Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bracketology: The unsporty person's guide to March Madness

Here it is.   It's time for the big dance, the March Madness,  the time of year that we pretend a group of unpaid professionals are actually scrappy amateurs. It's time for the NCAA men's championship. Here at Casa Hobson's Choice, we understand next to nothing about sports, but we do understand that a game attitude matters.  And so if you, like us, haven't seen a game all year, it's time to brush up on the rules of March Madness for the Uncoordinated.

(1) Play along.  If your family has a bracket, then you should fill out a bracket.  I don't care if you don't plan to watch more than 5 minutes of actual game time.  If your family has a bracket, you do a bracket.  Are your parents going to be alive forever? Your siblings?  No.  So join the fun.  Live in the damn now.  Have a bracket.

(2) Be true to your school.   If your team is in the NCAA, you have to put them at least into the second round.  Your school is only in the game because every member of last year's final four teams came down with mono in February?  I don't care. You're tired of receiving monthly appeals from your alma mater's development office?  I don't care.  Be true to your school.  Besides, as we folks from Indiana know from our sacred text, the 1986 film Hoosiers, David does sometimes beat Goliath (AKA Indianapolis).  I believe that story may be in some other sacred books, too.

(3) Within reason-- Nothing is more pitiful than the person who puts their number 15 seed in the final game against Kansas.  Be reasonable.  It's March Madness, but you can still have a little dignity.

(4) Don't bet real money on anything  -- Remember, you're not sporty.  You only know about fantasy sports from NPR and Judd Apatow movies.  Don't bet real money.

(5) No one wants to hear your thoughts on traveling -- If you haven't watched a game since 1985 and you decide to watch a game this year, you may be in for some surprises.  But trust me, no one wants to hear your opinions about traveling.  The world has moved on.  Just be grateful that you still recognize what game is being played.

(6) Remember that people's feelings get hurt over sports  -- Be gentle with the losers the day after.  Really gentle.  If your team beats your office mate's team, maybe you should both take sick days.

(7) Have fun with alternate brackets -- Remember, without the NCAA, we wouldn't have Fug Madness, the Pop Culture Disappointment Bracket, Lent Madness, Star Wars brackets, and Tournament Earth from NASA.  And of course, Book Madness at Berea Community Schools, the ultimate in book fun.

One final bit of advice:   you may not want to watch any games, but it never hurts to rescreen Hoosiers.  It may not matter to you who wins in real world, but you know that you want to watch Dennis Hopper and cry.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Weep Fest 2016

This Sunday, at the very beginning of a sermon about the Prodigal Son, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a personal weep fest, the scope of which has not been seen since the infamous "Charlotte's Web" at the Summer Movies Incident of 2007. I know what you're thinking.   Charlotte the spider dies in that movie; it's okay to cry. The folks sitting around me that day would beg to differ. There's crying and then there's what happened when I went to the movies, heavily and riskily pregnant, and Charlotte the spider died.

I'm relieved to say that, in part thanks to Union Church's thoughtful provision of pew tissues, I didn't reach the level of Def Con: Spider Death.  There was no open sobbing, no untoward snorting of snot, no gasping for breath.   We embarked as a congregation on the passage from Luke at 11 AM, and then I slowly leaked from the tear ducts for the better part of half an hour.

The Story of the Prodigal Son never seemed like a sob story before.  In the past, like most good church kids of the 1980s, I found myself identifying with the older brother.  It was one of those Bible stories that, as a teenager, I  liked to pretend didn't exist.  So far as I could see, the message was that bad behavior is rewarded; good behavior is spun by Jesus as obnoxious and boring. I mainly wanted to roll my eyes.  I got it.  Everyone from Ferris Bueller to the Prodigal Son was more interesting than I was.  The end.

I supposed that there might be some mysterious future in which I might become debauched and cool like the Prodigal Son, but I didn't really see it happening.

So I became an adult and never thought about the Prodigal Son again.

Until this Sunday, when suddenly, I found myself reading from the viewpoint of a character I hadn't paid much attention to before:  the father.  When I was a teenager, the behavior of the two boys was at the front of my reading.  Now, at age 42, the story brought me up short.  All I could think of was that father's heartbreak at losing his son and then his joy at finding him again.  As a child, I coudn't understand why the father didn't behave rationally, letting natural consequences fall where they may, and having firm boundaries and being consistent, the hallmark good behaviors of every parenting book out there.

Now, I saw through the eyes of the parent.  Horrible thoughts came to me of my own children eating husks with the pigs or refusing to come to the banquet because I hadn't appreciated their virtues.  I pictured my own children lost and then found.  I pictured the news stories I see every week of another bright Kentucky child lost to addiction and to their families.  

When we came to this verse,while was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him," I recognized that parent immediately.  Of course, he ran to his son.  Of course, he bathed and clothed and fed him. As he says, "this son of mine was dead and is alive again." 

Everyone tells you how overwhelming your love will become when you become a parent. Everyone tells you that you've signed up for a world of worry.  So did the Biblical father. I know it's a parable, and I'm supposed to be able to tie this story back into a greater metaphor.  The father is God.  We are the sons.  But sometimes when art moves you, just the surface brings you tears.  This Sunday, I didn't need the father to be God.  I just needed to be overwhelmed by the realities of parental love, and I needed to see a story in a new light.  What I saw in that story when I was teen was all that I could see.  I believed then that it was all there was to see.  Fast forward twenty years, and I'm a different person in the story and outside it.

As I grow, I find that I inhabit different positions within the old, old stories that I've known since I was a toddler.  And sometimes that makes me blub for the better part of a Sunday morning, for reasons that I don't particularly understand yet. For now, I think that's okay.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became an adult, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  -- I Corinthians 13: 11-12

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

5 years

I used to feel bad for the Hobson's Choice children because of their spacing five years apart. The term "spacing" implies that that there was some purpose or planning in those five years. It's more accurate that the two kids were plunked down on Earth five years apart, despite our best efforts to bring them into the world in a more "timely" fashion.

Five years seemed like a long time between babies, and it was. I felt bad and guilty about it. Paul came along when Eleanor was the well-established Child of the Family. An articulate five year old, she never hesitated to remind us of her fond memories of "getting all the attention before he was around." And now at eight years old, an equally loquacious Paul does not stop in railing against the injustice that "she gets to do everything she wants and stay up late and she has MONEY."  It feels a little odd to find yourself explaining to a second grader that his sister has funds because she has a job and that, no, he can't go get a job himself even if it seems unfair.

There's a lot of unfairness when you're five years older or younger than your sibling. For the parents, there's no issue of injustice, but we can find ourselves celebrating the occasional pity party. Five years apart with children who do not believe in the concept of sleep means that we were seriously sleep deprived for a decade. We're now parents of a teenager but are still regularly joined in the middle of the night by an elementary schooler. And it must seem to Mr. Hobson's Choice as if he has been jumping on the trampoline and going to the playground since the beginning of time. It feels a little unseemly to come home after work to play games when the majority of your peers are touring colleges.You feel like a dinosaur.

In the last year or so, I've come to see the gifts of having our children a little bit further apart than is typical.  And before you laugh, it's not just because of finally the hitting the motherlode of free babysitting from teen for little brother.

Last week, I was up all night with a snotty-nosed Paul.We were up on the couch, watching PBS KIDS and wishing for unobstructed nasal passages. It's been a long time since Eleanor has needed sick care in the night. She's a regular old human being now, who takes a sudafed like the rest of us.  If she can't sleep, she watches old episodes of trashy TV on her own, just like an adult.  I'm glad.  I didn't enjoy being sleepless for a decade, but enough time has elapsed for me to get some perspective on midnight snuggles. How many more times will I be up all night with Paul in that hazy space of parent-child care while the world is quiet around us and the town is dark?  I can see this era of family life passing away from me. So though I wouldn't choose a week of sleepless nights, I didn't mind one more.

It probably helped that there was no projectile vomiting or diarrhea. It's hard to relish the moment when the moment is crap-covered.

I've also learned that I'm more mellow parent with kids further apart in age. When Eleanor was in second grade, she was a worried and anxious child. You're welcome, children; all that anxiety is courtesy of the fine Hobson's Choice mental health genetic stew. Not surprisingly, I worried about her worrying. Would we ever be able to have birthday candles on a cake (FEAR OF FIRE!)? Would I ever get to stop providing detailed information on sell-by dates (FEAR OF SPOILED FOOD!)?

But guess what, I turned around and Elly's a teenager without all those worries. She's grown out of them, and that's her story to tell. She's matured into a young woman who is no longer terrified of candles. So when it turned out that her brother is also a worried child (again, you're welcome, child! It's all coming from me!), I could be a little more mellow with five years of experience.  It's a little easier to have faith that Paul's worries will also grow and change as he grows. I can be more patient and present with his worries, less fretful that this is the moment at which we will look back and say, "that's when it all started."

The trick I'm trying to apply is to cash in that calm wisdom on Eleanor's behalf now that she's a teen. Worrying about a teenager is the big time, the Big Leagues, because teenagers can get into actual, serious, life-altering trouble. And they can do it fast. It's tempting to lie awake all night on her behalf. But I'm trying to get the Mom of Paul me to talk to the Mom of Elly. I'm trying to tell myself, "Hey, remember, how you worried about Elly when she was little?  Remember how she's grown and changed since elementary school?  Maybe have a little faith that these  worries will fade,too."

And maybe it's working just a little bit.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Car! What is it good for?

If I'm counting up correctly, this year marks a decade since we became a one car family. We ditched our second car when it became clear that the blessed hand-me-down Corolla would never pass a WV vehicle inspection, and I'd like to say that we've never looked back. For the first eight or so years, that was true. Lately, the logistics have begun to irk me.

I love a lot about having only one car in the family. First, it gets a person her Simple Living street cred in awfully easy way. I don't make our household detergent. I rarely thrift our clothing. We eat Little Caesar's pizza once a week. But hey, we only drive the one car, so that gets us a lot of sustainability points in the Ecological Olympics.

And if I'm trying not to be cynical, I do love the simplicity brought on by the car-lite lifestyle. When we lived in West Virginia, Chris was a bicycle commuter; now he gets to work on foot. Having only one car forces a person to lavish some tender care upon that car and to develop a close relationship with a mechanic, first Jeff with Auto-Tech in Huntington and now the amazing Mike Sipple here in Berea. Having only one car forces us to consider our longer errands. I can't go to Richmond while Chris goes to Lexington, and that's a good thing. We've chosen housing and jobs, based in part on the decision to remain a one car family.

But... but... but, then there are the increasing days like today.

So I have to be at work by 7:00 every morning, but Buttercup the cat needed to be at the vet's at 7:30 today for kitten surgery. I've been struggling with a migraine all week which meant that walking was off the table for me. Chris dropped me at work at 7:00; he came back to the house and got Paul and Buttercup, then dropped Paul at school and Buttercup at the vet.  Elly and Lola walked to school.  If it had been bucketing down the rain, Chris might have made a third trip to the community school this morning.  Instead, he went to the college and picked up our host daughter Guerds, who needed to go to Frankfort to meet with some legislators.  Toward the end of the morning, I left my office to run errands up on the hill, errands that could be easily run on foot thanks to Berea's small size.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten that one of the offices I needed to visit has moved for renovations, and I couldn't make it from the old office to the new one before it closed for lunch.  At least, I couldn't make it on foot. I walked home. After lunch, Chris and Guerds returned from Frankfort, and I ran them in the car up to campus so that they wouldn't be late for their afternoon labor and meetings. That's where we stand as I write.

In a bit, I'll go meet Paul's bus on foot, and we'll hang out at home until things get complicated again. Somehow, in the course of one hour this evening we're going to drop kids off for piano lessons and pick them up, fetch Buttercup from the vet post-spaying, get me back to school for an evening meeting, get everyone else home for supper.   At some point, we need to  finally bring me home in time to tuck Paul in tonight.

And that's when I begin to hear the siren song of a second car.  How easy would this day be if both of the licensed drivers had access to a vehicle?.  No logistics to be worked out.  Just hop in the car and go.

Ten years in, I'm going to try to tell myself that if the planet is going to make it or if we humans are going to make it, then we're going to have to embrace the logistics of decreased driving. We have to love the work of figuring out how to do more with fewer conveniences.

Come the apocalypse, Chris and I may not be able to dress a deer, build our own housing, or make our medicines from forest plants, but we do know how to get from points A to Z and hit all the letters in between with only one car.  That counts for something, right?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gym Rat

Because I'm always a little more comfortable when life takes an academic tinge,let's start with a multiple choice question.

Q:  What did Jenny NOT allow to derail her on her quest for a workout today?
       A.  Walking in an ankle-deep puddle in her gym shoes
       B.  Discovering that someone had taken the earphones out of her gym bag
       C.  Struggling with a high-tech sports undergarment
       D. The loud farts of a fellow exerciser

Did you guess E?  All of the above?   Because that's correct!   Ding-ding-ding!

Let's take the barriers in turn, shall we?

A.  I know this is bad.  I worked out with wet feet. Now I'm either going to get athlete's foot or the consumption! I grew up in the 1970s with constant tv ads for athlete's foot remedies. I knew the risks. But this was the very first excuse-maker I encountered today. I have just finished a snowy week of constant caretending to the young, the teen, and the young adult. I was not taking any excuses.  I would risk pneumonia to get a workout.  

B.  My earphones? We all know that the sole purpose of working out is (a) to move your middle-aged body enough so that it doesn't hurt when you wake up in the night and (b) to listen to podcasts. But my feet were already wet and I had a magazine. I have given birth to children; I can exert myself without being entertained. No excuses!

C.  Seriously? I don't mean to brag, but I've been wearing undergarments of the upper regions for over three decades now. How is that the latest one I picked up requires an advanced degree to operate? Or maybe a youtube video. But I know better than to google that kind of thing. Just breathe and think of the struggle as part of the workout.

D.  I'm not going to lie: this one just about did it for me. I work in an elementary school.  I live with young people, and I'm supposed to hear loud,exercise-related farting in a public space without giggling? This is a small town, built on strong social values. If I laughed, I would have had to leave. Leave the gym?  Leave town forever in my shame?  One or the other. So I engaged my core and kept my giggle inside. Workout managed.

If there's one thing we can say about my persistence in the face of these immediate obstacles, it's that it's January.  It's workout season.

Let's talk again in July.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The latest phase

I remember clearly when my friend Heather's house was the place where every kid on the block congregated every day. I remember because I remember thinking, "Heather is so admirable to have all these kids here. ALLLLLL these kids. I could never do this. It would make me nuts."

Guess what?  Now I'm the mom with a full house most of the week. There are young teenagers in and out all the time. There are college students either in residence or coming over for a meal. I never know exactly how many people are going I'm going to be feeding at night or how many toothbrushes I'm going to find in the bathroom in the morning. At least, the eight year old's social life is somewhat more regulated, meaning that I generally have to make a conscious decision to fill up the house with a herd of boys. I'm relishing the inability of second graders to text and call each other. They have to use their moms as a go-between.

Overall, I'm fine with this full house, and that's the part I never expected. I like quiet. I like privacy. It turns out I can also like watering the soup so that there's enough to go around. I like eavesdropping. I like having  a full table.

The point is this:  every time, life gets ready to change or starts to change, I always think that the new life is going to be totally unmanageable. We can never get used to me working full-time or me working part-time; we can never get used to having a teenager; we can never get used to having everyone in school; we can never get used to Chris working more evenings; we can never get used to Chris working fewer evenings; we can never get used to having college students staying here in the summer or the winter; we can never get used to having sleepovers every week.

But every single time, the new normal becomes the new normal. Without fail, we adapt. Our family has faced relatively minor adaptations: more faces at the table, not fewer; more food to put on the table for people, not scarcity for those already here.

I wish that I would learn this lesson:  as long as we come around the table, we are okay. We're not just okay. We are good. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why do we love our pets? Seriously. Why do we love our pets?

Readers, I write to you, having had sufficient time to recover from pet-related disgust. I've also showered several times. 

Pets at the holidays... ah, they make us question our human connections to our canine and feline siblings.

So the deal is that the dog goes to a kennel while we are out of town and the kitten gets a cat sitter. The dog would get a sitter, too, except that she embarks on full-scale property destruction when we leave. Those who love the classic hits of Hobson’s Choice will also remember that Josie can escape from any crate available for purchase at your local petshop. She’s dumb, except when it comes to escape. She can’t fetch, but she can break bars.

I would think that the dog would not approve of the kennel at the vet’s office. She spent the first two years of her life enclosed in a car with a bad man. I guess it was just the “bad man” part of that equation that sent her on the road to the land of Poor Mental Health, the realm where she makes her life. The small, enclosed spaces part of her youth must have been great because she loves the kennel. I have no worries about her when we leave town.

I, however, don’t love paying for TWO animals to go to the kennel, especially when one is a cat and can be relied on to poop in a box. So the dog went to a kennel over Christmas; the kitten stayed home with visits from a sitter for food and box cleaning.

Our disgusting holiday story begins when I pick up the dog from the kennel early on the 27th.

The fabulous folks at Silver Creek let me come pick Josie up on a Sunday morning so that I could take her to Indiana for the rest of Christmas. When we say that “our dog has gone to a farm where she can run and play,” it’s not a euphemism. Our dog really does go to my mom and dad’s where she can run around outside and have the time of her life. It’s her vacation. She loves it.

When I picked Josie up on the 27th, she was so excited to see me that the first thing she did was barf. At the age of 42, I hit another developmental milestone:  my very presence made another creature so happy that she threw up. She missed my shoes, but I still thought it would be a great idea to change clothes and shower before heading to Indiana.

We raced home. I greeted the cat. I showered. When I got out of the shower, I began to notice a new and bad smell in the house. Upon exploration, I discovered that the cat had turned a sofa into a vacation-time vomitorium. There was so much vomit and so cunningly deposited -- not just on cushions, but into the deepest crevices of the couch -- that it was clear that the sofa would have to leave the room until it could be recovered. But being alone and not the kind of person who can move a sofa through the narrow doors of a century-old house by herself, I contented myself that day with taking the cushions down to the laundry where I blasted them with Pet Cleaner. Then, swallowing the bile, I applied myself and the Nature’s Miracle to the deep innards of the couch.

The vomit seemed to be dissipating, but the smell was only getting worse, and it seemed to follow me around the room. It was at that point that I discovered that the dog, outraged by the cat vomit, had decided to poop on another part of the sofa to make a point. And while I was spraying one end of the sofa with cleaner, the poop had rolled off the other end of the couch. And I had – yes, you guessed it, stepped in it.

When a few days later, I got into an online conversation about people who don’t like animals, I thought a lot about puke and poop. My friend and I were talking about how it’s a good rule of thumb to be wary of folks who dislike animals. And it’s true; it’s a rule that’s served me well. I reckon that when you meet people who do like animals, at least you know that they are patient enough to deal with the vomit and piss and all other manner of mess coming out of a languageless critter. So they might be okay to you, too.

Happy New Year! May 2016 bring you a life full of loving creatures, great and small, with a minimum of property-destroying bodily functions. May 2016 bring those joys to us all.