It’s Time to Do the Puzzle

.Last night, the family attended a Boxing Day Junkanoo, a colorful, musical street parade in the Bahamas. At 9:00 p.m., just as the floats approached where we stood against a white fence, and the horns and drums and flashing lights with them, my 87-year-old father-in-law suddenly didn’t look good. Didn’t feel good. 

My husband ran to get the golf cart. I ducked through the crowd in the opposite direction, across the street, looking for someone selling water though I had no money. I returned just ahead of the first float.

But what struck me most about the evening took place once we are all back in the quiet of the house. Grandpa was fine and resting in bed. That day, he had walked two-miles on the beach, spent another hour sitting in the sun, shared in the wine at dinner, then joined us in the Junkanoo crowd. He just needed rest. But we remained concerned, a little on edge, adrenaline still high from what had looked like an emergency.

And in that moment of what-do-we-do-now, our sixteen-year-old shined. It might sound silly to notice it as an important moment to anyone who has not watched him grow up. But…

He walked over to the puzzle, its edges completed by the rest of us earlier in the day while he played Clash of the Clans on his phone. He has never enjoyed puzzles. Not sure he has ever worked on one. But he saw that, despite the late hour, Grandma wasn’t ready for bed. 

“Well, Grandma,” he offered, “I think it’s time to do the puzzle.”

He did it so gracefully, so easily that no one but me noticed what he’d done. He is becoming such a sweet, good man.

She sat down opposite him, and they got to work, him chatting to her mostly, and celebrating each connection until she grew tired and said goodnight.

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The Next to Disappear

My favorite room in our house was my dad’s wood-paneled study where I talked to my best friend Mary on the rotary dial phone every day. I’d sit with my legs over the arm in a big, soft, fake-velvety chair with a zig-zag pattern in subdued beige, white and black. Some days, the stale cigarette air was clocked with the sweetness of a weekend cigar. Our number, shared by the entire family with no caller ID or call waiting, was 301-656-5635. Hers was 301-654-1776. I twirled the long cord while we talked. My kids don’t have their place or home base like that. They carry their phones with them wherever they go. And none of us know our best friend’s phone number.

They’ve never seen a telephone booth, and I will never forget the night of a swim team pizza party, when Eleni and I got trapped inside the booth as some bad-boy teenagers threw firecrackers at it, then ran directly into the hood of a police car, chased of course by the swim team Dads.

My first 45, Hurt So Good. They were in the process of disappearing. Replaced by all the mix tapes friends and boyfriends exchanged to capture the beach trip or the summer, how we felt about each other or a year in our lives.

When was the last time you saw TAB in the soda machine? Or even a soda machine? It’s all energy drinks now – florescent blue – and water. TAB was my “go to” coming down off the Edgemoor lifeguard stand until I learned about iced tea mixed with lemonade.

I brought my Dad’s 100-pound IBM Selectric typewriter to college, managing perfectly fine with it as news editor the school paper until my senior year Chinese History professor told me he would fail any paper not produced on a computer. Back then, computer paper had the trim on the sides that you had to tear off, so it was obvious. He said my 30-page papers were disorganized and “White Out can’t save you.” What’s White Out?

Last year, my son never used his school locker. He said it was broken. Was too shy to ask for help. So, he carried a 50-pound backpack around all day, every day. His little brother, joining him at high school in recent weeks, stood in front of his, clueless about what to do. Walked away. So, they got on Youtube. Three turns clockwise, two turns counter-clockwise, then directly to the third number. And now they’re in.

Our lockers had combo locks. Our bike chain locks had combo locks. Most houses had an old combo lock or two lying around that no one could remember what it had been for. Little kids thought they were toys. But we all knew the pattern. Three turns clockwise, two turns counter-clockwise, then directly to the third number. And I remember how almost every year of middle and high school, I’d return from Christmas Break having forgotten mine. A few days without a locker trying desperately to remember. Until… click. I still dream about it.

Maybe it’s the next to go.

The Late Night Train

I wake up between 1 and 2 a.m. most nights. And as I fall back to sleep, a train whistles in the distance.

The sound – from too far away to hear during the day when the city is beeping and shouting and slamming and singing – always takes me back a decade…

…when I was nursing our youngest son in the middle of the night. His warm little body against mine. Barely able to keep my eyes open. Imagining that the train conductor and I were the only ones in the city still awake. Or maybe a handful of people who lived too close to the tracks.

Imagining them helped me stay awake until our son rested peacefully in his crib. Now it helps me sleep.

Going, Going, Gone with the Wind

For fun yesterday, my son’s Honors Math teacher gave her students the opportunity to bet extra credit points based on their movie knowledge. They each bet a certain number of points – my son luckily one of the more conservative gamblers – and then she asked her trivia question.

“What’s the highest grossing film of all time?”

No one got it. No one had even seen it.

“But,” my all-knowing son informed me, “Star Wars: A New Hope is going to pass it soon. No one has even heard of Gone with the Wind.”

What?!

“Kids my age don’t even know what it’s about.”

“Scarlet O’Hara? Southern belle? Civil War? Land is the most important thing?”

He shrugged.

So, I asked, innocently, “Which one was A New Hope?”

What!? The original.”

“Well, we just called it Star Wars.”

“You are so old.”

“At least I’ve seen the highest grossing movie of all time.”

Almost as many times as we’ve both seen Star Wars. But who’s counting? And anyway…

“I can’t think about this now. I’ll go crazy if I do. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

The Last Game

Brad Paisley’s Last Time for Everything reminds his fans of all those moments in their youth that will never happen again for them. A sad nostalgia for their glory days.

And on the day my eighth grader played his last soccer game with the friends he’s played with his entire life before they split off into various high schools, the song kept playing in my head. He may not ever play again in this world of “cut” high school sports.

But I find that life is funny and filled with surprises.

Yesterday, before heading off to his game, I found myself doing a few things that, at one point years ago, I thought I had done for the last time too. At 7am, I was in the basement of our school library with his robotics club making a poster with glittery letters. Was the last time I did that in middle school?

At 1:00, I was learning a new song in my piano lesson. Until two years ago, I last played when I was 18.

Then in a first time long after I should have had my last time, I blew my whistle coaching fourth grade boys’ basketball (which I have never played, but wanted to).

A few weekends ago, I roomed with my college roommate, making it, after almost thirty years, the new last time.

So, as I drove to my son’s last soccer game, I was less sad for him. He too will have fun with life’s surprises… his next times.

Independence is Good, Mom

My friend moved back into the neighborhood where we met more than 40 years ago, and recently described how the quiet streets where we roamed have opened up a new-found independence for her daughters too. Her girls ride their bikes to the pool like we did, walk to restaurants for lunch, stop in at the grocery store for snacks like we did, and sometimes don’t come home until after 10 at night. It’s summer after all. And she is excited for them, because she remembers how much fun we had at their age.

Soon after, my sisters were re-telling a story about a funny walk home from the same grocery store, now remodeled and shinier. We laugh every time we remember it, and top that one with other oft-remembered suburban adventures with each other and our friends.

But our mom worries that too many of our stories were unbeknownst to her. She wonders aloud, in fact, if she was the engaged, good mother she thought she was.

Silly wonderings of every mom – jennswonderings  – as our children grow up. Was I a good mom? Did I guide them well? Did they know how much I loved them?

What she forgets, as she worries, is that our stories are happy ones. That we look back on our childhoods with humor. That as sisters, our stories were shared ones in which we all played a part for much longer than most.

Our mom trusted us to go out into the world and play. So, she missed a few things. That, at some point, was her job.

My hope for my kids is supposed to be that as I let them loose to play in the world, they will have fun stories that I won’t remember because I wasn’t there. Yet such letting go breaks my heart. I want to be part of their days, laughing, listening.

And I worry that as they collect their own stories, my stories will be less … less everything… because three sweet boys are not always in them.

Stand Up

I saw Chris Stapleton at Red Rocks last night. The sky was clear. The city lights twinkled at us from below the rocks. He played all four songs I know. And Peyton Manning joined him on stage to sing “Tennessee Whiskey.” Plus, he has the most creative intro of band members I’ve ever heard, which makes him really likable.

I just want to know why people feel the need to bug you if you sit down to listen to the music. Like you’re making them uncomfortable.

Christ Stapleton’s music is mellow. His low voice and the acoustics at Red Rocks are impressive. But seriously, I can only sway for so long.

And just to impress the stander-uppers – because if you don’t, they feel the need to nag you – why do you have to stay on your feet until midnight with thoughts of “my-back-aches, wow-that-guy-is-really-drunk, and please-play-faster-I-have-to-get-up-at-5am” running through your head?

Although it may not look it to the stander-uppers, it is way “cooler” to sit and appreciate the awesome guitar playing, listen to the story-telling that is country music, watch a hawk soar above the rocks, and identify the constellations on a crisp, cool night in May.