The Little Things

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healthy-family-dinner-keeps-the-weight-offThe little things in life are the big things. That’s what age and wisdom have taught me as I meander into my sixties.

The other night, I lingered with my husband and two of my children over the remnants of a steak dinner, a homecoming dinner of sorts for my college-age son, who had just returned from a summer internship across the country. Our conversation would never make it as scintillating movie scene dialogue. But just being there with my family sharing a meal at the kitchen table constitutes one of the great joys of my life.

So too with my morning cup of coffee, enjoyed on my front porch in the morning while the summer air is still comfortable and not muggy. I’m able to sit out there in my pajamas, concealed from the street by bushes and trees. Today I read the paper and completed the Tuesday crossword (another little thing that gives me outsized pleasure) outside before going in to start my day of errands and chores.

A walk through the neighborhood, a good book, a glass of wine. A kiss, a hug, the warmth of my husband’s hand in mine. Sharing a laugh with my sister or a good friend. Watching a great movie or television series. Listening to a Chopin nocturne. Even the peaceful and methodical act of folding clean laundry. All these little things add up in a life.

My daughter and I have taken to playing card games lately. As summer wanes and the schedules of school and sports loom ahead, we are having fun whiling away the time with such games as gin rummy and crazy eights. To my daughter’s dismay, I am seriously kicking her ass at gin rummy. Sometimes the old lady seasoned veteran holds all the cards (pun intended).

It’s wonderful occasionally to plan a huge celebration or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. An evening of live music or theater, a trip downtown to see the fireworks, dinner at that gourmet restaurant you’ve read about: these are all fine diversions to spice up our everyday lives. But for me, the accumulation of small pleasures day by day is what makes me truly content. I hope to amass memories of thousands more little things in the course of my life.

They really are the big things.

 

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Father-Daughter Bond

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My husband and I saw a new film the other day entitled Leave No Trace. Although the title suggests some sort of crime thriller, the movie is really a lovely and elegiac contemplation of the relationship between a father and young teenage daughter living in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.

Throughout the film, the bond that has formed between this father and daughter is depicted as respectful, nurturing, and loving. The father has taught his daughter not only the kinds of things one learns in school, but also survival skills and the virtue of living without possessions. Refreshingly in this age of modern parental coddling, he expects her to carry her weight and contribute to their survival. Yet their deep closeness is what moved me most about the story.

It reminded me of the odyssey my own husband and daughter have been on this summer. They have traveled near and far to nurture her soccer talent and visit potential colleges where she might both play and learn – and grow into adulthood. Along the way, they have had to coexist in hotel rooms. He has had to cajole her out of bed and off to early morning sessions. He has helped her keep in touch with coaches and given her pointers on her soccer development. They have attended numerous college tours and info sessions. And while they haven’t quite been roughing it in the manner of the father and daughter in Leave No Trace, they have experienced the merits and detractions of dorms and cafeteria food.

My husband told me that the favorite part of his summer has been the dinners he’s shared with our daughter after her day on the soccer field. In those quiet moments and with full and contented bellies, they have shared their thoughts and hopes and dreams for her and her future. They have experienced the quiet joy of just being together.

As a mother, I have spent countless hours with my children. All the nitty gritty of parenting has been part of my lot, and I have appreciated it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have grown close to my kids in the process, in the ordinary moments shared at the kitchen counter, bent over a homework problem, driving to school and practices and doctors’ appointments.

As the primary breadwinner in our family, my husband has missed out on a lot of that. He has had to make an effort to get to know his children and provide them with the expertise and guidance of his perspective as a businessman and father. Early in their lives, he would take the kids on trips, sometimes together and sometimes individually, in order to nurture that bond. Because our soccer star is our youngest child, she has had the benefit (or at times the curse, she’d say) of her dad’s undivided attention.

Mothers and fathers tend to relate to their children in different ways. I’m grateful for the bond that my husband has developed with each of our children as they have grown. And while she may find her dad’s hovering presence a bit annoying right now, I know that in a couple of years his love and wisdom will go with her to college and beyond.

No Hurry

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It is a pleasure and a luxury not to be in a hurry.

So often in our frantic lives, we find ourselves hurtling from A to B on our To Do lists, scarcely stopping to take a breath. Our blood pressure rises as we wait in traffic or long lines, knowing that precious minutes are ticking by and the day will all too soon be in our rearview mirror.

Time to take a breath.

This past weekend I was on my own. I could sleep in and stay in pajamas as long as I wanted in the morning. I could while away the hours reading, doing crossword puzzles and binge-watching The Chi (That show deserves a blog post of its own!). I took long walks without the nagging sense that someone or something at home needed my attention soon. And even though I had made myself a fairly impressive To Do list, I was relaxed and in no hurry to complete it.

It’s nice to drop something off at the local dry cleaner and say, “No rush” when asked when I need the item back. It’s lovely to drive when a little bit of traffic or a road closure (We’ve been having many in my small town this summer.) needn’t faze me. It’s wonderful to give my attention to small chores and errands that have been nagging at the edge of my consciousness for weeks.

On Saturday morning, I went to an 8 am yoga class. The theme of the class that day was balance, and most of our poses were designed to help us achieve that balance of body and mind. On my way home from the class, in the spirit of calm it induced, I decided that all prisons should offer yoga classes to their inmates. I can’t help but believe that a regular yoga practice would help diminish anger and aggression in those incarcerated.

Tomorrow life will return to a busier pace for me. My family and household responsibilities will keep me on a more pressing schedule. But I hope to hold onto the peace and calm I am feeling right now when there is no hurry.

Birdland

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There are birds nesting all over my front porch. They seem to like the ledges under the porch roof for building their homes of twigs and other plant matter. And while I complain that the nests themselves are unsightly, it’s so much fun to peek out the window and see baby robins lifting their little heads up looking for mama bird.

Today my world is a bevy of bird activity. I hear bird calls of all kinds, some sweet and lilting like a song from Snow White, others like miniature drills rat-a-tatting away. And there is a group of brown birds with soft red heads flitting back and forth from the rooftop to one of the nests on the porch. It looks as though the young ones are having flying lessons.

Birds seem like nervous creatures, always jerking their heads here and there, looking out for predators, no doubt, such as the giant hawk that soared over the house earlier today. Yet they themselves are predators, hopping across lawns searching for worms and grubs to feed themselves and their hungry young.

In the quiet of the morning, it’s peaceful to hear the birdsong and think of the busy avian life going on in our trees and on our front porch. I’ve always wondered what the nightingale sounds like, trilling away in the dark while other wildlife sleeps. On the famous Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” you can hear the melodic lilt of a real blackbird  singing.

In years to come when I have more time on my hands, I plan to take up bird watching. I’ll buy binoculars and maybe even one of those jaunty hats to wear out in the forest. Perhaps I’ll join a birding club so that I can learn more about the fascinating world of birds.

All in good time. First I need to have an empty nest of my own.

Wisdom Teeth

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My youngest child needs to have her wisdom teeth out. Just as with her three older siblings (and most young adults), her third molars are impacted into her jaw and need to be surgically removed.

I still vividly remember having my own wisdom teeth extracted back in the days of chloroform and leeches. I was actually hospitalized overnight and can remember my mom coming to my hospital room with a milkshake to make me feel better. My own kids all weathered the experience reasonably well and were kind of funny as they slowly came out of their anesthetized haze. My older daughter kept telling me she thought the fish wallpaper in the oral surgeon’s office was so pretty, and my younger son kept slapping his cheek and exclaiming, “I can’t feel anything!”

Wisdom teeth are vestiges of our early millennia as homo sapiens. Early human diets were uncooked and rough, and people lost teeth on a regular basis. So third molars were very important to survival. As humans evolved and ate a softer diet, our jaws narrowed and now rarely can allow the wisdom teeth to break the surface of the gums.

So having wisdom teeth removed has become a rite of passage for young adults. For me, it has been a time when I could baby my children who are not really little kids anymore. For at least a couple of days, I could  park them on the sofa, ice their cheeks, and prepare Jello and other soft foods for them to eat. I could watch TV with them and wish these lazy summer days wouldn’t end.

My youngest child will be a junior in high school in the fall. She is driving and going out most nights with friends. Soon she will be taking ACTs and SATS, applying to colleges, and making her way out into the adult world step by step. I hope the presence of her so-called “wisdom teeth” indicates a maturity that will enable her to be sensible and safe. And I hope I have the wisdom to let her grow up and leave the nest, however hard it will be for me.

Still, I look forward to babying the baby of the family when she gets her wisdom teeth taken out. We still have a lot of TV to watch together.

Who Needs Roseanne When We’ve Got The Middle?

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The surprising popularity of this spring’s Roseanne reboot, followed by its swift cancellation, has some critics regretting the loss of a TV comedy that depicted life for working class Americans. Little did they realize, we have already had a hilarious take on life in the fly over zone for 9 great seasons: The Middle.

The Middle is the story of the Hecks from fictional Orson, Indiana. When we first meet them, dad Mike is working at a rock quarry and mom Frankie is having trouble selling cars at a local dealership. Their three kids are a popular slacker (Axel), a klutzy positive thinker (Sue Sue), and a brainiac with social problems (Brick).

The Hecks are always just barely scraping by. Their appliances don’t work unless large amounts of duct tape are involved. Their cars are serviceable clunkers. Frankie brings home questionable meat and produce from the Frugal Hoosier. And throughout nine seasons, their financial fortunes don’t improve much.

Premiering around the same time as Modern FamilyThe Middle has always been like the less glamorous, less popular younger sibling. The Hecks lack the snappy repartee of the Pritchetts. Their stories are not as manic and zany. But the Hecks, with all their problems, dysfunctions, and squabbling, give Middle America a family it can relate to.

Who among us has not fought with siblings in the back seat of the family car on long, boring road trips? Who cannot relate to being an overwhelmed mom whose idea of making dinner is picking up fast food? Don’t we all have weird relatives that only add to the dysfunction of stressful family gatherings? Isn’t there always another family in the neighborhood who puts us to shame with their cookie-baking, high-achieving, wholesome ways?

What makes The Middle such a relatable show is the deep affection the Hecks have for each other. Despite their near-constant bickering, they weather the storms together and identify as a family unit. I recently watched the final episode of The Middle, which sees the Heck family grappling with a child leaving the nest and the knowledge that their close-knit clan will never be the same. It’s a heartfelt episode, and it made me cry, as did many touching moments in the series over the years. It’s a kind of laughing through the tears experience.

There is absolutely no politics in The Middle. Religion is treated with respect and gentle humor. The one gay character in the show has a slow and unspectacular awakening to his true identity. The Middle is not a show about issues, but simply about family. And it’s a gem.

I’m sure The Middle will find its way to Netflix or late night TV.  And when it does, I’d highly recommend viewers give it a try.

Everybody Needs a Friend

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I recently found out that my best friend from childhood had passed away in her late teens or early 20s. Kathy and I were both shy little girls, and we gravitated toward each other because of that. When we were young, we were both obsessed with horses and pretended to have stables of them, each with a unique name. As we got older, we’d spend hours in her quiet room (unlike the bedlam in my family of 13) listening to 45 rpm records on her record player.

Although I got along fine with the other kids in my small Catholic school, it was Kathy I spent time with outside of school. Then in the summer before eighth grade, my family moved away. I quickly made a new best friend in the junior high I attended, one whose friendship I have maintained to this day. But I regret how easily I let my friendship with Kathy slip away.

Everybody needs a friend. A friend is a buffer against the harsh realities of life – the pressures of school, the meanness of children, the dysfunction in families. A friend can make us laugh, share our secrets, and have our backs in tough situations. Family is important, sure. But a friend is someone who chooses to be in your life.

Lately I’ve been wondering whether Donald Trump has any friends. He seems like a lonely figure in the White House. I can’t know for sure, but his relationship with his wife seems frosty and with his son, distant. He always seems to have so much to prove, tweeting away at all hours of the night, viciously attacking allies and enemies alike, needing to have the upper hand.

The Parkland shooter didn’t seem to have any friends. There is some indication that his odd behavior made him an outcast. So when he lost his mother, he must have felt overwhelmingly alone. Without a friend to be that buffer against life’s vicissitudes, he turned into an angry and vindictive young man.

Society needs to recognize the danger of looking the other way while kids are bullied, people suffer from depression, and others are raised by harsh, demanding tyrants who leave them feeling unloved. Not having a friend not only affects the lonely person, but can have devastating repercussions for those around him. It’s important to reach out to those on the margins, to those who spend their time building up paranoid fantasies in their minds – before they do something harmful to themselves or others.

I truly hope President Trump has a trusted friend, someone with whom he can laugh and let off steam, someone who can listen and try to understand.

Everybody needs a friend.