Regrouping

I slept in today and it felt SO good! All week long, I looked forward to this three-day weekend. Lucy and I were still up early enough to go for a good long neighborhood walk, and we got it in just in time to enjoy what looks to have been the sunshine’s limited presence for the day. We listened to birds singing along the way, and Lucy spent much time plowing her nose through white, puffy dandelion heads in the grasses along the walking path. No amount of sneezing could convince her to stop. She made me laugh and the whole trek gave me a chance to clear my head some.

I’ve been in a funky mood lately. I blame it on too much togetherness. This move my parents are making, from their house of twenty-six years to a single-level town house, is going to be the death of me. (Not really, but I frequently say so just because somehow it makes me feel better to voice a little self-pity.) I know everyone’s got some level of dysfunction in their family. It’s normal. It’s probably designed to make sure the kids don’t get so comfortable at home that they never move out of their parents’ house.

I dearly love my parents. They have done so many things well in their lives. They raised their kids to be responsible and productive people. We take good care of our own families and we’ve got strong work ethics. They made a lot of sacrifices to make sure we would have good lives. They raised us with love and taught us to have faith in God. They did something right enough that, in spite of the fact that we sometimes drive each other nuts, we still have a need to pull together and be a family. They did things in a way that, as a kid, often made me think, I’ll never do that to my kids. But I see now that they did things the way their generation believed to be best.

My parents are always so happy to see me when I stop by and Mom never fails to express her thanks for anything I do to help them out. Dad seems to expect things, but Mom is appreciative enough for both of them. I am grateful for that. But as often as I’ve spent time with my parents over the past month or so, I’m frequently reminded why I was so ready to become an adult and move out. My dad? He is NEVER wrong. Even when he is most certainly wrong. And he’ll go to great lengths to tell you why he’s not wrong and you are. It’s always been that way. One of the most frequently used adjectives to describe my dad, is stubborn. Opinionated comes in a close second. And I think that stubborn quality in him has gained energy with age.

Growing up, if Dad decided we’d done something wrong, we kids knew we were in for one of his famously long and painful lectures. He’d sit in his chair at the head of the kitchen table while I stood at the far end of the kitchen, wishing I had the guts to just turn and walk out the back door. There were no excuses accepted for bad behavior. No amount of explanation would be considered, even if there was another side to the story Dad hadn’t considered (and likely wouldn’t). And everything he had to say was sure to be repeated at least three times. I was kind of a rebel back then. I’d often play with fire, my body language clearly shouting that I was listening only because I had to and I’d rather be anywhere but standing in front of him. I’d say, You said that already or I heard you the first two times. Dad did not appreciate my sass and I think it only prompted him to continue expressing his disappointment in me even longer. His delivery was heavy on a who-do-you-think-you are sort of sentiment. There was a lot of you’d-better-change-your-ways and very little help-me-understand-why. If you were on the receiving end of one of dad’s lectures, when you were finally free to depart his scrutiny, you felt about this big. (My thumb and forefinger are making a pinchy motion, in case you were wondering.)

I know my dad doesn’t mean to alienate others with his opinions. I just think he’s done things this way for so long that he doesn’t know how to do them any differently. It pains me to watch him instigate arguments with my mom. So often, they’re over silly, inconsequential things. I know he’s fighting for what he believes is right, but his words, to me, feel belittling, even when I’m only watching him engage with someone else. I rarely argue with my dad these days. I don’t have the energy. There’s no winning or compromise with him. And according to Mom, I’m not allowed to speak in defense of her either because it only makes Dad feel that his kids are choosing sides. And he thinks we only ever choose Mom’s side. I guess I usually do, because regardless of who I may think is right or wrong, it’s his tactics that don’t sit well with me. And ultimately, I just hate to be witness to so much unhappiness between my parents. At their age, I just want them to have peace and contentment. I know that quite possibly, my parents have just settled into a long-standing set of behaviors and this doesn’t make them nearly as uncomfortable as it does me. I’m the first to admit that I hate conflict. But it eats away at me that in their twilight years, they don’t seem as happy as I think they should be with one another.

It’s probably wrong on so many levels to put this in writing, but writing it is the best way I know how to purge the kind of weight this puts on my heart. Besides, I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t 99.9% confident that anyone who cares won’t ever read this.

Anyway, I can easily walk away when I need to and stay away for as long as I need. These days, I can control whether or not I end up on the receiving end of one of Dad’s diatribes, so when he’s being unreasonably opinionated, I usually hide a little roll of my eyes and just keep my mouth shut. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can say nothing and choose not to accept his position. Although, a few weeks ago, I thought I made a big statement while walking out without saying goodbye while he was busy once again telling Mom how poorly she had met some need he had. I felt really bad for the rest of the day about the fact that I’d probably made both of them feel really bad. Turns out that no one actually noticed I’d made a big statement and walked out.

A part of me knows that Dad’s behavior is probably due to the fact that he feels less needed, and less respected due to his age and the health issues he’s endured over the years. His vision has diminished enough that he can no longer drive. He is forced to be dependent on others for so many things he’d rather do himself. Maybe he’s trying to find some way to feel less diminished. I know he doesn’t know how hurtful he sometimes makes his family feel when a healthy debate is never allowed. Still, sometimes I wonder if it’s too late to speak up.

My sister was on the receiving end of Dad’s opposition recently. It was over a matter of fact, and the reality is, she was right and she had a point that he might have considered. And even though it was a helpful point that could have made a particular situation so much easier for him and Mom, he wouldn’t consider it because he simply didn’t believe it to be true. He is the father and we are still the children, even though we’re all in our forties and beyond. My dad still seems to think that he can treat his kids the same way he did when he was in charge of our upbringing. If he doesn’t agree with what you have to say, he will put you in your place. And my mom still seems to believe that as difficult as my dad can be at times, it’s best to just let him have his say and let it go.

It’s hard to watch sometimes. I wonder if my dad has been allowed to be right for so long that it’s now impossible to get him to understand that his behavior feels spiteful, arrogant and demeaning. I wonder if he feels good when all is said and done, and he gets to be right again, but someone else just feels like a turd.

Maybe I’m letting this eat away at me way too much. A voice in my head sometimes tells me to just let it go, that I should find a way to rise above it and feel less resentful, else I’ll suffer enormous regret when he’s no longer around. My dad is seventy-four years old and he finds a million ways to let me know he loves me. But he has no idea how bad it feels to watch him put a family member in their place when he’s feeling particularly obstinate.

All normal stuff, I know, in the grand scheme of things. And I remind myself frequently that the knee-jerk resentment I sometimes feel about dealing with my parents? I desperately never want my kids to feel those things about me. So while I know I need to be a little bit more understanding and compassionate, and maybe find ways to gently steer my dad in a better direction, it’s hard. We’ve just never practiced healthy communication. It doesn’t come naturally. As much as I’ve learned over the years about how to do it better, it’s still such a challenge to put it into practice in the heat of the moment. But I also recognize that I can – and should – be learning from all of this. I sometimes see myself doing, saying or thinking in such a way that confirms the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I don’t have big plans this holiday weekend. Not going up north with the masses or anything. Mark is working all weekend, and other members of his family will fill the cabin at the lake to beyond capacity. I’ve got no desire to squeeze in among them. I’ve got a couple of fun outings planned, but for the most part, I’ll stick close to home where it’s going to be quiet and I can catch up on things. I may voluntarily go do some more packing at Mom and Dad’s, but I’m hoping the phone doesn’t ring, beckoning me to come when I may not be ready. I hope this weekend provides a breather and a chance to regroup. I was in such a good mental place just a few short weeks ago. I need to get back there.

Meanwhile, I’m getting nothing done around here!

I remember when I used to write on a regular basis. That was before my parents sold their house and bought a town house. That was before my help was needed with things related to the impending move.

In this photo, I am talking on the phone with my mom. She’s asking me to come help her download a PDF document that the realtor emailed. She was having trouble opening it.

The real purpose of this photo was for Kacey to make fun of us online for unwittingly wearing the same shirt to work that day.

Twinsies

I wasn’t embarrassed. She better not have been! Not long after this was taken, I went to my parents’ house to check out their download issues. Turns out the technology-challenged realtor didn’t actually send a PDF, only a blank html file. I emailed and asked him to give it another shot.

Tonight Kacey and I were back at my parents’ house again, with my sister, packing things. One thing I can say about being the ones doing the packing … when Mom says, “Someone take it or I’m throwing it,” we have the benefit of getting some good, free stuff. Kacey came home with a brand new water filtering pitcher and a stoneware baking dish. Me? I’m amassing a collection of antique kitchen utensils. I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do with them!

So lately…

I looked out the front window a few days ago and the Maple tree in the yard was beginning to bud. I looked out again today and it’s in full foliage.

Okay, so maybe more than a few days have passed between noticing the tree. The days have been slipping away from me lately. There’s been a lot going on.

Kacey came home from school last Friday and is here for the summer. YAY! Lucy is happy too. She’s been Kacey’s shadow, so much so that on Saturday morning, she wasn’t even interested in eating her breakfast, which is usually the highlight of her mornings. Instead, she preferred to stay curled up behind Kacey’s knees and wait for her to wake up.

Kaceys Bed

On Saturday, Kacey and I went to a Mothers Day brunch at my cousin’s house with all the women-folk on my mom’s side of the family. Fun, fun! And on Sunday, we joined Mark’s family for dinner at his mom’s house. Most of the family was there and the place got crowded and loud. Six year-old Ryan decided that his cousin, Jake was great fun to climb on and wrestle with. Jake was a good sport and Ryan’s giggles put a smile on my face.

Ryan n JakeMeanwhile, my parents put their house on the market last Monday. My sister and I have been busy helping keep the house in “showing” shape. They had their first showing on Monday afternoon, received a good offer sometime around mid-week and accepted it on Friday. On Saturday, they put in an offer on a town house, and withdrew it on Tuesday. (Long story, but it was for the best.) On Tuesday evening, I went with them to look at another town house. This one felt right from the moment we set foot inside. They made an offer, and learned today that it was accepted.

We started to do a bit of packing last week in anticipation of the move that will be upon us all too soon. Mom is parting with all kinds of old stuff, but I’m finding there are some things I just can’t let her donate. I sorted through record albums and rescued my old Carpenters album. It was a gift I received when I was six-years old! There were also a few Elvis albums that I hung onto. And then there was this crazy thing … an ashtray … I guess?

Ashtray

It was just so unexpected to find this in my parents’ house. I had to keep it. And so someday when I’m old and my kids are helping me pack up my years’ worth of belongings, they’ll laugh and squeal over the fact that their parents had such a thing in their possession. And then one of my kids will decide to hang onto it for years to come and it will be passed down from generation to generation.

Nice, huh?

Car Wash

“Come on,” Mark said to me yesterday afternoon.

“Where we goin’?”

“The Downtowner,” he said.

“Ugh. Really? We have so much to do and it’ll be a zoo there. It’s beautiful outside. Everyone and their brother we’ll be waiting in line for a car wash.”

“Actually,” he said “I’m betting it won’t be crowded because it’s so nice outside. Who wants to wait in the car wash line when it’s such a perfect day?”

Turns out we were both half right, but the wait wasn’t bad. The Downtowner is one of those pro-style car washes where an entire crew of people works together to make your car spic and span. Mark gives the Downtowner his business quite frequently. Me? I never go there. It’s in the old neighborhood in St. Paul, too far out of my way, and I never feel as if I have time for that kind of car luxury. I take my car through the drive-thru wash at the gas station a few times a month. Lucky for me, half of Mark’s trips to the Downtowner are with my car.

I’ve driven past the Downtowner a hundred times in recent years, but I can’t remember ever being inside. It was kind of fascinating to watch the car wash process. There are a couple of workers right up front to spray off the wheels before each car enters the wash tunnel. Inside, there was a full convenience store and plenty of room for customers to sit as they wait for their cars to be finished. I sat on a stool watching through the windows as cars moved through the wash. Mark pointed out the squirt guns, where kids could sit inside and aim streams of water at the passing cars on the other side. I noticed the shoe-shine station at the back of the waiting area. It had two seats positioned high up, just like I’ve seen in the movies.

“Have you ever seen anyone working at the shoe-shine area?” I asked Mark.

“Yeah, once in a while.”

“How many people even wear shoes that require shining these days?” I wondered. Although, as soon as I asked it, I guessed being as close to downtown as we were, I could see how someone might make a go of their shoe-shine business there.

As the cars exited the wash tunnel, another crew of workers moved each vehicle to one of several finishing bays. They worked furiously to dry and shine each car, inside and out. Above each bay, there was a sign that would light up to let the owner know that his or her car is done. Mark led me out into Bay 3 as a crew of four people put the finishing touches on my car. It looked gorgeous!

Mark got in the driver’s seat and I took the passenger side. Before I could sit, I had to move a Sunday paper out of my way.

“Why’d you bring the paper with?” I asked.

“I didn’t.”

“Then where’d this come from?”

“They give it to you. It’s all part of the service. And you get this too,” he said, pointing to a card that had been tucked into one of the cup holders. It was a guarantee. If it rained anytime that day, I could come back the next day for a free wash.

My car looked and smelled fabulous. I can now see why Mark is such a fan of this place. Their customer service is beyond over-the-top. My Terrain sparkled in the bright, Sunday afternoon sun as we drove home and I couldn’t help but admire it. Back at home, Mark parked it in the garage, and when we went to the grocery store he said, “It’s supposed to rain. Let’s keep your car clean and take my truck.”

Good thing too! Because I didn’t think I had time to take it back for another wash, as fun as the first time around had been. And just as we were driving home from the grocery store, big drops of rain began to splatter the windshield of the truck. By the time we’d hauled all the bags of food into the house, the skies let loose.

So I didn’t have to use my next-day guarantee. And today was another beautiful, sunny, warm day. As I approached my car after work today, I thought about how lucky I am to have a car, to have this particular car. I’ve been very happy with it and hope to have it for a lot of years to come. And I appreciated the opportunity to see it sitting there waiting for me, the paint all sparkling black and glimmering in the sun. I took a good look at it and reminded myself to enjoy it in all it’s glory, because for the rest of the week? Rain!

Oh well. I guess we need it!

This Weekend

2015-05-03What a beautiful weekend it’s been! Sunshine. Temperatures in the eighties. The air sweet with the scent of flowering trees. Windows open. Birds singing. A late Sunday afternoon thunderstorm that left a rainbow behind. Spring is here, and I for one, am happy!

The weekend has been full. I started it off by picking up my new glasses yesterday. I had my vision checked a few weeks ago after noticing that my eyes frequently feel tired and achy at the end of my work days. The doctor confirmed that my eyes were behaving pretty normally … for a person of my age, *ahem* … and that it made sense to get some corrective lenses. He prescribed something suitable for long hours in front of dual computer monitors.

I was pretty excited to be getting something more accommodating for my eyes than the cheap, drugstore readers I’ve been using. When I came home with the real glasses, I asked Jake what he thought.

2015-05-02
Urkel called,” he said. “He wants his glasses back.”

I was momentarily offended, but I had to give it to him. That was a good one! Almost like he’d been rehearsing it or something! I wasn’t really all that offended anyway. I like my new frames and I don’t normally take fashion advice from my son. So why start now? Besides, what’s really important is that I can see!

Lucy Pie seemed to enjoy the weekend weather as much as her people did. Mark let her hang around with him while he cleaned out the garage yesterday and at one point after putting her back in the house, she managed to let herself out again to go visit a neighbor dog. Einstein was walking down the street in front of our house with his people when Lucy caught sight of him. The main door to the house had been left open, with only a screen door to serve as a barrier, and it was all too easy for Lucy to push through it. Luckily, Einstein’s dad caught Lucy by her collar until I could catch up to her and take her from him. We now know better than to trust the screen door. Lucy got a good scolding and seemed remorseful, so all is now forgiven.

Hey! Remember the Chickadee family that was making their home in the birdhouse on our deck? As of this morning, they’re gone. :-( The carnage was all over the deck, remnants of a nest and broken eggs. Mark thinks the sparrows are to blame.

Last night, Mark and I attended the season-end banquet for our Saturday bowling league. It was held at a locally famous steak house. The food was good, I got re-elected as league vice president, and earned a pin for my high game of 246. All in all, an evening well spent.

Today I was back at my parents’ house, doing a few more chores in preparation for getting their home on the market. They are busy searching for a single level townhouse in the near vicinity. I’m happy they are planning to stay close by my sister and me, but I still wish they’d agree to consider a less independent style of living. For now, they’re not, although this is a step in the right direction.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve cleaned, organized, purged and donated some of the things they’ve accumulated during their years of married life. And while they whittle down their belongings to those which are truly necessary, I’m busy adding stuff to my own house, which is counterproductive to my usual purpose! There are just some things I can’t bear to see let go. I’m now the proud owner of a deep, heavy frying pan with a domed lid. It’s old and it looks it. But they don’t make ’em like that anymore and I know I’ll use it. And? It was my grandpa’s once upon a time, so I’m keeping it.

2015-05-02bI also came into possession of this thing, which was destined for the Goodwill because even though it had been in my parents’ kitchen utensil drawer for years, it had never been used and no one knew what it was. All my mom knew was that it also had come from my grandparents’ kitchen. My curiosity got the best of me. Before tossing it into the Goodwill bag, I posted it on FaceB00k to see if anyone could identify it. I’ve since learned that it’s either a cake slicer, cheese slicer, or cake decorating comb. I can’t understand how this thing slices anything, so I’m going with decorating tool. Also? It’s antique. So I’m keeping it. And if I manage to actually decorate a cake with this thing, you’ll be the first to know.

Don’t hold your breath!

Parking Lot Rescue

If he hadn’t been with someone else, I totally would have taken him home.

Today was one of those spring days on the verge of summer. I’d squeezed in a quick walk around the pond at lunch time, but wanted to soak up a few more of the sun’s rays before getting inside my car and making the drive home. So when my work day was finished, I packed up my stuff and left through back entrance. I walked the long way around the building to the far side of the lot where I always park. It was five o’clock and a typically busy time in the company parking lot. A steady stream of employees cruised by me in their cars as I walked.

I was coming up on the far corner of the building when I saw a black tow truck blocking one of the two areas that lead to the east exit from the company lot. The truck’s engine was idling. The cab was empty and the driver’s side door hung wide open. Behind the tow truck was an Isuzu Trooper I’d noticed in the lot over the past few days.

That’s when I saw him. He was sitting on a curb behind a parked white car. He seemed so out-of-place there and I wondered if he was okay. I slowed my pace and hesitantly moved toward him. His face was really handsome and I felt an urge to run my fingers through the tousle of black on top of his head.

He looked cautiously at me as I took another step toward him and softly said, “Hey.”

I was a bit startled when he leapt to his feet and lunged toward me.

“YIP YIP!” Four furry little legs followed behind his cute, fuzzy face.

“Snoopy!” A burly, buzzed-haired tow truck driver yelled as he turned in my direction, rising from his crouched position next to the front tire of the Isuzu. “Get back in the truck!”

Not the real Snoopy

Not the real Snoopy

Snoopy made no move to obey his owner and looked curiously back at me. He was an adorable, little black fur-ball of a dog and I was worried he’d run into the open area of the parking lot, or worse, into the busy street. I certainly didn’t want him getting hit by a car, so I reached my hand down so he could sniff me. I moved slowly toward the tow truck, all the while holding my hand out to Snoopy, hoping he’d follow me back toward the truck. He wasn’t all that interested.

“He’s friendly,” offered the tow truck guy. “He just warns me when someone comes up behind me while I’m doing a repo.” I suppressed a giggle at the fact that this beefy guy’s guard dog was an ankle biter.

I looked down at Snoopy and decided I was tired of hoping he’d cooperate with me in ensuring his safety. I dropped my work bag and purse on the ground and scooped him up with one hand. He nestled right into me and I scratched him under his chin as I walked him back to his owner. Tow Truck Guy gratefully took Snoopy from me and said thanks.

“No problem,” I smiled. “It’s busy around here. Don’t want him getting run over!”

I headed back toward my car and as I unlocked it and slid into the driver’s seat, I turned to see Tow Truck Guy gently closing the truck door behind Snoopy. Snoopy quickly jumped up, resting his front paws on the window ledge where he watched his owner finish his job from the safety of the cab. My heart melted and I was happy Snoopy was safe.

Chickadee

Mark is a pretty talented handyman, and I can always rely on him to know the best way to manage anything that needs fixing around the house and yard. He prides himself on his ability to do quality work, and rightfully so. When friends or family need help with a project, they often call on him.

Every once in a great while, Mark uses his craftsman abilities for fun. There are several birdhouses in the backyard as proof. There are two bluebird houses on the east side of our yard, mounted on the chain link fence. Although, they’ve at times been home to families of bluebirds, the sparrows like them too. This frustrates Mark, but I think that if the sparrows like them, why not let them be?

Last year, he built a couple of smallish bird houses. Kacey thought it would be fun to paint one. Mark thought this was strange.

“Why would you paint a birdhouse?” He asked.

Kacey and I laughed. “What’s strange about it?”

“Birdhouses just shouldn’t be painted,” he said. I don’t know where he gets his ideas sometimes. I argued that colorful birdhouses are artsy and fun. I don’t think my argument won him over, but he ultimately gave in and told Kacey to have at it. So she rounded up some paint and went to work, creating a miniature barn for birds. When it was finished, she asked Mark to mount it somewhere in the yard. It might have gone in the big pine tree, or on the back wooden fence, but moving it to an appealing location for birds is not something that ever got done last summer.

And so the little birdhouse sat on the deck, on a shelf in the corner of the canopy’s frame. And being in such close proximity to humans and a very energetic dog, I imagine the birds just weren’t interested. The birdhouse remained empty and became patio decor. When we retrieved our patio furniture from the shed a few weeks ago, Kacey found the birdhouse and returned it to its position on the shelf. A shame, I thought. Maybe this year we’ll find a more suitable location for it.

2015-04-23One morning this week, while making my lunch before going to work, Mark told me to have a look out on the deck. Imagine my surprise when I saw a little chickadee getting comfortable with our “strange” barn-birdhouse so near to our people-house.

When I woke up this morning, I fed Lucy, then plunked a coffee mug under the Keurig and fetched the hazelnut creamer from the fridge. While waiting for my coffee to finish brewing, I stood in front of the patio door, looking absently out into the neighborhood. I stretched my arms up over my head and yawned, and just as I finished, noticed our bird friend perched on a patio chair just across from me on the other side of the glass. It had a beak full of dried grass and didn’t seem the least alarmed at the sight of me. In one quick motion, it hopped from the chair and flew the short distance to the bird-barn, disappearing inside. Looks like moving the birdhouse to a more suitable location is not necessary for now.

I realized that the bird was my simple pleasure this morning. While the world went on around us last week, it held its usual share of ups and downs. And I am grateful that my ups and downs are manageable enough at the moment to allow a spontaneous smile at the presence of such a tiny and common creature. 2015-04-25