Sunday, September 29, 2013

Many happy returns...

A very happy birthday to my dear old dad today.

(He's a bit of a turkey, but we couldn't love him more.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mistakes. Learn from them.

Notes to self, at a time of New Beginnings:

Try never to want something TOO MUCH.  Desperation often leads to wanting the wrong things, making the wrong decisions, and achieving the opposite of what you'd been hoping for all along.

More often than not, "want" and "need" are two completely separate issues.  Stop.  Think.  Figure out which is which.

Smile, and keep them waiting.  Don't rush decisions out of pressure.  If they want you badly enough, they'll let you know-- perhaps even moving mountains for you in the process.  That said, if they don't come after you, they're probably not worth it, anyway.  Some things aren't meant to be.  Inaction speaks far louder than words.

Play your cards very close to your chest, and keep them that way.

Time flies.  Even if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, the hard parts of life will eventually pass.  That's not to say there isn't another tsunami coming, but the trick is to get better at keeping your head above the water every time one does.

Don't get stuck constantly looking in the rear-view mirror.  Remember the things the past taught you-- but make a concerted effort to release the nitty-gritty details.  Enough is enough.

Focus on the here and now, and try not to worry about the future.  Tomorrow doesn't exist yet.  All you can control is what you are choosing to do right now.

You are not your job, neither does your job does not define you.

Remember who you are.

I can see the light between me and my mind,
I can feel memories fall behind,
And the light is growing brighter now.
--Phish, "The Light"

Monday, September 23, 2013

On Losing.

Well, there's been a change in the family.

Our faithful loser cruiser has passed on, and I have to tell you, the girlies and I spent the better part of last week feeling pretty broken up about it.

As you may remember, during a rather dire moment in transit several days ago, it became apparent that the old girl's body was on its way out.  And for a change, I'm not referring to MYSELF.

The loser cruiser turned eleven this year, and in the end, she owed us precisely nothing.  She was average in many ways-- an extremely ordinary make and model, in a comforting shade of beige.  The unassuming colour hid dirt fairly nicely-- and even most of the rust that eventually began creeping out beyond the wheel wells, not to mention the crumbly lower edge of the back hatch.  It camouflaged so well, in fact, we often had a terrible time locating her in parking lots:  every damn mini van seemed to look exactly the same.

When the "panic" button on my key chain eventually conked out from over-use, we resorted to hanging a large pair of fuzzy sheep from the Loser Cruiser's rear-view mirror.  "I SEE SHEEP!!" is not usually a phrase you would imagine could bring vast feelings of relief, but it sure did to us, on many occasions.  (Although I suspect it thoroughly confounded anyone passing by us on the endless fields of asphalt).

She didn't seem to mind the indignity of being scraped down with a little wet/dry sandpaper every spring... nor the many layers of Bondo, or the Crappy Tire brand spray paint we repeatedly slathered on her problem areas.

She was also fairly co-operative and understanding when we took her to the doctor (mechanic), and negotiated about selective treatments for anything that ailed her over the years...  We carefully weighed the risks (to my bank account) with the benefits (to her happiness and longevity), and whatever the final decisions were, she cheerfully got us to wherever we needed to go.

Someone once told me that no one actually buys mini vans on purpose.  Apparently, after the third child is born, they just show up in your driveway as a public display that your life is pretty much over, for at least the next decade or two.

I would love to say that this is how our Loser Cruiser came to us, but that doesn't seem quite fair.  Because in many ways, that car saved me.

Nine years ago, I had just given birth to another tiny, perfect baby girl.  I was so proud of myself, only a few days postpartum, as I carefully strapped each little girlie into the back seat of my slightly creaky Volvo station wagon.  They were like little matryoshka dolls in a line, I thought (although each one had a different complicated and weird system to lock her safely into her respective car seat).

We had just hit the first highway en route to the grocery store, and I was feeling extremely self-congratulatory as I hummed along to Raffi's "Singable Songs" on the cd player.

Suddenly, there came an ear-splitting shriek from Child Number One, who was then seven years old:


I screeched over to the side of the road, leaped out of the car, and practically ripped the back door off its hinges.

Sure enough, there sat Terrible Two, then barely three years of age.  She was grinning happily, with a finger firmly jammed up each of the baby's nostrils.  Wee Three was desperately mouth-breathing for dear life, but amazingly, not making any fuss.  I think she was just as shocked as I was.

I picked up my cell phone, called the children's father, and screamed with all the self-control of a woman on the edge:

"WE.  NEED.  A.  VAN."

Suffice it to say the Loser Cruiser appeared, and once I could firmly ensconce my children out of arm's (and leg's) reach of each other, life went on.  And on.  And on.

I got my very first speeding ticket in that car:

Officer:  Morning, Ma'am.  Where are you off to in such a hurry?

Me:  (Gritting teeth and raising my voice over the intense wails coming from the rear of the interior)  I?  Am going to PRESCHOOL.

Or, alternatively, straight to Hell.  At that precise moment, I wasn't sure.

He didn't let me off-- he was clearly not a father.  But if he is now, by GOD I hope the mother of his children has taught him a few important life lessons.  

After that, the Loser Cruiser and I made a pact that if we were going to speed, we were going to have to really boot it, to ensure that we would outrun irritating police officers.

She never failed me after that.

Together, we hauled a multitude of kids, made countless grocery runs, and screeched up to emergency rooms in the nick of time.  We moved furniture, small trees, hysterical cats, and entire garden-loads of plants.  We drove-thru for gallons of coffee, for ice cream, for prescriptions and bank machines.

Her "fuel" light flashed on a fairly regular basis, but she always waited for me to be able to find a service station, rather than gasping her last in the middle of a busy intersection.  She was nothing if not polite.  She didn't want to inconvenience anybody.

She also had a great sense of fun.  One night, six children and I sneaked up on my best friend, blindfolded her, stuffed her through the back hatch of the trunk, and whisked her off to a surprise 40th birthday party, "gangster-style".  Those same six children and I also perfected a game in which we quietly waited by the side of a certain back road until the coast was clear, then revved up and barreled like maniacs over a series of large speed bumps, to a chorus of whoops and giggles.  Three of those kids eventually moved across the country, but whenever they come back to visit, one of the first things they request is always a speed-bump run.

Memorably, one year she became an impromptu Mother's Day card, when several small people (who shall not be named) sneaked out in the middle of the night and scrawled loving graffiti all over her in bathtub crayons, which rendered me speechless the next morning.  Needless to say, I got more than my usual number of perplexed stares as I proudly drove around for the next several days-- much to the children's mortification.  (That's payback, kids... I actually managed to preserve the yellow happy face drawn on my gas cap cover for months.)

She was a tough old gal, the Loser Cruiser.

We couldn't possibly have had respite away from home without her.  She got us to Stratford and back so many times, I swear, I don't even remember steering.  She always got us, and all the Stuff that went with us, where we needed to go.  My father was consistently alarmed by the sheer amount of luggage I regularly produced from the enormous trunk when we arrived.  ("Good Lord, HOW LONG ARE YOU STAYING???!")

In the summer, she was full of grass clippings and sand from bare feet.  She was caked with the salt and slush from small boots in winter.  She happily stored the kids' secret treasures in her back-seat pockets and hinged compartments, including one unpleasantly memorable container of chocolate milk that Wee Three was "saving for later"...  MUCH later.

She was the safe place where I took respite from a job I dreaded last year.  Every day at the lunchtime bell, no matter how cold or how hot the weather, I'd escape from my classroom, and drive till I found quiet parking lot away from school property.  I'd set the alarm on my phone, roll my seat back, and desperately attempt to relax.  Only then could I bear to face the afternoon.

Granadpa is quietly amused
This past summer, she made it through a mammoth journey to the place that was my childhood playground, south of the border, on the coast of Maine.  She chugged through the Green Mountains, carrying not only the girlies and me, but my parents, as well.  My dear old dad has a very bad back, and had compiled a long list of concerns about the car and the trip in general before we left.  But amazingly, throughout the journey, he pronounced our Loser Cruiser to be a resounding success, on both the comfort and reliability fronts.  (This was no small praise, I assure you.)

Our Maine Vacation turned out to be our Loser Cruiser's swan song.  Last week, emergency response to her "Check Engine!!" light resulted in a prognosis "nil".  

We returned to the dealer and settled on a rather splendid replacement, in a unique shade of grey, at a respectable price.  We were assigned a "trade-in" date...  and yet, our hearts sank.  It was quite ridiculous-- a melancholy reaction, to such a happy prospect:  hell, we hadn't been fortunate enough to be able to treat ourselves to something like this for years!

As the great day drew closer, the girlies and I were finally able to decide what was really bothering us.

We would miss her.  NOT the rust and the dangly exhaust pipe and the never-ending blinking dashboard lights, but rather, we would miss the SPIRIT of our trusty Loser Cruiser.

And this got us to thinking...  As long as we were indulging in nonsensical thoughts ANYWAY... What if we imagined our old girl to be a Buddhist?

What if our friend was just shedding her old shell, to take on the form of the new one?

It was decided.  

And once we had our story straight, we felt a whole lot better.

Last Thursday evening, as we prepared to pull out of the dealership parking lot, the girlies and I carefully hung Tony and Jude the sheep on the new rear-view mirror.

"Re-in-CAR-nation!!" proclaimed Child Number One, as we pulled out into traffic, roaring with laughter.

We may look a little different as we cruise down the street in our new ride...

But deep down, we're still happy to be Losers, and that's a fact.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sing out loud, sing out strong.

It's Trash Tuesday again, folks.

And for the past week, I've been wracking my brain to figure out ways to simplify my little family's somewhat harried existence.  My girlies and I are working towards the idea of "stream-lining" our routines this year.

This will mean making an effort to cut out the stuff that tends to drive us crazy and gets us nowhere.

(Except the laundry, unfortunately.  Apparently, the general consensus is that we need to keep doing that.  Same goes for making supper every.  damn.  night.  **Sigh.**)

Child Number One is undoubtedly the busiest of us all, and we've been extremely careful to choose her high school courses, as well as her music activities, with extreme consideration.  Thankfully, she is now at the point in her education where the pre-requisites are behind her, and she can pick her courses based upon what she enjoys, and what she intends to pursue in university.

There has been some talk about her dropping out of her secondary school's choir.

Now, Child Number One is "Musical-with-a-capital-M", as some of you may remember.  She has never had a burning desire to sing-- the flute has become her voice, instead.  But, as many good music teachers have encouraged her, she has felt the need to TRY to sing, to help her perfect her ear training, as well as her sight reading.

Besides, singing in a group-- as opposed to having to "face the music" and sing on your OWN-- is fun.

It's good for the soul to combine your voice with others', and marvel at the beautiful sounds that can be created.  It's good to learn the music "by heart": that way, it stays there forever.

Number One had a super year singing at school last year, and made some wonderful new friends outside of the instrumental music program.  She also sang, without pressure and with joyous abandon, at the National Music Camp for several years, as a part of her orchestral training.

This year, a new music department head was announced at the school.  And this department head, although absolutely marvelous at his job, announced that he would like the members of the choir to do more solo work this year.  Starting with a recorded vocal audition.

Well, Child Number One's no stranger to auditions.  She rises to meet the challenge of all kinds of performing situations, and succeeds.

But this one made her hesitate.  It made her nervous.  She can MORE than carry a tune.  But, singing is not what she would call her forte.

She began to think...  that if she didn't continue with choir, she would not only reduce her own personal stress, but she would also lessen my weekly driving load... thus stream-lining the schedule, as we had planned.

Well, I appreciated the offer.  And I understood her feelings.  Hell, I wouldn't have wanted to sing on my own, either-- and I sang in a number of church choirs for a number of my younger years.

I was sure the teacher would understand.  I encouraged her to go and see him, and explain her reservations.

In the end, he was sympathetic and understanding, and of course would have her in choir, even if she didn't feel comfortable singing alone.  They would work it out.

So, then there was just the issue of stream-lining the schedule to consider.

We decided to sleep on it.

And after we had risen and dressed to leave the house in the wee hours this morning, I met my eldest child in the kitchen for a mini-pow-wow.

Would she stay, or would she go?

In the end, the decision was simpler than either of us would have imagined:

(Insert a loooooong moment of thoughtful silence.)

Mother:  Are you singing Rutter this year?

Child Number One:  Yes.

Mother:  Here's your lunch.  Get in the car.

Sing your heart out, kiddo.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Here There Be Monsters...

Well, it's September, all right.

School is back in full swing, and although it's been just shy of two weeks of frantic routine, my girlies and I appear to be "running on empty" already.  I'm back at work (although, thankfully, NOT in the same ring-of-Hell position I was in last year), and the race is on to balance my life with the needs and routines of my progeny.  

Every morning, we fire out the door in three different directions.  And every afternoon, I drive my weary carcass around town, picking them all up, only to have to muster a Mario Andretti impersonation in order to get them all to their extra-curricular activities in a "punctual fashion".  Bonus points if I have remembered to remind them all to pack the appropriate accoutrements.

The worst day is Tuesday.

There is school and work.  And early band.  And then mid-afternoon band.  Then choir...  I sh*t you not, my bum doesn't leave the car seat between two forty-five, and seven thirty at night.

It's no wonder I'm out of shape--  the servers at all the drive-thru windows in town know us by name.

We call it "Trash Tuesday".

Well, this past Trash Tuesday, we hit a snag in the routine, in the form of a massive traffic jam.  The clock was ticking, but Child Number One and I were in gridlock, while Two and Three languished in their respective school pick-up zone.  Apparently, fifteen minutes in "child time" is officially an Eternity.

When we finally screeched to a halt in front of the gates, two droopy, thoroughly cheezed-off children clambered into the back seat of the Loser Cruiser (who, incidentally, was also rebelling in the form of a flashing "CHECK ENGINE" light...  Traitor.)

I endured the "How COULD YOU???!!" melodramatics for the duration of the drive to the next stop.  And as soon as I could safely unbuckle my seat belt, turn around and blast the little ingrates till their hair blew back from their foreheads, I did just that.

When I was finished, there was an uneasy silence.

That is, until Wee Three piped up:

"Oh YEAH??  
Well, it's YOUR FAULT for taking us to school this morning in the first place!!"

That's "Blame The Mother", folks.

My kids have it down to a science.

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