Stone Age

A coworker today told me that I’m living in the Stone Age. He said this when he found out we don’t have cable. Actually any TV reception at all.

We watch our TV from Netflix and Amazon Prime via our Roku box. I hear that’s how the cavemen did it too. My coworker, on the other hand, recently upgraded from taping his shows to using a DVR.

I depend heavily on my smart phone. It serves as my alarm clock, cooking timer, stopwatch, address book, calendar and day planner, email portal, to-do list, notebook, map, GPS, dictionary, camera, video camera, newspaper, reference book, casual gaming device, and more. I even use it to make phone calls from time to time.

My coworker, the Renaissance Man that he is, doesn’t have a smart phone. Actually, he doesn’t have a cell phone at all. Or a computer. No internet at home. What separates sophisticates like him from stone-agers like me is apparently not technology at all but merely whether you have access to catch the Super Bowl this weekend.

As much as I love watching big beefy guys crash into each other, I think I’ll just stay in my cave. Besides, I can get a pretty good idea how the game is going by watching my Facebook newsfeed. On my phone. While watching Dr. Who on my Roku. And all the commercials will likely be on YouTube by Monday.

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Clifford isn’t Real

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Study this picture for a few minutes. Do you see anything wrong? Take a good hard look.

Tonight, my 10 year old son Daryl showed me the book and asked me what’s wrong with Clifford in the picture.

I studied it for awhile, counting the same number of digits on the “hands” and on the back feet. There was a tail. And an ear. And it was reasonable to assume the other ear was just blocked from view. Two eyes, a nose. Nothing out of line that I could see. So I said so.

He pointed to the hand holding the firefighting axe and and said, “He has opposable thumbs! Clifford can’t have opposable thumbs!”

“He’s also bigger than that apartment building, has surprisingly human abilities and intellect, and is a scary bright shade of red. What’s your point?”

“He can’t have opposable thumbs!”

Well, ok then.

Music to my Ears

Jane declared the love of her life to me today.

“I am totally in love with music! I mean, I’m just in love with music.”

“Are you in love with playing music or just listening to it on your iPod?”

“I love it all! I love listening to it. I love playing it. I love figuring out how to play different instruments that I’ve never played before.”

“You don’t like to sing.”

“I know, but I love instruments.”

Earlier in the evening, as chime choir practice wrapped up, she had sat down at the piano and begun picking out Good King Wenceslas. She’s never taken piano lessons. Well, unless you count the 2 or 3 basic lessons she had at the preschool one summer. She’s played the song on violin and viola, but never piano.

By the time the chimes director had turned off the lights in the room to encourage (force?!) her to leave, she had it figured out. And pounded it out in total darkness as I called from the hallway, “Jane! We need to go!”

In the car, waiting (forever!) in the Taco Bell drive-thru line, she concluded her gushing of musical love by categorizing the band instruments and their players.

“I’ve thought it might be neat to play the tuba,” she said. “Because, you know, I’m big and it’s big. It kinda fits. But…”

“But what?”

“Did you ever notice when you were in band that certain people seem to play certain instruments?”

“Like how the tubas tend to be the big chubby guys?” I asked.

“Yeah! And quiet. They are all quiet. And the trumpets are loud and obnoxious.”

“I often found them full of themselves.”

“That’s true. And the trombones are weird in a quiet kind of way. And the french horns are… well… You know, Mr. Thomas says the french horn is the hardest instrument to play.”

“I can believe that,” I said. “I always thought the french horns were kind of formal. Stuffy.”

“Yeah! That’s it! Formal.”

“And what about the flutes?” I asked, naming her instrument.

Without missing a beat, she said, “They are the girly ones.”

“You and Jason are girly?” This surprised me.

“I’m not but he sure is. He’s got a high-pitched voice and he’s always going on about stuff like the girls do.”

“Okaaaayyy… what about the clarinets?”

“They’re the normal ones. I mean, not *normal* normal – they are still in the band, you know, but they can kind of pass for normal. They are interesting, like their own person, you know?”

It was about then that I decided she was a remarkably perceptive judge of character. In case you were wondering which instrument I played.

“What about the saxophones?” I asked. She had earlier stated that the saxophone was her favorite instrument.

“They are loud and annoying but funny.”

“And the percussionists?”

“Nerdy band nerds.”

“Um. They are all nerdy band nerds, honey.”

“Well,” she said, “they are always doing this.” She began to bounce up and down like she was keeping the beat of a song and getting into the groove. I smiled.

She thinks of “the twins” anytime she sees bassoons or oboes because the bassoon and oboe in her band are played by twin brothers. I said I had found them to be “pinched”, although the person most prominent in my mind didn’t fit that bill.

I was curious, since she has played a stringed instrument for eight years, what she thought of strings players, even though they aren’t in the band. So I asked.

“Snobbish,” she said. “And different.”

“Snobbish? Really?”

“Well, especially violins. They think they are all that because they always have the melody.”

“And what about violas?”

“Well violas are awesome, of course!”

“And cellos?”

“They think they are the best because they’ve got the biggest instrument.”

So now you know Jane’s official band and orchestra classification system. If you were in one or the other, do you agree with her? How did you see the different sections?

When we enrolled her in the Suzuki Strings program in Kindergarten, we were hoping to inspire a love of music. We felt mastering an instrument was an important skill. There for awhile, as she chafed under the continuous years of lessons and itched to try new opportunities, I was concerned we had failed in that endeavor. I am so pleased to know now that we succeeded.

Caretaker Crash Course

I am not a caretaker. I have known this in the abstract for a long time – in the same way that I have known I am not a skydiver or a bungee jumper or an educator of small children. I fear I am missing the fundamental skill sets needed to do any of these things well.

I am not patient. I am not tolerant of incapacity. I am not sympathetic for long periods of time. I am self-centered. I do not know how to converse with people of significantly lower mental capacity, whether due to birth, circumstances, medication, or age. I do not know how to act. I am not comfortable.

This is not me being overly harsh with myself. I know I’m a good person. I know I have many positive attributes. But I also know where my strengths lie and where they do not. They do not lie in care-taking.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get to pick the roles we fill. Today, my husband had oral surgery. Two wisdom teeth removed from the left side of his mouth. General anesthesia.

He took his pill as directed before we left the house to drop off the kids. As usual, he drove. After dropping them off and picking up some breakfast for me, we stopped at the grocery store to get his soft foods. I asked if he needed me to go in or if I could stay outside and finish eating.

“Um. I think I can do it but it might be good for you to start driving. If I don’t come out in a few minutes, you should maybe come in looking for me.” I looked up surprised. I wasn’t expecting to be needed yet, but the pill had left him feeling like he had had two large glasses of wine on an empty stomach. “My brain is still processing normally, but I don’t really care what it’s coming up with.”

Needless to say, I ate my biscuit as we walked the grocery store aisles and then I drove him to the surgeon.

I had brought some cards to fill out for people I know who are suffering right now. (Thanks again to the friend who taught me the value of writing.) As I wrote them and worried about my abilities to fulfill my duties for my husband’s care when he came out, I thought about two of the letter recipients. Both were older women who had been caring for their ailing husbands for a long time. One had just lost hers and the other was preparing to.

This awaits me in the future, I thought. Likely, I will someday be caring for my husband long term as I am today.

I’m not going to lie. It scared the you-know-what out of me. Shoot, even just today scares me. I’m not used to being the one in charge. Yes, I am a modern, educated, independent woman. I am the bread winner. I am responsible for many important things at work.

But I’ve also been married to my high school sweetheart for twenty-one years. Since shortly after I moved out of my mother’s home. He is strong and confident and capable. I haven’t had to pay attention to where we are going or what needs to be done. If nothing else, he’s always been there to bounce my ideas off of. I’m a waffler, not a decision maker. But now I’m in charge.

I listened to the doctor give me instructions and, incredibly, managed to come up with important and relevant questions. I waited for the nurse to guide him down the hall. As I reached out for his other arm, she asked me if I had him.

“I guess so, but if he goes down, I don’t think there’s anything I can do to stop him.” My husband has a solid 100 pounds on me. I thought of the absurdity of this petite woman leading this mountain of a man outside. Got him?! As long as he keeps walking on his own, I can guide him to the car, but that’s all I’ve got!

This again paralleled what I’ve heard the older women in my congregation talk about. Husbands falling in bathtubs and having to call sons to help get them out. Not being able to lift them out of bed or help lower them into a recliner. I was likely getting a taste of our old age together. Assuming we are lucky enough to get there.

When we got in the car, I told him that the office lady had suggested picking up the crushed ice at Sonic to use for his ice pack. He commented that it didn’t seem like it had been an hour. I reminded him he had been sleeping. He nodded.

I turned down the main road in town toward Sonic and he asked me where we were going. “To pick up ice at Sonic, remember?”

He stared out the windshield. “Can I get a slush?”

“You can’t drink anything out of a straw, remember?”

He made spooning motions with his hand. “You want to eat it with a spoon?” He nodded. “Ok. What flavor?”

The flavor conversation didn’t go very well. Actually, he didn’t give a flavor at all. Despite having grown up getting slushes at Sonic, he needed to see the menu, where he then chose the same flavor he always chooses and that I had recommended to him at the beginning.

Then he mumbled something to the effect of, “Don’t they still have sandwiches?” I think he might have said “ice cream sandwiches”, but I wasn’t sure.

“You can’t have a sandwich, remember?”

He used his hands to pantomime cutting it up in little pieces and shoving it in the far side of his mouth. “I can cut it up and suck on it,” he said.

“You aren’t sucking on sandwiches. We bought you plenty of soft foods.” He let the request go.

When the lady at the window handed me the bag of ice and the slush, he asked, “We didn’t get any ice cream?”

“No, we didn’t get any ice cream,” I said as I pulled away. “Do you want some ice cream?”

“Ice cream would be nice.”

“You want me to stop at Braum’s?”

“Sicilian Orange would be nice. We have eggs?”

“Yes, we have eggs.”

I headed down the street to Braum’s, wondering how strictly they really meant the instruction that said to take the patient straight home.

As I pulled into the parking lot, he said, “Sicilian Orange would be nice.”

“Ok, honey. Just wait here.”

Ok, I guess it’s not that I can’t do this job. Or even that I can’t do it well. I can do it. I can even smile at his loopy comments. What really has me down, besides the weight of responsibility, is the loneliness. How fun is it to smile at his comments if I can’t share them with him?

I know this is just a day or two. I know that. But I keep thinking about my older friends who have been doing this day in and day out. That man has been their partner in life for years – decades! How impossibly hard is it to do all this work and not be able to share the burden with your spouse? For your spouse to be the burden?

We visited one of the women’s husbands in the hospital. He had been asleep for days and wouldn’t wake up. “I just want him to wake up,” she said. “It’d all be ok if he’d just wake up.”

I felt her pain but I didn’t really get it until now. Loneliness and helplessness, and the desire to have it lifted… even just briefly… by that person you love more than anyone else. That person you’ve shared so much with. That person who lights up your room. Children and parents and friends can help, but they aren’t him. Without him, you feel lost and adrift.

My husband will be back in action soon. I really feel for those women and men who have lost or are in the process of losing their life partners. What a scary journey. I know from my mother’s example that there is hope and light on the other side, but it is still a scary journey. You are in my prayers and if we know each other personally, please know you can call me. Anytime.

Un Poquito

Hal regularly makes bogus claims about his proficiency in speaking Spanish. The older two have slightly stronger claims but only barely.

This weekend, Jane announced she knows a lot of Spanish. To prove her point, she told her Daddy, “You are hombre. That means man.”

“Que?” he asked.

“What’s that?” she responded.

We had been hugging when she approached to show off her knowledge and I was still cuddled up against his chest. I looked up, turning slightly, held my thumb and forefinger a short distance apart, and said dismissively in her direction “Un poquito.”

“What does K mean?!”

“See?” I said, looking up at my husband. “Un poquito.” Then I snuggled back in.

“I know more than a little bit of Spanish!” she said, indignant at my insult.

“No, no you don’t,” I said. “You don’t get to claim any proficiency in Spanish at all if you don’t know what que means. Even people who don’t know any Spanish know that much.”

“But what does it mean?”

“What?” said my husband.

“What does K mean?!”

“What!”

“Oh.” She paused briefly, slightly embarrassed. “Well, do you know what woman is?”

“Chica,” said my husband with a smile.

“No! It starts with an M,” she said, resuming her place of presumed superiority.

“Senora,” I said, just to be difficult.

“That’s lady! It starts with an M.”

“Muy caliente chica!” said my husband.*

“That’s not woman! And I know what that means!”

“Your mom is a woman and she’s a muy caliente chica.”

“Stop it! Just stop! Don’t talk like that! Oh my gosh, I have to get out of here. That’s so gross.” And with that, she fled the room and we hugged in peace.

*Before any Spanish speakers take it upon themselves to correct our grammar and vocabulary, I will state that, unlike our children, we know full well that we don’t speak Spanish. I will further state that we were simply goading our daughter for fun, without concern for accuracy. Kind of how we used to drive our Latin teacher nuts by announcing “Semper Ubi Sub Ubi!” (Always wear underwear – technically, always where under where). It was guaranteed to get an outraged reaction at our mangling of Latin for a simple pun.

Eggs

I’m responsible for providing the bread for visitors at church tomorrow so I checked supplies before heading out to drop Jane off at her Etiquette Dinner. As it so happened, the only carton of eggs in the fridge was full of boiled eggs, their little penciled B’s looking up at me when I peeked in the carton.

We live outside of town and the dinner was further outside of town. Oh, well. I’ll just have to stop at the convenience store and pay convenience prices for the eggs, I thought.

After dropping her off, I noticed my stomach starting to cramp. Just slightly. It had been painfully cramped all day yesterday. I started thinking about whether I should go to the doctor because this seemed to be happening too frequently. That made me begin to wonder what could be the cause. Diet? Some new food sensitivity? Something scarier?

Before long, I was having one of my full-blown dark fantasies. I was diagnosed with cancer, needing surgery and chemo. I started examining what the effects of such news would be. I wouldn’t be able to secure additional life insurance anymore. If I died, my husband wouldn’t have a lot to support him while he struggled to get on his feet. Even if I didn’t die, what would change?

I still don’t know if this imagination of mine is a good thing or bad. On the one hand, it allows me to explore how I would handle traumatic news without it actually happening. On the other hand, it chokes me up as if it is really happening and just seems kinda creepy.

At some point, I realized that I had driven past the convenience store. I pulled over and waited for the other cars to pass so I could turn around. Then I realized that I had not actually passed the convenience store. So once the road was clear, I resumed my journey.

I pulled into our driveway and verified Hal was still asleep in the backseat. I wondered if I could leave him sleeping without him being too scared when he woke up and was alone in the car. That reminded me that I had planned to leave him sleeping in the car while I ran into the store, which I had not done.

I circled out of the driveway, returned to the store, picked out a carton of eggs, and drove home without incident. Hal woke up when we got home so we entered the house together. I sat the carton on the counter and gathered the other ingredients. I fixed the batter and put the pan in the oven. I began cleanup.

Opening the door of the fridge, I looked for a spot to put the carton of eggs. There was room on the shelf under the carton of boiled eggs. I slid it into place. Right next to another carton of 12 raw eggs.

Perhaps it’s not cancer I need to worry about.

Avoiding the Earworm

I work upstairs. At the base of the stairs is a small lobby with a big flat screen TV that runs the same video ad nauseum. It never stops. It just runs over and over and over and over.

Most of it is tolerable enough – as much as hearing the same thing over and over again can be. I mean, I’ve raised three toddlers; I know a thing or two about hearing the same video repeatedly. But this is beyond what any two year old can throw at you. I’m pretty sure that if this were Barney and my kid was me, they’d still want to scream by now.

The most obnoxious part of the video is without a doubt the song at the end. It’s overly dramatic and sung with such pomp and grandeur that it makes me want to puke. And then it gets stuck in my head and I spend the rest of the day wishing I could puke it out.

So I’ve started trying to avoid the song. When I open the door at the top of the stairs, I pause before going down. My plan is that if the song is on, I’ll either go back through the door and wait or I’ll run down the stairs.

When I enter at the bottom, I prepare to run up the stairs. But even running, I catch enough and the earworm takes up its residency. I can’t handle it anymore. I think I might be close to insanity.

This brings us to today. Today, I entered at the base of the stairs and heard the song. It’s cold outside so I was wearing gloves and a stocking cap with earflaps. I tried to press my fingers into my ears but there was too much fabric and hair blocking me. I could still hear the song. I slipped my fingers under the flaps of the cap and began to sing “La-la-la-la-la-la.”

That was working. The problem, though, was that there was a door at the top of the stairs. I’d have to remove a finger to open the door. I’d be able to hear the song.

Determined not to hear another bar, I increased my volume as I prepared to open the door. I opened it and rushed through, loudly and monotonously singing “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA“… and then… nearly ran over a shocked coworker.

He looked at me and exclaimed, “What the HELL?!”

I burst out in nervous laughter and rolled along the wall away from him. “Oh, man. Oh, man,” I said. “Ok, that was embarrassing. I can’t handle that song down there. I just can’t. I couldn’t stand to hear it again.”

“Well, I’m tired of it too,” he said. “I just don’t go to such extremes.”

Such extremes, indeed. At least my witness was a coworker and not a stranger. And at least he didn’t catch me singing my sped-up version of the Smurf’s theme song. That’s my song-blocker of choice when I’m feeling particularly cheerful. He might have felt compelled to mention the incident to our boss then. As is, I suspect I won’t hear the end of this for a very long time.