The Train Station

My beautifully talented daughter asked me recently if I wanted to read an essay she had written for school. I said yes and she handed me a couple sheets of paper. I was soon breathless as I savored some of the most beautiful writing I had ever read. That is not maternal hyperbole, nor is it false modesty when I say it’s better than anything I could write. I prefer to write the meat of the story and rarely do I spend enough time creating such vivid imagery.

There are storytellers – I count myself as an amateur one. Brandon Sanderson is an extremely talented and successful one. But then there are people who write poetry in prose. Whose words are so beautifully selected and placed with each other that it feels like you are doing more than reading a story – you are actually viewing a painting or intricate tapestry. I love many authors but put few in this category. Patrick Rothfuss is the only one that comes readily to mind. This essay evoked a similar reaction from me.

I hope I haven’t now oversold her story. With her permission, I am posting it below:

 

I thanked the ticket master as I clutched my ticket and walked further into the train station, busy with throngs of people coming or going. The walls seemed alive with the echoes of laughter, arguments, and guitar playing, both long gone and currently reverberating. Its skin crawled with scribbled declarations of love and sprayed-on masterpieces, the tiles desperately in need of a good washing. The grimy fluorescent lights above seemed to flicker erratically in time with my heart, creating an effect almost like I was at a party. All around me, people hurried, their lives obviously much more important than mine; my body became a tiny rowboat, lost in the stormy bustle, jostled from side to side by the waves of people. Eager to gain a short reprieve, I stepped onto an empty platform, feeling weary. It was then I happened to glance up and across the tracks. Exactly opposite me stood a girl whose countenance appeared to mirror my own. It seemed as if she too felt a disconnect from the hordes of people passing by. The noise of the crowded station faded away as we stared at each other for a brief second that seemed to last an eternity. Her eyes looked like they understood my annoyance with and simultaneous longing for all the people constantly streaming through the area, so deep and wise I tried not to fall into them. Suddenly, I wanted to meet this girl, take her to coffee, and become her best friend; the one person who seemed to instantly know me to my core. Just as I raised my hand to give a small wave, she opened her mouth, as if about to say something. A train came roaring through. When it had passed, the girl was no longer there. My hand fell limply to my side, the magical moment gone. The lights returned to their dull flickering, and the noise of the crowd came rushing back with sudden ferocity. My heart burned as if branded by a cattle iron. I wasn’t sure quite why, but I was almost certain I had just missed something very important. All around me, mothers, brothers, and children continued to carry about their business like nothing had happened. In fact, nothing had actually happened. However, nobody except myself seemed to care about the importance of that missed interaction with the girl across the train station. As my train came roaring into the platform, I had to wonder if this other girl, seemingly great in her compassion, would miss that opportunity for interaction with me. As I wondered, my hand pulled my phone out of my pocket, slipping my earbuds into place, and my life became much more important than anyone else’s.

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You Have an Uncle?

My children and I were sitting around the dinner table last night, having a rare, slow evening. I asked them what they were looking forward to the most about summertime. After a bit of animated response, Daryl asked, “Are we going anywhere this summer?”

“Denver,” I said, reminding them of our annual trip to visit my husband’s family.

“Anywhere else?”

“Well…,” I said, “If your sister doesn’t get that wild card spot to Globals in Knoxville, we were talking about going to North Carolina.” I said it in a tone that hinted I was annoyed with her possible wild card berth.

“Oh, my!” she exclaimed in false excitement. “North Carolina!! Oh, my goodness! I’ve always wanted to go to North Carolina. It’s just so exciting!! I’ll totally give up Globals for that! I mean, come on. It’s North Carolina!”

I rolled my eyes but otherwise ignored her.

“What’s in North Carolina?” Daryl asked.

“My uncle.”

“You have an uncle? I didn’t know you had an uncle.”

“Yes, my Uncle Matt and his wife and their daughter Anna and her husband and their kids. Here,” I said, showing him a picture off of Facebook.

“He looks just like Grandpa Ted!”

“Wow!” injected Jane. “They must be related!”

“They are brothers,” I said.

“Well, I didn’t know! I’ve never met him before.”

“Yes, you have,” I said. “You’ve been to his house even. You just don’t remember it. You were pretty small.”

“I don’t like visiting family I don’t know very well,” Daryl said quietly. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” said Jane, who then started in with a loud and energetic voice tinged with that homey sweetness that older family members often use: “‘Oh, sweetheart! You are looking so good! My goodness, I haven’t seen you since you were THIS tall. You sure have grown! I remember when you could barely walk. How old are you now? Are you in High School yet? I bet you’ve got all the girls lined up waiting for you, don’t you! Quite the ladies’ man, I’m sure.’ See?” she asked, dropping the fake voice and turning to me, “I’m ready to be an old family member. I’ve got this down.”

I hate to say this, but she’s kinda right. The older we get, the more obnoxious we seem to get when we see people, especially young people, that we haven’t seen for awhile. But having had the occasional “Oh, wow! You look just like your mother!” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown up!” slip out of my mouth unplanned, I’ve gotta say, she doesn’t have to fake it. By the time she gets there, she’ll be doing it too.

I just hope that I can continue to stop it after the first sentence and not go on with the annoying attempts to relate and sound cool. Thing is, kids are so aloof that it seems to me to not be a very comfortable event from the other side either.

When They Are Them Instead of You

Much of parenthood is spent seeing yourself or your spouse in your children. There is something satisfying (or sometimes terrifying) about recognizing your idiosyncrasies in your progeny.

Well, of course they loves to read. We love to read. We’ve led by example and promoted a love of books their whole life.

The boy can’t find things to save his life! It’s like he’s blind. So much like his dad.

She’d argue with a brick wall. She gets that from you!

We often analyze our children and their behaviors by dissecting which aspects come from which one of us and what that means.

“Well, she’s driven to perfection like you are but then she’s got a healthy dose of me in her so she doesn’t quite apply herself as doggedly as you always did,” my husband once said of our daughter.

But sometimes – and these are the most fascinating and rewarding moments – sometimes they are all them. It’s one thing to do something with your child that you love too, indeed something that they probably love because you loved it first and instilled the same love in them. It’s a completely different thing to engage with your child in a love that was born and fostered completely within them.

I wonder sometimes if every parent gets to experience this or not. I did recently and I just sat there in awe as my 16 year old daughter did her thing. And what was this thing?

Makeup.

You might be rolling your eyes right now, but this isn’t trivial.

I basically don’t wear makeup. I haven’t worn foundation since I was a pimply teenager desperately trying to cover up my flaws. I wear mascara and a touch of blush. No eye shadow, no eye liner. I don’t pencil my eyebrows or really make any kind of effort at all. And I’m perfectly happy.

I never taught her anything concerning makeup. And truthfully, she often goes days without it as well. She doesn’t find it necessary. She just enjoys it – like makeup artist kind of enjoyment.

She follows various makeup artists on social media, reads articles, watches technique videos, and has stockpiled quite the collection of supplies, including many things I didn’t know existed. One evening, she looked at a dark blue eye shadow she had and – just for fun, she wasn’t going anywhere – turned her face into a credible impersonation of Mystique from X-Men. Just to see how it’d go.

She’s not afraid to try something. Just to see what happens. I was never like that. I had to know how it would go first. I know she gets this willingness to experiment from her dad, but the makeup interest – that’s all her. And it’s wonderful.

My husband recently planned a date night for us. As I got out of the shower, I thought of my daughter and her makeup. “Will you do my makeup for me?” I asked.

Her face lit up. “You want me to do your makeup?”

“Yes, I think that’d be fun.”

She soon took over my bathroom with more makeup than I’ve ever owned in my life. And she started talking about the various items and techniques she could use. She talked about something she could use instead of foundation that would fill the pores and give a smoother look without the heaviness of foundation.

She asked my preference on a couple of different highlighters that had different degrees of sparkle to them. When I looked at her blankly, she rubbed her finger in each and then smeared a streak on her inner forearm to demonstrate how they’d look. She talked about why she liked certain ones better than others and when was a good time for each.

She asked if there was anything I wanted covered up. (The dark bags under my old eyes please…). She talked about contour and highlight and what they do and where they go. Talked about sponges versus brushes. She gave me a double-ended mascara stick and explained that I was to brush the white stuff on first – which would elongate and separate my lashes, and then I could use the black end to cover the white. She explained why she was going to skip eyeliner. She filled in the thin parts of my eyebrows as we laughed about the change.

The whole time she talked and worked, I sat there and took it all in. This was not me. This was not her dad. This was her. All her. 100% her. And it was beautiful. Glorious. She found this, she loved this, she learned it and excels in it.

It didn’t matter one bit that I have no interest in makeup. That it will likely be years – if ever – before I sit again for 20 minutes while I or someone else does my makeup. I didn’t have to love it. She loved it and I loved that she loved it. I enjoyed it because I was spending time with my daughter in her element.

I truly can’t describe the incredible feeling that welled up inside me that evening. If you’ve never experienced the wonder that’s tinged with a bit of “where did this love come from?”, then I fear you’ve missed out on one of the best parts of parenthood.

Best Laid Plans

Just on the off chance that you are tone deaf to emotion and didn’t pick up on it in the last two posts, I’ve been kinda down of late. Monday was particularly bad. Tuesday wasn’t shaping up to be much better until I decided to throw caution (and responsibility) to the wind and leave work early to go run.

I was giddy with excitement as I walked to my car. I had great plans. I’d run outdoors for the first time in weeks. It was a beautiful day! And then I’d take a nice long shower before picking up the boys. Hal, from his friend’s house and Daryl, from basketball practice.

But plans – especially happy plans – almost never work out. Especially if you have kids. You never get to do what you want when you have kids.

Jane had left school early for a doctor’s appointment, which was not likely to interfere, I thought. How naive…

I finished my run to find Jane baking a cake (from scratch). The darling had decided to make a cake for the Angel Mom picking up Hal from school as a thank you. There was just one problem. She had forgotten to preheat the oven and now needed to leave before it was done.

“It’s just another 12 minutes, mom. Can you finish it? You just need to add cocoa and melt it all for the icing,” she said, gesturing to a saucepan already holding milk and butter. “Then once it’s all liquid, add the vanilla and half that bag of sugar.”

I was standing there bathed in sweat, looking forward to my shower, and was now, instead, going to stand in a hot kitchen.

“Ok,” I said.

“Thanks, Mommy!”

While I waited for the butter to melt, I checked my voicemail. Someone had called during my run. Turns out it was Daryl, who had had to borrow someone’s phone since his was sitting in a bag of rice at home.

“Mom. There’s no basketball practice.”

That was the entire message. And no way to call him back.

Now what?

I tried to hurry outside and wave Jane down but she didn’t see me. I called a friend but she had already picked up her son and was home.

Now what?

The cake still had 10 minutes to go. His message was a solid 15 minutes earlier. Nothing to it. He’d just have to wait until I was done icing the cake.

And I’d just have to wait on that shower too.

The best laid plans of mice and men, folks. Best laid plans.

Grumpy Girl, Grumpy Uterus

Last week, we returned to our annual inter-generational art conference. This put us essentially in a “hotel” room together for five days. We pulled the short straw on bathrooms in the lodge and got a tiny one where the bathroom door barely cleared the front of the toilet. This is challenging for a family our size, to say the least.

One morning, while I was in the shower, Jane came in and started rummaging through the myriad of items on the counter. “Where’s the Ibuprofen?” she asked with more than a tinge of grump in her voice. She found it just as I prepared to answer and swallowed them without water.

“What’s the Ibuprofen for?” I asked as she began to exit the room.

“My uterus” was the frank reply. Then with the same unhappy, grumpy tone, she added, “It’s not happy that I didn’t put a baby in it.”

Now, some mothers might have been startled and even concerned by the comment. But being a writer and Jane’s mother, I knew she wasn’t saying that she wished she had put a baby in it. She was speaking from the uterus’s point-of-view and it was definitely not happy at that moment. I found it a beautiful(?) description of a woman’s monthly cycle.

Later, when I shared the exchange with a friend who reacted in the more predictable manner, Jane chimed in with an expanded explanation.

“You know when your parents tell you you are going on a trip and you are really excited about it? You get everything all packed and ready to go. And then they tell you that you aren’t going anywhere after all and you need to unpack.Do you unpack nicely and gently? No! You are angry. You grab your clothes out of your suitcase and slam them back into your drawer. It’s like that.”

It’s like that. She’s right. And maybe that’s why it hurts so much more when you are younger. Your uterus hasn’t become jaded enough to expect the trip to be canceled. After years of unpacking every month though, it gets tired of slamming the clothes back in the drawer and instead does so tired and dejected and just a tad disappointed. But not surprised and not angry.

I love my daughter. I love that she’s a reader and thus a creative wordsmith. It’s so much more fun when the people around you can create unexpected pictures in your mind rather than conveying the basic, dull information you requested.

Kids Ruin Everything

Kids ruin everything.

They ruin your mind. A wise woman advised me at my first baby shower to write down every cute thing they do because, “You think you will remember, but you won’t. Motherhood zaps your brain cells!”

She was right.

If you are a woman, they ruin your body. First they do it by distending your belly to such a degree that, especially if you have more than one or two, the skin simply gives up and sags. Then, if you breastfeed, they do it all over again to your breasts.

They also ruin your childhood memories or the things you love. You wouldn’t think they could, but they do. They do this either by just being present or by virtue of the increased “enlightenment” of the world in general since you were young.

When Jane was about two or three years old, one of my favorite songs came on the radio. One of those songs that I always sing along with at full volume if I’m in the car. Only there’s something about belting out “Hell is for children!” with my innocent, young sponge in the back seat that just struck me as wrong.

First I stopped singing. Then I turned down the volume. Then I changed the channel.

I knew Pat Benatar was singing about the evils of child abuse, but how could I explain that to my daughter if she asked? And would I want to? She ruined the song. For years, I’ve had to change the channel instead of sing along.

Movies fall victim too. I loved Real Genius when I was a kid. Loved it. I couldn’t wait until my kids were old enough to see it. We finally sat down to watch it one evening and, at first, they loved it too.

But then the woman that desperately wants to sleep with a genius came into the picture. She started trying to seduce Mitch, the young protagonist. Jane turned on one of my favorite childhood movies. Now, whenever the movie comes up, she says, “Oh, you mean that one where the woman wanted to rape a boy?”

When I protest, she reminds me that an adult having sex with a teenager is rape. When I remind her that the woman was not successful in her seduction, she points out that Mitch did have sex with his girlfriend, who was 18. He was not. Rape, says Jane.

The most recent experience wasn’t even with one of my own children. It isn’t enough that my own children sully the things I enjoy in life – no, my friends’ kids have to get in on it too.

I was driving my boys and my oldest son’s best friend when The Police’s classic, “Every Breath You Take” came on. Another song I love to sing with, and so I began.

To my surprise, our young guest began to sing along with me. Well, almost. His version went something like this:

Every breath you take and every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take,

I’ll be stalking you

I glared at him and kept singing.

So did he.

Every single day and every word you say

Every game you play, every night you stay,

I’ll be stalking you

I tried to laugh it off, but now he had me thinking about the lyrics differently…

Oh, can’t you see you belong to me

How my poor heart aches with every step you take

Every move you make, every vow you break

Every smile you fake, every claim you stake,

I’ll be stalking you

I couldn’t ignore it anymore. That beautiful, beautiful love song from my youth was now creepy. Really creepy. He was right. The song wasn’t about dedication and forlorn love. It was about stalking.

Crap! I loved that song. And a kid ruined it.

They don’t stop when they become adults either. My sister-in-law ruined her mother’s love of watching football. She absorbed all the information about concussion and injury and declared the sport too violent. She harangued her mother for supporting it and cheering on. No, not only should no one play the sport, but no one should watch it either.

With a certain sad resignation, my mother-in-law stopped watching her Broncos. And now they are going to the Super Bowl!

I’m telling you, kids ruin everything.

Riiighttt…

I saw something on Facebook the other day that really excited me. It was a trailer for the upcoming Pixar movie Finding Dory. It hadn’t entered my mind that they might do a movie focused on her, but as soon as I saw it, I thought, Perfect! Of course! She was the best character in that movie!

I never say “Let’s keep at it” or “Keep on truckin'” or “Keep on keepin’ on.” Nope. If I need to comment on the need to just keep after something, I start singing:

Just keep swimming,

Just keep swimming,

Swimming, swimming,

Just keep swimming…

Every. Single. Time. Dory has, in her own special way, stayed with me more than any other movie character. Needless to say, I was excited. Everyone had already left for school though. I had no one to share the moment with. So I decided to send my daughter a text.

dory0

I expected something along the lines of “Omg! That’s so awesome! I can’t wait!” I imagined her telling the rest of the family and the car literally rocking from people’s excitement.

Instead I got this:

dory1

Well, at least I got the “omg” part right. I responded:

dory2

But she was already in the process of typing something else, which came in just ahead of mine. Which means the conversation ended up looking something like this:

dory3

Which, of course, looked kind of bad. I decided to respond to her second comment with sarcasm. But she got another comment in first again and I ended up looking considerably more sarcastic than I planned…dory4

I decided it was time to explain.

dory5

But no way my daughter was going to let me off easy.

dory6

All in all, I think teenagers spend way too much time communicating via text instead of in person or on a phone. That said, I’ve really enjoyed my literary sparring with my daughter over the last year or so.