Grandma

My grandmother was not quite five feet tall, always wore Nikes, could out-swear a sailor, and had a heart that loved without end. She was generous beyond description and I don’t think she ever told a lie in her life. She played the accordion and made the world’s best lemon pie. In short, my grandma was amazing.

There was nothing better than listening to my grandma’s stories and she had many. She grew up during the Great Depression which shaped her entire life. She once told me about a woman who slapped her across the face when she was a girl because she thought she had used an extra towel to dry her hands. She also told me about the hungry, homeless people who would walk by her house and how her parents always gave them something to eat. As a result, she never let anything go to waste and never let anyone she knew go without.

As a kid, she was responsible and hardworking, caring for her seven younger brothers and sisters while her parents worked. But she had a wild side too. My favorite story of her’s was the time she and a friend ditched school to hang out with two guys who had motorcycles. She said she found out later that one of the guys was a police officer. She would laugh and tell me, “Well, at least we never got caught!”

During WWII, she went to work in a factory that manufactured airplane parts. She wore pants when it was scandalous for a woman to do so and it drove her father crazy. She outlasted the hazing of the men in the factory and earned everyone’s respect with her quick wit and her tireless work ethic.

Her greatest passion: music. She played the piano beautifully without ever having a single lesson. All she had to do was hear a song and she could walk right over to the piano and play it. She even loved my music when I was a kid; we’d go for a ride in her car and she would blast Van Halen and drive way too fast; it was great. No doubt my love of music comes from my grandma; I love everything from Glenn Miller to the Eagles and it all reminds me of her.

But all of this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of who she was and who she still is to me today. She was made of different stuff than the woman of today; she came from a generation of women that didn’t complain. My grandma knew more heartache early in her life than most people experience in a lifetime, but you never knew it to look at her. She was strength personified, petite in stature but delicate never. Rather than dwell on sadness, she thrived when she was needed and lived for helping others–family and strangers alike.

She donated her time, her money, and anything else that was ever needed because she truly believed in helping others. She never let anyone know who she was helping or to what extent because she valued dignity–her own and that of others. It was a simple thing for her: someone needs help, so you help. She never wanted to be thanked, it’s just how she lived her life.

My grandma taught me so much about life: how to speak my mind and hold my ground even when I’m scared, how to put others first, and how to laugh even when it hurts. And that is what I call strength.

 

Home Repairs

While on all fours attempting a home repair, I yelled for my husband to bring me some caulk. Needless to say, a miscommunication ensued.

Home repairs are a constant source of headaches, especially in our home. My husband likes to think of himself as a home improvement guy. He thinks taking his iPad into the bathroom with him and watching six Youtube videos on ‘how to lay tile’ makes him an expert. I’m not convinced, especially when I could hear the video through the door and it sounded like it was in Swedish. I certainly have nothing against Sweden, in fact I have meant to write to Sweden for many years now to thank them for their sterling gift to the literary world, Pippi Longstocking. But for complete lessons in tile work, I would prefer those lessons be conducted in English.

The sounds of Sweden subsided in the bathroom then my husband flushed and yelled triumphantly, “I can tile the kitchen; it’s easy!”

“Let me guess. A cunning Scandinavian just taught you,” I say.

“Tile is it’s own language; I saw how it’s done. No translation necessary,” he says with such pride I know we are doomed.

We have been in tense negotiations about the fate of the kitchen floor for a long time now. Months ago, the back door leaked and damaged half of the dining room floor so the old flooring had to be torn up and the floorboards repaired. That is where we came to an impasse. My husband wants to tile the entire dining room and kitchen himself and I want to pay a professional to do it.

The decision would be easy if it just came down to cost, but cost is not what’s holding us up. It seems my husband’s metaphorical manhood rests on completing this job himself. It’s something primal within him harkening back to the days of pioneers, when men were men. I’m just afraid that if I give in on this one, next he’s going to want a team of oxen to plow our back forty (I’m not even sure what a ‘back forty’ is but I do know what oxen are and I already clean up after our dog, I’m not picking up after a couple of mutant cows).

But he’s just not going to relent. “I tiled the bathroom and it looks great.”

The bathroom tile is gorgeous but the toilet has never been the same since. The toilet leaks every nineteenth flush (I made a chart and counted on one particularly boring snow day last winter). When it leaks, it goes straight through the floor where there is no grout and floods the garage. Also, our bathroom is so small that it only took four, twelve-inch tiles to finish the job. I don’t dare bring this up to him since he went through thirty-eight tiles just to get those four done. It is a topic that has been banned from conversation in our house due to the fact that our daughter repeated a few of Daddy’s tiling adjectives on her first day of kindergarten. Luckily, most of the really bad words were in Swedish so we narrowly escaped a trip to the principal’s office.

The other issue at stake here: exactly how long the kitchen will be out of commission. My husband swears it will take one week. But once I run the numbers through the “Husband Home Repair Time Table Conversion Chart” the actual time is a month and a half. This chart has become an invaluable tool in our ongoing battle over home repairs. I came up with the chart when my husband went outside to hammer in a loose nail on the fence and came back six hours later and half the fence was dismantled. I can sacrifice my kitchen and feed my family Cheerios and McDonald’s for a week or two, but longer than that? I’m sure we’d all end up with scurvy and ringworm.

Much like I do with our daughter, I take advantage of his short attention span and say, “Oh, those tree branches are getting pretty low; I think they need a trim.” There’s a job fit for a pioneer that doesn’t take place in my kitchen.

He takes the bait and heads outside. Five hours later my husband yells, “I’m going to buy a chainsaw!”

I don’t remember the pioneers having chainsaws. I do a quick count of all his appendages just in case I have to describe a missing part to the ER doctor later.

 

The Tire Swing

We have a tire swing hanging from a huge elm tree in our front yard. My husband and I bought it for our daughter after she swung on one just like it at a friend’s house–it was love at first swing. There’s even a spot in the grass that has been worn bare where I stand and push her day after day.

When my husband first hung the swing, I was terrified. I thought my baby girl was surely going to fall off and break something. We started out with tiny pushes, all the while yelling, “Don’t let go!” “Hang on tight!” She held on with a white-knuckle grip and laughed the entire time.

Soon came the cries of, “Higher!” Despite my fear, I pushed her just a little higher. The smile on her face grew with every push I gave her. Eventually I became more confident in her grip on those ropes and pushed her even higher. I can see her now, her eyes closed tightly, her face looking up and catching the sun rays peaking through the elm branches. I’ve never seen anyone look so content and so free.

One of our favorite things to do while she swings is to make up stories. My daughter and I tell each other amazing stories of princesses, puppies, bears, and butterflies. Her stories are always about someone being lost and needing a home; she is always the princess that takes them in and cares for them. She tells me she wants to be an eye doctor when she grows up and I tell her about the time I lost my two front teeth at the county fair.

I can mark time by my daughter on that swing in the elm tree. In the summer, she swings in shorts and bare feet while taking a break from her lemonade stand; in autumn, my heart catches in my throat as she reaches for that one leaf that has caught her eye: it’s yellow and red with the first hints of fall and it’s beauty doesn’t escape her; in the winter, I bundle her up and she swings just until her cheeks are numb; in the spring she stretches to touch the new buds of life on the tree. It’s after each spring that my husband has to raise the swing higher because for some reason, her feet keep reaching the ground.

As she has gotten older, her love for that swing has never changed and she becomes braver and braver; the more she swings, the more her confidence grows. Now she likes to lean back as far as she can because it makes her tummy do flip-flops and makes her dizzy. Sometimes as that swing crests at its highest point, she lets go, for no other reason than because it’s fun.

Sometimes she swings with her friends. I am still the motor for this vehicle of adventure, but in these moments I become an outsider. My daughter and her friends whisper things I will never know as they swing. They laugh and smile in a world all their own.

Of course my daughter has had a few mishaps on the swing–a pinched finger, a scraped knee, and the occasional wounded pride, but it’s these times that I insist she get back on the swing just for a couple more pushes. Some days it takes a lot of coaxing, but she always gives in and always ends up smiling.

I love this swing. I love that I can push my daughter as high as she can go, even when it scares us both, and then she comes right back to me; we are connected in that moment.  I know one day she will lose interest in the swing and that one day she will no longer need my big pushes. It will be a sad day for me but I’m sure my daughter will be there to give me a push.

Dear PTA President

Dear PTA President,

I know you already have a pretty full plate with your career, taking care of your family and home while also planning the book fair, the fall carnival, Halloween parties, the coupon book fundraiser as well as the school clean-up project, but I have a grave concern that I hope you can assist with.

First, sorry about my cliché usage of ‘full-plate.’ I usually steer clear of that saying. A full plate. It sounds accusatory, like getting caught in the buffet line for the fifth time. Not that  that has ever happened to me. Or to you! You always look great. I saw you at yoga the other day; you didn’t see me, I take the spot in the back so no one can hear me swear during chaturanga. By the way, your ‘lifted half crow’ was a thing of beauty. I dislocated my shoulder on that one and made up a new pose: ‘fetal position of agony.’ But I digress.

I was recently informed that I am The Head Room Mom for my daughter’s class (I’m not sure if it needs to be capitalized but I want to show respect for the title). It is a position I accept with honor and I want you to know that I will not be irresponsible with the power laid before me. I know I am now part of a heritage of amazing Head Room Moms such as, Mom who crafted everything herself and made Pinterest look like a chump, Mom who worked for a major pet store and got each child in the class a puppy, and Mom who baked like a professional chef then lost it during the Valentine’s Day party and threw cake at the cardboard Cupid; (I know we usually don’t speak of her, but that red velvet cake she made was delicious. I hear she’s looking forward to baking again, once her therapist allows her around sharp objects.)

I can assure you I will make you proud as The Head Room Mom. I have already started planning an Arbor Day celebration that will surpass any other Arbor Day celebration you have seen.  I want to incorporate goats into this party somehow. I did a quick poll of the kids in my neighborhood and the results were unanimous: kids love goats. Of course I will need the form to get permission to bring goats into the classroom. Also, do you know where I can obtain six or seven medium-sized goats?

I apologize; I am getting caught up in the pageantry that goes along with being The Head Room Mom. My concern is that the only reason I am The Head Room Mom is because I put my name on the list first. You see, I am a very competitive person; I thought there would be some kind of election process or a challenge of some kind to prove who was truly worthy of this position. Perhaps a foot race or a yodeling contest would be a good gauge of qualifications? I don’t need the contest to be anything flashy, like an origami cage match, but a game of croquet would filter out the dregs quite nicely. I would prefer to stay away from challenges that include math of any kind as I have a condition known as “I failed college algebra three times and now I vomit at the sight of any numbers larger than my shoe size.” It’s rare but serious.

Now that I think of it, I guess I did earn this position with my impeccable gift of promptness. I was the first to write my name on the list. That’s just like winning a race. I’m always early for everything. My husband says it’s off-putting when I arrive to a party thirty minutes early but I think it shows my excitement and dedication to the hostess. Sometimes I just circle the block sixty or seventy times, but that tends to make me dizzy and I walk into the party like I have already been drinking. Now I just knock on the hostess’ door early and offer to do any last minute cleaning.

I am very happy to have won this distinction and I will perform my duties with honor and as little sarcasm as I can manage.

Warm regards,

The New Head Room Mom

Medicine

My mother had three standard cures for any ailment I suffered as a child: 7-Up, Neosporin, and ‘sitting on the toilet’ (my mother’s polite way of saying, ‘you need to poop’).

“Mom, my stomach hurts!”

“Go sit on the toilet, dear.”

“Mom, I feel like I’m going to throw up!”

“I’ll get you some 7-Up, honey.”

“Mom, I just severed a finger climbing the fence you told me not to climb. The finger landed in the neighbor’s yard and now their dog has it!”

“Put some Neosporin on it, sweetie.”

My entire life I thought ambulances were equipped with giant tubes of Neosporin, cases of 7-Up, and a port-o-potty.

Then I went to medical school. Well, technically my husband went to medical school but I did thumb through one of his medical textbooks once–it made my head hurt and then I threw up (thankfully after sitting on the toilet and a glass of 7-Up I was much better). After his four years of med school, I now know just enough about medicine to be a danger to myself and others.

My husband’s career has led to many bizarre conversations. During his pediatric residency, he came home after a long day of doing circumcisions. He tried to hug me while still in his scrubs. I expressed my concern that he might have foreskin on his scrubs. He mockingly informed me that it is a ‘non-splattering’ procedure. I still didn’t take any chances. One can’t be too careful when dealing with someone else’s foreskin.

I am also now expected to remember every word my doctor says to me. I am perfectly fine hearing my doctor say, “Everything is good.” I like good. Good is fine with me. For my husband, good is not good. He wants me to remember numbers, charts, and all the big words.

“What was your blood pressure?” he asks.

“It was good,” I say.

“What was the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure?” I hate when he makes up words.

“I think one number had a four and the other had a two.” I was never good at math.

Sometimes I wish he could just leave the doctor stuff at the hospital. Then there are times I want him to be a magician with a stethoscope.

“The baby is sick; fix her,” I demand.

“She has a virus; all we can do is let it run its course,” he says coolly.

“She’s thrown up on everything thing she owns–twice–and she won’t touch her 7-Up!” I scream hysterically.

“Maybe you could cover her in Neosporin,” he says and chuckles.

This is no time for jokes; I’m knee-deep in vomit and running out of clean sheets. Even my daughter’s stuffed animals are feeling the tension. Each time my daughter vomits she calls for a new stuffed animal. The animals in the bull pen are visibly nervous; I swear I can see fear reflecting in their big plastic eyes. They seem to know the fate that will befall them–sweat, puke, then a relentless trip in the washer that leaves them forever changed. Sorry, Smoochie Bear, you’re going in, the kid needs you.

Eight hundred and fifty-two loads of laundry later, my daughter was finally sleeping. I decided to start on a cautionary round of 7-Up, Neosporin, and sitting on the toilet. Just in case.