the sweater

The color made you think of walnuts, not too dark, not too light. It had big round buttons, like milk chocolates in a sea of cocoa powder. The neck was high and the pockets were deep. There were patches of fuzzy suede, and the yarn was just ever so slightly scratchy.

When I was a teenager I had a habit of swiping my father’s clothes. It was the 80s and both baggy clothes and menswear were in. Pop’s sweater smelled of Old Spice, was roomy and comfortable, and it matched my camouflage pants perfectly. (Hey, like I said, it was the 80s!) Of course I wore it to school so often there’s even a photo of me in it in my senior yearbook.

I was fourteen, fifteen, an age where you don’t hug your parents as much as you used to, when you’re trying to gain a little independence and become your own person. But that sweater, it was like wearing a hug. So was his gray plaid bathrobe I stole before I went off to college and wore until all the seams ripped out.

When I was eighteen and went out on my own I left some old tee shirts behind, the ones that I thought I was too old to wear. I came home on break once to find Pop wearing one – with a silly Garfield cartoon on it! We laughed so much that for years he wore it every time they were expecting me. When I think about that now I wonder if maybe to him that tee shirt was like a hug from me?

It didn’t take me too long into my 20s to realize that hugging your parents isn’t just for little kids and I started up again. Since then I’ve hugged and kissed them everytime I’ve seen them, which isn’t often enough. I sure wish I still had Pop’s sweater. I could really use a hug right now. I love you Pop. xoxo

Author’s note: My father passed away on December 4th, 2010, ten days after I wrote this. He never had a chance to read it. My mother, however, read it on December 5th and promptly found the Garfield shirt in my father’s closet and gave it back to me. My sister believes she swiped the sweater from me when we lived together in college and she wore it into rags.

the swing

The wide wooden seat, it’s smooth board worn from use, called to me with its welcoming song of solitude. The thick old ropes reached high and wound around the sturdy branch above. The small patch of earth beneath, grooved from years and countless shoes dragged across it, was often muddy, and no grass could grow there.

It was my spot, though shared with a sister, I remember it being a retreat, where I could play and dream undisturbed.

In the spring you could look up through the dark branches and reach for the endless blue sky. Your toes would touch the clouds as you swooped higher and higher. Your nose filled with the scent of new white blossoms.

When summer came, a canopy of green would shade you from the heat of mid-day and create a theater for your songs.

Autumn would bring bright red fruit to snack on while you read your books. Winter would bury it in snow, the tree and the swing together in waiting.

Oh, the daily dramas it housed and bore witness to! It’s role was the mast of pirate ship, a surfboard on crashing waves, a tall mountain’s peak, or the tower above a medieval castle. It could carry the weight of two when asked, spider-like, or standing. But it was really meant for one, to carry one high, and, jump! That momentary feel of flying.

Both tree and swing are long gone now, a stump still there to remind of their place in the world. Blossoms still on nearby trees, where apples fall in autumn. Good climbing they are, low branches giving joy to other kids. None quite right for a summer swing, though, none could ever be as perfect.

In my mind’s eye I can picture it, still there, swaying in the breeze, beckoning me with a lullaby of childhood.

off the grid

I haven’t been camping since I was a kid, probably around 12 or 13. For years I used to go for a week every summer with my friend Teresa and her family. Those are some of the best and clearest memories of my childhood.

I loved camping so much I had the bright idea of taking Josh camping before the summer ends this year. I booked a campsite near Lake Sunapee for two nights and then realized how much I needed to do to get ready for this. Of course it was fun as a kid, Teresa’s parents and older sisters did all the work!

This time I’m one of the parents and have all the responsibilities of planning and packing and cooking and fire tending. Not hauling – that’s Damon’s job! And the tent? Not my problem either. I have enough to do!

The food – oh the food! What a pain! I was planning on eating lots of canned stuff, but Damon says it isn’t camping without grilling (whatever!) so tonight it’s bbq chicken and some potatoes wrapped in foil and baked in the coals. Hope the potatoes don’t turn into little coals themselves. Tomorrow for lunch it’s beans and hotdogs. Well, turkey dogs. And no beans for me, I’d rather not spend the whole day in the outhouse thanks.

After that we’re down to canned food and other easy fixins. (Can you say cup o’ ramen?) I just can’t keep meat and stuff cold any longer than that! (Or at least I’m not willing to go the effort of keeping things cold longer than that.)

So, the firepit….that’s my favorite part of camping. I know I used to drive Teresa’s dad crazy with all my fire poking. I just couldn’t help it! Sitting in front of the fire, reading a book, playing cards, that’s what I remember, and what I hope I have time for. (My second favorite part – the beach. Cause if you can’t get a shower you at least gotta go swimming!)

Anyway, I’m leaving my laptop (gasp! you must understand the gravity of this!) and all the comforts of home and heading out into the wilderness (okay, not really the wilderness) in about two hours. Pray for me that at least my cell phone works there. I don’t think I can survive without it.

ps. Josh made the very crazy adult decision to leave his Leapster and his Gameboy home and just bring his bike, lots of books, and a few toys. I told him I better not hear him say he’s bored even once!

pps. Oh, and haven’t explained the concept of an outhouse to him. I’m waiting until we get there…heh. At least I know he won’t drop the Gameboy in it.

ppps. Let me please repeat – NO LAPTOP. Oy.

pppps. If you don’t hear from me by Monday send help chocolate.

black out

I’m a fainter.

When I’m in pain my brain shuts off and my vagus nerve takes over. And I pass out. Vasovagal syncope. Out cold.

<Disclaimer: If you’re either squeamish or male you might want to skip this post. Trust me.>

The earliest time I remember it happening was in the dentist’s office when I was first in braces. My mouth was already pretty sore and when the dentist started telling my mother some last minute thing to do with my teeth he didn’t just point toward my gums, he poked them. I’m sure he didn’t mean to, he was the nicest dentist I ever had, but yeah, dang that hurt! And down I went. Right in front of the receptionist’s desk. Scared the crap out of everyone! My poor mother!

My family and friends got kind of used to it but it was always shocking, not to mention, frankly, pretty freaking funny, whenever it happened.

Like the time I was at my neighbor’s house and we were all playing in the woods. I slipped on a rock and landed on my tailbone. Ouch! I leaned against a tree for support but it didn’t help. I woke up lying on my back in a small stream of water mud with my friends standing over me. I certainly wasn’t more than nine or ten and they were younger than me! I can’t imagine what they thought happened but they sure were laughing their butts off!

Truly the funniest one was when I had my ears pierced. My mom and my 2 older sisters with me. Like a rite of passage or something. Typical mall kiosk, typical ice cream shop for lunch afterward. What wasn’t typical was the conversation – which was my oldest sister Lisa telling us about piercing her own ears with an ice cube and a needle. Eww!

I woke up under the table.

It’s okay to laugh. We still do.

I think can hear Carolyn laughing right now.

I even passed out at school in 7th grade. But no one knew. I didn’t feel good ~ahem~ because of the “cramps” <don’t say I didn’t warn you guys> and I was sitting in the principal’s office waiting for my mom to come pick me up. The principal and his secretary had both stepped out for a few seconds. Just long enough for me to find myself waking up on the floor, face down, right in front of the open door. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and sat back in my chair. Right before they walked back in. Gee, I don’t know why he told me I looked pale!

The most embarrassing, (yes, there was one more embarrassing then sliding off my seat under the table at a very busy restaurant) was when I was about 16 or 17 and working at a summer job at at pizza place/variety store. I told my manager I didn’t feel well, (those pesky cramps again) and instead of sending me home she sent me to the basement to shred humongous blocks of mozzarella cheese. You know, so I wouldn’t be around customers. Duh.

Do you know incredibly bad massive quantities of shredded cheese smells? Especially when you don’t feel well to begin with? Ugh. So gross. But I finished my task and went back upstairs to tell her I was worse. She was flirting with the bread man and ignoring me so I leaned against the soda cooler. And BAM. On the freaking floor. Only they couldn’t get a hold of my mother. (These were the days before cell phones, of course!)

So guess what they did? They called a freaking ambulance. And then kept sitting me in a chair instead of letting me just lie down! Dumba$$es. So I kept fainting, over and over! After they called the ambulance they then called my poor father at work to meet me at the hospital, FOR CRAMPS!! The horror. Oh, the horror.

Can I just say one thing here? Does anyone else see a pattern? Really, am I the only one who uses the word cramps as a euphemism for BEING STABBED WITH AN ICE PICK STRAIGHT INTO MY UTERUS???? Because seriously if “cramps” just means like just a little discomfort or some $hit to you all then I really hate everyone right now.

Ahem.

Sorry.

Can you tell I have cramps?

And that I had vasovagal syncope recently? As in Monday. Because of a dang pap!!! And the ensuing effing CRAMPS!!!!!!

I really did warn you.

I’m probably going to really regret hitting publish.

ps. I can give blood with no problems whatsoever. Go figure.

kindergarten crush

Waaaaaay back when I was in kindergarten I had a crush on the cute blonde boy who lived down the street. Conveniently, we rode the same bus and always sat together. I ~might~ have kissed him once (on the cheek, I swear!) and got yelled at by the bus driver. I wasn’t too smart – we were sitting in the front row after all!

The crush was mutual and twice he mailed me love notes, stamp and all. One of them even asked me to marry him! I wish I still had them so I could scan them to show you, alas, they were destroyed a few years later. I had brought the notes to school when we were in 8th grade (we were always friends but the crush had long since ended) because the boy couldn’t remember sending them and he wanted to see them.

Anyhow, a horrid boy got a hold of them, and in a moment of terror we thought he was going to hold them for ransom or pass them around and torture us with them. Instead he ate them. No really, he ATE them. Lost forever in the gullet of the disgusting kid who liked to fill his hollow pens with dead flies from the windowsill at the back of the classroom. Sigh.

All evidence of my kindergarten crush…gone forever. Except in my memory. A memory that was jogged recently by the antics of my own kindergartner.

Yes, Josh has a crush and it’s oh so very mutual. It’s been going on for awhile now. Since, hmmm, the first day of school. The other boys were teasing: “Josh likes {girl1}, he’s going to marry her” in singsong voice every morning. Except he’s bigger than all of them so it doesn’t amount to much. The response I taught him? Roll your eyes at them and say “what…ever” as nonchalantly as possible. We’re all hoping that works.

Apparently though, {girl1} has some competition. Oh the drama! I heard through the grapevine there’s yet another girl who likes him. The other girl’s mom approached me at the latest birthday party and said “Are you Josh’s mom? All I ever hear about school is about Josh. Just so you know, Josh is {girl2}’s boyfriend, he just doesn’t know it!” Yikes!

Then I saw with my own eyes how much he flirts with her, with all the girls. All the other moms saw it too! We all laughed about it but I know I am in deep, deep trouble, and I’m really glad summer is almost here! Josh and I both need a break from kindergarten crushes. 

I’m scared of first grade. I think the moms of those girls are too. Oy.

daydreams and naps

For those of you who have asked, I fully enjoyed my three days of freedom. Though I didn’t get a single nap. I long for a nap.

The boy came home yesterday afternoon, and somehow he seems older, or taller, or something different that I can’t put my finger on. This happens every time he goes away. And yet when he got out of their car to greet me, he had just awoken from a nap, and was still sleepy. He leaned on me a bit for steadiness, started to walk to my car, then came back and leaned on me again. ~sigh~ He turns six next month, and in moments like this I can still see the baby he once was. Sleepy eyes and warm hugs do that to a child.

I remember when I was the child, waking from a snooze after a long drive in the car. Those were the best kind of naps; riding in the back seat, my temple resting against the cool window, listening to the sounds of my parents talking. Not really listening to the words, but to the melody of the voices. That and the music from the speaker at my ear just low enough to lull me.

Riding in the backseat means no cares in the world. No attention needs to be paid to road or machinery. Not even an obligation to stay awake for the driver’s sake. Just the free opportunity to let your mind wander, to let your imagination float before you, and let your daydream become a full out dream.

Sometimes I would sleep so hard in the car I would have trouble waking. I would get that strange tingling in my brain when you’re aware you’re sleeping and you know you need to wake but you just don’t want it to end. I would finally stir and feel the crick in my neck and cotton in my mouth. Those discomforts were no matter to a child, still lingering over the last remnants of reverie. Grasping at dreams of flying in the clouds, of playing in the snow, of what life is yet to come.

Now I wonder what he dreams of when he naps in the car, or gazes out his window in daydream.

I want to ride in the backseat with him, and doze right alongside. But I’m the mom, the driver, and I can only glance in my rearview mirror and hope his dreams are as good as mine were, back when I could still fly through the clouds.

flashback friday: love look at the 2 of us

Edited to add: If you’re here from Proposal 2.0, I linked to one of my older posts because I think it gets the point across that your wedding (and hence your marriage) should be what you want it to be, not what everyone else wants it to be. My best marriage advice – take lots of candids!

It’s the Valentine’s Day edition of Flashback Friday over at My Tiny Kingdom! I’ve been waiting for this one just so I can post a couple of my wedding pictures!

My wedding was exactly the way I wanted it: small and simple. We were outside, under a big white tent, with sixty of our closest family and friends, and great food that I can’t remember eating. It was hotter than heck though, 99 degrees wasn’t part of the plan. Other than all the sweat it was the perfect day!

The best wedding photos are the unplanned ones, aren’t they?! We have tons of candids because there were a bunch of professional photographers as guests. I don’t know why we bothered hiring one! I’m glad we did though because he caught this one in between the set up shots:

It seems like we have more kissy shots than anything else, but this is my favorite:

Sometimes June 24, 1995 feels just like yesterday. (And then I look at my very, very tall hair. Yikes.)

Love you baby. xoxo

fireflies

She whispered from the bunk above me. “I think we can go now. She must be asleep.”

Quietly, like a cat, she jumped down from her bed, while I crawled out from under my own covers below. A dim light from under the door helped us navigate across the room we shared. We ever so quietly tiptoed out into the hall, past the bedroom where Mom slept. All of us kids, we sure wore her out, but we also knew she would awaken at the slightest of noises. We prayed the floor wouldn’t squeak nor our ankles make a crack.

Stifling giggles and trying not to stumble in our excitement, we went down the stairs to the landing. Ah yes, the big door was still standing open, letting the cool night air stream in. That meant Pop, ever the night owl, was still up. Probably down in the family room watching TV or reading a book. Some of our siblings were likely still be up with him. No school for the summer meant later bedtimes for the older kids, though not for us.

Please don’t make a sound, we can’t be stopped before we’ve started, I thought as we pushed open the screen door and let ourselves out from dark house into the darker beyond. We might not get another ideal opportunity.

The concrete steps were cold on my bare feet, and the grass colder still with dew drops clinging to their blades. The night air felt wonderful after such a sweltering sunny day. A light breeze prickled the skin on the back of my neck and sent a thrill down my spine.

A perfect night for fireflies.

We could see them flitting all around us, all across the wide expanse of lawn. We ran in circles, catching them in our palms. Peeking between my thumbs, I could see just blink, blink, blink, like the tiniest of signal flares sending an SOS for help. I let it go after just a moment, no harm intended. Catch another quick, feel its buzzing against my skin. Peek again. Let it go.

It was too much fun to be quiet about it. There was no doubt we would soon be caught ourselves. Our laughter pealed through the air, into the windows, waking our mother.

“Come back inside,” she called. “Go back to bed.” Not angry, but not exactly pleased. We were happy though, we’d had our romp. Did you know Mom, when we went down the hall, what we were up to? Did you purposefully let us have those few moments before you came out to get us?

I remember catching fireflies with my sister. I have no doubt she does too, though I don’t remember ever talking about it.

where were you?

I was in my office, just starting my day, when a co-worker came in and told me her mother called and said a missile had hit a building in New York. We thought that sounded very strange so I tried going to CNN.com, MSNBC.com, every internet news site I could think of, but none of them worked. Even stranger.

We thought of the TV in the conference room. The reception was terrible with those old rabbit ears, but we made it work. The more we watched, the more colleagues joined us, and the more horrified we were. We were watching live when the second plane hit. The entire group was stunned into silence, until these co-workers of mine, military and aviation experts all, called it for what they knew it was. It wasn’t a missile, it was a plane, a big plane. As bad as the picture was, they clearly recognized it, long before the analysis on the news got it right.

The room became very crowded. I couldn’t have left my seat if I’d wanted to. I didn’t want to. All eyes were glued to the screen, ears straining to hear the tiny speakers. Talking in the room was only a slight whisper. Anything louder was quickly shushed.

The reception got worse, only one channel came in, and only with someone standing up, holding the antennae, using their body to attract the signal.

Time passed, rumors were heard. Rumors about bombs at the World Bank, rumors about bombs at the USA Today building, rumors about Reagan National Airport, and then Dulles Airport, just a few miles away. Rumors about news buildings being targets. And the White House of course. Rumors about the Pentagon. Wait.

New pictures on the screen. The Pentagon was not a rumor. Neither was the plane in Pennsylvania. This terrible reality just got closer to us personally, a lot closer. My colleagues knew what that meant. Imminent war. At this moment, some kind of war was beginning, we just didn’t know exactly what that war would look like.

Some of us watched longer, unable to look away, while others drifted back to their offices, hoping to get some normalcy out of the day. They were hiding out, not wanting to know any more. I couldn’t blame anyone for that. Especially after those of us left watched the first tower crumble with tears streaming down our faces. I was glad I wasn’t alone then.

After the second tower came down, our boss quietly told us all to go home. He was closing the office and wanted us to go be with our families. It was a relief to leave to have a reason to get away from the TV for a few minutes, to get away from other people.

I got in my car, and sat for a moment. I was listening to a little voice in the back of my head. Don’t get on the highway it said. The last thing I wanted to do was get on a crowded highway, and get stuck in massive traffic. Traffic is bad on a normal day, this was Northern Virginia after all. I knew a back way, a dirt road that led almost all the way home. Halfway down the dirt road, I heard the traffic update. Everyone who got on that highway was there for hours and hours. I spent those same hours at home, alone, back in front of the news.

I remember how bad the phone lines were. I was able to call my parents in Maine, but not my husband two miles away. For awhile cell phones were easier to get through on, then nothing at all worked. DH wouldn’t come home, couldn’t come home. He worked in the news business and news people don’t get to stop working in a crisis.

I wasn’t a mom yet. I wondered that day if I ever would be, if I should even bring a baby into such a horrible world. I changed my mind about that, but one this day every year, I remember that helplessness, hopelessness, and the terrible terrible sadness. I remember and pray for everyone affected by the events of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Where were you that morning? Do you remember much? I realized today that I had some trouble remembering the details. I wrote this today so I wouldn’t forget how I personally felt and what I did and who was around me. I don’t want my only memories to be the ones I see on the ceremonial shows every year. I don’t want my own experience to get cloudy. Never never forget.

The Pentagon, 9/11/01, Department of Defense/US Navy photo.

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