Grey days and Flying Snails

I’d forgotten how peaceful it is on grey days in Paradise. I used to love this weather when I was working because it was cool, and I could wear sweaters and jackets that helped me dupe myself into thinking I looked thin, well, thinner. Warm, sunny days meant no jacket and blouses whose buttons bulged at the bust or trouser waistbands that cut in painfully at the waist, revealing a rather unnatural indentation through any knit top I wore, more noticeable from the rear than from the front. I won’t discuss exposed arms protruding from sleeveless shells. UGH. Yes, grey days have their merit.

But it has been extremely grey for days now, forcing me to think about all the perky people in the world who thrive on sunshine. I’m beginning to see why they enjoy it now that I don’t have to wear anything but pajamas, sweats, and yoga pants. I’ve thought about all the college kids who come here for spring break to relax and party, and know they’re probably fairly pissed off about all this June Gloom business in March.

Even though my only intention in going outside this morning was to gather up the brown cuttings I had left in piles a week ago, I soon found myself reaching through the plants with the hand rake to straighten things up a bit. I love doing that. It’s so satisfying making all that dirt look so clean — but there’s a drawback when you are supposed to be “cleaning up.” The patio was again covered with brown, moist leaves, spent blooms, and snails that had been dragged from their hiding places and were now helter-skelter making a run for it. One by one, I hijacked the slimey plant wreckers in mid-flight and threw them over the wall where, at some point, a car would put them out of their cracked misery. Exactly what part of the food chain are they anyway unless someone like me exposes their soft, mushy parts to organisms looking for a snack? One of these days, some unfortunate walker is going to get whacked in the head and I’m going to have to run and hide.

I could hear the woman next door, upstairs on the phone. From her vantage point, I knew she could see everything on my patio and was probably thinking I was nuts raking in the mud in my pajamas and chucking snails in the road. She has gardeners that do her patio. Thank goodness the RT scooped the poop yesterday. Ever the cool one when I’ve been caught, I paused to take hold of my coffee and acted like I was sizing up the situation — which was sort of true because I still haven’t planted those flowers I bought on Saturday. I moved toward the door so I could slink back inside, leaving yet another mess outside to turn brown and have to be picked up next week. Such a tiresome cycle of inefficiency. But as I made it inside, I saw my new pair of Fiskars sitting near the door, and knew I’d have to go back out again. What difference did it make anyway? I’d already gotten rid of all the snails and it wasn’t like I was slinging dog turds.

The Fiskars were a vast improvement on the pruners I’d been using for the past year. But that’s usually the case when you are in the habit of leaving them outside to get rusty each year and then throw them away. Unruly vines of honeysuckle, woody begonia stems, and dead lavender sprigs soon joined the mess scattered across the flagstones, but things quickly began to look better. A dove called mournfully nearby, most likely waiting for me to go back in the house so she could drink from the fountain. Nearly finished, I scraped and swept the pungent cuttings into a large black bag and tied it off to take to the trash.

I’m waiting for the day that I see a neighbor peering through their blinds to wonder what it is I carry out from such a small garden in those huge… plastic… bags…

My NUTs. And Yours?

It’s chilly here today, making getting out of bed a bit more challenging in the feeble light coming through the windows above the blinds. But I can hear the RT in his bathroom, and after a quick glance at the clock, know that if I don’t get up, I will miss seeing him off for school. As he passes by our bedroom door, I notice that although he is sporting a different green tee than he did yesterday, he is wearing the same brown cargo shorts, and has yet to don socks.  I know, with very little analysis, that he will recycle the socks he wore yesterday, slung over his shoes where he left them yesterday .

I make it downstairs on this non-carpool day, and am rewarded by the RT’s Mom smile — a warm and honest gesture that is often accompanied by a hug. Nice. Ten more minutes before he goes out for his ride into this grey and wet day. I know before opening the patio door that Doggo is not going to want to pee on a wet patio, and I’m probably going to have to venture out in front of the neighbors so she can pee on the wet grass instead. Dog logic? Doggo surprises me by pushing through the partially opened door and gingerly stepping across the flagstones and around the corner to take care of her duty.

I call up to the RT who has gone to get in a few minutes on the Internet even though I’ve graced him with my presence, “You’re going to need your sweatshirt today,” knowing that he wears it most days because it’s soft and comfy, and probably makes it easier for him not to pay attention to The Geometry Teacher. One of our cats is trying to rush for the door about now, paranoid that I’ll close it on his tail like I did last week, and makes it through only to realize that it’s wet outside. He backs up, sits near my feet and looks at me as if to say, “What the hell is this all about?” and consigns himself to the view from the back of a chair. Today he’ll have to settle for looking through the window at the birds in the jasmine and stalk their movements with flattened ears and that low “cacking” sound he reserves for moving targets on his radar.

The RT is out the door about now, 50 lb. back pack hoisted over one shoulder, and the notebook I’ve asked him twice to organize in the past two days, tucked under an arm, still sporting the signs of complete disaster from its edges. I tell him to have a good day, hoping it will be better than yesterday. The two of us decided then that a 50% on The Geometry Teacher’s test was better than what we thought it would be, but getting an F on a test never feels great. I’ll have to put “Giving Geometry Another Chance” on my mental NUTs list. NUTs, you say?

Nagging Unfinished Tasks, according to Michael F. Roizen, M.D., are things that we could fix, but don’t, thereby causing you and I “aging stress,” which is far more harmful than breaking a bone, because we learn to deal with that. He says those kinds of events are “important, but manageable.” Okay, so let me get this straight. In other words, I’ll just adapt to the circumstances of hmmm…. I know — having a humongous cast on my leg that sticks straight out, forcing me to be in a wheel chair; I’ll be able to get in my compact car, drive myself to the grocery store, carry my crying toddler around while trying to get dinner on the stove. Bathe. Go to the bathroom. Of course, there is absolutely no stress involved in any of that. My malleable demeanor will simply adjust. Instead, what will really get to me while the cast is on my leg, is the items on my NUTs list — the items I don’t take care of that are silently driving me crazy, creating unhealthy levels of adrenaline, cortisone, and other hormones in my system, and leaving me susceptible to myocardial ischemia, and at greater risk of a heart attack. What might those more pressing, driving me nuts, NUTs be if my leg actually was in a cast? Shaving my legs? Reaching that dust ball under the wall unit? Painting the chipped polish on the big toe protruding from my cast? The author cannot be serious.

But back to reality here, and my current state of angst. In an attempt to embrace the concept of Roizen’s NUTs (no pun intended whatsoever) to identify my own NUTs (anatomically impossible) and add “Relearning Geometry” to the list, I can combine my smarts with those of the RT, and thereby assist him in improving his understanding of Geometry. Bear in mind that because the RT is almost 15, and should be learning to employ skills which will last a lifetime, I actually believe he would be better served taking advantage of the student-run tutoring center at school. However, I also believe I can’t take him there and make him do it. He has to want to do it himself. But that’s because I’m a relentless, suck-it-up-and-get-it-done, erstwhile educator.

My NUTs: 1) Get a job; 2) Complete filing papers; 3) Call the local charity to get rid of things in the garage so my husband can park in it, too; 4) Complete unfinished upholstery job on two bedroom chairs; 5) Complete stain and seal of outside furniture; 6) Paint unfinished patch over downstairs bathroom door; 7) Truly clean refrigerator

What are your NUTs?

Getting Fit

The diet gods heard my roar yesterday. All of them. No, it isn’t miraculous — just simple logic. Stupid scale + stupid glasses (sensible food + 6 days of exercise) = respectable 3-4 lb. loss. I can live with that as long as that black skinny line on Thinner keeps nudging down the dial each Tuesday when I weigh in. Why Tuesday? Because I had to have a better attitude today than I did yesterday, or else. Whew. So now, I’ll settle in and look forward to two — count them carefully or you might miss them — TWO practical lbs. each week until June 1st which seems like it’s at the end of a very long yawn — mostly because of the wine deprivation, but I still have endless horizons in the food department to keep me interested. Are you feeling sorry for the Master of the House (MOTH) and RT? They’ll survive and eat well also. No shriveled up taste buds in this hacienda.

In the godforsaken department of being perky about of this, here is my list of good things about my food plan:

I will have fewer hot flashes at night (more exercise, no hardly any wine, reduced caffeine) and I’ll believe this when Hell freezes over.

I will lose weight.

I will no longer have a hitch in my giddy up when climbing my stairs.

MOTH’s car won’t scrape on the speed bump near our community gate when RT and I are sitting on the same side of the car.

I will be able to fit into last spring/summer clothes better than I did last spring/summer or the one before that, or…

I will effectively deprive the neighbors of knowing and strike fear in their hearts, that I no longer have the recycler with the loudest clanking (two weeks of wine bottles) in the cul-de-sac as the recycling truck dumps it from a high altitude — well, from its mechanical arm, suspended above its large metallic bin.

My body will be drunk on nutrients and slap happy on phytochemicals like beta-sitosterol and carotenoids or chlorogenic acid.

My refrigerator’s veggie drawer will no longer have that science experiment gone awry look to it, lacking peppers growing fur, and cucumbers reduced to bottom sludge.

I will look great.

Yesterday when the sun finally decided to come out and warm things up to a modest 66 degrees, I diligently went for my walk. Since I don’t have one of those pedometers, I took the time to get in my car after returning from my walk to measure the distance. Yes, gasoline is well over three dollars a gallon, but I was going to the store anyway, so that counts as multi-tasking. My walking route is 2.8 miles! Go figure. And I achieved my goal of spending 50 instead of 30 minutes walking. Unfortunately, I’m still having cramps in my lower legs and it is annoying. Is it my shoes? Am I walking too fast? Is it the inclines, my stride, all of the above?

I overcame this trauma by taking along my handy little camera, feigning ignorance when I noticed a few suburbanites who had paused while retrieving their trash cans wondering, “What is that thing in her hand? Why would she be taking pictures? Is there a law suit at hand? Who’s her attorney?” The camera was a pleasant diversion, so I’ll have to take it more often.


Matilda the Hun Lacks the Uber Gene

Can a teenager’s toilet ever be truly clean? I mean, think about it. And if you had two other bathrooms you could use, would you ever go in the teenager’s bathroom? No way. You sort of cruise by his area on your way from the office to other areas of the house and wonder how many words you could have saved over the years telling him (and his older brothers who are no longer living here — much to their chagrin) how to clean the bathroom, when to clean the bathroom, what to clean the bathroom with, when to flush the toilet, what not to flush down the toilet, and most importantly, when to report you’ve flushed your shorts down the toilet. You purchase nice towels, plush rugs, and let him pick out prints to hang on the wall so that the bathroom is a pleasant place to be. Now that I think of it, he doesn’t spend much time in there at all, so the whole point of making it look pleasant is a lost cause from the start. I’m thinking, now that I have this remarkable opportunity, that he probably just makes it to the toilet before letting loose, and then is moving away from the porcelain before he’s quite done, or is flushing while finishing, or something. And the shower? Record showers. We’re pretty certain he’s wetting his hair instead of washing it. Are you having a wet dog sensorial moment about now? You get the idea.

I made the mistake this morning of suggesting to the Resident Teen (RT) that, “when you clean your bathroom this weekend, can you please take extra time to do a good job on the toilet, because it’s pretty gross right now.” Yes, that is how I said it, with absolutely no tone of sarcasm or derision what so ever. These conversations occur with me looking up from the first floor, to him after he hears me and finally graces me with his physical presence instead of just his ears. This is done begrudgingly. He’s pretty cautious about his expression most of the time when these exchanges occur, because he knows I’ll nail him for having an evil thought about his mother. I notice it’s easier to gauge his expression this morning because the ex Mr. Mom took him for a hair cut a few days ago and now we can see his face completely. I can tell he’s condoning my instructions at this point so let him interrupt, which is pretty difficult since I rarely take a breath when I talk.

“Mom. Mom. I DO clean my toilet….” he begins, but of course, I cut him off because I can which isn’t very nice.

“Well you need to go look at my toilet then, because it needs to be cleaned, too, and at least I can tell it’s white. If you want, I’m happy to come up there and show you how to do it the right way.” One of his eyes has that flat look going on about now and is sort of twitching. Really.

None of this discussion has taken place with the slightest raising of voices. He usually wins, because he’s a nice kid who is genetically wired to make his parents feel totally crappy if they’ve actually expressed that they’re disappointed in him. It completely sucks. He has no idea he always wins these little battles, and ends up back in his room tinkering with his thousands of tiny warrior figurines, and more than likely creating a new battle scenario where they rally the troops and launch a full attack on the Huns and their fierce leader, Matilda.

How have I managed to raise three — T-H-R-E-E — incredibly passive resisters? There has to be a person in my family somewhere who has a passive resistance uber gene and my boys are the only recipients. They’re lives just seem so much more peaceful than mine, except that I’m their mother and they’ve had to deal with me. Remarkably, they seem like they like me most of the time.

It’s time to salvage the day and speak to the RT. But I am NOT cleaning his bathroom. People who stand up to pee just need to clean their own toilets. Besides, it builds character, right?

Carpool Flunky

My husband used to be the mom of the house before I dropped off the face of the working planet. Yes, he works too, but somehow over the years as I became more and more involved in what I did, he took on more of the domestic responsibilities. No one had to ask — it was by osmosis. He’s like that. He’s passed through the stages of liking to stir whatever I was cooking whether it needed stirring or not, to being my sous chef (dinner for 20 wouldn’t have come off the same without his unwavering patience in the kitchen), to being a full blown cook at this point. All I have to do is show him the recipes, which makes me the executive chef, of course, and he’s off and running. He’s done Thanksgiving dinner on his own for four years now. He’s also been responsible for less glamorous jobs around our humble abode like vacuuming and laundry. Why? Simple logic. He could continue watching television whether it be baseball, football, the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, or March Madness. He folds a mean set of tee shirts and BVDs. Yard work? He’d rather not. Plumbing? I wouldn’t dream of asking him unless I wanted language that would cause a truck driver to blush and dents in the walls caused by flying wrenches. The biggest thing he took on, was being responsible for the resident kid’s school related things.

School in our house is a four-letter word, so Mr. Mom has intuitively made sure that I haven’t had to deal with much of it. Why? Because I have been an educator for the past 20 years until, officially, March 23rd of this year. And I haven’t been one of those cheerful, “what will we all discover together boys and girls” types, either. It’s more about work to me — hard work — and that’s what I always impressed upon the students and colleagues with whom I worked. Plus, Mr. Mom is very good at understanding that my intensity about education can singe hairs on a person who unwittingly acts as if it is to be taken lightly. Ever. But I digress. So, Mr. Mom was the talker at teacher conferences, attended Open House (because mine often was scheduled on the same night), went over the homework (because I was grading papers), and…..joined the community carpool. Now that I’m not working, Mr. Mom is retired from all of the above which means now, I have carpool duty three mornings a week. Is this a big deal? Not really unless you realize that if I was actually getting up in the morning, putting on nice clothes, make-up, and doing something to my hair besides putting it back in a clip, this wouldn’t be so bad. But I still have to get out of bed, be cheerful, and make my first stop for the 16-year-old princess who lives down the street and we drove off without the other day.  Our resident teenager said, after I had pulled up outside the princess’ house, that we didn’t have to pick her up that morning. Okay, no problem, I’m thinking, because we always get to our second stop sooner, the boy is always outside waiting — unlike the princess — and we get down the hill more quickly to the one-lane street in front of the school that effectively resembles a parking lot with cars helter skelter three deep and counting. Well, after I returned home in record time that morning, my ex Mr. Mom said that the princess’ mom had called and asked about why we hadn’t picked up her darling. My husband told her we’d gone already and offered to take the princess to school because he’s one of those Prince Charming-like guys. Princess Mom declined, but when I saw her leaving for work upon returning from my morning walk I apologized for the mix up that morning. She proceeded to tell me that it was the worst possible morning for it to happen, and because the traffic light was out, the line of cars was so long that the Princess was late to school.

Mr. Mom would never have done this. I’m on the job not even a month, and I’m a carpool flunky. I’m already wondering if this is something I wish to improve upon.

Just another day in paradise

When you’re completely burnt out and going to work isn’t something that you can bring yourself to do even one more day, maybe it isn’t really a crisis. Maybe it’s a revelation. Or it might be more like an awakening. Wait, no. Just plain waking up. Simple, right? Okay, picture someone standing in front of you, disgusted with the dazed look on your face after they’ve grabbed you by the hair, slapped you and yelled, “Snap out of it!” in a Brooklyn accent. That kind of waking up. Well, maybe that’s not a very appealing image. It may have worked on me, though. If it had happened, I’d probably still be at work, working. But that didn’t happen.

Here’s the alternative. Imagine you are just coming out of a fitful sleep and don’t want to drag your sorry butt out of bed yet because things are way too fuzzy and the covers are feeling just perfect. As life comes back in pieces, what do you notice first? Scents? Sounds? Tactile things? The glow of light behind your window shades? The feeling that your three animals are all waiting for you to get over your reverie and feed them?

You lay there just long enough to enjoy the quiet in the house after the two responsible people you love have left for the day. You stretch and wonder what comes next. Have you been reborn? Nope. Just rebooted.

The date is November 6, 2006.