Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer's end...again

It's looming. I have a pit in my stomach and I don't want to talk about it. Even good students dread the start of school and I was never an exception...up through graduate school. My kids are the same and I love them for it--we wallow together at the end of every August. Chip sympathizes but without true appreciation and respect for the dread. The beginning of the calendar year is September no matter what the Romans have led us to believe. A week ago, I still had the fantasy going that autumn and school and early sunsets were a long way off. I feel so sad for all the little children this week.

A trip to Two Harbors, MN on the northshore of Lake Superior with girlfriends. Such a fun time and although there were fall- like temperatures up there and a few red leaves on the ground already, it was still summer. What a difference a week makes.

Agates are the biggest treasure to be found on the northshore of Lake Superior and my friends and I were obsessed in our search for them. Milky and translucent, jammed layers of creams and reds--symbolic stone testaments of long-standing friendship. Eons of laughs, history, private joys and sorrows, marriages, deaths, children, illness compressed into a tight wad of unbreakable matter.

All the stones I found are in my garage now. Today I brought them out to show a friend and let them pass through my fingers over and over....pretending I'm on the beach again and it's summer and I'm younger and my kids are younger and life is moving at a snail's pace.

Nothing funny about school starting. It's even hard to blog. Just want to curl up and be in a funk.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lookie lookie loo

I'm casting my hook a little further and further out into the depths each week and feeling a little desperate (in my mind) as I search for employment. It's never been hard to find a job as a nurse and maybe it still isn't if you aren't picky and you specialize in aging boomers. But over the years I have become a specialist in sick kids and a specialist in not working nights, weekends or holidays. Sigh. sigh. I know in six months I'll just kick myself for wasting my days in August worrying about finding work. I just know it. But I'm a worrier and an obsessive and so this little loop I'm currently spinning in will just have to burn itself out.

Today, I spent the afternoon with my rellies. Distant and dead, but nonetheless a joy to look at and talk to and move about the wall. I want you to believe I'm an interior design artist as you admire my artful attention to placement and detail. But it's a big lie. The frames are mostly from Walgreens and the placement is haphazard, although there are some loose groupings by family. This guy is this guy's dad, and this guy is my dad's dad, etc. But the stark contrasts of black and white matting is a complete and utter mistake on my part. As I stood in the matting section of the store today, I convinced myself that all the photographs at home were matted in black. I even put back all the cream colored matting that I initially took off the shelves. I got home, never looked at my staircase, framed the most recent crop, walked over to the wall and realized all the mats were cream colored.

The idea isn't even mine as I stole it from a woman in our birthing class who had us all over for a reunion once all the babies were born. I looked around the room and thought to myself, "I'll never see these people again. I'm stealing her photo staircase idea as soon as I get out of here." I find that many of my decorating ideas are mistakes, stolen and/or a result of sloth and convenience.

It helps to have beautiful parents with which to start such a staircase. There are abbreviations in pediatrics to communicate quickly to colleagues what they are about to come upon in an examination room. FLK is one of my favorites. And it's applicable in my case: BP + BP = FLK. Funny Lookin Kid. I'm not sad or in need of reassurance. I've had my cute days and I like myself generally. But these two...they're just annoyingly attractive.

Absolutely feel free to steal this idea. DIY.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends

Trucking it home in one day from the east coast with music and friends. I couldn't have done it without my best pals, Ally and Livvie. I may be the platoon leader but they are the grunts who put their necks on the line and win the war under my leadership. Plugging in and tuning out, working time efficiently at their appointed rest stops and eating whatever I throw in the back of the car. Most importantly, they actively engage with me in radio channel surfing through big metropolitan areas where the tunes are plentiful and the car karaoke possibilities are unlimited. We do a little of their music (Taylor, Miley, Jordan, Kelly, Akon, Mraz etc.) and then we do a little of mine. I'm a hip mama but I still can't get through "Blame it on the A-a-a-a-alcohol" and "Birthday Sex" to which they reply, "AW, MOM!, C'MON." I flick it briskly to whatever Clear Channel has cooking for the oldsters. I watch in the rearview mirror as their faces wrinkle like there's a bad smell in the car while I croon the banal songbook of Peter Cetera..."Like a knight in shining armor, from a long time ago...". Really any song with a saxophone is bad news for them. And I am a fantastic singer within the generous acoustics of a Dodge Caravan.

I reward them with some Miley's The Climb or some Taylor's Romeo and Juliet. We make the generational see-saw work for us. In the end, my long time boyfriends rode up alongside me on their emotional Harleys in all their glorious denim and fringe and voluminous hair blowin' in the wind.... John Mellencamp, Jim Croce, Steven Tyler, Jimmy Buffett, Dan Fogelberg (ok, he was on a Vespa) and Robert Plant were amongst those that helped me bring her home from Chicago to Madison when I was in desperate need of inspiration and pillows for my head and my tush. I am grateful to rock and roll for its restorative juice.

Our visit to The Philadelphia Zoo on Tuesday, while excruciatingly hot, was another wonderful reminder of my multigenerational connection to the city. My dad would tell me stories of how he went there as a child and my mom used to go with her boyfriend the veterinarian and feed cigarette butts to the hippos (how is that a good story to tell your kids?). My own experiences at the zoo were of running around with my friend Karen Porter whose mom took kids to every fun thing in the city every week and I was one of the gang. Most of my cultural experiences were obtained via a grant from the Porter Foundation. And then in the nineties, my own children visited the naked mole rats weekly.

The big cats have a new habitat as do the primates. The elephants are gone as their enclosure was antiquated. I was touched at this 150 year old zoo's attempts to keep current and conservationist in what has become a hostile society for zoos. I figure 150 years ago, zoos were some of the most forethinking organizations related to any sort of conservation as scary as that may seem today. Ally hates zoos but I pointed out that circuses still exist and their treatment of animals is far more suspect than any zoo. She rolled her eyes and I realized I had gone too far. Why can't I just nod and listen?

A statue behind the old cat houses is the site of one of our favorite pictures of Ally and Liv together and so we tried to recreate it this visit only to find the mounted statue is either removed or buried behind all the new facades. I asked at the gate about its whereabouts and the man said, "You are the second person today to ask about a statue." He went on to tell me that there was a man who wanted the location of a statue where he himself had been photographed alongside his grandfather and that day wanted to take a picture of himself and his grandson. If you're going to run a zoo for 150 years, you had better realize that the only continuity for many of us oldtimers might be the statues.

What are you lookin' at?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aunt Michele and that's with one L

As I drove into Ocean City over the Longport Bridge, the guy in the toll booth took my money and said simply, "How ya been?" Nobody in WI says "How ya been?". Nice as the day is long the people in Wisconsin, but rarely familiar. Everybody here behaves somewhat familiarly and they're sort of bored about it as if you always come over the Longport Bridge that same time everyday. I likey.

I've always felt awkward about the use of the monikers aunt and uncle for non-related adults. Like if they're not related and you call them uncle, it will cause them to touch you in ways that make you feel uncomfortable and you won't tell anybody. Ok, everybody has their irrational fears...Chip thought the babies would be switched in the nursery and we would go home with the wrong one. No explanations, no apologies. It also seemed confusing to call everybody aunt and uncle and a little disrespectful to the few and the proud, so I kept the list for our kids exclusive to the Webster's Dictionary definitions.....except for one. Aunt Michele. She's my roommate from college and one of the inner circle of about seven women unrelated to me that I'd consider giving a kidney.

We are common-law marrieds, soul mates, inextricably-intertwined (you can google this phrase, it's legal) for 28 years. Possibly bordering on Kay and Flo, those Dick-Clark-loving autistic twins on the Discovery Health Channel. I could tell you stories, only they would bore you because you experienced all the same things with your own Aunt Michele back in the day. But the reality is most people lose touch with their aunt micheles and that's a damn shame. Nothing like an old friend to keep you honest and give you a place on earth to be your authentic authentic self. Not the poetic one Dr. Phil talks about but the warty, farty one that worries about creepers molesting kids that were forced to call non-related adults, "uncle". Aunt Michele accepts my quirks with an "Alrighty then." and moves on. I hide nothing from her and that's likely a byproduct of peeing with the door open for three years. Hey, we were always busy so when one of us was sitting for the moment, it was the ideal time to check in.

Can you get back in touch with your own Aunt Michele? Sure you can. Facebook has made this person accessible to you again. My Aunt Michele isn't on Facebook so it's a gamble, but maybe one worth exploring.

Evil therapist noted these long standing relationships as an unusual (I heard strange) priority in one's present life. Well, it may be rare but when I see our kids together, I know my priorities are in order and evil therapist is wrong. The past seven years we've been busy raising our families and we don't talk everyday anymore, but her cell phone number is burned in my brain and I know she's out there to catch me if I fall as she's done thousands of times before.

Classic Philly heat today. Mid 90s and high high humidity. Even the weather is welcoming me back.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A week down the shore

Roseanne Barr has said many things that resonate with me but her character's declaration, "NO NEW PEOPLE!" is my favorite. I've always respected that blunt honesty about new people and things as anxiety producing. I like connections and continuity with places and people. I desperately need to be "a regular". I'm challenged by new. I've always been especially keen on a predictable landing when it comes to beach vacations. Too much hawing and faffing around trying to figure out what the good stuff is in a new place. I could come back to Ocean City every summer for the rest of my life and never find it weird. Sad as that probably is. I've been to Morocco and yes, I like Ocean City better because it's less scary and it has my Aunt Polly.

Shaved lemon water ice on the beach
Uncle Scott pays a visit

Ocean City, NJ has been a lifelong destination for me in the summer. I have been coming here since I was a kid and have brought up my own kids coming here as well. My dad even came here as a kid. He'll tell you how he worked at Bob's Grill one summer and Bob liked him until he kicked some coke syrup bottles together that broke and dripped all over the umbrellas under the boardwalk. It was never the same between Bob and my dad after that.

I cut my teeth here during Shore Weeks 1980 and 1981 when all the Philadelphia high school kids descended upon this dry town for serious drunken revelry the week after graduation. Those memories are hazy but sweet. My aunt and uncle bought a house here about fifteen years ago solidifying my connection. I might just have to be buried under the boardwalk.

So my predictables? Besides baking in the sun and swimming between the green flags, food excursions for local artery clogging favorites, sweatshirt and trinket shopping on the boards (one simply cannot have too many hermit crabs or too many OCBP tees), fiercely competitive miniature golf (shadow whammys are permitted) and a trip to Playland (hellishly noisy mosh pit of fatigued parents, rickety rides, cotton candy, screaming toddlers and preening Jersey girls). We try to hit Kohr Bros. soft serve ice cream earliest because it's likely we'll hit it again and again before we leave. Olivia and I are partial to the orange sherbert which tastes just like St. Joseph's baby aspirin, a fantastic taste in and of itself. And they are called Rainbow jimmies please, not sprinkles. Then there's the candy...gotta buy loads of candy because that's just what one does on the boardwalk. Shrivers, Fralingers and Fudge Kitchen especially for their free samples.

The Christmas Gallery....any woman in South Jersey will tell you there is nothing that says summer more than shopping for tree ornaments in August. Johnson's Popcorn, Mack & Manco pizza, Pennysylvania Dutch Birch Beer and then a nauseating turn on the amusement rides. Believe you me, the lengthy garden hoses tell a tale of horror. A source of family pride is that Hunters don't throw up and cause shutdowns of the Gravitron. As there were three of us tonight I enjoyed my annual loop de doop rollercoaster ride with a 12 year old boy. He was a sweet and very friendly little guy who made small talk and asked if I had ever been on this particular roller coaster, to which I replied more than a little dramatically, "every summer of my life". He seemed like a good pal until he announced at our journey's summit, "We're all going to die." Literally those were the last words I heard before plummeting earthward to what I was sure was a foretold doom by a child seer. Alas, I am still here.

Ally's training for cross country and I tried to jog a bit with her this morning. She left me in the dust coming and going but I felt my presence was motivating enough. I was listening to my iPod and Nancy Griffith's Beautiful clicked on as I watched my own beautiful girl slowly and gently pull away from me on the boardwalk as I imagine she'll keep doing from now on in all sorts of ways. I sense lots of new people on the horizon and it's making me crabby.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

United Flight 93

Lots of silly things going on today on our road trip to the east coast but an impulsive, emotional visit to United Flight 93's crash site in Shanksville, PA kind of relegates the traffic stop by the generous Chicago cop, the swerving semi and the Summit Diner pie to the background of my day.

A rain shower at sunset casts a pink and muffled wet over this quiet memorial valley. Draping sheets of fog begins to nestle themselves over and between the shoulders of the green rolling hills that bore witness to a final heroic act. The moon appears distant and filmy, revealed with the storm's passing. This valley is somber and peaceful. It's solitary without feeling lonely. I'm a bit transported and then a little sister screams furiously at her brother, pulling me back and reminding me I am quite alive and thankful for it.