Should I Stay or Should I Go

I used to really enjoy my time on social media. I loved seeing everyone’s vacation pictures, funny memes, and dinner recipes. Sure, there was the occasional rant about how much something sucked, or the Facebook equivalent of a chain letter (For those of you too young to remember, these were actual pen-and-ink letters that you had to copy by hand and send to ten of your friends, or Hitler was going to show up at your next birthday party with near-beer and a rabid wombat and ruin everything, and you’d be left to rot in hell forever after)… But on the whole, it was my happy place. After a rough shift at work, i looked forward to seeing a video of a friend’s new grandson, or a screaming goat singing the chorus to the latest Taylor Swift song. It made me forget the stress of the day and laugh a little. It made it much easier not to kick the dog and go to bed angry….

Until last year.

While, before that, there were people who clogged up my newsfeed with conspiracy theories and mean tweets (Excluding, of course, the videos of celebrities reading mean tweets… That stuff’s hysterical!), if i wanted to stay in contact regardless, i could always hide their posts so i didn’t have to see them. But the last election turned far too many of us into partisan, uncompromising, political commentators. I had hoped it would end after the election, but it has, in many instances, gotten worse. From both the left and the right.

Now, i’m not saying people don’t have the right to be angry. And i’m not saying that people don’t have the right to post it. There is no law that says you can’t argue via the internet. And i admit, sometimes people say things, either true or false, that make me look it up and learn more about it. I consider that a good thing. I like to learn.

It’s the meanness that makes me log off.

Which brings me to tell you about my grandmothers. (I know that doesn’t make sense… Stick with me here…)

One of my grandmothers was a petite, quiet, but strong woman, born within the first decade of the 20th century. A good Irish Catholic girl (Yes, they DO exist), she strived to live like a good Christian. Like most of her generation, she had prejudices about color and lack of religion. I doubt she knew anyone who was (admittedly) gay, but she probably would have felt uncomfortable with it. She did not, however, believe in the mistreatment of anyone, regardless. No meanness. No evil thoughts. As a child, whenever i would get frustrated and shout that i HATED (Clams, tie shoes, the miscreant kid down the street…), she would gently, but sternly, say, “You must not hate. You can dislike, but you must NEVER hate. God doesn’t like hate.” And tho i certainly wasn’t a good Irish Catholic girl, i knew she spoke the truth. I knew it was wrong to hate and hurt. I knew that Love was the answer. Even if we don’t care for someone, we were to treat them as we want to be treated. And then pray for them. Never hate them. Hate was what caused people to do mean things. Hate is what caused us to mistreat others. Hate is what hurt people.

Now, my other grandmother was not like that at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. She was strong. But the other stuff? Nope. Not even close. For one thing, she was the center on her high school’s girls’ basketball team… This was right about 1940, so that should tell you a lot about the woman. She wasn’t petite, she wasn’t quiet, and her idea of religion was more about the holiness of a good lobster roll. (And if you fail to see the holiness, you’ve never had a really good lobster roll.) When my other grandmother was heading to mass on Sunday, this one was preparing to settle in and watch the Dolphins play. She could swear like a sailor, and she loved a good bet. But it never mattered who she was betting, or watching the game with, or sitting next to at the bar. Your validity as a Dolphins fan was not questioned if you happened to be from another human category. That never mattered to her. Case in point, i had the pleasure one day of sitting with my grandmother and the remaining women from her basketball team at their regular get-together for coffee. They told me about how difficult it was to find other female teams to play… They would have to travel hours to games… And how angry they would get when they would arrive, and someone would question the fact that their power forward was a black woman. To them, they were a team. Period. That was all that mattered.  And they wouldn’t tolerate mistreatment of their friend, classmate, and teammate, even if that meant refusing to play a game if she wasn’t included.

As i said, these women weren’t perfect. They each had their own social circles, and like others of their generation, didn’t cross the tracks to other neighborhoods very often. (Many generations later, this is still a widespread issue.) But neither of them ever knowingly mistreated someone because of a skin color, religion, political affiliation, whathaveyou. Maybe it was because they were both forced into single motherhood at a time when there were no allowances for that. They knew what it was like to be refused a job simply because you were female and a mother. They knew looks of disapproval for something that was outside their control and had no bearing on their worthiness.  Maybe because of that, they chose to override their socially-nurtured prejudices and try to treat all people with fairness and equity. Your worthiness for trust, to them, was based on your behavior to others and your willingness to work hard. Your worthiness as a human was determined by the fact that you were human. Clear. Simple.

Two women, over a decade apart in age, different social brackets, different religions and interests… Both coming to the conclusion that heart and tenacity are better discriminators than color and creed. This is how i was raised.

Yes, there are times i find myself jumping to conclusions about people based on an accent,  bumper sticker, or hygiene habits. At those times, i forcibly remind myself that i could be them in another circumstance, or vice versa. And i remind myself that a lot of what i am might horrify them, too. And that puts us on an even playing field. I still might make the wrong judgement in the end, but at least it’s an honest mistake and not a thoughtless one.

So as i cruise my social media tonight, as i weed thru the Trumpsters hating on the immigrants, and the Dems hating on the Right, and everyone hating on the Muslims… I will try to remember that they probably have some valid points. That they have a right to express their anger, even if others don’t agree or sympathize. That they may not know or care that all i want to find on my home page tonight is a story about bikers helping kids or a video of guinea pigs talking about pumpkin spice. That they don’t realize how bitter they sound. I will try to remember because i don’t want to get caught up in the hatred. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hatred. And God/Goddess/Universe doesn’t like it when i hate.

I know, because my grandmothers told me so.

They also taught me that, in the face of hate, sometimes all you can do is refuse to play the game.

Unbatten the Hatches

My sister has an amazing memory. I’m sure, at our age now, she occasionally mixes up her kids’ names or forgets why she walked to the basement; but she remembers things from long past that i never could. She remembers the name of every teacher she ever had, every babysitter, every celebration. Me? Not so much. There are a lot of memories that my brain has either tossed out like garbage or buried deep in some trunk, including most of the memories before i turned 8 years old, when my parents were still married, and life was “normal”.  For me, those years aren’t crisp photos in some leather covered album. They’re more like a stack of Rorschach tests that have been used to soak up spilt milk. But there are a couple that remain clear. And days like today always remind me of one in particular.

When i was 6 or so, we lived in an apartment that was on the bottom floor of 3 stories. We had a patio that was sheltered by the balconies of the apartments above us. It wasn’t big, but it was big enough for our purposes. Fold up lawn chairs, a bike, a Big Wheel, the basics of the era.  In the winter, it was a place to stash those plastic roll-up sleds and to shed the snow coated jeans and parkas (So as not to drag the wet inside the house). In the summer, the cement was spotted with popsicle stains and fluffernutter sticky spots. But my favorite thing about the patio was the rain.

I’ve never asked him why he did it, if it was planned, or if it was for his own amusement or mine. And truthfully, i couldn’t tell you if it happened only one time or 100. But the memory is as vivid as if it happened this morning. (Or more vivid, really, since, as usual,  i can barely remember this morning.)

So as i sit here on my porch listening to the thunder roll and  the rain patter, i can’t help but be brought back to that patio.

Big bad thunderstorms can be scary when you’re a kid. But i don’t remember being afraid of them. What i remember is sitting on the patio with my dad. A big bowl of popcorn (Made the RIGHT way, with lots of butter in the big stock pot on the stove). Sitting next to him, watching the storm like it was a much anticipated movie. We’d count the seconds after each electric streak across the sky, we’d jump and squeal at each resounding boom, and then we’d figure how many miles away it was. I’d sit with my dad and watch the storm with safety and comfort and a belly full of good popcorn. And i wasn’t afraid. Instead of being an explosion of God’s wrath and all those other things we kids ascribe to it, it became a beautiful and wondrous bit of nature that i learned to love and appreciate.

And when my own weedlings were young, i did the same thing with them. Our own covered porch, a bowl of popcorn, the watching and waiting and counting.  And they were never scared either

I was afraid of a lot as a weedling. Hell, i’m afraid of a lot as an adult. But i’ve never been afraid of storms. In fact, i relish them. Maybe as i grow older, i will learn to appreciate storms of other varieties,the non-weather varieties, as much as i do Mother Nature’s. Maybe, in the midst of it all, i can imagine my dad, relaxed in one of those woven-strap lawn chairs, bowl of popcorn in this lap, telling me it’s ok and reminding me to count so i’ll know when the storm starts to go away. As all storms eventually do. Yes, maybe that would be something good to add to my self-improvement “to do” list.

Raindrops, wind, thunder… The sounds of a good full-blown storm…. Therapists use it to help their patients relax, unwind, clear anxiety. It does all those things for me, too. But it also makes me smile. And think of my Dad,

And This Little Piggy Went “Wee Wee Wee”…

Ages ago, when my current college sophomore was still in kinder-clothes, there existed a pig. A Swarovski crystal pig, to be exact. One that i had gotten her older sister as a gift. The pig lived on a window sill in older sister’s bedroom and projected faceted light into all the corners of the room. My oldest thought the porker was pretty, but my middle weedling… She thought it was the most beautiful thing in the whole wide world.

Since my oldest wasn’t living with me at the time, her bedroom was not usually occupied. This meant that the poor crystal piggy was lonely. My middle daughter, totally in love with the magical swine, could feel his loneliness and felt compelled to bring him into her own room. On her own window still. Where she could hold him and love him and marvel at him as if he were her own. She cherished that pig as much as, if not more than, her sister.

One day, while vacuuming, or collecting laundry, or whatever mom thing i was doing at the time, i noticed that the otherwise elegant piglet was missing an ear and a tail. I called my middle daughter to task, but she swore up and down she hadn’t hurt him. I called my oldest and conspired with her to put on a face of full-on disgust and disappointment at the animal abuse, and the lie that failed to cover it, in hopes that her conscience would sway her to tell the truth and apologize. I mean, it was her room, after all. Who else could have broken it? We did a guilt-job worthy of the best old-school preacher or ethnic grandmother. We really poured it on thick.

In retrospect, her obvious sadness should have told me that she was as brokenhearted as we were, but at the time, logic did not allow me to put anyone else to blame.

She finally relented and apologized, but she always maintained that it was not her that curtailed the piggy.

******

Fast forward to a couple months ago…

I get a call from my middle weedling. Her excitement is palpable. “Hey, Ma! I’ve figured out what i’m getting (sister) for Christmas!” She was literally sparkling thru the phone, she was so ecstatic. “Do you remember the crystal pig?” (As if i could forget…. For the last 15 years you’ve been periodically restating your innocence, i say to myself.) “Well, i found one just like it. I am going to get that for her! But you have to keep it a secret! And for the record, i am not the one who broke it.” I am a decent secret keeper, so even tho my heart was bursting with love over such a thoughtful gift, i kept my word.

A couple weeks later, i meet my oldest for brunch.

“So, Ma… Guess what i got (sister) for Christmas?” She seems bursting with energy and happiness, so ready to spill the news. “Do you remember the crystal pig?” (I damned near choked on my eggs benny) “Well, i found one for her just like it! But you can’t tell. It has to be  a secret. I am so excited to give it to her! You know, she didn’t break it. We still don’t know who did.”

I promise you, i am not making this up.

So, over the course of the next few weeks, i am the recipient of multiple phone calls from each daughter that go something like, “Do you really think it’s a good idea? I mean, it’s not too sentimental, is it? Do you think she’ll like it? It isn’t a stupid idea, is it? I just hope she remembers!”

I cannot express how difficult it was to maintain an unknowing air as i told each of them that, indeed, i thought it was a great idea. And yes, i was certain she would remember. And that i felt it was sentimental in only the best way.

When my middle daughter came up with an idea that she was certain would make an even better gift for my oldest, it was hard not to beg her to stick with the pig. I could imagine the love explosion that would occur when they  both simultaneously opened each other’s gift, and i wanted so badly to see it happen. But i kept my promise and let her change her mind. Truthfully, the gift she chose really was equally as perfect. Even if it wasn’t a pig.

Our gift giving occurred earlier this week. And when it came time for the porcine love fest, it was all i could do to stay calm. When middle daughter unwrapped the piggy… Both girls and i were teary eyed. And when i shared the story of all the coincidental phone calls, we were all borderline crying. Tho none of us are Grinches, i admit, my heart grew three sizes that day, and i’d be willing to bet, my daughters’ hearts did too.

And yes, they still took the time to remind me that she wasn’t the one who broke it.

You know, people always say that it’s the thought that counts. I couldn’t agree more. The love that caused both my daughters to seek out a crystal pig… Well, that’s the best thought of all.  And i couldn’t be prouder.

As Natural and Pleasant as Childbirth

For most of my life, i have labored under the delusion that i prefer “natural”. I try to buy mostly small farm and organic food. I make my own perfumes and most of my own toiletries. I don’t dye my salt and pepper hair. Other than laundry, i mostly clean with vinegar. I try “holistic” remedies before resorting to drugs. I mean, i’m not a full-on hippie: I wear makeup, shave my legs, and cave to the occasional desire for McDonald’s french fries; but i do try to go the wholesome route when possible. Natural is better, right? I thought so, but a conversation with my middle weedling this morning made me realize that sometimes the natural order of things sucks.

Poison ivy is natural, and it sucks.

Ditto for mosquitos, periods, booger-filled sneezes, and the idiocy and flippancy of a teenager.

But most of all, worse than aging, radishes, and the smell of skunk combined is the natural order of watching your weedlings grow up and move on.

My oldest daughter, for all her awe-inspiring baddassery, is a loyalist and a caretaker more than anyone outside her immediate circle would believe. Because of that, she is never gone for long. Visits, even when she isn’t living 2 streets over, are frequent. She gets worried when she hasn’t heard from me in a while. And even if, in the future, we are living on opposite sides of the globe, we will be meeting up for adventures as often as possible. Her spreading her wings as an adult, while difficult, was tempered with the knowledge that she would always be back.

My middle weedling is a different story alltogether. The college she chose, a military academy, means that she has very little time to visit home. And what time she does have is split between myself, her father, and her boyfriend. (For those of you with weedlings in “normal” colleges, imagine your parental loss, and magnify it by a factor to account for none of the usual weekends, nor most of the requisite vacations.) And not for nothing, i know that when she graduates, she will be far-flung and not likely to be able to return home easily. Her daring and accomplishments have made us all proud, but her absence still sucks.

I know, i know. Genesis, Matthew, Mark, Ephesians.  Peter, Paul, and Mary. And Laura Ingalls Wilder. Many wiser voices than mine have made it clear that this is the natural order of things. Well, so is death, but unless you are the highest order of Buddhist monk, i can’t see you being happy about it. None of the wise voices ever said that the natural order was pleasant.

I don’t deny that i am  looking forward a little to my pre-decrepitude. Being able to travel on the fly. Truly being my own servant and master. Not having to close the bathroom door. But those perks don’t make up for the fact that i can no longer call my children home when i want them here.

Yes. I realize that is selfish. But that, too, is “natural.”

Of course, as much as it hurts to watch your weedlings grow up and “adult” on their own, it’s not like i want them staying in my house forever, either. My older weedlings make great adults. They give me hope for the future. My son will as well, when it is his turn. Them growing up isn’t so painful that i want them living in my basement. That would seriously hamper my pre-decrepitude plans.

So maybe, in spite of this middle weedling’s more distant life, i will survive. The pride i feel at seeing what she accomplishes, coupled with my own expected shenanigans as a carefree, gypsy broad when my son reaches the age of ascension, and my years of solitude begin, might just be the Benedryl for my “natural order” allergies. I will still have a reaction to the loss of weedlings to weed-hood, but the medicine of taking advantage and living well might make it a little less severe.

But i’m still gonna wish i saw them more.

A Tribute to the Triad

I went out for brunch today with my oldest weedling. Not surprising, since we do it at least twice  a month. At some point, over pimento cheese with bacon jam, biscuits and gravy, and some killer grits, she confesses that she loves when i write about her on my blog. (She also said she wished i hadn’t written about the teabag incident but i can’t help it… It still makes me laugh even now.) My son has also confessed to loving when he is featured here. My middle weedling, well, my guess is she tolerates my blog like she tolerates my impromptu dancing in the supermarket aisle. But since she is outnumbered, i decided today to feature them all… In a rendition of my favorite, “Yup, they’re my kids!” moments.

Mind you, they are my children, so they occasionally say or do things that can’t really be explained. They were never “typical” kids. And they can sometimes be a wee bit inappropriate. Go figure.

I hope i don’t end up in a rat infested nursing home because of this.

*****

Oldest weedling is now a manager and designer at a flower shopppe. She is creative, intelligent, and responsible. And she always was…. Tho every now and then, her inventiveness ran far ahead of her intelligence and… BAM! Momma Hol moment.

Such as it was nearly two decades ago. My husband at the time and i were living in Central America, and i was very pregnant with my middle child. Oldest daughter was outside playing while i put my feet up for a bit. I watched her go collect the coconuts that had fallen in the driveway. She peeled off what was left of the bark/peel, arranged them and rearranged them in different patterns (I never thought about it til just now, but she used to do that a lot. A prelude to her career choice maybe?) Anyway, when she finally gets them as she wants them, i see her lean back and scrutinize. There is one that is larger than the others and just doesn’t fit. She picks it up and eyes it carefully. She weighs it in her hand. I see the idea come together. She throws it hard to the ground.  Bang! It bounces and rolls to the grass. She picks it up and does it again even harder. BANG! It bounces, but doesn’t break. She disappears to the garage and comes back with a hammer. Thwack! She hits it and it skitters off sideways. She wedges it between the sidewalk and a rock. THWACK! She puts the hammer down and picks up the coconut. Still whole. I see her examining it closely, looking for a crack, her body slumping a little when she doesn’t find one.

The next part, i promise you, it wasn’t my fault.

I see her take a thoughtful pose while she ponders the problem. I see the glint in her eye when she gets the idea. In the house, i am shaking my head. “Nope, bad idea, you goofball.” I know she can’t hear me, but i am thinking she surely will dismiss the notion… After all, she’s an incredibly gifted kid. But her curiosity got the best of her. As soon as i realized it, i jumped up to stop her, but it was too late… She extended her arm and slammed the thing against her head. KONK! Her feet come from underneath her, her body horizontal, and i swear i saw birds and stars circling around her noggin as she hit the ground. I’m waddling out to check on her as she rolls over to where the coconut has landed. It is still undamaged.

“Crap, ” She says. “Good thing i didn’t really want it anyway.”

*****

My son is Nathan Lane’s logical heir. He is intelligent and dramatic in a way that belies his age, but probably not his upbringing.

I’m at work one afternoon and i get a call from my son’s pre-school teacher. He’s a paisano from  my native area, long since transplanted to our adopted southern home,  and my weedlings and i adore him. But today he is obviously trying to sound serious as he tells me i need to come down and collect my son. He is fine, teacher/friend assures me, but i need to come down. So i finish what i am working on, explain to my boss what is going on, and head down to the in-house daycare. All the toddlers are outside playing, except for my son, who is sitting by the wall with a grumpy look on his face.

“We had a little problem today, ” Teacher says, “And we used a bad word…” His face cracks, he runs crazy fast back inside, out of earshot of the kids, and starts to laugh.  “Oh my God, it was the funniest thing i’ve ever seen! He totally nailed it!” Apparently, the kids had all been gathered around the long tables with legos and such, engaged in that kind of creative play that is supposed to make them better thinkers. As my son is building, he looks up to see that another boy is looking back. My son gives him a quizzical look, but goes back to his building. Next time he looks up, the classmate is starting at him again. My son appears mildly annoyed. The same thing happens a few more times, with my son getting a little more rattled each time until….

He’s had enough. One last time, my son looks up to see the same kid still eyeing him. Teacher hears the expulsion of air that comes before an exclamation of exasperation, but before he can intercede, my son makes an authentic Italian hand gesture and, with a perfect Italian-American accent,  shouts, ‘What the hell are you looking at??!!??”

Oops.

Yup. Definitely my kid.

*****

Now, to the weedling that hates being the subject of my stories. And she knows which story i’m going to tell. But the fact of the matter is, knowing that she is now in college at a military academy, this scenario makes perfect sense. And not for nothing, it shows that, although my weedlings are far from perfect, their hearts and souls and characters are strong and good, as this honestly could be an account from any of mine.

All three of my weedlings are good kids and generally don’t make trouble, but the middle one has always been especially upright. With the exception of her intent to someday serve in politics, her actions have always been pure and brave and level-headed. So it was a surprise when i got a call from her principal.

I drove down and was escorted to the office by a teacher who seemed uncomfortable with me having to come in, my daughter being a gifted student and the smallest kid in the 3rd grade. But there she was, slumped down in a chair, hands crossed across her chest, indignant look on her face. The principal’s mouth was hidden by her hand as she asked me to have a seat and told my daughter to explain what happened.

“Ma, you know i told you about Dillon?” Dillon was a boy with Down Syndrome who was in her grade. I nod yes.

“Well, we were out at recess, and Austin kept calling him ‘retard’. I told him to stop being so mean, but he just laughed and called him ‘retard’ again. So i got really mad…”

“And…?” I ask.

She blows out a big breath and says, “I told him if he called him ‘retard’ one more time, i was gonna kick his ass.” Principal makes a sound that sounds like a snort and looks down at her desk.

“And…?” I ask, knowing that there must be more to the story.

“He got in my face! IN MY FACE, MA! And he said, ‘He’s. A. Retard.'” She has tears in her eyes now, tho i can’t honestly say if they were from sadness, anger, or frustration. The principal had tears in her eyes, but it was becoming more evident that hers were more likely from repressed laughter.

“And…?”

“Well, then i HAD to! ”

“Had to what?”

A sigh of exasperation that i am not following her here… “Kick his ass, Ma! I said i was gonna, and then he did, so i HAD to kick his ass!”

I am stunned. “You hit him?”

“Yes, but he deserved it. He was being mean, and SOMEONE has to stick up for Dillon, and you always say that we’re supposed to do what’s right, and….” She’s upset now and losing her cool.

“Calm down,” Says the principal, “It will be ok. Go get your books and things.” When my daughter leaves the room she turns to me, her face now out in the open, and it has a big grin. “She really did kick his ass. I think she even broke his nose. School policy is that, if you hit another student, it is two days’ suspension.”

I nod my head. “I don’t advocate her hitting another student, but i understand why she did.”

Principal responds, “That boy is a bully, and nothing we have done has made a dent in it. But today he got beat up by the smallest girl in the school. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I don’t advocate hitting, either, but it speaks volumes that she would go to such lengths for another student.”

I can’t help but smile with pride.

“Oh, ” She says as i rise to leave, “I should also remind you that she can’t swear at school, even if it’s for a good cause.”

Well, even the best of Good Guys has his quirk.

***

So there you have it, my favorite funny / embarrassing  stories of my weedlings. Nope, they aren’t perfect. But they are smart and strong and independent… And i love how they make me smile.

 

Getting Cool With My Dad

So, my dad came to visit last week. I had a lot of trepidation because my dad and i haven’t always seen eye to eye on my life choices, and even tho i’ve hit the half-century mark, i still desperately want to please him. I was afraid he wouldn’t enjoy my house, my life, or my company. (I know, i know… After nearly 2 score years of therapy, this should no longer be a cataclysmic issue. I regress now and then; so sue me.) I tossed and turned my nights, and fretted thru my days leading up to it. Now that his visit is over and i’m back to my usual grind, i can honestly say i had a wonderful time and i miss him.

We are very different, my dad and i, but this trip we spent more time sharing the things we both enjoy.

Dad and i are both walkers. We like to stroll and sight-see. So we spent some time doing it together. We took our time around the art district and downtown. We walked my SiriDog, who developed an almost romantic attachment to him. We also spent a day at Chicamauga Battlefield park (If you live in the southeast U.S., and you haven’t been, it is worth the trip.) We had some good meals and conversations. And we made one obligatory Father-daughter trip and went to get some lawn tools for my new house.

After we had the tools, we took an afternoon to work on the yard. The trees and shrubbery were  overgrown from the previous owners and were languishing. Everything needed some serious pruning. I was excited to get out there, on the first non-sweltering day of Autumn, and really get things trimmed up.

My son was not quite as enthused.

Armed with our “implements of destruction”, à la Arlo Guthrie, we jumped in. I claimed the hedge trimmers, hoping that the few pushups i do fairly regularly would save my chest muscles from days of pain. (They did not.) My dad took the loppers and started making short order of what i think were once Crepe Myrtles. My son grabbed a rake and started to bitch and moan.

We tried to get him on board by showing a lot of enthusiasm. It was a beautiful day out. The yard was already looking better due to some tree work i had done. And with Dad and i both cutting, a little bit of order was starting to come very quickly. My son, who was armed with a rake, was supposed to be shuttling branches to the street side for pickup. His 14 year old body grudgingly grabbed modest loads and trudged to the street like he was carrying a large anvil thru a swamp of molasses.

My father is a retired cop, so he has even less patience than i do for such lame behavior. In good humor, he makes comments to my son about how he is being out-performed by his smaller female mother and his old grandfather. Each dig gets a response, and each response comes in an octave higher than the one before. Apparently, while i was in the back yard for a moment, my father and son, who were both in the front, had some sort of interchange that caused my son to lose it. Fast forward 15 minutes later, and two police cars come to a stop in front of our house.

The two cops look obviously confused. “Is everything alright?”

“Yup,” i respond. “Just doing yard work. What’s up?”

“We got a call about a death threat…”

My dad makes his way over.

“Someone called and said there was a girl with a rake saying she was gonna kill someone.”

My dad starts to laugh. “Well, you see, his voice hasn’t changed yet, and he was mad because we were making him work…” My son looks mortified as the officers laugh.

“I have a 14 year old boy myself.  I know how it is!”

“He’s a good kid” i say, “But if you ever see him out and about being a schmuck, feel free to beat him with your nightstick.”

“MA! GEEZ!”

“She’s only saying that because she knows you’re a good kid and won’t need it, ” the officer replies. We introduce ourselves to each other, make small talk, and then we all go back to what we were doing. But now, while we are working, my dad is trying to explain to my son, who insisted he had done nothing wrong, how that kind of attitude comes off to some people. I am chiming in here and there to back up my dad while intermittently wondering who called the police.

We never did get him to understand, nor did i ever find out who called, but it became a running joke whenever he got loud or obnoxious to remind him that he was now on the cop “watchlist”, so he’d better shape up.

On Sunday, we did brunch with my oldest daughter. She and i  have made it a ritual to do brunch a couple of times a month, but it was nice to bring my dad and son into it for the day. Chattanooga is full of incredible eateries, and we took them to one of our favorites. As we expected, it was a delicious meal, and we were able to take our time and really savor everything. After, we still had a few hours before we were to embark on a riverboat cruise (A touristy thing to do, but strangely, in the nearly 2 decades that i’ve lived here, i’ve never done it.)  We headed downtown and after a bit decided to grab a cup of coffee before the boat. We walk across the river to be closer to the pier. There are all kinds of coffee houses all over the city, so it shouldn’t have been a problem. Two blocks off the walking bridge, we make our first stop.

Coffee House 1 was packed. Rather than wait,  because we need to work off brunch, we walk 8 blocks to coffee house 2, which has gone out of business. 6 blocks to coffee house 3, which wasn’t really a coffee house, but a treat shop, and doesn’t serve coffee. 3 blocks to coffee house 4, which doesn’t have any open tables. They direct us to coffee house 5, 5 blocks away, which turned out to be closed on Sundays. Why on Earth would you close a coffee shop on Sunday???

If i live to be 100, no one will ever trust me to find a cup of coffee again.

We wasted enough time that we need to head to the boat. The cruise was wonderful, and the gregarious guide was full of historic regional tidbits that both informed and entertained. Dad and i are also both interested in History, so we were totally engaged, ignoring the call for Bingo on the lower deck.

My oldest daughter turns to us and says, “I’m going to win some stuff…” and she trots off down the stairs with her brother close behind. Dad and i almost forget they had gone below until they came up a bit later with prizes. Dad says, “You really won?”  My daughter mocks offense and says, “You saying i can’t do the Bingo? I can do the hell outta the Bingo! Look what i won!” She shows off a box of gourmet chocolates and a book of a local poet’s prose. We all laugh and lean back in our chairs, enjoying the sights and stories.

Most evenings found us with a glass of wine and a cold plate talking about little things with my son. Just normal stuff. Nothing  fancy or noteworthy. Just cheese and salami and conversation. It was enjoyable and comfortable in a way i didn’t expect. It felt “right”. And i admit, i was sheepishly surprised to find the worries i had the week before were unfounded.

Dad may never understand my purchase of shampoo bars to reduce my use of disposable plastics. And i may never understand his need to buy an actual paper newspaper every single day. We may both wince at the sight of each other growing older. We may never appreciate each other’s taste in wine. We may have different versions of the same memories. But that’s ok. We can still eat and walk and joke with my son and do touristy things and spend hours looking for coffee and be cool.

Yup. We can be cool together. How cool is that?

The Human Animal

So, Siridog got her ass kicked earlier this week. Indisputably and thoroughly kicked. Ended up at the vet with shots and meds and a cone of shame, but thankfully, no surgery. I’ve taken to telling people, when they see us on a walk and ask what happened, that she got in a fight at the bar. But really, she got totalled by a cat.

My oldest weedling has two cats, each large enough to be mistaken for feline Shaquille O’Neals. Except that they aren’t nearly as industrious. But they are that big. Clark is a gray and white, cute-faced stoner. Either that, or he was dropped on his head as a kitten. Laid back and chill, you can almost hear Bob Meowly singing reggae in his head. George is a typical gray tabby, except supersized. He is generally pleasant, slow-moving, and could easily be mistaken for Garfield if he were shot in black and white. She has had both of these cats her entire adulthood. And they’ve never bothered anyone.

But as sometimes happens in apartment living, she needed them out of the abode so a repairman could let himself in (They like to try to scoot out when an unsuspecting visitor enters). She brought them to my place with the original intent of shutting them in the bathroom. But after watching for an hour, she saw nothing to prohibit letting them out. Stoner cat was sharing a bowl of kibble with Siri in perfect camaraderie, and George was ignoring everyone. So she made the decision to let them be.

Fast forward  a couple of hours later. The youngest weedling comes home and gathers up Siridog for her afterschool walk. He immediately put her back down because she whimpered. Then he noticed his arms were covered in blood. Rather than freak out, he immediately called his sister, who came and scooted her off to the vet. She was in contact with me the whole time, knowing i would be a mess if i lost my Mexican mutt baby. And she felt terrible that George, who we knew was guilty by his ducking and hiding, would do such a thing.

Now, Siri weighs less than half George.  If he had wanted to kill her, he would have. But in spite of all the blood, there were no cuts that went thru the fascia, and there were no bite marks anywhere near her neck. What that told me was that George was trying to prove a point to Siri. And prove it, he did. He was the Alpha. And tho the outpouring of sympathy was overwhelming and the cat critics were thunderous, i couldn’t be too mad at George. I’ve no doubt that he got too close to Siri’s sleeping place or favorite toy, and she growled or barked, sparking him to demonstrate his mettle. That’s what animals do. They fight to be king. It’s their nature. How can i fault George for behaving the way he was made to?

My inability to be angry at him got me to thinking about man equivalent.

My middle weedling is on her way today to an internship at the United States Institute for Peace. And tho it may seem contrary to send a military person to the USIP, in reality, it makes perfect sense. Douglas MacArthur said, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” Being able to broker for peace will make her a better and more principled and ethical (And hopefully less war-torn) soldier.

And lets face it, we all want world peace

But realistically, man is, in many ways, little more than an animal. Especially when up against a wall . And we can’t expect an animal to behave like anything but an animal. We can’t expect it to want to be anything but Alpha. And we can’t expect it not to fight.  So in a world fraught with dictators and hunger and poverty~ both in pocket and in soul~ How do we find peace?

The minority religion guerillas who feel threatened and bomb their way to Alpha. The socially disordered who are desperately spiritually hungry and shoot their way to Alpha. The inner city kids who feel disposable and punk their way to Alpha. From a feral perspective, the violence isn’t the least bit surprising. They feel cornered by circumstance, by life, and in an attempt to escape, bare tooth and claw. Just like your average junkyard cat.

Of course i don’t advocate violence. I wish i had the power to stop them and make them all take a breather with some milk and oreos and maybe, for once, try to talk to each other. Try to find a way besides killing. Pull a Robert Fulghum and bring them all to a table laden with crayons and paper and legos and keep them there til they learn to play together. Make them eat together. Make them rely on each other. Maybe then they will elevate over their own nature and become more than an animal.

But the fact remains that we’ve been trying various methods since the beginning of mankind, and in spite of the efforts, there has always been war. On any given day, there are insurgents or enemies or just plain punks. For every bully who repents, there is another to take their place. Which makes for a vile and repulsive truth: Those who broker for peace will never have the success or profits of those who broker for war.

And yet, some will continue to push for peace. Against the odds, they soldier on. Hoping the animal will regain its humanity. Hoping to salve and heal the need to be Alpha. Hoping the human animal elevates itself to something more than the cats and rats and wolves. Reading the news each day makes me wonder how the peace keepers can keep up the fight. They must truly be people of faith. Faith in humanity.

I can’t help but wonder, sometimes, if that faith is misplaced.

But i trust that my weedling and her ilk have the fortitude and the patience to soldier on in the face of history and animal nature. Such respect i have for their tenacity and passion to make the world a safer and more harmonious place. And with her military training, my daughter will be able to keep others safe when the animals rage. Like a zookeeper for human animals.

I guess that makes her the Alpha.