A Banner Routine

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I wasn’t exactly pudgy in high school. I doubt any of my friends would have called me fat, but I doubt I was the only girl who looked in the mirror and wished they were skinnier, taller, more like the faces staring out from the magazines. I was hardly model height or weight or anything else, but looking back, I can hardly believe how hard I was on myself.  I’m sure I wasn’t alone there either.

Decades later, standards have changed, but so have I. There are now petite models, plus-size models, and, if they ever start looking for a petite, plus-sized model shaped roughly like an orange, I’ll be in serious demand. So, even though I’ve lost twenty-seven pounds since the beginning of the summer, I still have a long way to go.

I’ve been traveling a good part of that road on foot on the make-shift track I’ve formed in the tenth of a mile of grass and gravel that surrounds our house like a wavy running track. This morning, after a bad fall from grace the night before, I got up and greeted the apple tree between the house and garden thirty-two times, I glanced at the soon-to-expire inspection tag on the front of my car thirty-two times, and I said hello to my puzzled dog thirty-two times.

It was routine again after the second lap, and there’s something comforting in routine. My legs no longer feel tired on every lap. I’m not out of breath after each lap. When my music program ends on my iPod, I keep going for a few more minutes because I can. A few more songs and it’s no longer about the weight but about going the distance. It’s about making taking care of myself part of my routine. It’s the same mentality that helped me make writing a part of my routine last summer.

Anyone who’s been reading this blog since last summer knows that my posts have gone from being daily and even twice daily to weekly or semi-weekly on good weeks. I can blame some of the lapse on a little more chaotic work schedule and the kids being home from school all summer. But the reality is that at the beginning of the summer, I had to make some hard decisions about which battles I needed to fight the hardest for a while.

In the middle of May, chest pains sent me to the hospital for a stress test. It was the culmination of a winter of health neglect that coincided with a fairly serious bout with depression. The chest pain turned out to be a very bad lung infection, but it was a wakeup call. So I started walking.

Eating right takes more time than opening a box of Shake’n’Bake. Exercising takes more time than sitting down on the couch for another book. Fitting those things into my life, however, was a battle that I knew I had to fight for me.

At first I thought it was selfish and destructive. I wanted to write. I had committed to it. I needed to take care of my job and my house (in that order). But I knew I needed to take care of me. Then I stumbled on a quote by Michele Obama that, whether you love her or love to hate her, had a lot of truth in it.

She said, “You’d get up at four in the morning to get to a job. You’d get up a half hour earlier in the morning to take care of your kids, so why shouldn’t you take a little extra time to take care of yourself.” That hit me like two tons of liposucked lipids.

I get up at five in the morning to work on email or fix a file for a customer.  I spent most nights for the better part of 2 years and then 3 with an infant glued to my breast because they needed it. So why, I asked myself, wasn’t I willing to do that for myself. Now I do because I’ve come to the recognition that it’s okay for a mom to do something for herself. You are doing it for them. You’re doing it to be there for them for the long haul and to be an example, but it’s okay to do it for yourself.

Now I feel I’m starting to feel like I’m winning the battle, even if it will never end. But it’s not an uphill fight, and it’s giving me the gumption to take up the writing banner that has meant almost as much as my health. There have been spurts and fits trying to get the routine back, but the challenge now is to find a way to make those two battles one.

Worth Waiting

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It was supposed to rain that Thursday, but as the time for the parade drew closer, blue took over more and more of the sky. The Big Guy was working, as he does most years on the Fourth of July.  As they do most years, our plans for the day included chores and little else.

The little else – a homemade, hometown parade along a mile and a half stretch of the main road of our town of 300 – is the highlight of our Independence Day each year. Comprised of a small collection of tractor- and horse-drawn wagons, festooned with flags and flowers from nearby fields and filled with singing townsfolk, the entire train passes by in less than a few minutes. Some years we ride on the wagons. This year we decided to wait and wave, and, this year, the waiting made all the difference.

We decided to head out to the parade a little early this year. The bridge at the bottom of our road is closed, and we planned to watch from the Town Hall a mile and half away at the other end of the road. The 150 year old school house across from the Town Hall (which, along with the nearby church are the town’s center) was the site of an art show hosted by a friend, and six-year-old Thing2 wanted to bring her flowers for luck.

With twenty minutes to spare before the parade got going a mile down the road from the schoolhouse, we took our time visiting with our artist friend and helping her setup. We browsed the paintings and prints, glancing out the window for approaching flag-wrapped horses, but none appeared. I checked my cellphone, and, noting that ‘hitching time’ was past, ushered my twelve and six-year-old out the door and across the road.

A few other townsfolk were arriving at the schoolhouse and making their way from art show to parade stand, stopping to patronize a lemonade stand that two boys had strategically placed next to the road. A few people brought chairs, and, as we each searched for a patch of shade, we began taking turns walking into the road to scan for the parade leader.

Ten minutes passed, and our small group concluded that hitching time had been delayed. The smaller boys began making miniature forts with bits of bark scavenged from around the oak tree that shaded us. Neighbors finished talking about the weather and began catching up in earnest. At forty minutes past hitching time we were certain that the lead rider was just around the bend, and the conversation turned to parades past. But the green at the bend in the road remained uninterrupted.  The younger children now conceived a world in a grassy curve carved by the roots of the oak tree, and neighbors began to discover each other in earnest.

Almost two hours had passed after the first horse was scheduled to leave the parade starting point, we heard hoofbeats and the hum of the first antique tractor.

A bunting-wrapped Kubota backhoe pulling a hay wagon loaded with singing townsfolk, prodigal children and grandchildren and other out-of-town guests led the parade this year. It stopped every few feet to let children on and off, and from the center of the wagon, candy and gum came flying at my kids. A few minutes later a pair of horses appeared, their riders carefully balancing flag poles on the toes of their boots. There were a few other tractors and wagons, and then two flag-bearers on foot came into view from around the bend. An ancient tractor pulling the last wagon appeared. This one was loaded with singers and one participant who had turned his attention to a magazine he brought along. The entire procession lasted less than ten minutes. 

The morning was gone. I was still in visiting mode, and it seemed too late to start the chores I had assigned myself and the boys. I checked my watch and noticed that it was almost time for the Big Guy to leave work.

Deciding strange forces were converging to put us on a different course for the day, the boys and I decided to go get the Big Guy and take him to lunch. Chores and to-do lists were forgotten. The reason for the season was officially our nation’s independence, but it was the waiting that had forced us to free ourselves from routine, if only for a day. As always, the tiny parade was worth the wait. The wait, however, was priceless.




Worth Repeating

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The willow trees near the main road are sending out shoots of yellow green, and it’s clear the mountains are about to explode in a myriad of greens.  For now, though, the daffodils and the tiny sunlit green dots on the trees cast a glow over our small town.  

The Dairy Bar is open now, and people are stopping in for ice cream after Little League or for a sunny batter-dipped dinner after work.  The air is thick with the smell of manure-plowed fields and fruit blossoms.  At the market, the pansies are being replaced by petunias as the days grow longer, and bales of straw are being stacked for gardeners emerging from their hibernation.  

I’m watching a story that’s being told again in small towns across the country.  I’ve seen it unfold over ten times now, and it’s a tale that never gets old.

Sunny with a chance of SuperDude

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I can predict the weather once a year with near 100% certainty.  The last Saturday in April will almost certainly be sunny and cold.  I know this because this is the day Little League begins in our town, and it would not be the official start of the game season if eager young T-ballers weren’t being watched by smiling parents bundled up in coats and sweatshirts.  There is one thing about this year’s opening day, however, that I failed to predict.  

Most weekdays I get up at 5AM to write or to work while it’s quiet.  Last night, however, I turned off the alarm and decided to let the sun, instead of the gong wake me.  But the official first day of baseball season (as far as Arlington, VT is concerned), is a lot like Christmas, and I found out when a different son – my six-year-old, Thing2 – fully dressed in jeans and a black button-down shirt and tie  crept to the side of my bed and, gently patting my face with his hand to let me know that it was time to go.  

Knowing that it wasn’t an emergency requiring us to ‘go’, I lazily opened one eye and noticed that the sky wasn’t entirely dark.  I turned my head to check the clock on the other side of the snoring Big Guy and, deciding that, at six a.m. I had bought an extra hour of sleep, decided to get up.  

“You still have a few hours till we have to be there, Buddy,” I said quietly as I headed to the bathroom.  Thing2 was too excited to let me have a morning to pee alone, and followed me in.  “But I’m glad you’re dressed warmly.  Do you think that tie is going to be comfortable under the new team T-shirt?”

Thing2’s thought for a moment.  Then his mouth popped open, but before he could reveal his solution he had scurried back to the bunk room at the end of the hall.  I could hear the sound of toys being excavated from a corner and Thing1 grumbling that it was too early for this.  By the time I sat down at my desk with my morning caffeine, Thing2 had found and implemented the solution.  

Breathless, Thing2 came racing into the study, still wearing the shirt and tie.  Over it, he had donned his fake superhero muscles and another T-shirt.    I checked the clock again.  It was six thirty, we were on outfit number two, and Thing2’s superhero alter ego SuperDude had already started to emerge.

“Do you love it?” he asked.

 I smiled, but I didn’t say anything.  In an hour and a half we’ll need to leave the house with him warm and wearing clothing that won’t leave a permanent indent on his skin if it gets hit with a baseball.  But even super heros evolve, and a lot can happen in that hour and a half.  

Sanity Sunday… or Not

Organization is not a hallmark of our family life, but over the years we have managed to stumble on a few rituals.  Lately, it’s been Taco Friday –  neither kid objects to it because they make it themselves.   When Mom is dieting it’s Meatless Monday (the diet almost always begins and ends on Monday).  Six-year-old Thing2’s addiction to Shake ‘n’ Bake means at least one night of the week is dedicated to pork chops.  Saturdays are dedicated to morning sports and breakfast at Bob’s Diner in Manchester, Vermont in the winter and dragging the kids to the latest free art exhibit in the summer.  Sundays have been a bit nebulous, however.

We’re not religious, so our Sunday mornings tend to be wide open.  Some weeks we head to back to the diner, other days the kids will ‘inspire’ the Big Guy to make corn cakes.  Yesterday, however, we thought we might have found on a new candidate for our Sunday routine.

Our boys, twelve and six and affectionately nicknamed Thing1 and Thing2 after the imps in Cat in the Hat, still share a room whose hamper not long ago acquired magical properties that prevent dirty clothes from entering.  A recent ruling by the Big Guy made indoor Dodge Ball with the smaller, ‘softer’ red ball in their toy box permissible, and now a carpet of clothes and dodgeball casualties litter the room.  Still, until Friday night, I had put the mess at a mere Defcon 4.  Level 4 usually causes a double-take when I walk by the room but doesn’t inspire me to intervene.  Friday, however getting from the door to the bunk bed for a goodnight kiss had become an act of death defiance, and I raised the alert to Defcon 2.   After a snuggle with Thing2 and an almost-deflected kiss for Thing1, I let them know it was time to engage in cleaning maneuvers before I had to go nuclear and clean everything OUT.

Hoping to encourage them to manage their own time a little and recognize that mother and maid are not interchangeable terms, I gave them the weekend to get the room presentable.  It didn’t have to be Grandma-and-Grandpa-are-coming clean, but the mess couldn’t just move under the bed either.  And I set a deadline – high noon on Sunday or there would be consequences.  There would also be no access to electronic media Sunday morning until the work was done.

Saturday morning we had basketball practice and went to breakfast.  The boys decided that was an iron-clad excuse not to clean in the morning.  They had a few hours in the afternoon, but decided to use it dawdling until we went out for a brief visit to friends.  By the time dinner rolled around, they had rationalized the entire day away.

By seven A.M. Sunday, the procrastination began to acquire heroic proportions.  Zero hour was approaching so they woke early and immediately began arguing about how to divvy up the work.  Between settling rounds, the Big Guy and I began quietly debating what the consequences should be.  Then, shortly after a breakfast of thoroughly-chewed cereal, the room at the end of the hall became eerily quiet.  I wondered if victory might be in our grasp as griping morphed into the sounds of things being picked up.

Then it stopped.  I got up to lay down some law but was stopped by the opening riff of ‘Ticket to Ride’.  The Big Guy is usually the source of homemade music, but his guitar was still in the utility room.  The radio was off, and as I got closer to the minefield, I realized that Thing1 must have rediscovered his guitar under a pile of clothes or toys.  I knew this was just another diversion on his part, but this was the first one that was remotely constructive.  Suddenly Thing2 bolted out of the room and into the utility room.  He emerged with his guitar and bounced over to the Big Guy.

“Daddy,” he breathed, “can you show me how to play that Beatles song?”  The Big Guy is always happy to pass on his love of all things Beatle to the boys, and obliged.  Thing2 disappeared into his room, and I sat down on the couch with my co-parent, marveling at how, deprived of all privileges and electronic entertainment these two had finally found something creative to do.

“I think we should make them do this every Sunday,” I said.  The Big Guy nodded, and we both listened to the chirping (Thing2) and picking (Thing1) in the other room.  For a few brief moments sanity reigned. We both agreed the noon deadline should still stand, and, for the moment, I thought we had found a new ritual.

Two minutes later the chirping stopped, and it wasn’t long before the picking ceased and cries of “You started it” resumed.  The Big Guy and I closed our eyes.  I think he was the first one to speak after an exasperated minute.

“So, how about the art museum next Sunday?” He said.