Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fly, be free!

I stared straight into the face of death.

Two eyes opened wide in a blank stare. Soulless, bottomless pits of inky blackness from which no light - or life - would ever escape.

Corners of the mouth peeled back in a frozen grimace like a clown from the circus of the damned.

Time stopped. My heart ceased beating.

The breath trapped in the vault of my chest, preventing the scream that threatened to rip from my throat.
Oh. My. GOD.

Five long seconds ticked off the nearby clock.


And then instinct took over. That innate, save-yourself sixth sense that told cavemen to RUN FROM DANGER! THERE’S A SABERTOOTH TIGER HIDING IN THE BUSH! HE’LL TURN YOU INTO LUNCH, AND THEN YOU’RE NOTHING BUT A CAVE PAINTING AND A MEMORY!

I ran down the stairs and did what any gal with an XX chromosome combo would do.

“$%*@!” I yelled for my husband, bending over at the waist, gulping large chunks of air into my oxygen-starved lungs.

OK, normally I’m not such a wuss. I am, after all, our household’s spider eliminator because they totally freak out my husband, and I’m the one who hoses off the dog after she’s rolled in poop.

But this...thing...took me completely by surprise. I grabbed my husband’s arm with one hand and reached out and pointed back up the stairs with the other. 

“Up there,” I gasped. I shuddered and added, “Unbelievable.”

He looked at me. Looked up the stairs. Back at me. “Did you drink expired NyQuil again?” he finally asked.

I shook my head, grabbed his hand and led him into our son’s bedroom and over to the corner where a tall dresser stood, pulled away from the wall. A gigantic fish tank, recently drained of water, rested on top.

I pointed and said, “Remember when that big pleco fish disappeared from the tank?”

He nodded. “Sure, he got too big for the tank. I wanted to flush him. You got all girly and wouldn’t let me.”

I sighed, “I wouldn’t let you euthanize the fish. Sue me. But that’s not my point.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and adopted his so-what-IS-your-point? stance.

“My point,” I added for emphasis, “is he disappeared. Poof. I assumed he burrowed under the rocks, died and then the other know...ate him.”

His eyebrow arched, waiting for the punch line of the horrible joke he knew was just around the corner.

“Well,” I gulped, “I think I owe the other fish an apology.”

I pointed in the corner where the wall met the floor. He leaned over to take a closer look and that’s when he realized where my story was going.

“Eeeeew,” he hollered and jumped back.

Yes, after accusing the other fish of cannibalism, the poor guy had met his maker only after what would prove to be a suicidal leap from the tank.

Giving the phrase “Fly, Be Free,” a whole new horrible meaning.

Judging from the splash marks - yes, there were honest-to-goodness splash marks, he flew up out of the tank, hit the wall behind and slid down to the floor to land under the dresser, condemned to become a small heap of dried scales and withered fins.

Oh, it was gross. Totally gross.

And way beyond creepy that the little guy had been lurking under my son’s dresser for six long months. 

And before you judge me on my apparent lack of housekeeping skills, whereas a dead, decaying fish can remain undetected for that length of time, I plead my case.

That tank? It weighs a ton. And if we hadn’t needed to move the dresser to make way for a new bed, I never would have emptied the tank at all.

It was like the dominoes of destiny had lined up to create the perfect disgusting storm.

And more unbelievable? It never smelled or attracted - ick - bugs. All in all, he was a very polite fish to die so quietly and hygienically. 

I frowned as I watched my husband grab a paper towel, carefully pick him up and head out the door.

Poor guy. He deserved much more than what fate had given him. So I bowed my head. Said a little prayer. And before I got to “amen” I heard: flush.

Fly. Be free, my friend.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Where do you cry?

I've been blessed with a wonderful life. Great parents. Amazing friends. A terrific husband and a kid who blows me away with his talents, smarts and humor each and every day.

And don't forget TWO beautiful Golden Retrievers, a great job, good health, a roof over my head and food on our table.

But there are days when life sneaks up on you, reaches down and grabs your soul.

For me, it's thinking about my dad. I don't want to feel greedy; having so many blessings already. But there are days when I wish for just one more moment with my dad. One more opportunity to say "I love you." One more chance to talk about the Cubs or the Bearcats or some book we both read.

One more hug or phone call or card. Just to know he's there and thinking about me. Not from above. But down here. With me. With us.

And that's when tears sting my eyes. But I'm not a public crier. Feel free to shed tears in front of others, my friend. I'd never judge you. It shows we're human. That we feel. That we're capable of emotions our hearts can't always handle.

But for me? I'd rather take a hammer to the head. So I save mine for the shower. Where no one can see me. Where no one can hear me. I just let the tears fall, mix with the soapy water and let it all go down the drain.

Anyone else do that? Of course, they do.

Probably all the parents out there who've put in a full day of work (at home, at the office or a combination of both) then have family to wrangle, dinner to make, laundry to do, homework to grade and errands to run. Then fall into bed, exhausted, only to get up the next morning and do everything all over again.

We're tough. So we suck it up. Get things done. Then - when all is quiet - take a moment, cry it out and regroup.

My dad was a quiet guy who rarely wore his heart on his sleeve. That's why it was even more special when he surprised me with something I'd never expect. Like each Christmas when he'd take the money he'd carefully saved, having stashed it away in his den throughout the year, and buy everyone a gift without my mom's assistance.

One year, he gave me a plaque. It wasn't like anything he'd ever given me before, and it stole my breath at the time. And it stills does. Where it hangs in our kitchen, the last thing I see each day before I head out the door.

It reads:

I said a prayer for you today and know God must have heard.
I felt the answer in my heart although He spoke no word.

I didn't ask for wealth or fame, I knew you wouldn't mind,
I asked Him to send treasures of a far more lasting kind.

I asked that He'd be near you at the start of each new day,
to grant you health and blessings and friends to share the way.

I asked for happiness for you in all things great and small,
but it was for His loving care I prayed the most of all.
 (author, Frank Zamboni)

It's special because my dad was a private prayer kinda guy. He didn't quote Scripture. He didn't use examples from the Bible to teach life's lessons. He went to church each week, sat at the end of the pew, helped with the collection and went about his business. He served on the church council but, even then, you wouldn't know he was a God-fearing Christian. He was quiet with his faith. It was personal for him and rarely shared it outloud.

So I was extremely touched to learn what he prayed about. Me. Us. Our family.

I know I should be comforted that my dad's prayers don't have as far to go these days. And, in a way, I am. It's his reward for a life devoted to family, hard work and the enjoyment of the simpler things in life: a beautiful sunrise, the smell of a freshly mowed hayfield, time spent with family, the love of a good dog.

The sacrifices he made will always be with me as will be the example he and my mom set for us: Love most. Work hard. You don't need to have the best of everything because many people do without.

And laugh until it hurts. Because sometimes, that's all you can do.

But that doesn't mean I wouldn't treasure one more hug....

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Let's hope the oak don't croak

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Or, in this case, a tree is a tree only because a 5 year old says it is.

Picking up my son from school, he ran toward the car with a long stick in his hand. He opened the car door and jumped inside.

“Hey,” I called out and pointed, “why did you bring a stick into my car?”

He smiled, waved it in the air and answered, “It’s not a stick. It’s an oak tree.”

I looked again. It was three feet long and skinnier than his pinky finger, with no leaves and a few scraggly roots wrapped in a wet paper towel.

An oak tree?

Sure. And I’m really blonde.

I turned the car for home and asked, “So what are you supposed to do with it?”

I caught him rolling his eyes in the rearview mirror before responding, “We’re supposed to plant it.”

“And then what?” I asked.

“We watch it grow!” he yelled excitedly.

I snuck another peak at the back seat, looked at the scraggly in his hand and thought radioactive waste had a better chance of taking root in our yard than that little guy. But who am I to dash a young boy’s hopes?

I’ll leave that to his dad.


“What the hell is that?” my husband asked, pointing to our son as he jumped out of the car.
“It’s an oak tree!” our son yelled excitedly.

The stunned look on my husband’s face suddenly made this whole experience a lot more fun.

His mouth silently formed the word tree?

I shrugged and said, “Some kids bring a note home from the principal. Our kid brings home a tree.”

He pointed and asked, “Where in the world did it come from?”

“We haven’t quite established that yet,” I answered. “Someone gave it to someone else who gave it to his teacher who gave it to him. Granted, the provenance is a little shady, but, hey, the oak tree will be too in about 40 years.”

I chuckled at my pun but got no response from anyone else. Wet blankets, both of them.

I pointed to the older one and sniped, “What do you care? You’re older than I am and will probably be dead by then anyway.” And then I stomped off.


We should be grateful the thing came with directions.

“We have to plant it immediately,” I read aloud. “If not, then we have to store it in the vegetable crisper of the fridge.”

I stopped, looked up, took in the length of said “tree” and quickly did the math.

The only way that thing was fitting in a drawer in our fridge was if I snapped it in six places, shoved it inside and slammed the door.

Nothing good ever comes from reading directions. Moving along.

“OK, new plan,” I said and clapped my hands to get their attention, “we gotta plant this thing now.” I looked at my husband and asked, “Where do we put it?”

His expression told me he had a good idea that involved me bending over, but he refrained since our son was standing two feet away.

He shrugged, shovel in hand, and answered. “I don’t care.”

Big help. Huge.

I headed for the back yard with my son trailing behind. “Let’s plant this”

My son immediately pounced, “That’s a quarter for the Curse Jar, Mom.”


I pointed out a spot in back of the yard, and my husband asked, “Shouldn’t we think about this? You know, call the utility company so I don’t get fried when I start digging?”

I patted him comfortingly on the shoulder and said, “Ah, listen to you, Mr. Safety....but, no. There are no lines back there. The flags still mark from when I planted last Spring. You’re safe.”

He hesitated and continued, “But what about testing the soil? Drainage?” He waved the sheet of directions in my face.

I quickly snagged them and leaned over to whisper, “Does it really matter? Did you see that thing? A strong breeze will blow it over. There’s no way that thing makes it to morning. Just make it look good. For now.”

Ah, parenthood. It’s about smoke and mirrors until kids catch on and realize we’ve been conning them the whole time.

Life is good.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fly away

My little guy is all heart. On the way to school today he says, "I wish I was a bird so I could fly." Pause. "But don't worry, Mom. I wouldn't poop on you."

Oh, how the heart swells.

And I will brag a bit...after leaving a movie theater last week, he noticed a young boy in front of us had dropped a $5 bill. Before I knew what he was doing, he ran over, picked it up and caught up to the little boy with a "Hey, you dropped your money."

Yes, a proud-mom moment. So in the future when I'm fighting him about going through old toys and clothes to give to charity and he gripes about it...I'll remember that sometimes it's better to keep quiet and let a young boy make his own decisions about what's right.

And that's when they surprise you.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Oak-y doke

There are several things you expect your small child to bring home from school on a Friday.

Homework. Lunch box. Note from the principal.

But color me inquisitive when he hopped into the car with this (picture above).

"Why in the hell did you bring a stick into my car?" I asked.

"It's not a stick, Mom," he said and held it up for inspection, "it's an oak tree."

And I'm really a blonde.

OK. Soooooo....upon reading the directions, said tree had to be planted immediately. If not, it was to be stored in the veggie crisper of your fridge. I don't know about you, but a 3-foot-long not gonna fit in my Frigidaire's veggie crisper. Sure, if I fold it up and snap it like a twig in six places, it's gonna fit. But that process really only works for getting into my skinny jeans. we are on a Friday afternoon, planting said

After all was said and done, it's in the ground. We're laying bets on how long it takes before 1) it dies, 2) a strong breeze blows it over; or 3) our Golden Retriever decides to use it as a chew toy.

But - bottom line - he's a proud little beaver. And after asking him to give the new little guy a name, he immediately responded, "GABE!"

Sigh. It's the fish all over again. And we remember how well that turned out....