Friday, May 28, 2010


So, we let Ainsley watch Glee.

With parental supervision, of course. I would feel more guilty about letting her watch an "adult" show that sometimes features sexual innuendo and mildly racy language, but I really think it's less harmful in the long run than letting her watch Hannah Montana. At least the people on Glee are examples of how to act and sing well.

Lately, watching this show together has made me all too aware of the generation gap between my 7-year-old and I. It all started with the episode that ended with the group doing a cover of one of my all-time favorite songs, U2's "One."

Rachel, the young diva with the great big voice, started singing the song for someone and prefaced it by saying, "I heard you like classic rock."

So "One" is classic rock now? Really?

"That's not classic rock!" I said to Jason. "Classic rock is 60s and 70s music."

"Classic rock WAS 60s and 70s music back when we were in the 80s and 90s. I guess music from the 80s and 90s is classic now."


It didn't help that Ainsley popped up and said, "What's this song? I've never heard this one before."

I opened my mouth to correct her, because how has someone not heard "One"? Then I remembered she's seven. Then I retrieved my copy of Achtung Baby to play with Ainsley in the car between listenings of Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato.

During Glee's Madonna-centric episode I realized that Ainsley had no earthly idea who Madonna is nor why the girls in the cast were wearing funny-looking bras when they did "Express Yourself." (Someone get me a copy of The Immaculate Collection, stat!) And this week when the Glee club guys dressed like Kiss, she had no idea who they were supposed to be.

"Why do all those guys have that makeup on their faces?"

I looked to Jason, former Kiss fan, to give her the explanation of this one, but he was singing along to "Shout It Out Loud" at the time and I didn't have the heart to interrupt him.

In the same episode, she did, however, know the Lady Gaga songs. Methinks it's about time for a "classic rock" intervention.

I don't know if there has ever been such a wide generational-knowledge gap than there will be between us late Gen X-ers and our children. Technology and the world in general have moved so fast; items are invented one year and made obsolete the next. In a world where the phrase, "That's SO ten minutes ago" is not really an exaggeration, is there any hope of us catching up to them and them slowing down for us?

Ainsley has never seen a rotary phone or a vinyl record. She has no idea what a roll of film looks like. She has a tape player on her little boombox, but she's never put a cassette in it and I dare say she wouldn't know how to. She saw someone use a typewriter in an older movie not too long ago and asked where the computer screen was. She's learning cursive at her school, but most her age are not; they're learning keyboarding in the third grade instead. Even things we thought once were cutting-edge technology are like artifacts from an archaeological dig for her; she's never seen someone pull up the antenna on a cell phone, never heard that high-pitched modem squeal that means your dial-up connection is starting, never saved a document onto a floppy disk, never watched someone program a recording on a VCR. She does, however, know how to start a saved program on a DVR, how to send a text message, and even took a picture and captured video on her dad's new phone before he had even figured that out. It's like being a family of immigrants; Jason and I have learned this new language in adulthood and know just enough to function in our new world. But Ainsley was born speaking technology and has a native proficiency and comfort we'll never have.

For her, a phone is always going to be something people can carry in their pocket. Listening to music while on the go will mean plugging ear buds into something roughly the size of a credit card. Passing notes in class while the teacher's not looking will mean discreetly typing a text message. Getting a roll of pictures developed will mean plugging a camera into a computer and hitting "Print."

And "One" will always be "that song from Glee."

Get used to it, fellow children of the 80s--we are antiques.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wanted: Chocolate Cake

I spent a good portion of Lost's two-and-a-half hour finale sobbing. Not weeping pretty and silent tears that roll down your cheeks like raindrops like you see in the movies, but ugly-crying that puffs up your eyes and makes your nose ooze and just basically leaves you looking like someone's been roughing you up.

Were it acceptable to come in to my job Monday wearing sunglasses, I so would have. But then all the high-schoolers would have thought I was masking a hangover, and we just can't have that. Teachers don't drink. (Ha! Sorry. Couldn't write that with a straight face.) So I just came in looking like ten kinds of hell.

Now for the aftermath. After any event I find emotionally draining, be it a funeral or a farewell lunch for a friend you know you might never see again or perhaps bad news about the health of a family member, all I want to do after the crying has stopped

Does a good sobfest really burn that many calories? Do tears suck away that much of your body's essential nutrients and minerals? Or is it just an excuse to comfort yourself in high-calorie foods? I want to believe that when I hit the pantry after a cry that I'm simply keeping myself from malnutrition and dehydration, but I reckon I know better.

No matter the reason, all I've been able to think about all day is chocolate cake. Seriously. Work has been hell for me the last few days as I go through the usual end-of-year stress alongside some school-wide technical issues I've received roughly ten million calls about. And all day, when I've had a minute to think, I think...God, what I wouldn't do for a double-layer dark chocolate cake slathered in buttercream frosting.

So I am going to go home and, given that chocolate cake is just not something normal people have sitting around the house, carb-load on something else. But it won't satisfy. Because the heart wants what it wants.

What food to you crave when your body and soul needs comfort? And do you by chance happen to have any cake lying around unwanted?

Friday, May 21, 2010

And In The End...

My mood of late? In a word...bummed.

As I get older I become more resistant to change. And I've never been a big fan of loss. So I've been feeling out-of-sorts this week: Sunday will be a big day, and while a part of me can't wait, another part of me wants to curl up in a corner and cry it out.

It's the end of an era. It's the end of Lost.

There's a lot being written in pop-culture-blogger-land about this show and its upcoming final chapter. Some have said it's our generation's MASH. I would agree, but as big a fan as my family was of MASH, Mom and Dad still gave up on the last couple of seasons and only came back for the finale because, well, most of America did.

I don't know that there's any comparison you can really make for Lost that fits. Most shows overstay their welcome. Even fans would tell you that The X-Files, West Wing, and perhaps even Friends went on about two season too long. And don't even get me started on ER.

But by setting an end date, Lost told its story mostly the way it wanted to. Never has a show kept me so hooked and so faithful from beginning to end. Though I almost didn't catch the Lost train at the beginning of its run.

I rarely do. When it comes to TV, I am a complete band-wagon-jumper. I wait and see. If more than one of my trusted friends makes a point to say, "I can't believe you aren't watching this show," then I think it's probably worth it to invest my time. Which is why I didn't start watching Everybody Loves Raymond until it had been on a couple of years, and didn't really get into Scrubs until its second season. I also don't like getting sucked into shows that don't make it past their first season; I call it the Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. syndrome. I was burned once in my youth, painfully and inexplicably, by a show I made must-see TV every Friday night only to see it get cancelled just when the mythology was getting good.

Never mind that I didn't watch the little mythology-rich show that came on after it, The X-Files, until it moved to Sunday night and half my friends were oohing and aahing over it. Hindsight is 20/20 and I see now the error of my ways.

Lost seemed a little too hip and a little too buzzy for me to want to give it much of a shot when it aired "way back" in 2004. Teachers here at school talked about it in the workroom, and to be honest, the chatter made it seem like a soap opera. Pretty people who crash landed on a remote island--yay. A scripted version of Survivor? No, thanks, I thought smugly.

But then I started hearing it from friends who aren't into soapy love triangles and overwrought hour-long dramas: "I can't believe you're not watching this show!" And I knew I'd have to cave.

Thank goodness ABC replayed most of season 1 the summer after Lost made such a splash in the pop-culture waters. That was a time when I needed both escapist entertainment and something to challenge the way I was looking at the world; Lost at its best is both.

I had just lost Dad when Jason and I started recording the reruns of Lost on the DVR. I wasn't sleeping well and saw everything around me as dim and gray. The pilot made me stand up and cheer. There was well-acted human drama with some juicy science fiction overtones, a beautiful location that looked like a tourism video, and an overall sense of, "I don't know quite what's going on in this world, but I can't wait to find out."

And now I've been waiting six years.

This show has been an important part of my life. Sad, but true. While we were recording those reruns that summer, our old-school TV (ironically, a housewarming gift from my father) died. The picture became distorted and fuzzy and we used that as an excuse to take the plunge into the world of flat-screen, high-definition television.

As luck would have it, our new TV came home with us on a Wednesday night. I met a couple of girlfriends for a date while Jason went about getting everything hooked up.

"I've got to go at 8:30," I told my girls.

"Why? You got big plans tonight?"

"Sure do! I want to get home in time to watch Lost on our new TV."

That was the first show I saw in HD, and it was like the first time I put glasses on after being diagnosed with near-sightedness in 7th grade. The beach! The jungle! The lush mountains in the distance! Jin's abs! Was blind, but now I see!

Lost and I had some good times: watching possibly the best episode ever, The Constant, knowing that the next day was a snow day and I could go ahead and have that chocolate martini while enjoying the heady romance and mind-scrambling time-jumping. Jumping out of my chair at the season 2 finale when the hatch imploded and Penny received that phone call that a signal had been found. Jumping out of my chair yet again when Jack said, "We have to go baaaack!" and realizing we'd just seen a flash-forward.

There have been bad times, too. But we won't speak of those. (Looking at you, Nikki and Paolo.)

I stuck with it even in the 3rd season when Jason was trying to convince me that Heroes was going to turn out to be the better show (we've long since given up on that particular trainwreck.) I stuck with the awful 10pm time slot that kept me up waaay past my early-riser's bedtime. I stuck with it even when they killed off characters I'd grown to love in ways that I thought were a little undignified (I still mourn Mr. Eko. And his arms.)

I stuck with it...and now it's all but over.

On Monday I will come into work bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and possibly from shedding tears. I hope it ends well and we all get most of the answers we seek. Even if we don't, even if the ending is more like The Sopranos and less like Friends and there's no happily ever after, I will still say...I enjoyed the ride. Nothing else will quite be like it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pomp And Circumstance

It's that time of year.

Both the best thing and the worst thing about working in education is its cyclical nature. My work calendar is an annual progression of events--getting the library opened, establishing a rhythm, anticipaing snow days, making up snow days, then before I know it, closing the library down and saying goodbye to yet another group of senior library aides.

And every year, there's graduation. Another group of young men and women get their caps and gown and tassels, listen to some speeches, walk across the stage, and think they've become adults. It's bittersweet; I get close to some of these kids, and it's sad to watch them go. But I am (usually) proud of them and confident that they will find some form of success and happiness out there in the wide, wide world.

This year, I will be attending two graduations; one for my "kids" here at the school where I work, and one for my only nephew who is graduating from college. I have a hard time believing that the little boy I used to babysit, the child who used to snuggle next to me and watch Rugrats, is going to be a college graduate and go out and try to make a living for himself. It's enough to make me lie awake at night. He wants to do something with law enforcement and work for the government--children can't do that! It's not safe! He's just a boy!

Then I remember he's not, and I lie awake simply feeling old.

This time of year we all hear of celebrities giving clever commencement addresses at some of our nation's finest institutions of higher learning (or their own alma maters, which may or may not make any "best of" lists.) It's a fanciful dream of mine to someday become well-known for something or other (preferably for writing something that more than tens of people read) and be invited back to my own alma mater to give a commencement address.

But let's get real here--my alma mater can get real class acts in to do their commencement addresses (past speakers include Tim Russert, Sandra Day O'Connor, Lynn Redgrave, and Barbara Kingsolver) so I'd be delusional to seriously think I'd ever be asked back even if I do someday get something or other published. The best graduation gig an ordinary mom like me can hope for is to give the keynote address when my daughter plays "graduation" with her Barbies and stuffed animals. And even then I'd probably lose out to the girl up the street who can do a front walk-over and has her own motor scooter.

So, in honor of my nephew, here's some advice I would give to graduates. It's not exactly a speech, but it's the best I've got until I become almost-rich and semi-famous and the local community college decides it has to settle for me after George Clooney's second-cousin declines the offer.

Dear graduates:

You are unique. And special. But so is everybody else.

Your parents probably tell you all the time how wonderful and talented you are. Good for you! But you're probably not nearly as wonderful as they (and you) think you are. All parents worth their salt make their kids feel good about themselves while they're growing up. This does not mean that you are the best at everything you do. They're just telling you that to give you confidence and see what you can do with it. Now that you're an adult, it's up to you to learn what your true strengths are and face up to the things you maybe suck at. If you're honest with yourself, you'll be able to deal with your own shortcomings by the time you're 30. You'll accept them. If you don't, and you continue to believe that you're the best, the most special, the most talented human on the'll be like those tragic souls Simon rips to shreds in early American Idol auditions. Get over yourself now, and don't have your "I'm really only average" epiphany on national television.

Technology is a great thing. But it can also be an addiction, like most great things. Don't get so plugged in to your phone, your computer, your iPad, your flat-screen, your Facebook page that you forget that there are real-live flesh-and-blood people in this world. And for pity's sakes, don't think that you're such an incredible driver and multi-tasker that you can text and drive at the same time. You may think you have cat-like reflexes, but cats also have cat-like reflexes and they still get run over by cars.

You're not invincible. But you won't take my word for this. The day will come all too soon when you attend the funeral for someone your age who died too young, someone you possibly partied with right here on this very campus, and you will realize that it could have been you. And you will wonder why it wasn't you. And what you're here for. And your world will be well and thoroughly rocked. I wish I could tell you this is easier to deal with than it sounds, but it isn't. No one your age really understands the meaning of life; no one at all really understands the meaning of death. The best you can do is realize that you, too, are mortal, and to live life to the fullest while also doing everything you can to keep from making a stupid mistake that would take you out of the game before you're ready to go.

People may be telling you that these years you spent in school were the best of your life. Don't believe them. They may have been the most care-free, and the rest of your life you will have to worry about taking care of yourself, but the best isn't behind you. Good times don't end with your teens and early twenties. Soon you will be starting a career. If you haven't already found your significant other, that will probably happen soon, too. Your first apartment, your first house, your wedding, the birth of your children, should you want them...that is all still ahead. Those can all be the best times of your life if you let them. Being an adult is stressful...but it can also be joyous.

The job of your dreams might be out there...or it might not. Regardless, you'll probably have a dozen really, really bad jobs before you find the one you like enough to stick with until you retire. Never underestimate how long you can tolerate (and enjoy, despite yourself) a "bad" job that isn't what you dreamed of doing so long as your boss appreciates you and tells you so, and so long as the people who work with you can make you laugh when the going gets tough. And know that any day that starts with a few boxes of doughnuts in the breakroom can be a good day. It's the little things.

Some of the people you're friends with now will be your friend until the day you die and be there for you like a spouse: for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health. Some of your friends now will disappear from your life as soon as they have that diploma and you may or may not run into them years later on Facebook or at the reunion. You may even find that someone in this very hall with you now, who you love like a sibling, will end up disappointing you and breaking your heart. As you get older, your circle of good friends will get smaller. But those people who loved you when you were the life of the party and yet can still put up with your crap when your kids and spouse and job are wearing you out--now that's a friend. They may be fewer, but they're dearer.

And finally--and this can't be said enough, even though it is trite and cliched--try to leave this world a little better than you found it. You don't have to do something huge like cure lung cancer or emergency-land an airplane on the Hudson to leave the world a better place. Just...plant a tree. Or recycle. Adopt a shelter animal. Say a kind word to a child who has heard nothing today but insults. Pick up trash. Give to the church or charity of your choice whenever you can. Make sure the important people in your life, those who may still be on this earth after you leave it, have good things to say about you after you're gone and know how much you love them.

Congratulations, Kyle. I look forward to seeing what you do with your talents and smarts, even though to me you will always be the little tow-headed boy fascinated by grasshoppers and Nickelodeon. Best of luck to you, and go out there and make us all proud.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Out Of The Mouth Of Ains: The Best Confession EVER

I debated about whether or not to post this one; I fully expect that someday Ainsley will read all the things I've written about her, and this one has the potential to mortify her.

But it's so darn funny I can't help myself.

In preparation for her first communion Saturday, Ainsley and her classmates spent pretty much the whole day Friday in prayer, reflection, and confession. They called it Jesus Day and they made shirts for it. Kind of like when I was at Centre and all the really good fraternity parties had t-shirts.

She came back from Jesus Day full of stories about all the stuff they had done and everything they had talked about except that she was not about to tell me anything about confession. She has been indoctrinated well; we'll never know what dark deeds get discussed in the confessional. Though I am dying to know. (I should really confess to being nosy.)

Later that night we had a toilet overflow. Chaos ensued. I don't know why a clogged crapper sends my little family into such an uproar but it does. I hate messes, Jason hates playing the role of the world's most underpaid plumber, and Ainsley hates that something like 99.9% of the time it happens at her hands.

Yes, friends. Ainsley is a world-class toilet clogger.

I won't go into details on my theory of why this happens to her on a weekly basis, except to say I think it's a tragic combination of toilet-paper obsession and biologic predisposition.

We weren't happy when this happened, and after the plunger had been wrought we let her know we weren't very happy that we spent part of our Friday night taking care of such business. Our 1980s low-flow plumbing is only partly responsible (and if it were only her plumbing responsible it wouldn't be so bad, either, but the toilet God, the toilet paper.)

"I know," she sighed. "I'm sorry. If I had done this yesterday, I would have confessed to it today."


Imagine yourself as that priest. A little seven-year-old girl comes in and very seriously, very solemnly confesses to you the worst sin she's committed all week...clogging the toilet.

Could you keep a straight face? Could you? Because I don't think I could.

We explained to her that clogging the toilet isn't, technically speaking, a sin. So hopefully this won't come up someday as she's rattling off her list of transgressions to a concerned priest.

Though she'll probably have to confess it to the Roto Rooter man someday.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What Mom Wants To Hear

Mother's Day sort of crept up on me this year. I have no idea what happened to April or how we got to the second Sunday in May already, but here we are.

As both a mom and a daughter, I have to figure out what to get my mom and figure out what I would like to hint that my husband and daughter get me. My mom is usually easy; she wants a hanging basket and a couple of pots of geraniums to brighten the front of her house. No problem.

I'm pretty easy, too. I ask for the same: some flowers to put in various locations in the front of our house so that I can forget to water them some long weekend in June and kill them. It just wouldn't be summer without this.

But what most moms really, really want can't be found in a store or a nursery or a Hallmark card. I think most of us, especially those of us who juggle careers, small children and/or a pet or two, the laundry, the cooking, etc., want a day where we maybe get to sleep in, or have the house to ourselves for a couple of hours, and maybe if it's not asking too much a good meal that we neither had to shop for nor cook.

This year, with all the troubles I've been having with my ear, I want to indulge myself on Mother's Day by hearing something beautiful. Something loud, too, since my hearing is muffled.

So, here's what I'd like to hear on Sunday. If you're saying it/singing it/playing it, lean into my good ear, would ya?

1. Birds chirping and windchimes chiming through an open bedroom window while sunlight streams in and a breeze blows through the curtains, ruffling the pages of an open magazine. Please note that I did not say I want to hear dogs barking, motorcycles rumbling, or any other side dishes from the banging class. Thank you.

2. "Mommy, have I ever told you how pretty you are and how much I love you? And also that I will never smoke/drink/have premarital sex/ride in a car without a seatbelt?"

3. "No, dear, don't get up. I will answer the phone/get the door/empty the dishwasher/explain to our child for the fifth time why three kids on one trampoline is a bad idea."

4. "Would you like another tequila?"

5. Those crazy kids from Glee singing some mashed-up U2 and Dixie Chicks and Dave Matthews songs, or maybe just a selection of my show-tune favorites. Whatever works for them. Finn having a solo is optional, but Kurt having a solo is mandatory.

6. "Actually, I don't just look like him, I am Jon Hamm. I'm moonlighting today as a Don-Draper-esque delivery guy for some of the moms who watch my show. Here's your hanging basket and a potted geranium."

7. "Mrs. Cranky? The masseuse and pedicurist are ready for you."

Okay, moms: what do you want to hear this mother's day?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Grosser Than Gross: In Celebration of Moms

A co-worker and friend stopped down the other day and somehow or other we started talking about childhood injuries and the different reactions that moms have. Her mom could handle the crisis but then had strong physical reactions later, often passing out if blood was involved. Jason's mom's trademark, shared with several of her sisters, was to stand in one spot with her hands to her ears, running in place for a moment before tending to the injury. (The only time I saw this in person was at a Christmas party when one of the younger kids got a DART STUCK IN HIS HEAD because they were all playing a game in the basement where one kid threw a bunch of darts in the air and everyone else ran away from them. Kathie and at least two of her sisters ran in place with hands at ears and screamed, and I just sat there with my mouth wide open and my head buzzing because my brain just could not believe what it was seeing. The kid was fine, by the way.)

Ainsley has yet to present to me with a broken bone or a serious cut, so I really don't know how I'd react. Given that sports injuries that get replayed on TV make me see spots and feel light-headed, I don't think I'd get through an obviously, distortedly broken bone without needing smelling salts. But blood doesn't bother me. (It does Jason, so I guess we're evenly matched and could probably handle an Ainsley injury pretty well if we were together when it happened. If.)

I tried to think of what my mom does when she has to deal with something grosser than gross from one of her brood, and all I could think was that she...well, deals with it. Calmy, coolly, and without so much as a gag. Amazing.

Her friends say all the time that she missed her calling. Had she grown up in a different time and a different place with more educational opportunities available to women, she would have made a magnificent nurse. A trauma nurse, even. She's just that good at dealing with the blood, gore, snot, and offal that makes most of us turn gray and find a toilet.

The only way I can even tell that mom's disgusted by something is this noise she makes:


I don't know what she's trying to say. Maybe she means to put an "it" at the end to make it her favorite curse word but can't quite get it out. But I've heard this for years whenever she begins to clean up whatever god-awful mess someone has made--vomit, a nasty knee scrape where most of the child's skin got left on the sidewalk, a large smear on the carpet from where the cat has used the rug as toilet paper. I don't know what it means, but right after saying it she grabs her tools and goes at the job anyway.

And mom's seen things which, to quote Jeff Foxworthy, would gag a Roto-Rooter man.

When my sister was 8 and broke her arm after falling off the porch and onto the lawnmower, legend has it that she came in to the house pale and holding her arm.

"Mom, something's wrong with my arm..."

And when she let it go, the lower half of her arm dropped down at an angle. The bones couldn't make her arm straight. The thought of it gives me chills. Mom just grabbed her purse and went to the hospital without so much as a whimper.

Not only did she deal with a lot of disturbing injuries from my athletic sister, mom had to deal with a lot of illness from me. For the life of me, I could not contain my vomit as a kid. When I got sick, I blew like Old Faithful, minus the predictability.

"Sheee...." she'd exclaim as I tearfully showed her my bed, the side of the bathroom garbage can, the driveway, wherever it was I'd gotten sick. And with a mountain of towels and some Comet, she would clean up the mess without a single word of complaint (though she did wonder, out loud, to nobody in particular, why her youngest couldn't hit a toilet.)

I've cleaned up Ainsley's sick many times now. Not once have I been able to do it without at least one good, hearty gag and a half-time break to get out two cold cloths--one for Ains, one for me.

And don't even get me started on cleaning up cat crap after things don't go well in the litterbox.

When I was around 12, mom took a job as the hairdresser at a nursing home. The first place she headed when she got home was usually the bathtub. Once clean, she would run down that day's gross-outs; sometimes her ladies hocked and spat in her general or specific direction. More than once a patient's colostomy bag broke. IVs sometimes slipped out and blood would puddle in the floor. Since the patients only got their hair washed once or twice a week and most weren't able to exercise good personal hygeine, mom would sometimes discover feces in the patient's hair while she had them in the shampoo bowl.

That she could tell me what happened with little emotional or reflexive reaction while I was usually suppressing a gag impressed the hell out of me. Going to visit her while she worked and bring her lunch in the summertime made her my hero.

"You want half my sandwich?" she'd say, holding a tuna-salad-on-toast in one hand, sweeping up hair with the other (hair gags me just about worse than compound fractures), and keeping an eye on a lady busily clearing phlegm from her throat into a kidney bowl in the corner.

"No, thanks." I would say. And think to myself, I just may never eat again.

In dad's final days, when he had a surgical wound that wouldn't heal and both a urostomy and a colostomy, we had to go through a couple hours of wound care training at the hospital. By that time, I'd been through a lot myself; I'd given myself shots during chemo, doctored layered wounds left from the drainage tubes from my biopsy, and been more or less aware during my bone marrow biopsy. I thought I'd grown accustomed to anything, which is why I was there and my more squeamish sister wasn't.

The overhead lights were shining right down on top of me as I learned the procedures for packing the wound, cleaning the stoma, and changing the two bags. I started to get hot. I pretended that I needed a chair to let me get closer and see better, but really it was because my legs were failing but I needed to be strong and tough it out for my parents.

Mom, in the meantime, was pulling on the rubber gloves and grabbing the supplies out of the nurse's hands and saying, "Show me everything."

Not once after he got home and all that care fell to her did I hear her complain. Though I am pretty sure most of our phone calls those two weeks began with, "Sheee...."

There's a lot I admire and respect about my mom, that southern spitfire. But I think her best quality, the quality I wish either me or my sister had had the good fortune to inherit, comes down to sheer intestinal fortitude in the face of distress. The woman can just about handle anything.

All of us moms clean up nasty messes because we kinda have to. But few do it with such steadfast calm as mine.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Come a Tide

One of my favorite children's books is Kentucky author George Ella Lyon's Come a Tide. Not only does the characters' Appalachian dialect take me back home, but I can totally relate to the chaos and anxiety surrounding a flood.

The people of one of my many former hometowns, Falmouth, Kentucky, have been keeping a wary eye on the Licking River the last few days. While we did not see as much rain as those in Tennessee and southern Kentucky, we saw enough this weekend to make creeks rise and the "mighty" Licking, the tributary of the Ohio which runs up from our south, start to overrun its banks.

Falmouth residents have good reason to worry. It's only been 13 years since the big one, the flood that destroyed many of the homes in town and displaced most of the residents for weeks.

I should know; Jason was one of them.

The day they let us back into town after over 10 inches of rainfall caused waters to rise so fast that residents had to be evacuated from second floor windows by boat, I saw things I never want to see again. A house swept off its foundation and plopped whole, Wizard of Oz-style, in the middle of a street. A National Guardman calmly directed us around it; it was not the worst thing he had seen that day. White plastic grocery bags and other recognizable garbage items strewn in the top limbs of trees like a crazy person's Christmas tree decorations. And mud--everywhere the mud. Mud so thick it sucked the shoes off your feet and covered the grass like heavy snow and made the whole world brown.

We didn't think the town could ever get through it. No way could all that dirt be pushed out, swept up, re-absorbed by the saturated earth. No way could that many homes be torn out, gutted out, rebuilt.

But life goes on.

The last time we were there in Falmouth, making our almost-annual pilgrimage to the Wool Fest with our good friends (friends who should have been visiting Jason the weekend of the flood in 1997, but by the grace of God rescheduled their visit for the weekend before), the town looked beautiful. For the first time, there were no obvious signs that a flood had ripped a path of destruction across the main highway. If you were looking for it, you could see the high-water mark drawn on the blue bridge across the Licking that took us to the fairgrounds.

There if you looked for it; unremarkable, probably, to the casual tourists and Wool-Fest visitors who crossed the bridge that day. Unremarkable to those who didn't live through those horrible days and weeks when Falmouth's residents could be counted in the dozens and not the thousands and only those like Jason with second-floor apartments or houses set high on a hill could try to start living there again.

Jason and I sometimes talk about the year we spent together in Falmouth and the months he spent there by himself. Whether it's nostalgia talking or whether we were just young and naive at the time, we say that those were some of the best times of our lives. I think to myself after every Wool Fest that it might be nice to retire there in classic small-town America where life is quiet and moves just a hair slower than it does everywhere else.

But then the rains come, and like the folks who still live there, I feel an anxiety fueled by memories of rushing water and mud.

"Children, it'll come a tide."

I never want to go through that again. And my heart aches today for all those to our far south who are watching rising waters destroy their homes, their possessions, and their tangible memories.

To anyone who has ever gone through a flood or is watching the rivers today: God bless.