Changing Tides and Good Tidings!

My youngest children, my twins, turned 10 last week. I don’t believe that I’d thoroughly prepared for that milestone as it had gotten shuffled between the craziness of life, sports, school schedules and the harried holiday season. Sure, I’d remembered presents but it has always been a flurry of gift-buying at this time anyway for the large family and extended family, so it wasn’t like I was totally unprepared. It was more an emotional wake-up to no longer having kids under 10, which put me in a different parent category. It may just be in my paranoid mind, but there seems to be less sympathy for parents who have older kids vs. younger. It’s as if other parents think that we somehow lose our memory of how hard those years were and that we can’t possibly “really know” what parents of toddlers are going through. Again, maybe just my imagination,but as a parent of twins, let me tell you that those young years are indelibly etched in my mind!

At ten years old, the gifts have moved quite a ways from crafts and toys, to clothes  and whatever’s new in electronics. When we had the family birthday party, minus both of the older sisters for the first time in their lives, it was different, for sure. There were 4 minor things for them to each open, one after another of mostly clothes that they had picked out themselves. Before they had received their main present, my wife decided to play a bit of what seemed like emotional torture on them as she asked our daughter if she had a nice birthday. “Yes,” she beamed, which made me even more uncomfortable for her. What if she was secretly hoping for something she hadn’t gotten but was afraid to seem disappointed? I could wait no longer and instructed their 12 yr. old sister to fetch their surprises. I had worked hard to find them both gently used iPod touches on eBay, outfitted them with new cases, and wrapped them up tightly and repeatedly so that the suspense would be prolonged. The excitement and surprise were beyond my imagination and their thankfulness made me proud. Of course they were from both my wife and I, but I also knew that electronics aren’t her thing, so the blissful time then (in my mind) would probably not last long(in hers)!

Several days later and we’ve got app addicts. After we give them a week to work out their excitement, they will need them confiscated every day before school, before meals, and before bed. They may even go to a reward system sign-out sheet if after a week this drug-like desire does not wane. “No, I do not want to FaceTime with you while I’m making dinner.” “Yes, I’m an adult, when you get to be an adult you can take your itouch into the bathroom with you too, but right now, it stays out here!” And, “yes, I’m coming up to put you to bed soon but just let me finish down here before you text me again!!” We’ve created monsters. A new generation of soon-to-be adults who will no longer be able to communicate without abbreviating!

Ten years ago, on the day that my wife gave birth to our twins, the most vivid memory that I have was in the pre-dawn hours when she woke me to say that her water had broken and she was in labor. We were ready with a bag packed and contingency plans in place for our then 2.5 yr-old who was asleep upstairs, but we had not planned on a snowstorm that night. I got up like a flash, ascertained that my wife was capable of getting ready to leave by herself, and dressed to go out and get the car warmed up. At no time the previous day were there warnings of an impending snowfall, so imagine my surprise when I opened the garage door to see at least 8 inches of white stuff blocking our exit. I quickly ran back into the house to tell my wife, call the neighbors for help, and to quiet my panic. No answer across the street. No other friends would be able to get to the house to assist unless they had a plow. Did we have a plow company to call? I didn’t handle that job, my wife did. I didn’t want to panic her… “Honey, I’m just going to go back out and shovel us out a bit.” “No, it’s not bad. I’ll be done lickedy split!”

I returned to the task, which seemed insurmountable at the time, but resigned myself to making quick work and getting to the hospital safely. I surely didn’t want to deliver them at home and knowing that a C-section was pending gave even more fury to my shoveling!

As I looked down the street, my eyes seemed to be playing tricks on me. I saw one golden light haloed by the falling snow. It was moving towards me ever so slowly, quietly, but coming nearer until I could see the outline of some sort of tractor. It was our new plow person, a farmer, apparently, who my wife had just the day before arranged to plow us that winter! I didn’t know him then, but he will be forever known as our angel who guided us by plowing the entire 2 miles to the main road. We still don’t know how and why he was there at that time with that singular purpose, but we are grateful that our treasured spirits were watching out for us and got the message to him!

We attended the annual family Christmas at my in-laws the other night. It has been a zoo every year for 16 of the years I’ve attended as the 8 children, 24 grandchildren(probably more…) and increasing numbers of grand kids and great nieces/nephews under 3 were underfoot in the small house. It seems that every year at this festivity, we mark the day with the memory of one who is no longer with us. It is a reminder to me of my own pending mortality as I imagine the day when these new parents will be seasoned parents and maybe even grandparents, mourning the passing of us middle-agers.

New babies arrive, older relatives die, and the cycle goes on. At the other end of the spectrum, my wife’s dad, who in his mid-eighties is the oldest and the patriarch of the family. He has been spiralling downhill in the last year and will likely be the next to go. The loss of a friend or relative near a special holiday or occasion seems to leave a permanent damper on one’s soul. I/we could use to get through this season with no more sorrow to add to an already emotion-filled time.

As the Christian holiday approaches, and those who are religious as well as those of us who either practice another religion or cling to the residual effects of an upbringing laden with spiritual overtones, I hope that we can all remember the joy as well as the memory of those who have passed and who will forever be in our hearts!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Mele Kalikimaka!

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Found Objects

I found a photo on the ground yesterday when I was out walking. It was slick with dew, lying adjacent to a lawn with no trash cans in sight and discarded as if it fell out of someone’s pack on the way to the bus stop. Five women were staring up at me, faces aglow with the happiness that comes from what I gathered was a very fun and memorable wedding and neatly labeled on the back with the bride’s name, her mother, and three friends. It was a captured frame of the joy in their moment  and a memory that would likely live on in the minds of these five women forever. The picture certainly had seen its day and was eroding before my eyes. I picked it up carefully and cradled it in my hand, curling it only slightly to maximize the exposure to air so that it could dry. For what purpose I wanted to preserve it, I didn’t know.

I’ll just get this out there now…I’m a pretty nostalgic gal. I like pictures, video, anything to preserve a moment and a good time. I’ve been known to snap photos at most events, capturing  any emotion, and taking pictures of people is by far my favorite hobby. On numerous occasions I’ve grabbed my video camera to preserve a tantrum of one of my kids, mostly to distract, but also to deflect the absurdity in the moment to the silliness that lurks below. It doesn’t always work, but the result is preserved for their own kids to see if the need arises! “Yes, your dad had tantrums too- isn’t that just ridiculous to be crying over the fact that your sister called you a butt?!”

I am my father’s daughter, and like him, photography has always fascinated me. I learned my way around my father’s darkroom by 4th grade, and by 6th grade, I was venturing into my first real enterprise – taking pictures of my teachers, printing up copies and selling them to my friends at school for a quarter. Never mind that the chemicals and paper cost me more than that; it was a great experience in supply and demand for a budding businesswoman. That teacher, one who had taught my older sisters and who was much-loved by many students, was retiring after our year, so the demand for my goods was high!

Unfortunately, thinking about that time also brings up the memory of a few years later, when visiting that teacher, who lived nearby, and who often played his accordion while I joined in on my violin, tried to kiss me on the couch in his living room. His old man smell and bristly unshaven face are now etched in my mind forever instead of that bold, well-loved, handsome man in my photo. What memories we preserve…

By the end of my walk, I had found several other goodies – an elastic rip cord shoelace in decent condition that my son would find a purpose for, and 3 more, very disturbing  items – dog poop in bags, neatly tied, and set along the sidewalk on the grass as if waiting to be picked up by some elusive dog poop picker-upper.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a few pet peeves. Irresponsibility is up there at the top. Intentional irresponsibility is even worse! I don’t have a dog, for many good reasons, (kids who can barely take care of themselves as top on that list), and not because I don’t enjoy them; I have had a good number of dogs in my life whom I’ve loved dearly. Back when I did have them, it was before the time of picking up the poop in public places, but instead, we just resorted to a leash-pull maneuver and coaxing to get the dog to poop in a benign wooded area. While I do understand the inconvenience of capturing and bagging the deed, I don’t understand the absurdity of bagging and deserting it, thus, my need to go back and state the obvious so that this derelict and any others thinking of a copy-cat offense knows that I AM WATCHING!

I clearly realize that the older I get, the less I care about what people think of me. “Crazy old lady” putting up signs next to dog poop is right up there with “crazy old lady who had 40 cats living with her in her car,” but it’s more than that for me. I’m not a “teacher” in any sense of the word but I teach every single day. My classroom may be small, rude  and resentful at times, but I’m hoping that the values I try to instill in my kids will be ones that they can admire and respect me for  someday. If we don’t do it, who will?

By the time I arrived home and set the photo on my counter, I was disappointed to see that the picture had nearly disappeared. The ink-jet printing layer had turned to dust and all but two faces were totally gone. I know, it wasn’t my memory to preserve, but for about an hour, it was mine.

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