Water Torture

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I have a long-standing, deep-seated fear of water. My husband likes to joke that I’m afraid to take a bath. But my discomfort in the deep end of the pool, in lakes or oceans, has been with me since I was a child.

Like many kids, I spent most of my summer hours at the local public pool. Cavorting in the kiddie pool or splashing around in the three feet deep end once I was tall enough was fun. But I was terrified of making my way into the deep end. The feeling of not being able to touch bottom while my head was above water was unsettling.

My mom signed me up for swimming lessons for several summers, but I could never relax enough to do more than flail across the width of the pool in panic that I was going to run out of breath. In college, I took a swimming course and managed to pass. But the ease of gliding across the water never took hold.

Needless to say, natural bodies of water are even scarier. My idea of the ultimate horror movie is The Deep or The Abyss or any Jacques Cousteau special on PBS. It’s frightening enough just to worry about drowning; imagining what kinds of creatures are lurking below the surface of a lake or ocean is positively terrifying. Once while I was in a small motor boat with my family, the engine stalled not far from shore, and I had a near meltdown. Never mind that I could have walked to shore without getting my hair wet. On any boat trip, I am always the one with the bright orange life preserver around my neck while the rest of the passengers loll in their swimsuits, unafraid.

Lately my fear of water has expanded to include heavy rainfall. What I’m afraid of in particular is possible flooding and the thought of my car descending into what looks like a puddle, but is actually more of a lake. Recent trips in heavy rainstorms have been white knuckle driving affairs for me.

Deep water has even been a feature of my childhood nightmares. In one recurring dream, I am swimming underwater searching for something but never finding it. In another, I am poised on a balcony above a pool and forced to jump. That dream played into my other big fear: heights!

Water is supposed to be a source of peace, a reminder of the womb, and a symbol of life. I do enjoy the sounds of a gentle waterfall or gurgling fountain. The view of waves crashing onto a beach or the placidity of a lake are calming. Just don’t ask me to venture into any of those bodies of water. A landlubber is what I will always be.

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Mom-isms

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30741381_1587385254720889_7378585026608234496_nIn honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share some of the things my mom tried to teach me as I was growing up:

  1. Beds should be made daily and sheets changed weekly.
  2. Every kitchen counter needs a matching set of canisters.
  3. Men take showers, but ladies take baths.
  4. Leaving a dish or glass in the kitchen sink is a venial sin.
  5. No silliness at the dinner table.
  6. Moms have eyes in the back of their heads.
  7. Close the front door. You’re heating the outdoors.
  8. No reading at the dinner table.
  9. If you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way.
  10. A dinner should consist of meat, vegetables, and a starch.
  11. Dessert is not optional.
  12. No singing at the dinner table.
  13. The teacher is always right.
  14. No roughhousing inside.
  15. Wash your elbows.
  16. Do it because I said so.
  17. Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.

Although I haven’t always kept all of Mom’s “commandments” in my life, my mother’s voice still echoes in my head when I’m running around the house tidying up and making sure the dishes are done. I find myself using her expressions, such as “Stop your dilly-dallying!”

And my mom also taught me:

  1. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Put others before yourself.
  3. Have a treat at night before bedtime.
  4. Have music in your life.
  5. Work hard.
  6. Be frugal.
  7. Family comes first.
  8. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  9. Nurture your faith.
  10. The joys of having children outweigh the pain.

So Happy Mother’s Day to my beloved mother – and to all mothers, both literal and in spirit. May our mothers’ lessons give us the strength and courage to be good women and to nurture the next generation.

Londonderry Air

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Derry-Girls-Ep-2-2054-1068x623In honor of the wearin’ o’ the green and all things Irish today, St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to recommend a hilarious Netflix comedy called Derry Girls. The comedy series was not on my radar until my very Irish friend Maura recommended it on Facebook. In no time at all, I had binge-watched my way through the trials and tribulations of four teenage girls and one male English cousin living in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the 1990s.

The featured teens in Derry Girls have a delightful mixture of innocence and bravado as they navigate the social scene in their Irish Catholic enclave. They don’t realize how economically disadvantaged they are until they try to sign up for a school trip to France and find out that none of them has a trust fund, and in fact they are all quite poor.

But their economic and social limitations do nothing to cramp their irrepressible style, and each episode features new shenanigans and repercussions from their parents and their school. The girls (and cousin) attend an all girls Catholic high school presided over by a scene-stealing nun, whose dry wit and jaded attitude make her the perfect foil for both troublemaker and goody two shoes alike.  When the girls fall for a dreamy young priest, Sister’s facial expressions alone are priceless.

It seems unlikely to find humor in a show about a divided country that pitted Protestants against Catholics and in which car bombings and assassinations were commonplace. Indeed, toward the end of Season 1, things take a darker turn and only deepen the viewer’s appreciation for the life-affirming and youthful spirit of these young people.

So grab a pint of Guinness, put your feet up, and enjoy an episode or three of the fabulous Derry Girls. Your Irish eyes won’t be the only things smiling!

 

Under the Weather

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chiberia-7-1050x700-7244You’d have thought the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were riding into town the way weather reports heralded the arrival of a devastating Ice Storm that was projected to halt life as we know it. In what is becoming all too frequent an occurrence, the schools put out a message that early morning activities would be canceled and school possibly opened a couple of hours late to avoid the treachery of streets and sidewalks coated in ice. It did rain last night, but the predicted life-threatening conditions never arrived. My daughter disappointedly headed to school at her usual time, and life went on.

The drama of this late winter season has gotten to me. Last week’s dumping of snow followed by record low temperatures across the Midwest – a situation that meant 3 days of school closures – made an ordinary week an ordeal. Then an unseasonable thaw gives way to a new storm with potentially dangerous icy conditions. I am so over Winter 2019.

Each time we dig out and take the time for a sip of hot cocoa, another storm system starts heading our way. Or the polar vortex comes swooping down and forces us to wrap ourselves up in cocoons. Last week I kept seeing that Chicago was colder than Siberia, Antarctica, and probably Uranus. (Cue the sophomoric jokes.)

It does not help that meteorologists have taken to giving these storms names. Back in the day, only hurricanes were named, and in less enlightened times, those names were all female. Nowadays, though, we need high drama with everything, including our weather reports. I appreciate being apprised of conditions that might affect travel and safety. But either weather prognosticators need to get better at their predictions or reporters need to become more measured in their response to potential weather events. This “The sky is falling” approach to weather reporting has got to end. We have enough drama with our politics these days. And the doomsday scenarios only give my kid false hope for another canceled school day. With the way this winter is going, she will be making up snow days in July!

Meanwhile that famous rodent Punxsutawney Phil has supposedly predicted an early spring. If only, Phil. If only.

 

Minivan Mom

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Of all the cars I’ve ever had, the minivan was my favorite. Back at the turn of the century (I’ve always wanted to say that), we owned a “denim blue” Toyota Sienna XLE, the Rolls Royce of minivans. I’d roll up in the school drop-off line, slide open that side door with the push of a button, and deposit my precious cargo onto the sidewalk. Oh, yeah: Minivan Mom.

I loved everything about that minivan. Its color was so distinctive, and it was so decidedly NOT an SUV, that it was easy to find in a parking lot. The inside was spacious, even for three or four children, and the space between seats made it easy to separate squabbling siblings. At the time, Toyota refused to put DVD players in their minivans, reasoning that they’d prove a distraction to drivers. So my kids were left to the radio, their little books on tape, or – perish the thought – talking to me and each other. One of our favorite things to listen to in the minivan at Christmastime was my brother-in-law Dave Rudolf‘s album Completely Cracked Christmas. The album features parodies of well-known carols, and you could hear us warbling for miles: “What’s that smell? I can tell/We’re getting fruitcakes for Christmas.”

The much-maligned minivan has been the subject of mockery and condescension for years. Owners of the much chic-er Ford Explorer, one of the most popular SUVs at the time, would look down their noses at the Dodge Caravans of the world, as if to say, “We know you’re a harried mother of 6 with your hair in pin curls and your bunny slippers still on at 4 in the afternoon.” But I never cared about the image of Minivan Mom. I drove that baby for over 100,000 miles until its untimely demise.

It happened one warm summer day in June. My teenaged son had left the house in the Sienna, headed to the gym for an early morning workout. Literally on the next block, he ran into an old electric pole, which cracked and thudded onto the roof of the van. Luckily, my son did not get hurt, and we never did get the straight story as to what precipitated the accident. But due to its age, the insurance company declared the minivan totaled, and we had to say goodbye.

We’ve never owned another minivan, but I still miss having one. It was so nice to be able to drive the whole family to Grandma’s house or out to dinner. Now we have to take two cars. Our kids are more likely to argue about who gets to ride shotgun because the back seats in our other cars have never been as spacious.

I’ve heard that affluent families have started gravitating toward old-fashioned station wagons, a relic from my youth that I do not miss at all. Who wants to spend life facing backwards in the way, way back? Maybe the minivan will make a comeback in time for me to drive my grandkids around and teach them twisted Christmas carols.

 

I’ll Be There For You

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Rumors that Netflix was about to drop the iconic Nineties series Friends from its lineup put my daughter and me into a frenzy. We’d started watching reruns of the smash hit 10-season comedy the year before and were determined to make it through to the final episode, which originally aired on May 6, 2004, and was the most-watched series finale at the time.

I’d watched Friends on and off when it originally aired but never really encouraged my kids to tune in to the inevitable reruns that popped up in syndication a few years later. For one thing, there’s a lot of frank talk about sex and hooking up, a subject I didn’t really want my kids being privy to. I also thought the series might seem dated to the generation growing up on smartphones and laptops. By the time our youngest was in high school, I had relaxed my standards. After all, she was already watching shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill.

So the two of us started capping off our days with a nightly viewing of a Friends episode or two. The series starts off awkwardly. The laughs seem forced, and the chemistry among the characters takes a few episodes to develop. My daughter seemed unimpressed as she sat through those first few episodes stone-faced.  After a while, though, she and I found ourselves laughing hysterically at the foibles of the six young adults living and working in New York City.

Never mind that Friends shared the unrealistic depiction of NYC that almost every movie and TV show has over the years. Despite their lack of funds or spectacular jobs, the friends live in spacious apartments in the heart of Manhattan. They spend inordinate amounts of time at a coffee shop instead of at their jobs. Ross and Rachel each have young children, but they are conveniently out of the picture for entire episodes.

But looking for realism in a sitcom is a fool’s errand, and over this past year, my daughter and I have found much to enjoy about the show. There are just so many laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Joey gets a turkey carcass stuck on his head. Recurring characters such as Janice with her donkey bray of a laugh also add to the humor. The actors who portray the six core friends are expert physical comedians. Sometimes their facial expressions alone cause hilarity.

But what truly makes Friends a special series are the many moments of true love and sacrifice that the characters make for each other throughout the series. There are serious subjects tackled in Friends, including a sexual abuse storyline that is played for laughs but also gets the point across that what happened to Joey as a child and then Chandler as an adult was inappropriate and wrong. The series also deals with infertility, adoption, excessive drinking, and the pain of divorce. And the way these six friends help each other through the bad times is a reminder of the theme song lyrics, “I’ll be there for you.”

One of the other most popular sitcoms of the Nineties was Seinfeld. It also featured a group of friends living in New York City. But the tone was more cynical and heartless. Not one of the main characters was particularly sympathetic, and they weren’t all that kind or supportive of each other. So it was easy to laugh at each of them when bad things happened to them. You kind of felt that they deserved it. Friends was an entirely different kind of comedy. Although the characters could at times be selfish and competitive, when push came to shove, they always chose their friendship over themselves.

It turns out the rumors about Netflix ditching its Friends were unfounded. The series will continue to be streamed through 2019. That gives my daughter and me a little breathing room as we head into the home stretch in season 10. But as hooked as we are on our late night bonding over the trials and tribulations of Monica, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe, I suspect we will have finished the series before we ring in the New Year.

 

NOel

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Yesterday a station on Sirius XM radio started playing Christmas songs. Mind you, not just the occasional festive holiday tune thrown in among other popular offerings. Nonstop, 24/7 holiday treacle. Is it cliche to scream, “TOO SOON!”?

It’s sometimes hard to wrap my mind around the fact that our society could take a  feast honoring a poor, imperiled Christ child in a manger and turn it into a shameless commercial bonanza. (Of course, the ancient Romans and Celts are rolling over in their graves at their “pagan” festivities being coopted by the Christians.)

Take something lovely and pure, and someone will try to monetize it. Romantic love? Let’s sell pricey roses, candy, and jewelry and make those items stand in for our feelings. Love your mom? Nothing says devotion like an overpriced all-you-can-eat hotel brunch, a $7 greeting card, and yes, more flowers.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a holiday involving the ritual of gift-giving would eventually get over the top. When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes buy our tree on Christmas Eve! Nowadays, people put their artificial Christmas trees up in early November, and I still see them in the windows on Valentine’s Day.

One of my favorite Christmas specials to this day is A Charlie Brown Christmas. In it, Charlie Brown is frustrated by the hoopla and commercialization of Christmas. Finally he cries out in frustration, “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?!” His friend Linus, of course, adorably quotes the gospel of Luke, which describes the scene of Christ’s birth.

There’s so much to love about the Christmas holidays, so many fun and beloved traditions. But let’s wait until the leaves have fallen off the trees and I’ve gotten sick of pumpkin products. Let’s enjoy a fallow time between the excess of Halloween and the folderol of Christmastime. Let’s tramp through the leaves and enjoy hot apple cider by the fire with a good book or a good friend. Let’s plan our feast for Thanksgiving without the distraction of Christmas songs and pre-holiday sales and peppermint mochas.

Luckily there are dozens of other good stations on the radio to listen to during this wonderfully uncommercial season of the year. Beatles channel, anyone?