Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life Lessons

A friend lost her father yesterday. He was killed in an accident on their family farm.

I feel so bad for her. I can’t imagine losing my dad. I’ve lost my mom and two of my daughters. I can’t lose my dad. Not ever, if I get my wish. He’s my rock.

I can always call him for advice, even the most random things, like why there is a dead spot in my back yard in a perfect rectangle shape. It wasn’t an alien spaceship – my septic tank lid wasn’t buried far enough and the heat was reflecting off the lid and killing the grass. See, that’s stuff that my dad knows.

He taught me how to convert fractions to decimals with a drill bit conversion chart, how to change a tire, and how to hang wallpaper. Well, the wallpaper was an accident – he was trying to make gravy for our biscuits, and his water/flour ratio was a bit off, so he said we’d use it as wallpaper glue.

There are memories that stick with you your whole life and shape you, even though you don’t know it at the time. This is one of mine.

I still remember that day. It was damp, windy and cold, overcast and gray. He was splitting firewood and I was building a woodpile, stacking it as fast as I could so I could get it done and get inside. As it started to get dark I started to perk up, because I thought that meant we’d be done soon and hey, here’s an idea, let’s go inside and burn the wood and warm up.

For some reason, my dad believed that wood needed to be neatly stacked in a straight line. I personally favored the whole unstructured “just throw it in a pile” approach. I always doubted it made a difference in how it burned, but was smart enough to keep that theory to myself.

He had taught me how to build endcaps by criss-crossing pieces of wood into two square bookends, for lack of a technical term, then stacking the wood between them, fitting the split pieces tightly together so it was sturdy and strong and wouldn’t fall over.

He finally shut off the splitter and I thought hooray! And then he shoved over my woodpile. Apparently in my haste I wasn’t fitting the wood together correctly, and I didn’t build good bookends. And I’m not talking a little 4x4 foot stack, I’m talking at least 20 feet long and 5 feet high. That’s a lot of wood. And now I have to restack it. In the dark. In the cold.

I was pissed. Right then and there I made a Scarlett O’Hara vow that when I grew up I would live in a big city, in a condo, and would never mow grass, pull weeds, lay sod, cut wood, split wood, haul wood, stack wood, burn wood, hell I was going to have electric heat and never have to look at another tree again. As God was my witness I’d never deal with this outdoor crap again!!

I was so mad, I said it out loud. While my dad was standing there. I braced myself for him to lecture me on being lazy and doing it half-assed, and if I’d only taken the time to do the job right in the first place I wouldn’t have to be out here in the dark, etc. etc.

To my surprise he laughed and told me a story about how he made a similar promise when he was about my age, after stooping over in a field all day in the hot West Texas heat picking cotton, and then going home to a house so hot that he and my uncle dragged their mattresses into the yard because it was cooler to sleep outside. He said he vowed that no kids of his would ever be so poor that they had to pick cotton and sleep outside.

He didn’t use the whole parental guilt trip by pointing out just how good I had it, and if he asked me to take a few hours on Saturday to stack wood I should be grateful that I don’t have to do it all the time. While he talked to me, he built my bookends and I stacked the wood in the middle.

When we were done, I waited for him to push it. He just looked at me and said “now try to knock it over.” I shoved it and it wobbled a bit but didn’t topple. He just nodded and said “let’s go eat dinner.”

Looking back, he didn’t just teach me how to stack wood, he gave me a life lesson. He showed me how to build your stack with good support so you can’t be shoved over. He’s my stack support and I can’t be knocked over. A few pieces may fall but I know he’ll help me pick them up. ‘cause he’s my daddy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What A Way To Start The Day

This morning on my way to work, I had a pretty big scare. The kind of scare that leaves you with a pounding heart, shaking sweaty hands and the urge to open your door and heave your guts out.

A little background - I travel westbound on Highway 40 in the mornings. Generally traffic isn't too heavy once I cross the bridge. However, there is an occasional slowdown just past the zoo. This morning it was a standstill.

As I'm sitting in traffic listening to KMOX (because I am apparently 80 years old), I hear a siren approaching. Of course at first it's always hard to tell exactly where the siren is in relation to your current location, but then I saw it - behind me. I am in the far left lane in stopped traffic, and although there is a shoulder, albeit a narrow one, there's really nowhere for me to go. There are also still "Construction Ahead" signs that have been laying on the shoulder since this highway was reopened in January - hey MODOT, what's up with that?

I see the ambulance coming toward me pretty quickly, considering traffic is stopped. I put on my blinker, look over my shoulder and start to try to cut over into the next lane of traffic to get out of the way - you know, like you're taught in driver's ed.

Let me take a moment to give a personal message to the stupid self-absorbed woman in the red car on the PHONE WHO WOULD NOT GIVE AN INCH - DO YOU NOT HEAR THE SIREN? DO YOU NOT SEE PEOPLE TRYING TO MERGE RIGHT? MOVE, DAMNIT!!

That's pretty much what I was hollering, although my exact message may have contained a few words that I don't use on this blog because my daughter reads it, although she probably might have already heard me use them a time or two.

So, here I am (and the car behind me as well) straddling the line between the two lanes, trying to get the attention of this driver who will not surrender. The ambulance is coming, I can hear it, I can see it, and I have nowhere to go. I'm simultaneously swearing, praying, and sending a mental message to the ambulance driver that I'm sorry I'm trying to move I am really but this woman won't let me over and please please don't hit me and to the person who is waiting on you I am so sorry please please please God watch over them until the EMTs can get to them because I'm so so so sorry not my fault not my fault MOVE YOU STUPID EFFING WENCH AND HANG UP THE EFFING PHONE OH MY SWEET BABY JEEBUS IN THE CRADLE I AM GOING TO GET HIT....

and the ambulance manages to squeeze between me and the concrete median. In the meantime, like the parting of the Red Sea, the drivers in front of me have heard the siren and have had time to clear out, so the ambulance is able to travel up the left lane with no further encumbrances.

And as I move back over to the left lane, the woman who was on the phone drives alongside me. I look over and her face is like "Oh, wow, did you see that? Where did that come from?"

At that moment, I took the high road so high my nose bled. I didn't flip her off, I didn't mouth obscenities, I just got out of there.

I managed to make it to work without throwing up. My heart stopped racing and I managed to hang onto the steering wheel in spite of my sweating hands.

So, how's your day?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back To School

Today my darling daughter embarked upon the adventure known as 6th grade. At what point did she morph from a little chunky monkey who could barely sit up to a tall lithe pre-teen who wears a skirt to school?

I'm having another moment...please enjoy the photograph while I compose myself.

The beatific halo isn't an indication of her angelic tendencies - it is so frakin' humid here that my camera fogged up. But it's a nice effect, no?

To celebrate this momentous day, I took off this afternoon. Maddy and I had lunch, played ski-ball, and went to the movies (we saw Despicable Me - I was pretty impressed!).

I'm enjoying the fact that she still likes to spend time with me. This is probably the last year that I'll be smarter than her. I'm sure as soon as she hits junior high I will become an idiot who knows nothing and has had no life experience that I can share with her. Luckily she'll outgrown that phase right about the time she graduates high school and realizes that she needs me and my co-signature on her student loans.

I love being a parent. It's pretty rewarding, considering all the tears and tantrums we endure - some of which are our own.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I've Missed This

A few months ago Maddy made the observation that I didn’t like people. When I asked her why she would say that, she told me it was because I didn’t go out with my girlfriends anymore, I was always home, and I wasn’t fun anymore. Oh, and I was also crabby a lot.
So I started thinking about it and realized that she was right. Not that I had become a total homebody but I really didn’t go out with just my girlfriends very often. I used to go out a lot. I bowled, I played darts, I went to hear live bands and went to concerts, met friends for happy hours and baseball games - in retrospect and in all honesty, it probably was a lot more than I should have, and I do regret that I missed out on that time with my kids and family.

I realized that invitations from my friends had dwindled, probably because I had refused them in the past. Not that I blame them – I probably would have stopped asking, too. I also realized it had been a while since I had initiated an invitation to my friends to do something, anything, and I was at fault as well.

I decided to do something about it, and these past couple of weekends put me on the path to making up for lost time.

I started with a road trip to go fetch Maddy from my dad’s. I invited a good friend to tag along – I bribed her with outlet mall shopping and bumper boats. Richelle was quite useful in helping me craft Maddy’s new school wardrobe. We even put together an adorable ensemble with a skirt. A SKIRT! This is huge news, considering Maddy’s summer wardrobe has been slogan t-shirts and soccer shorts. As Maddy came out of the dressing room in her gray buffalo-checked button down over a hunter green cami, denim skirt and gray Chuck Taylor-esque shoes, my heart said “OMG MY LITTLE GIRL IS ALL GROWN UP! SOB!!!” but my mouth said in a most casual tone, “I like it, do you?” and she said yes and returned to the dressing room and then I did a little dance and cried a bit, but pulled myself together before Maddy saw I was being a total embarrassment in the Gap dressing room. I also may have had another moment when she modeled skinny jeans and a dark pink plaid shirt but let’s not tell her, shall we?

We also played tourist and cruised the Bagnell Dam Strip, and we stopped at the arcade to ride bumper cars. These things were antiques – I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the original ones from when the arcade opened. I tried to snap a picture before Maddy went all Grand Theft Auto on me, but was unsuccessful. I did get a picture of her in the bumper boats, and I had a blast chasing her around for payback, after the nice young attendant pushed me off the wall. Twice. What? It’s been a while since I lived there, I’m out of practice!

This child will be legally driving in about 4 years. Wait, what?

This past Saturday, I saw Better Than Ezra at the Pageant with some girlfriends. Back in their heyday there was a gang of us that always tried to catch their show when they were within a 3 hour radius. I also remember why I was thinner back then after dancing through the first few songs, and why I didn’t wear stilettos to the shows. Ah well, it was still a great time, despite the tingling numbness in my feet.

Sunday I went to the movies with my sister in law and another friend, who just recently lost her sister to cancer. She needed to get out of her house and have a good laugh, so we saw The Other Guys (I give it three stars), then went for margaritas and talked about life and death and everything in between. I think I helped her with some hints and tips on how to get through the next few months. And she asked me to help her find shoes for her upcoming wedding – project!!

Finally, last night I had dinner with a couple of pretty cool ladies, drank a couple more margaritas, planned a Labor Day get-together with them, decided to include our respective men and children (just kidding, we planned to invite you all along!), and one of them offered to help coach Maddy on basketball drills. Score! (pun intended)

It felt good to get out and be social again, to laugh and gossip and be snarky and have a cocktail (or seven), see a band, dance like a goofball, and shop until you drop. I already have my plans for my next outing – stay tuned.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

God Give Them Strength

I went to the gym during lunch today. The TVs above the treadmills were tuned to noon news broadcasts of the local channels, which were all running a continuous loop of an overhead shot of a traffic crash on Interstate 44 near St. Louis. The crash involved two school buses, a semi-truck and an SUV.

The buses were carrying fifty 8th grade band members to Six Flags. One bus was on top of the semi-truck, and the other bus had collided with it in the rear. Shoved underneath the bus and truck was a mangled hunk of metal, virtually unrecognizable as a vehicle.

The caption under the shot stated that one person had died, but while I was watching it, it was updated to two fatalities. I prayed that it wouldn’t be more.

All I could think about was the families and friends of those students, and anyone who knew someone travelling that stretch of road today, helplessly watching this coverage, not knowing if their loved ones were alive, injured or dead.

An overwhelming wave of sadness and anger went over me. Sadness for the victims and their families, and anger that the media kept showing over and over the aftermath.

I was lucky, I guess, that I never saw the news coverage the day Jessica and Kelli were killed. As word spread and people were told who had died, so many of them said “I saw that on the news!” I was watching a What Not To Wear marathon and bringing Christmas decorations up from the basement. It took me a while before I’d watch WNTW again. I guess by not watching the local channels, I had five more hours where I believed I’d see them again.

As I continued my workout I suddenly felt the urge to cry. I had to take a few deep breaths and I knew I had to stop watching that screen. I tried focusing on the wall, the ESPN coverage of Brett Farve’s latest “will he or won’t he show up for training camp” drama, the digital counter of my treadmill. Nothing worked, my eyes kept going back to that TV and I kept feeling that punch to the gut and pressure in my chest that I felt almost three years ago.

I decided to stop the treadmill and just go in the bathroom and cry and get it over with, but then I found myself increasing the speed and finding my favorite running song, cranking up the volume and channeling that emotion into my running. I ran harder, faster and longer than I have in a while, and damn it felt good, to channel that emotion into something positive, something productive and worthwhile.

As I write this, the latest update is that the none of the students were killed, although many were injured, and that preliminary reports indicate the SUV blew a tire, and the fatalities were in that vehicle. Some of the injured were being airlifted to the hospital near my office, which I passed on my way back to work. I saw the news media trucks in the parking lot and two helicopters circling the helipad. I sent up a prayer for all involved, that God would give them strength.