I am deeply uncool. Tragically unhip. Which explains why I had to use the “closed captioning” feature of the television last night while watching the Grammy award show.

There I am, listening carefully, trying to understand . . . “rocks and . . . red light” . . . what? So, that’s when I turned on closed captioning and saw that the song was about Roxanne . . . . put on the red light . . . Roxanne . . . put on the red light . . . Roxanne . . . put on the red light . . . Roxanne . . . put on the red light. Which still made absolutely no sense to me. I am out of touch with coolness. (I read the lyrics now and understand. But still.)

I did however totally love Corinne Bailey Rae. And I thought Carrie Underwood was lovely and sang beautifully. See? I like singers who sing words that are intelligible and comprehensible. I’m a fuddy duddy.

* * *

I saw two teenage boys step off a city bus the other day wearing the tightest “skinny” jeans I’ve seen on a boy since I was in college back in the eighties. They couldn’t have been any more form fitting if they were tights. And so the fashion swings back from “loose and baggy” to “leaving nothing to the imagination.” I’m glad my teenagers are as uncool as I am . . . they can’t be bothered to understand what is cool and what is uncool. They are too busy playing war in the back yard with Nerf guns.

* * *

Do you close your eyes at the dentist? I leave mine wide open, staring up the nostrils of the dentist and his assistant. Or gazing into the glaring light or studying the ceiling. I’m sort of afraid I’ll fall asleep if I close my eyes.

So, what about you? Eyes open or closed?


Updated to say two things:

1) Yes, two of you have noticed that not only am I tragically unhip now, but I was also equally unhip twenty years ago when The Police first recorded that ridiculous “Rocks and” (okay, “Roxanne”) song. Hey! I went to Bible College, you know, and secular music was Of The Devil, you know. I would never have listened to it. (Unless it was Dan Fogelberg.) So, you caught me. I was uncool then and I’m uncool now.

2) Okay, I took poetic license. My dentist–a really gentle, kind guy–and his assistant both wear masks. I couldn’t have seen up their nostrils if I had tried. I did study the assistant’s eyelids and envied her unsaggy lids–she’s quite a bit older than me (grown kids and close to retirement), but yet, her lids aren’t all droopy like mine.

Missing: Baby Jesus

So, I confess.  I lost Baby Jesus.  But it wasn’t my fault, exactly.

See, my daughter, Grace, (she’s four) has this obsession with babies.  She thinks that one day I’ll be a baby again and she’ll be the mom.  Meanwhile, she has a dizzying array of dollies.  This morning she tucked one into bed with me, instructing me to make sure the baby stayed under the covers.

Last Christmas, Grace kidnapped Baby Jesus from the stable, leaving a bereft Mary and a bewildered Joseph keeping vigil over no one.  The angel appeared not to notice and the shepherd just gazed skyward.  Baby Jesus wasn’t harmed, just relocated to Grace’s bedroom where she kept watch over Him.  I noted that Baby Jesus had been stolen from his earthly parents and intended to right that wrong just as soon as I finished the laundry and wrapped the gifts and ate all the Christmas cookies.  In other words, later.  Moving Baby Jesus to His rightful spot didn’t seem that important at the time.

Then, Christmas came and went.  It was time to put away Christmas decorations but Baby Jesus had disappeared.  I picked up the forlorn manger as I tidied up her room (how does it turn into such chaos?) but Baby Jesus was gone.  (The manger spent all year on my dresser as a reminder of my failure in Search and Rescue.)  I was so sure He’d appear, pop out to startle me just like the kids do when they play hide-and-seek.  I’d jump and say, “Oh, that’s where you are, Baby Jesus!  Good hiding space!”

I just knew He would show up again.  Perhaps He lingered under the television set or maybe He mingled with the random plastic people in the toy box.  Could He be in the sock drawer or stuck behind the dresser?  I don’t know because He never showed up.  Baby Jesus vaporized.  He was here just a minute ago (okay, a year ago) and now,  no Baby Jesus.

We can’t have Christmas without Baby Jesus.  He is the Reason (as they say) for the Season, after all.  He is the one we gather about, the centerpiece of the holy family, the heartbeat of the holiday.

And so, since I can’t find Baby Jesus–He must be in that mysterious space with the missing cell phone, that red GameBoy and jangling set of car-keys I lost on the Fourth of July–I am bidding on Baby Jesus on eBay.

Because Mary needs her baby and not just any baby will do.

This is your life.

I’m having a hard time grabbing onto my life.  It circles the baggage carousel and I can spot it coming, but I can’t get a good grip and haul it off the circling stainless steel.  My fingertips brush against the handle, but it’s just too heavy and I can’t lift it before it slips past.

When I was young, I thought my life would take an entirely different direction.  As a young girl, I wanted to be a veterinarian.  I was inspired by James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” series of books.  My dad and stepmom thought a stint working at a goat farm would be further inspiration, but the proprietor of the farm dimmed my youthful passion.  She was a gray-haired hippie who thought nothing of leaving me in a pen of baby goats with a sharp implement and directions to trim their hooves.  She sheared the goats in her kitchen, wearing only her big white granny-underpants and a t-shirt.  Plus, I had to ride my twelve-speed bike through hilly undeveloped land to reach her farm.  The ride alone took over an hour, as I recall. 

My parents didn’t ever let me take the easy way.  I had to bum a ride when I worked as a hospital volunteer.  No one would pick me up or deliver me to this altruistic job.  When I wanted clothes, I had to buy them myself.  I remember riding my bicycle to school on a day when the roads were coated with ice.  (I fell.)  I grew up in the most isolated family you can imagine.  When we returned home from school to an empty house, my brother and sister and I retreated to our separate rooms for the rest of the afternoon.  It’s no wonder that I filled my spare time with volunteer jobs and activities. 

I was searching for someplace where I mattered.  I wanted to help and I wanted my presence to make a difference.

That’s why I decided I’d be a doctor.  I had the grades and the brain-power to accomplish that goal, but I lacked the familial support and the sensible direction from school officials.  No one advised me where I ought to attend college.  No one encouraged me to pursue any particular academic path.  My dad, at that point, was still trying to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up.  I felt like I was very much on my own.  I’ve always felt that way.

I went to Bible college because I thought God would love me more if I gave up something.  So I gave up my dream of being a doctor and plunged into the isolated world of an Assemblies of God Christian college.  I found the classes to be full of subjectivity–I couldn’t earn perfect grades anymore because the linear style of academics had turned into a whirl of opening prayers and rambling lectures and material that didn’t seem to have a beginning or an end.  The longer I attended, the less I saw the world as it really was.  My view of the world blinked open only occasionally.  Mostly, it shrank to the size of our campus, where I was isolated without a car.  The longer I was there, the less I felt like I could ever leave.  I loved it.  I hated it.  I loved it more.

I trusted less in myself–I trusted in myself not at all, really–and more in the institution and the denomination and God as I understood Him to be. 

And so I graduated with a degree worth nothing and an engagement ring on my finger.

The only smart choice I’ve made was to marry my husband.  He’s a remarkable man, a fine companion for this journey on earth.  But still, my life doesn’t resemble anything I pictured.

For one thing, I never imagined a world in which my father did not exist.  Yet, he died when I was 24.  I never considered that planning my family would be a challenge.  And yet, motherhood didn’t unfold as I expected.  Infertility, adoption of twins, two unexpected pregnancies . . . nothing as I planned. 

I’m not the mother I expected to be.  That mother was perky and cute and patient under all circumstances.  That mother had children who listened quietly and obeyed promptly.  That mother taught her children to play the piano and read long stories before bed to children who smelled of Ivory soap and homemade sugar cookies.  That mother had a circle of friends who stopped by with fragrant pumpkin bread and telephoned for no reason at all and got together to make crafts and drink coffee.  That mother drank coffee.

I don’t even drink coffee.  I’m nothing that I thought I would be.

Which is disappointing in so many ways.  I thought my life would be like a poem, words sewed together with precision and care.  Instead, it’s like a Scrabble board, words awkwardly shoved together just because I found a “U” to go with the “Q.”  And I have too many vowels and no “R” and my next move depends on the other player. 

So, my life circles around, a haphazard jumble of letters, two metaphors mixed up in an airport full of Scrabble players, I guess.  I’m not what I thought I would be and I’m not yet sure I’ll be what I think.  I’m poised at the starting line at that hopeful place before beginning when failure is not yet possible.  (You can’t fail if you don’t start.)

That’s the view from the kitchen table on a Friday night as I watch my life circle back around, just waiting for me to grab it this time around.   

Easily irritated or justified annoyance? You decide.

Last night, while I rode my exercise bike and concentrated on the tiny print of Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady (which is taking forever to read) I may have been a little snippy when I asked my husband to, “TURN DOWN THE VOLUME!” of the television.  He pointed out that I am easily irritated, which, hey, so sue me.  Perhaps it’s true.  I just want whoever is nearest the remote control to be responsible enough to monitor the volume, turning it down during the commercials and up during vital dialogue.  Is that too much to ask? 

Here’s the thing.  If everyone I live with would just do things my way (ie. The Right Way), I would not be so annoyed. 

For instance, here is the kind of thing I encounter.

Last night, 9:30ish.  I’m reclining in the old green chair, afghan covering my lap, channel surfing, eating fat-free popcorn.  I hear a crash.  I do not even wince.

Moments later, a 13-year old emerges with the remnants of a Mary Engelbreit mug and a half-baked story about its accidental smashing.  Whatever.  I scarcely look up, but tell the boy to get a broom and clean up the mess.  After all, if a busted artery were gushing, he’d be covered in blood already, right?

This morning, while passing through their room on the way to the laundry room, I notice the broom on their floor which irritates me.  Why can’t these children put things away?  Have I done this to them?  Have I taught them to disregard my need for order?  Did I neglect to teach them The Right Way?  I also note that someone has ripped open a microwave popcorn bag, licked it clean and discarded it in bits in a pile on the floor.  This, not surprisingly, irritates me and I make a mental note to rebuke the offender and make him clean up that mess.

A bit later, I’m in the kitchen putting away cooking spray on the top shelf and as I push it in, the bread crumbs container commits suicide, flinging itself onto the kitchen floor where it crumbs burst forth in a vast expanse.

The mug-crusher notices this and retrieves the broom.  I say in a dead voice, “Great, now get the dustpan.”  He disappears into his room, never to return.  I start yelling for the dishpan and the other 13-year old wanders out, claiming he can’t find it.  I say, irrationally, “I don’t care if you can’t find it!  BRING IT TO ME NOW!” 

We never did find the dustpan.  This irritates me greatly and causes me to mutter under my breath, stuff about putting things away and, well, things I ought not to say.  BUT HOW IRRITATING IS IT THAT MY DUSTPAN IS GONE? 

I fashioned a piece of cardboard into a makeshift dustpan and cleaned up the mess, but not before one of my boys stepped in the pile of crumbs while peering into the kitchen and probably drinking the last drop of milk and leaving an empty container on the shelf.

My husband thinks I could fill a whole blog up with all the things that irritate me, which is probably true.  (For instance, at a movie last week, a guy was talking into a lit up, walkie-talkie style cell phone during the movie.  If I hadn’t been concerned about him having a concealed weapon, I might have hollered, “HEY, BUDDY!  PUT AWAY YOUR PHONE, YOU THOUGHTLESS IDIOT!”  What is wrong with people?) 

I must note that my sensitivity to irritation is greatly enhanced one week out of every month and frankly, I find that irritating. 

Gloomy Sunday Afternoon

It’s only 4:40 p.m., but night has crept in.  The gloomy skies are calm at the moment, but we’re told to expect raging winds and drenching rain.  Welcome to November.

(Down the street, some guy’s Christmas lights already shine in the night.)

My telephone just rang, but it wasn’t a political call.  My husband called from the church where he’s been since 7:30 a.m.  He’s preparing for a 6:00 p.m. meeting. 

I had no idea he’d be at the church all day–maybe he told me and the information slipped through my brain and fell onto the floor where someone kicked it under the table.  Who knows?  When he called an hour ago to let me know he’d just stay at church until his meeting ended, my fading hope of escape from my pleasant prison home evaporated.  (My daughter just chatted with him on the phone and told him it’s almost her bedtime.  The early darkness confuses her.)

I’m still telling myself with the petulance of a small child that maybe I can still go to a movie.  Or to buy some drain unclogging chemicals to treat our plugged-up shower.  Anything to get me out of this house before the door is nailed shut.

I look ahead to this week and feel suffocated and trapped–like an claustrophobic contemplating a long sit in a closet or a wild dance in a mosh pit.  My husband’s going out of town for three days, including Saturday (aka as Set Mel Free Day) and if you add in Judo on Monday and Wednesday, that leaves Tuesday night free. 

Look for me Tuesday out in public wandering the streets.

Oh, on a positive note:  only a half-day of school on Thursday and no school on Friday, so theoretically, I could take the children someplace on a pseudo-field trip and I would if I were Mother of the Year. 

But I’m not.  (I am, however, the reigning Lazy Mother of the Year, though.  My lucky, lucky kids!)  

[And just so you know:  yesterday, I spent three hours in the morning running errands . . . then I took my 8-year old to a birthday party.  After checking out the party-situation (a pool with two lifeguards and only party-goers in attendance), I went shopping for two hours.  See?  I’m just a big whiner.  It’s never enough, the time-off I have!  I want more!]

Hollow Head

I’m reading Kelly Monroe Kullberg’s Finding God Beyond Harvard while I ride my exercise bike at night.  She was a Harvard chaplain who started Veritas Forums, “university events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.” 

Reading about this sort of intellectual activity, not to mention the retreats and late-night conversations, makes me feel like a hollow tree.  If you cracked my skull open, I’m sure you’d find my dusty clumps of cat where my my brain used to sit.  I don’t harbor a single profound question about the origin of the universe or about my purpose in the grand scheme of things because every single thought in my brain centers around questions of survival.  No angst, no intellectual debate, no scintillating theories.  Just mundane stuff like:

Will I pull together a healthy meal tonight?

Did I match up all the socks?

Is that cat poop on the ground?

When can I get out of this house so people will stop asking me for stuff?  And interrupting me? 

And why can’t I fish a single thought out of the murky puddle that used to be my brain?

I’m empty, people.  Dry as the cat’s bowl.  Barren as the ivy-strangled bush in my front yard.  Disconnected from community, unplugged, turned off, burned out.

The big questions are settled in my mind.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that my mind is so full of minutia that I can’t think of anything interesting to say.

And I’m lonely for the me that used to have a thought in her head that didn’t have to do with dirt removal or drain unclogging.


The Dinner Dishes

I woke at 6:30 a.m.–a full hour before necessary–because my daughter woke me.  Why?  Why?  No reason.  She watched a show while I dozed, then she came to wriggle between my husband and me.  I began my day in earnest at 7:30 a.m. by facing a sink full of dirty dinner dishes.

If I had any sense, I’d do the dishes right after dinner.

But I don’t.  Tonight, the second we finished eating, I took my daughter to the park “with red swings.”  Even though summer has ended unofficially, the temperatures hovered in the high seventies, maybe the eighties.  The pool is closed (alas), but it still feels like summer.

So, she skipped and dangled from monkey bars and slid down the pole with only a little help from me.  I pushed her on the swing (“but not too fast, Mommy”) and she flew down the slides. 

When we got home, she had a bath.  The phone rang.  Some friends wanted to bring over a birthday present for my daughter, so I rushed her out of the bath and into pajamas and we waited for our friends to come.

I was grateful for the advance warning.  I cleared out the living room which is visible from the front door.  I picked up a cup, two pairs of shoes, a pair of yellow boots, two dress-up gowns, one fancy shoe, a stick horse, a novel, two diapers, two cardboard boxes destined for the recycling bin, and a bag full of envelopes ready to mail.  I relocated most of these items and hoped that our unexpected guests would stay in the living room where the night’s darkness would hide dust.

They arrived at about 8 p.m., just as the show I wanted to watch began.  (Drat!)  But my daughter delighted in opening the gifts and we had a lovely little chat until 8:30 p.m. when they left.

I sent my husband out with my daughter to walk our guests to their car and to view the moon.  Meanwhile, I raced upstairs, turned on the t.v. and began riding my exercise bike.

And the dinner dishes?  Still in the sink where I’ll hate to find them in the morning, but I’d hate to do them tonight even more.

Some things never change. 

And Now, Panic-Stricken Whining

And as the minutes tick passed, bringing me closer to VBS, also known as the day when the ship sinks and I go down with it . . .

I feel so depressed.  Why can’t I be one of those moms who just drops off her kids at the church and goes out for coffee for three hours?  Why must I be the mom who stays at home teaching her reluctant teenagers language skills and math and history while trying to shake off the distractions of preschoolers?  I agree with all those women who say, “I could never do that!”  I can’t do it, either.  But I am doing it anyway.

I am the ship’s captain and my crew is jumping ship, one by one, leaving me on this leaky boat.  I have a hundred kids boarding in four weeks and I promise you, I will not abandon ship.  But it would be so much easier if I had a crew and perhaps someone to help me bail the water out. 

*  *  * 

These are the irrational thoughts of a woman (me!) who just looked at the calendar, counted the weeks until Vacation Bible School and freaked out.

The time has come to clean off my desk.  Make a list.  Telephone volunteers.  Refrain from running away from home.  Ask how many kids have registered.  Plan a meeting.  Try not to let panic overtake me.

In a month, it will be all over.  God help me.  

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing to Lose

A stack of magazines, school work, file folders, VBS manuals, mail, and random papers sits about eight inches high on my desk.  The folded laundry is stacked on the Lane recliner, the one I paid $10.00 for at a garage sale last summer.  My computer is decorated with thirteen post-it notes, all containing vital information. 

Dirty dishes remain in the kitchen sink.  Baskets of dirty laundry sit upstairs.  The bananas are rapidly turning from ripe to black.  The newspaper from Sunday waits for me on the kitchen table.  I must read the Sunday paper.  It’s one of my rules.

One week of school to go and we have to finish up two units of science, two units of math, some composition and a bunch of spelling.  Four weeks until Vacation Bible School (Fiesta!) and I have many positions left to fill. 

And I have a cold.

We bought a used van.  We agreed to pay $1300 to fix our old car.  My son left his glasses at his friend’s house and the friend’s dog gnawed a lens right out of the glasses.  I’m going to take a picture because if you can’t laugh about the destruction of prescription glasses, you are missing a component necessary to surviving motherhood.  So, I will joke about it.

My email box is jammed so full that I fear my long-time friends are plotting against me.  I owe everyone in the world an email.  I have a real letter with an actual stamp from a prisoner sitting somewhere in the pile on my desk (or maybe in the pile on the kitchen counter).  (The letter is sitting somewhere–not the prisoner.  The prisoner is in Virginia.)  I started writing her months ago, committed myself to writing her cheerful, newsy, breezy letters . . . and now, I’m lagging behind.  The poor woman is in prison and I can’t seem to get a letter written to her.  

So, all this swirls around me and in the midst of this madness, I have concluded that I need to make a life change.  A serious life-change, one I have dreaded and avoided for years–for 30 years, as a matter of fact.  Terror fills me, yet I see no other choice.  

That’s right.  I decided to grow out my bangs.  I hope the universe doesn’t grind to a halt in the wake of this momentous decision.  

Wasting Time

It’s 3:00 p.m. and I have nothing to show for my day.  The couch cushions are scattered on the floor, instead of being in their fully upright and locked positions.  Goldfish cracker crumbs cover the kitchen floor.  (Who designed these crackers to fall into half a million pieces when crushed?)  I put laundry in the washer and dryer only once today.  I haven’t updated our school records for the day. 

Another nap-time squandered!  I read the newspaper, thought of several topics I could write about (divorce and Lance Armstrong’s ex-wife, the increasing rate of incarcerated women, for instance), ate lunch, answered the phone four times and wondered what to make for dinner.

You know when you’re moving and you have a bunch of stuff that doesn’t easily fit into boxes and furthermore, you might need it before you move so you wait until the last minute?  And then you circle the rooms again and again until you’re dizzy and sweaty, trying to figure out how to cram this here and that there?  No?  Well, maybe it’s just me, then, but that’s how I’m feeling now.

Too many things vie for my attention and it leaves me twirling, trying to decide where to start.  Instead, I do nothing productive.  (But hey, at least I haven’t been reproductive because then I really wouldn’t get anything done.)