Just after posting my celebratory hurrah about our South Haven Adventures last week, I get home and decide to compound my success by being a ‘good parent.’*
“C’mon son. Let’s go for a walk.” I say.
I’m thinking of a brisk stroll, fresh air, and then getting back to the house to tackle some work. It is a good game plan.**
As I have mentioned before, my son is a runner. He would explore a lion’s den given half a chance. Like Austin Powers, his middle name is “Danger”. Unfortunately, this evening is no exception. As we walk, he keeps pointing out buildings he would like to ‘visit’ and even writes house numbers down on his papers when I don’t seem to pick up on his subtle signals when he tries to drag me to the front door.
The night is turning colder when I spot the Grand Villa in the distance. This is a local restaurant which goes by the nickname “The Dungeon” because of its subterranean locale. If I had seen their website beforehand, I might have taken heed of the warning they post in their tagline:
Teeth chattering, I haul my child away from the housing complex he is lunging toward—a nondescript giant block of apartments in what once was a large family home. Seeing as my son is now 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs as much as an overindulged Great Dane, this takes some effort.
I lure him in with the promise of chocolate milk.
Twenty minutes later, warm again and well quaffed, we gather our things to go. Then I consider the nearly mile-long walk back to the house…in the cold…and decide the bathroom should be our first stop. I send my son into the men’s room and wait for a few seconds…before deciding I’d better make sure myself and pop into the ladies.
I swear I peed in less than a minute and was back out to wait for my son. A MINUTE. That’s all it took. My clever, devious, Machiavellian boy was gone.
You can pretty much predict the rest. After a frantic and futile search of the area, I’m on the phone with 911. While talking with them, I see a police car pull up alongside the road. I hail them while I’m on the phone with the operator.***
Now I’m babbling at two different sets of people—neither of whom can understand me—when someone calls out:
“We’ve found him!”
Another police officer escorts my happy, oblivious-to-the-chaos-he-causes boy to my weeping embrace.
My son is returned safe and sound and, though he had broken into a home, no one is hurt. A few papers are stolen and have to be retrieved. He’d even had time to scribble calendars on the back as a memento to the family he invaded. I hope they frame them.
In those interminable minutes he is out of my grasp, I imagine enough scenarios to make my heart stop a thousand times. I am honestly surprised it doesn’t kill me.
Once home, my child goes to bed with no complaints. I think on some level he recognizes mommy has had it. I turn off my phone and tune out the world and spend the evening overwrought and shaking.
The next day, I find the energy to call my mom.
“Hey, mom…Little Man is okay, but I have to tell you something that happened last night. Understand, I can’t take any comments about what might have happened. I still feel so emotionally raw I can barely breathe.”
My mom knows about loss. I had a sister—Robin. She died of crib death before I was even born. As a result, mom has had a super-charged paranoia about any dangers we faced as kids and I think this has multiplied exponentially for her grandchildren.
I re-live the night before as factually as I can without breaking down. She lets me vent. It is what I need—a shoulder to cry on without judgment. It is phone call catharsis at its best. Mom says she’ll check in on me later, but she has something to do first. I ring off feeling a shade lighter than before.
My mom stops by that afternoon, carrying a cooler. I unpack it while she tells me a story of her own. When I get to the table with a warm bundle wrapped in a towel, she is drawing me a map as she talks:
“When I was a little girl, my father took me to the ice cream shop at the Occidental Hotel in Muskegon. It’s torn down now, but it was located between Clay and Webster Street downtown—it’s in the same area the Frauenthal Theater and the culinary school are now.”
I pull up my computer to help in the search for yesteryear landmarks. We have a doozy of a time since mom—who has a much better sense of direction than me—apparently can’t reorient her mind to the north-on-top directionality Google maps insists on presenting.
“Anyway, they had a famous hot fudge sauce that I absolutely loved. We didn’t go out very often so it was a big treat to go there. So I made this for you!”
As mom is saying this, she’s unwrapping the towel to reveal a small Corningware casserole dish wrapped in plastic wrap with a band of duct tape for extra insurance. (She’s not messing around with spills!)
“After you told me about your adventure, I thought you could use a treat.” Mom says.
She makes me sit down with a big bowl of ice cream and a dollop of the chocolaty, silken sauce melting over the white caps of vanilla-y goodness.
She then tells me more about our connections to the famed hotel with the equally famous sauce.
“Do you remember the lamp your father brought back when they sold off the property and its belongings?” She asks.
I would have been eight in 1975, and home furnishings weren’t a high priority in my experience, so I shake my head and take a bite. I swallow her memories with each taste.
“It was a heavy iron lamp and we put it in your room with the flowered Crosscill bedspread and curtains—you remember those?”
I had loved that frilly bedroom set up until I left for the Army. It was gone when I got back home four years later and I truly mourned its loss. I nod and lick the spoon. No words are necessary when you have hot fudge. Mom continues to wax nostalgic about the past:
“I was nineteen in 1959. I remember going to a Valentine’s dance there once–sponsored by the Elks, I think. A boyfriend, Jack Boles, took me to a ball at the hotel when we were dating. Do you remember the beautiful dress you borrowed for school that was stolen?”
This I distinctly remember. It was my first experience with theft. I borrowed it for a theater skit for a character in the show. It was gorgeous red dress of some kind of stiff but silky material. I have never quite forgiven myself for losing that dress.
“It was a play, Mom. We were performing at the elementary school. The dress disappeared from the prop and costume boxes before we finished the shows.” I interject. I’m apologetic—it’s a script we’ve enacted whenever we rehash the event.
“It had a square bodice and the style was so grown up. The sheer overlay matched the underskirt perfectly. Do you remember the fabric?” Mom holds her hands out as if measuring the width of a belled skirt.
“It had a swirly pattern—nothing distinct, like paisley, but more like the swirls you see when oil floats on water.” I say.
[A hunt online produced similar styles but nothing exactly like what she had:]
Close but no cigar!
Similar tulle overlay
Now it’s her turn to nod.
“Yes! I wore it when I was in the beauty contest at the ball—you’ve seen that picture, right?”
It is a small, black-n-white snapshot of three women in ball gowns. Mom was the first runner-up. In the photo, she stands to the left of two other women—all dressed up and carrying bouquets of now, long-dead flowers. It was a night of beautiful memories.
The fudge sauce is slowly disappearing as we reminisce. We look online trying to find a photo of the ice cream parlor that existed before The Occidental Hotel was imploded in 1975 to make way for a parking lot. But all we can find are details of the implosion. The article is an epitaph for a leveled landmark torn down in pursuit of a mall that would later close of its own fiscal demise.
The ice cream is gone and I scoop up the remains of the cooling, lava-like gooeyness to store in the fridge.
“Be sure to hide it from the boy or he’ll eat it all!” Mom warns before giving me a hug goodbye.
It’s after she’s gone and I’m cleaning up that I realize what she’s done. It is what all mothers do—try to make it better. When you skin your knee, she offers a kiss. It is a little sugar to take away the bitterness that life sometimes hands you. I may be an adult, but I am not immune to the sway of childhood remedies or memories—be they mine or my mother’s. The sweetness cannot stop the pain, but it can make it better. And when those remembrances come with chocolate sauce—it surely does.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Being a Good Parent—a laudable goal that, when I try to do it on purpose, results in immediate failure.
**Life is out to get me most of the time and rarely needs a good reason. Still, I thought, in light of my good intentions, the universe was being a real shit not to reward me.
***No matter how many times I have called 911, I do not improve with experience. I am just as hysterical and useless each and every time. I owe sincere apologies to the people who man those phones…and probably a fruit basket.
———–You read this far bonus—————–
I just had to include this photo. It is the entire line up of contestants from that long ago Valentine’s beauty pageant.
Sushi may be a finger food–it’s small, compact and easily consumed coming as it does in bite-sized portions–this does not, however, make it an appropriate fast food for road trips. Let me explain.
Driving to Chicago Friday, we get a late enough start to greet not only the oncoming rush-hour traffic but this also forces us to face the blizzardous conditions which everyone and their mother knows is heading this-a-ways.* Not to mention, I manage to miss lunch in favor of haphazard packing and random dithering. This is why, when I make a final stop at the Meijer store to pick up the kid’s medication, I grab an impulse carton of veggie sushi to nosh on while motoring. This will prove to be the most ill-advised snack choice ever.***
I am smart enough to set up my sushi before putting the car in gear. (What kind of idiot would want to open a soy sauce packet with one hand, after all? Ha ha ha.) So, the giant rectangular clamshell lays spread-open next to me–half filled with happy little California sushi rolls, the other half swimming with a brown pool of Kikkoman joy. Child in tow, snack in hand, we set off.
The car slithers out of the parking lot. I snack and squint trying to see where I’m going between the swirling snowflakes that take up 90% of the visual spectrum.
As I tentatively nose out into traffic, I’m dipping a roll into the soy juice as a car going at least 60 mph in the parking lot tries to barrel past us. I slam on the brakes. And even though I am going turtle speeds, the flotsam and jetsam clogging the front seat undulates forward in a sluggish lurch. Most of it is stopped by all of the other stuff packed there. Yay. Not, however, the sushi.
Fun Fact: Do you want to know the Number TwoReasonwhy sushi isn’t a travel-approved snack food? It is round. Round = bad!
My sushi flies, joyful little bobbles, skittering all over the seat. Fortunately the soy sauce only threatens to overturn onto my purse where it has fallen to the floor. I’m madly scooping the runaway snack food while I simultaneously managed to avoid the collision and get into a lane. I do not whip the other driver the bird, but only because I don’t have a free hand. I do curse them soundly. My son is learning many important life lessons, no doubt; I’m just not sure what they are.
After this I keep a fixed eye on the windscreen, inching our way to the interstate. The sushi will have to wait. My stomach growls its disapproval.
My hockey puck of a car joins the highway and I sigh with relief. Settling in, I crank up the book on CD. We have four hours of cautious, but ultimately safe, driving ahead. From here on out, it should be smooth sailing. (Cue ominous music.)
I reach for a congratulatory, slightly smooshed, ball of rice and vegetables. Here I discover the Number One Reasonsushi is not recommended as a mobile food source. I blindly grab a roll, dunk it with my growing expertise into the soy sauce, and pop it in my mouth.
It is right at this moment, I am reminded what else they put in the standard sushi setup. If you don’t know, grocery stores pack this Japanese delicacy with tiny accompaniments of everything you could want: twelve decorative food objects come with soy sauce and a tiny plastic fence blockading a swirl of pickled ginger and a daub of mushy green stuff. I had forgotten about the mushy green stuff. You should never, EVERforget about the mushy green stuff. The fence is the guard rail of the food tray; it is put there for your safety. The sushi had crossed the fence!
I manage not to steer the car into a ditch while scrambling to suck down the entire 24 ounces of mixed regular and diet cherry Coke I had lugged from the same store as the sushi. Fire appeased, victory is mine. Sort of.
I survive Driving With Sushi with a greater appreciation for ginormous beverages and an improbable will to live despite eating an entire glop of the dangerous green paste. Learn from me, children: Do not eat wasabi while driving. Wasabi is the killer food equivalent of texting. Perhaps sushi in cars should be avoided altogether. It appears I am not alone in this opinion!
On the upside, my mouth stayed warm all the way to Chicago.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*My mother in particular. She made a point of warning me to beat the storm. I suspect latent childish resistance to following her advice correlates to our delayed departure.**
**This is where I find out if my mother actually reads my blog. Don’t feel the need to tell her.
***Most people would say I was mistaken to purchase supermarket sushi just because it was SUPERMARKET SUSHI. Congratulations. You were proved right. Happy?
For those of you who enjoyed the past holiday weekend…bite me. For anyone else who spent the day at an emergency med center making sure your child hadn’t broken or permanently damaged any part of his body, join me in a moment of reflection.
Can you remember before you had the awesome responsibility of parenting? Can you think back that far? (You could be a parent for all of thirty seconds, and still the crushing realization that you are now responsible for a life beyond your own will be smacking you in the face…hard…like Mike Tyson in the final round, testosterone-flared-nostrils-in-your-face hard.) Do you remember what that life before was like? Seriously, what was it like? Oh, wait, now I remember. It was freedom. That’s what it was. Glorious freedom. Those days are gone.
I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I can tell you, after this past Fourth of July, I’d really like to go back and celebrate what freedom used to mean. B.C.—Before Children—life was a dream. I didn’t know it, of course; I thought I was living a life of drudgery and low-paying jobs. I had no idea I was reveling in the greatest wealth the world can offer: freedom. I was reminded of that this weekend when I decided to take my son to a local parade in our new home town. And what better way to get there than riding our bikes?!
I had purchased a bike this past winter and stared at the blizzards fantasizing about biking around in the summer with my son. It was going to be a glorious, technicolor dream. There would be butterflies and rainbows. Even with my bionic enhancements, my physical limitations make it hard to keep up with him on foot, so I thought, “Hey, if we are both on bikes, then I can enjoy the experience and not worry about him getting away. After all, he’s strapped into it and it weighs about ninety pounds. What could happen?” Saturday, we get on our bikes and head toward the city park where we can watch the parade. Cautiously, we cross the scary, busy road near our house to cut cross the cemetery to hit the bike trail along the river.* It all sounds bucolic and delightful doesn’t it? Wait for it…
We’re tooling along, practicing passing people on the left and not mowing down little kids or elderly people who think I’m kidding when I yell: “Watch out. He can’t brake yet.”** Then we get to the section of the path that is becoming our bone of contention—the fork in the road that is the pain in my… ANYWAY, the kid is behind me and has stopped at the fork. A woman with a stroller is passing him and I call back, “No, Booger…we aren’t taking that route today. We can take it on the way ba…” I can’t even get to the end of the sentence before the berserker rage strikes. My son is peddling for all he’s worth–near missing the baby in the stroller–zipping in a mad dash past me and heading towards trouble. All I can do is watch; it isn’t pretty.
My son rides a very sturdy Ambucs Trike.*** This was a wonderful gift from an organization that helps families to buy special trikes for special tikes. (Sounds sickeningly cute, doesn’t it?) What’s more sickening is the experience of watching your agitated child pell-mell his way into an emergency med center visit. As expected, the “Hulk Smash” rage ended in disaster. Helpless, I watched as my son exceeded safety limits, causing the trike to wobble, and then come crashing down on top of him—face first into the asphalt. The good news is, road rash on all bendy parts, a smashed nose and lacerated lip (inside and out—made me want to puke when I saw it) aside, he is going to be fine. The not-so-good news is we spent the entire holiday sitting in waiting rooms just to determine that he hadn’t broken anything. By the end, all we wanted to do was crawl home and collapse. We didn’t bother with going to any Fourth of July celebrations that evening. As my mother-in-law said after we survived the harrowing experience, “We’ve had enough fireworks for one day.” It was unanimous; we spent the holiday huddling in our house avoiding any further excitement.
So, how do I celebrate freedom now? I cherish the moments that work and recover as quickly as possible from the ones that don’t. I will count surviving the day as a win. I will try very hard not to mourn a time when freedom was as easy as leaving my house and getting to my destination unscathed. And I will be buying knee and elbow pads for any future ventures that might lead us astray along our rocky path to freedom.
[Of note, the Bandaids should be coming off just in time for our camping trip to the U.P. later this week. I’m not worried, inclement weather notwithstanding, what could possibly go wrong?]
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*No, this is not foreshadowing. Foreshadowing would have involved an anger management seminar.
**Subtext: you are worth 50 points you old codger, so you’d better get out of the way.
***Sturdy and a bit clunky, these are the Cadillac of kids’ bikes. Solid steel construction—built to inflict the most damage in whatever they hit.
P.S. It wasn’t until after I wrote this that I learned of the terrible bike accident at the Tour de France. I have the sincerest sympathies for the mothers of each and every one of those riders. I am very happy everyone walked away from that one.
I sat down this weekend to write. Or at least, I tried to. I reread chapters of my second novel making tiny, infinitesimal tweaks all the while recognizing that a major overhaul was needed. (Why the hell do I have heroes flashbacking what just happened instead of having them do it?) Once you see all the holes in your plot and need a chart to keep track of the characters, the task seems daunting. I am a huge fan of procrastination so instead of tackling my monster opus (three books and no end in sight), I decided to do some work on the garden.
“After all,” I reasoned, “I can always work on the book after dark. I can’t do yardwork after dusk or the vampire mosquitoes will get me.”**
In my glory as a new home owner, I purchased many gadgets unfamiliar to me. Going to the giant hardware stores is a lot like entering a medieval armory. There are lots of shiny metal, sharp-edged tools—in short, everything can be a weapon. Recently I snagged a pair of telescoping hedge clippers. (Scythes of Death.)
Because doing any work tends to be boring, when I go out to battle the crab grass dastardly foe, I like to pretend I am a knight entering a tourney—tilting at shrubbery at high noon. It is a harmless fantasy most of the time. I have yet to figure out an appropriately violent description for mowing the lawn though. It feels more like a Greek tragedy—entering the Minotaur’s Labyrinth never to return.
This day, however, was epically appropriate. I was tackling three massive shrubs that were lush, sprawling, and took up way too much space in my small backyard. (Insert your own overblown metaphor here.) In short, they were in need of editing.
I’m hacking away at these monsters. Mercilessly chopping the unnecessary bottom half; stretching on tiptoes to lop off the heads. Then I finesse my way around the sides to trim the unnecessary foliage and attempt to bring the resultant blobs into some kind of shape. I was sweating and had two bags full of severed, oozing limbs by the time I was done. It looked like an evergreen massacre. It was an ugly job, but it had to be done. And all I could think was, “Why is it so hard to do this with my books?”
This brings up a post I read recently by reviled…I mean revered…author, Chuck Wendig who confronts wanna be writers with the awful truth about why their writing may be going nowhere in 25 Reasons You Won’t Finish That Story. Reading the bald-faced truth of it was painful.*** Especially getting to number 23 wherein he flatly points out: “Nobody wants to hear this, but maybe you’re just not a writer.” Claxon sirens go off. The noise a submarine makes before it dives rings in your brain. Red lights flash. This is the terrible, secret truth inside every single person who sits down with the pretension that they can, in fact, write. The problem with this doubt? It is self-fulfilling. You fear you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. So you don’t write. Yet you desperately want to be a writer. Angsty emotions are yo-yoing away: Will I? Could I? Should I? Stories are piling up in your brain like it’s rush hour traffic on a two-lane highway. And the only weapon you have in your arsenal is the quavering hope that refuses to die no matter how many times you read a particularly awful sentence that came out of your brain. For example:
“She could see the outraged questions forming on her mother’s beetled brow and cut her off before she could explode.”
You read what you’ve written and you want to pick your laptop up and hurl it into the nearest ravine and then fling yourself after it because, at least dying dramatically would feel artistic. But then your internal editor tells you this is trite and formulaic and to get back to the table and come up with a better ending. I’d like to say reading the reasons why my writing isn’t headed where I wanted or expected it to go makes facing the changes easier. It doesn’t. It is hard every single time I sit down. When I write something that makes me want to cry, and not in a good way, it is very discouraging. And yet…it is still better than the alternative.
As Lewis Carroll put it:
“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both — you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*If you are expecting a sexual connotation, you are to be majorly disappointed.
**Face it, mosquitoes are vampires…let’s see Stephanie Meyer’s make a sparkling romance out of that!
***Almost as painful as reading my writing. But not quite.
I make a scratchy, wool sweater sort of friend. At first, I seem warm and cuddly, but then, repeat exposure to me tends to chafe. Because of my innate awkwardness with people, I tend to be loud, irritating and intrusive. (Think ‘Brillo pad’.) While I like people in general, the reverse isn’t always true.
In case you question my certitude, allow me to admit I recently stood up a friend (accidentally, I am sooo sorry) with whom I had made a play date because I overbooked my day and then completely forgot to call and cancel when it turned out I wouldn’t make it. I hate this when people do it to me. My paranoid brain says, “They are doing it to be hurtful, mean or vindictive, etc…” and I wallow in self-pity. (Always attractive.) I haven’t had the courage to call and apologize because I am so embarrassed by my self-directed stupidity.
True, deep-lasting bonds are very difficult for me to maintain. I would say my complicated life separates me from people, but it is also my poor choices that make close interactions nigh on impossible. I find friendship so exhausting that it almost seems like more work than it is worth. (Because that is how I value friendship—in terms of what it brings me. Nice, no?) I am not sure what kind of person this makes me. On gray, emotionally-draining days I would say I am isolated and lonely. On bright, energetic days I am capable and eager to face the world ready to make plans and get out there and commune with my fellow man. I am the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of friends.
Does everybody have the capacity to make friends, or are some of us born loners?* (I keep reading that as ‘losers’, what does that say about my ego?) Do our oddities pass us beyond the standard deviation into the far end of a social bell curve? (Cue howling wolves.)
I ask the above questions because I recently learned that someone did not like me. (I know. Shocker!) I got a copy of an email by accident of someone stating, basically, that I wasn’t liked for such and such reason. (Yep, I’m going to be vague here. I have some dignity.) I try to look at the inadvertent awareness objectively, “Well, everybody is irritating sometime. Not everybody is going to like you.” But, it still stings when your suspicions are confirmed. Perhaps if people were more honest more often I’d be a better person. Or, conversely, more of a hermit than I already am.
I look back over the years and I see a trail of lost friendships—some due to separation and different choices in life, others due to changing attitudes or personalities that worked in childhood not jibing as we became adults. But, the loss of each star in the small constellation of friends I have managed to maintain is painful. Each time I am reminded that I have unlikable qualities as a human being. Each cut opens old wounds that never quite heal.
I am trying to adopt a sense of “self-differentiation”. I have always been too dependent upon the opinion of others. (Middle child syndrome. Can I get a Whoot Whoot from my over-eager, people-pleasing buddies?) Self-differentiation has become a goal whereby I am no longer chained to the desire to please others or find validation from their opinions. Sounds great, right? But, how do I balance not caring about what other people think with learning which of my behaviors cause people to hate me? (Bring on the circular reasoning.) How many friends do I have to lose in order to grow into a better me?
I have no magic mirror to reveal my flaws; and, I am too much of a coward to send out a survey polling my likability. (Please grade on a scale from ten to zero, where ten is “Box of Kittens Lovable” to zero, “Box of Butchered Kittens Horrible”, exactly how repellant am I?) How much of me do I need to change so I can pretend people like ‘me’? I have no pithy answer. No universal truth that rings a bell of closure on this article. Instead, I ask: Are some people just not built for friendship?