Boy and Shop Girl.  Pieces of wood, colored with magic marker which became instrument panels for F-16’s.  Dolls made of socks, buttons and a little glued on lace.  Glow-worms, Pound Puppies, a Cabbage Patch named Phoebe, a box of micro mini cars and helicopters, a remote control 4×4 that lit his face up like a Christmas tree…this is the hard part.

They aren’t just old toys.  They are old memories.  I am clinging to the Clean House mantra that keeping the toy doesn’t preserve the memory.  I know that.  It’s just the stuff of life that has gotten us to the place we are at today.  It has no real value now that its weight has doubled with dust mites.

I am glad that I can at least snap a digital photo here and there before things disappear into the black recesses of a contractor’s bag bound for the Salvation Army.  I know that in this town there are hundreds of families who’s kids live for the Saturday trip to the resale stores to claim their own $1 prize.  And if it keeps these trinkets out of the landfill one more year…so be it.

Obviously, there are those things doomed to the blue city garbage bag immediately. Last garbage day that meant 10 bags not counting the loads of recycled cardboard!  When I can find a way to eek a bit more life out of these things, I’m committed to that.  I’m most thrilled to have remembered a Hispanic cultural center / library in town that is willing to take lots and lots of kids books in English and Spanish. It feels like the good they had in my kids’ lives will keep on.

That is really the issue here.  Perceived value.  That is why things have been dragged from pillar to post over the last twenty some odd years because they were “their” possessions.  I always knew this day would come but I never wanted to rush it.  There was enough inherent pain with each move, with each good-bye, with each pulling up of tender roots.  We couldn’t just drive by the places they spent a year here or two years there.  Those places are 4000 miles away.  So I kept the stuff.

Yesterday on Facebook, a friend was looking for some skis.  I quickly replied that Best Boy’s skis of high school years were still leaning against a door frame upstairs.  He stopped by with his two kids to take a look to see if they’d fit the bill.  We even had a pair of ski boots someone had given the Dr. years ago that were the right size.

The six-year-old noticed a bag of Legos on the dining room table and asked about them.  “Oh, those used to be Best Boy’s and I cleaned them up real good so that I’d have a toy or two here when Donny Diva comes to Momo’s house to stay.”  The nine-year-old piped up, “Our Mom threw away all our Legos and never told us.”  I tried to stifle my reaction.  “She DID WHAT???”  I know the whole story and for a few years theirs looked doomed to be a repeat of our as they made two different trips to live in Israel.

There is only so much you can move with you with two kids to settle in unknown surrounds.  How much storage will you have?  Dishes or Legos?  Coats or Cabbage Patch dolls?  I know the story from inside the mom’s brain.  But I also heard the betrayal in that little voice as she said to her dad, “That was our stuff and you never asked us…”

I get it.  I’ve been given permission.  I’m glad to do away with the ball and chain that has been dragging behind us all these years.  But I also know that Shop Girl doesn’t quite understand the tug on my heart since Donny Diva hasn’t started making things yet, drawing on things yet, adoring things yet…she hasn’t doubled over in laughter yet as she sees the places his imagination will take him and with such unlikely tools.

But the truth is still that with Billy’s basement all cleaned out and freshly painted, I don’t miss him less because all that stuff isn’t down there.  And I won’t love Best Boy and Shop Girl one ounce less because I tossed the Little Red Bus.  Nonetheless, it still stings just a little remembering how proud he was to have made it and been picked to be front and center at the year-end program chirping out in English since it was a British School…”The little red bus goes up and down, up and down, up and down.  The little red bus…”

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34 to go

16 02 2010

I thought that the first part was the hardest part – but I think this half is really the killer.  We are on the downward slope.  It should just be a coast from here till Spring but this is when things get really tough.  I don’t like how the radio announcer has a smile in her voice telling us to expect snow the next three days.

Just about a year ago, we got away for the vacation of a lifetime…and now it seems like a lifetime ago, but it wasn’t. Looking at all the photos quietly nestled in my iPhoto library brings some small measure of satisfaction as I re-create the days in my head.  I was there.  It did happen.  I was a lucky, lucky girl.

Then there’s this year.  Lots of things have pressed in making such extravagance absolutely out of the question.  And I’m OK with that.  Really I am.  Really.  Seriously.  No, I really mean it.

This is when the gray seeps into my brain – when Spring seems like it will never ever return again.  There might not ever be another night sitting on the porch in the dark listening to the cicadas.  Surely, something has gone wrong with global warming and we’ll be stuck here in late winter – never to get out. It seems as if every commercial on TV points in the direction of warmer climes.  Target looks like a color wheel exploded and hatched little swim suits and cover-ups even though it hasn’t been warmer than 30º in months.  A friend is headed to Costa Rica…others, Jamaica – still others to Florida.  Best Boy posted an innocent picture of something lovely from Santa Barbara and it sent me careening over the edge.

In an impromptu puke session the other day, the Dr. and I reflected a bit about the very Western mind-set that oozes from every pore of our beings.  You know – the one that says we should seek personal satisfaction and fulfillment in every arena of our lives.  Our jobs should be fulfilling our deepest longings and our “giftedness”.  Our dinner parties should be warm, intimate events with meaningful conversations and long drinks of wine. Every occasion should be a celebration of life.  Our vacations should be…

Who do I think I am to be entitled to any of that?  Do the people in Mumbai living in the slums think these thoughts?  There are thousands of families in Michigan alone still losing their homes to the mortgage crisis and they aren’t thinking about being “foodies”.  There are kids in the inner cities all over this country that may never get out of a six block area.  The earthquake in Haiti DID happened but it seems to have taken a back seat to a big snow storm that took over the headlines. When I am done pouting about how my life doesn’t measure up and I get over being angry that circumstances in my life don’t allow me to do what I want to do…I pause long enough to take a deep breath and an honest inventory of what IS.

There are two cars parked beside my very warm house.  There is enough stuff hanging in the closets to keep dozens of families in threads for a long time.  Our bills have been paid every month during this last year. I have gone to the store to buy groceries every time we were out of essential things like oreos and ice cream.  We have electricity and hot water – clean water for that fact. We live in excess.  Lots and lots of excess.

Suddenly, I hear Billy’s voice echo in the darkest recesses of my spoiled, self-absorbed brain…”Quit your belly achin’!”  So, I will suck it up and get back to my basement.  There’s no better therapy than some early Spring cleaning to unload some of this excess baggage.





after alice

7 02 2010

“What a curious feeling!” said Alice. “I must be shutting up like a telescope!”

And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high, and her face brightened up at the thought that she was now the right size for going through the little door into that lovely garden. First, however, she waited for a few minutes to see if she was going to shrink any further: she felt a little nervous about this; “for it might end, you know,” said Alice to herself; “in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?” And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I expected to be able to write last week with staying in one place and all but I couldn’t.  I brought the Mrs. here while the Dr. was getting his passport stamped again and thought that simplifying my duties under one roof with caregiving the beasties and the Bubbe-Mrs. that my brain would function.

It was more like Alice’s tumble down the rabbit hole – falling slowly enough to be aware of everything around me but unable to grab hold.

The week was relatively quiet with hours of Fox news, word search puzzles with the glorious switch over to the Dog Whisperer when I couldn’t take the talking heads one more minute.  There was a simple routine to our days and I kept quiet so as not to make her think that I had better things to do and making her feel that she was just in the way.  Obviously there are always a million things to do but if I’ve learned anything from Cesar it has everything to do with the energy one projects to the beasts they are trying to tame – calm, assertive leadership to achieve balance.

Before we knew it – the time had come to take her back home and it was right.  She was ready to be in her own space – doing things that make her feel productive.  Things that I would never dream of doing if I were bored – like washing and drying a china cabinet full of Candlewick.

Meanwhile another kind of tumble resulted in a broken wrist for the F-I-L which complicated his chauffeur duties for the M-I-L who was just about to embark on her second cataract surgery in 2 weeks time.  So with the Mrs. safely and soundly back in her own space, I took to helping them out with some doctor’s appointments.

This last week helping out aging parents, I am more aware than ever of the frustration inherent in the process.  It’s like we are all merrily strolling through life when suddenly we find ourselves tumbling down a rabbit hole without a clue as to what we will face at the bottom.  The Mrs. says she doesn’t know who took her “seventies”.  Suddenly she’s solidly in her eighties and can’t account for how she got here.  I watched the frustration on M-I-L’s face as the audiologist tinkered with the buttons and knobs on her hearing aids.  It’s annoying to have technology that doesn’t always cut the mustard leaving her with the inability to hear and has all but given up that there is any hope for a smooth transition to an in-between place.

So how can I age gracefully?  How do I embrace the natural aging process surrounded by a world telling me a gazillion ways and a gazillion times a day that younger is better?  I loath certain hair styles on balding men.  I vomit a little in my mouth when I see inappropriately dressed middle-aged women. The adds on my facebook page tell me that 54 year old women just like me are buying pink UGGS and am I sure I don’t want a pair? Really?  Can’t we all just act our age?  (Except that this doesn’t count for the 65 year old members of The Who rockin’ out at the SuperBowl right now.)

At the same time,  the internal wrestling match between my hopes, dreams and unmet desires and the fact that getting out of bed in the morning is accompanied by more aches and pains than when I hit the sheets, is a daily reality.

Can I drink the potion and follow Alice?  Can I change and still be the same?  Can I gracefully tweak my expectations of what I think I’m entitled to?  Can I deal with the disparity between what I expected to be mine in this season and embrace the reality of what IS? Will I just telescope down or go out like a candle?

I’m not saying I don’t do the things I can to help improve my situation – it’s called a fist full of supplements morning and night.  Then there is that exercise thing – that I’d don’t do morning or night.  It really has more to do with finding myself looking at the Mrs. and Shop Girl and remembering that I was where she is and she was where I am.  I used to be Shop Girl – now I’m the Mrs.  I just keep looking at the Mrs.,  MIL and FIL and wondering how Shop Girl and Best Boy will treat me in another few years when life is spinning and they’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole with the rest of us.

No telling how that will go but for now, I’m just going to go through that garden gate – I’ve got that little golden key.  It’s all part of the adventure.  You’ll just have to ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall…





down, down the rabbit hole

3 02 2010

“Well!” thought Alice to herself “After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down-stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!” (which was very likely true.)

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end?