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Friday, August 14, 2015

The end of summer, thankfully

My kids and I, we spend a lot of time in the car.  And because I live half of my life there, even the tiny Jeep that I drive around has become a second home on wheels.  I’m prepared with water, entertainment books and movies, songs, games, seasonal tools, bug spray, extra napkins and straws, and a first aid kit that sadly doesn’t contain an ice pack.
This past summer I taught my kids one of the many subtle differences between growing up in the Cleveland ‘burbs and in Wayne County.  There are obvious dialect differences, odor differences (“that’s just the pig farm down the road, no biggie”), and dozens of colloquial variances that always keep me on my toes.
The one that had the most attention this summer during our hours in the car was the infamous game of Punch Bug.  Or Slug Bug.  Or whatever you want to call it when you’re driving in the car and someone spots a Volkswagen Beetle and yells something and wallops you in the arm.
The thing is that I grew up saying “punch buggy!” and my husband yelled “slug bug!” and the two of us battle about which is correct.  (We have also come to blows over what it’s called when you hurt your finger playing basketball, and just the very second almost got divorced over what you call a car with one headlight out.)  Needless to say, our children think this multi-Ohioan-heritage gives them ample excuse to sucker punch each other, and me, multiple times whenever we pass a VW Beetle.
And because they were having so much fun looking out the window searching tirelessly for an excuse to beat up their siblings, I made the horrible mistake of making up a little game we call “Convertible.”  Whenever someone spots a convertible with the top down, you have the opportunity to swipe the top of someone’s head as if the wind was blowing through your hair.
Except my kids don’t quite understand what it means to have wind blowing through your hair, so instead of a light tossle of one’s coiffure, this idiotic game of my own idiotic creation has become a karate chop to each other’s forehead.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of driving down the road on a warm day in late summer, admiring the way the bluest of skies plays against the fields of corn, windows cracked and lovely music playing and WHAMMO.  There’s another stinking convertible and someone just hauled off your face.
After a couple of warm days, I’m surprised we aren’t walking around bruised. 
So cheers to the end of summer, when the weather gets cooler and convertibles get stored semi-permanently in the upright position, when VW Beetles are potentially put away for the winter, and I can drive my children around peacefully without the fear of being beaten without an ice pack in sight.

Written/published 9/15/14

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The schmurrt-free sleepover

My children are of age, and I’m still of age enough to remember my days as a child who longed to sleepover at someone’s house, or to have someone sleep over mine.  I hear my own kids pleading with me, “can I have so-and-so sleep over?” or “can I please sleep at so-and-so’s house?” and I have sudden flashbacks to my youth.
It was all pretty fuzzy back then, when my actions where influenced not by my brain and general mature reasoning.  Instead, they were governed by my desire for things I didn’t have at home.  Some would call it gluttony, some would call it greed.  I would call it the ability to mix up a bunch of different pop and not get in trouble.
Also, boys.
My parents raised me in a house of loosely enforced rules, where they would encourage me with the following, “do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt yourself, anyone else, or anyone’s property.”  And then, as a side note one of my parents would add, “don't make no schmurrrt.”    (That last word is obviously a sound effect, a bit of onomatopoeia that refers to a cross between a old-school Polish word and a bodily function.)  Basically, they would look down on me in shame if I did anything that was considered a bad choice, or in their words, a schmurrrt.
But my friend’s mom didn’t have such high standards.
We watched scary movies and mixed fourteen different kinds of pop together and talked about boys and ate brownies at 2 AM.  We slept in until 11 and listened to pop music and she had posters on her wall that weren’t of great scientists and optical illusions.  She was cool, and when I was there, I was cool, too.
But there’s a catch 22 involved.
She always liked to stay at my house, as well.  Because while her parents were mainstream fun, mine filled dozens of water balloons for us to smash with baseball bats and we had a dress-up bin of wild clothes and a video camera.   We slept outside and ate fresh popcorn covered in real butter.  I had posters on my wall that weren’t torn out of magazines.  I was cool, and when she was there, she was cool, too.

And now I’m a parent, with three children who all want to either have someone here or go away.  When their friends are here I find myself always trying to be the cool parent, knocking myself out so that their friends will love to be here.  And when my children are away, I just flat out really miss them.
It’s a conundrum laced with a labor of love, wrapped up in a gypsy costume and a feather boa from the dress-up bin.  But when it’s all said and done, time flies faster than one of those water balloons, so no matter at whose house they stay, I’m going to try to keep it cool and hope that they, as well as I, don’t make no schmurrrt.

Written/published 9/7/14

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bringing back the dead

Believe it or not, I have never had a dead battery in all my 21+ years of driving a car.  So when I stepped outside after a workout with friends, my exact words were, “Tina!  My car won’t start!  Help!!!” 
Tina is a rather resourceful woman, a lovely friend, and was also quick to respond with jumper cables.  She turned her car around so that our vehicles were nose to nose, pulled the cables from her trunk, and handed them to me.
As it turned out, neither one of us knew exactly what we were doing which must have been quite a sight—two sweaty women in brightly colored clothes standing there in a parking lot, trying to look confident but entirely afraid of blowing ourselves into smithereens. 
“Why isn’t there a poem or something to remember how to hook up these cables?” I asked.  I felt like a complete moron.
With the wonderment of the smart phone comes unlimited answers, and while sifting through the various pages, each claiming that they offered “the only safe way to jumpstart a car,” I realized that no two methods were the same.
There were pictures and how-to videos and step-by-step detailed instructions that were all completely different from all of the other ones.  Frustrated, we began calling people we thought could help us and realized their methods were all different as well.  Finally, a man pulled up in his car near us and I thought we had been saved.
“Excuse me,” I asked.  “We think we’re going to explode ourselves and wondered if you could help us jump my car.”
He kindly got out to help, stood there and scratched his head and said, “I haven’t done this in awhile.”  I politely excused him without demanding he hand over his man-card and he drove away.  Tina and I were on our own, but being two educated women who had just done two hours of weights and cardio, there was no way we shouldn’t be able to succeed.
Following one person’s instructions, we connected the cables as we were directed to do.  No luck.
We readjusted and finally, with a few last second prayers, I turned the key to my beloved vehicle and heard it turn over and start up.  Being women we did not high five or “bro hug.”  We full out embraced each other and jumped up and down and cheered like goobers and held our heads a little higher.  Ingenuity, the ability to ask questions, and good ol’ girlfriend teamwork had prevailed once again.
(Because I am one who needs those poems or pneumonic devices in order to remember how to do things, here’s my Public Service Announcement for the week:  Love Root Beer? Drink Root Beer.  Live car- connect red, then black.  Dead car, red, then black.  Feel free to write that on your man-card, should you need it.)

Written/published 8/31/14

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The pink couch

Like most couples that married young, we accepted anything and everything anyone offered us.  Have an old bed frame?  We’ll take it.  A set of dishes?  Yes, please.  A four-thousand pound pink couch with a pull out bed?  Gladly.
For nearly fifteen years I have cherished every single gift we have received, from our wedding shower on.  I can’t use my hand mixer without thinking of a curly-haired lady named Kathy, or bake a cake in a Bundt pan without remembering Jenny signing her name to the card.  I’m a sentimental goober to the nth degree, and parting with any of these things is extremely difficult.
But now, we’re getting closer to letting one of them go.
This must be one of the most sturdy couches built in all of recorded history.  It survived the raising of three teenage boys and a giant dog and still looked practically new when it arrived from my in-law’s house.  They were upgrading to a more modern style that didn’t have a mattress or the need for a moving crew to sweep underneath. 
Without a good place to put it, but unable to turn it down, we opted to put it in our unfinished basement so that we could have a place to sit while our kids eventually would roller-skate around on the smooth, concrete floor.  We used the couch as much as one uses a couch in a cold basement, waiting out storms and escaping the most humid days of summer.  But eventually we wanted more.  We wanted a finished basement.
The contractor drew up the plans and started framing.  Before we knew it, the drywall was up and rooms were divided in our lower level, and in one side room sat the pink couch.  Locked in for eternity.  There was no easy way to move the monster out of the room, let alone up the stairs to ever get a glimpse of daylight again.
For years, the couch has sat in our back storage room, covered in boxes of winter hats and holiday decorations, with nary a hind-end seen.  We honestly thought that we would have to sell our house someday with a little fine print that read: Included, free of charge, world’s heaviest couch.
Today the story changed.

A visiting friend was recruited to flex his muscles and see if  we could maneuver the infamous pink couch out of the basement room and into the garage for an upcoming yard sale.  I couldn’t watch, to be truthful.  I was sure there was going to be a hole in the wall or a pulled back.  After hiding in the kitchen, I emerged to see the couch halfway up the stairs and jumped in to help haul it all the way up and out into the garage, where it will stay until it finds its next worthy home.  Until then, on it I will sit, watching the kids roller-skate around on the smooth, concrete floor, and think of my in-laws.

Written/published 8/27/14

Monday, August 10, 2015

Shopping Spree

In my life, I would not consider myself a lucky person.  I once won a coloring contest at the corner store which came with an oversized stuffed bear named “Tubby” and once, on a scratch off lottery ticket, I scored fifty smackeroos.  But even if I was a frequent winner, I would still appreciate each and every fortuitous victory as if it were a million dollars.  I would interrupt any moment with my jumping and screaming and smiling until someone calmed me down because they would think something was horribly wrong, when in fact was horribly right.
A raffle fundraiser at our local YMCA found me, an employee, asked to purchase or sell a ticket.  Not wanting to convince my family or friends to buy one before the season of school and activity campaigns begin, I shelled out the money and wrote my name and phone number on the ticket.  And because I’m often forgetful, I left it in my car and spilled coffee all over it and turned it in in the nick of time.
The call came in, on my birthday, no less, and as expected I danced around like a loon and told everyone I saw, even perfect strangers because I was so excited.  Tubby had nothing on winning a ninety-second shopping spree at the grocery store.
Once the excitement came down to a dull roar, my family started telling me exactly what I should be doing.  My husband drove us to the store as a family and set up a cart and tried to time me how long it took to get to the meat department, drool rolling down his chin.
In my weary mind, I was thinking of heading for the coffee section, where I could fuel myself and complete my training as a caffeine aficionado. 
My children requested the following: fruit snacks, potato chips, and fried chicken. “And if you have time, get some ice cream for dessert.”
The anticipation built for days while we tried to schedule a time for the mad dash.  I considered leaving the weight room and heading to the kitchen and do a few sets of bicep curls with bags of flour and chest presses with frozen turkeys, followed by some stretching so I don’t pull a muscle tossing racks of ribs into a shopping cart.  I thought about having a tshirt made with some flames shooting out the back.  I thought about having my friends strategically placed around the store to make sure I don’t zoom over any innocent customers while I do my mad dash.  I also thought about how I could get fried chicken, ice cream, coffee, and prime rib without breaking speed records.
But in the end, I will just smile and jump and run and shop and think about Tubby and hope to not pull a muscle.

Written/published 8/14/14
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