Dad, You are Neither Barbeque Sauce Grill King nor the Plumber’s Crack..

 

Every Father’s Day I try to find my Dad a good card but sometimes my choices are limiting. I cannot match him to the Golf or Tennis cards. He plays neither. Nor is he the schlub with a beer gut exerting dominance over the remote control, nor the fly fisherman, deaf old man or puppet of mom.

He is neither the Barbeque Sauce Grill King nor the Plumber’s crack. He also doesn’t look or act like an ape, although I know those Orangutan cards do make him laugh.

I chose this card. 1) because Dad laughs at Orangutans and 2) I love the way he pronounces ‘Losers’ in his Polish accent.

Why is it that the card companies portray fathers more like Homer Simpson than say the ancient Greek, Homer? My Dad has lived through some hellish times and his life is an epic poem filled with battles seen and unseen. Seems like I ought not to mix up my Homers. Plus I know he prefers the chocolate éclair over the donut.

Homer the Schlub

Homer the Poet

Shouldn’t I be commemorating this special day with what it has really been like for him to be a father with a major illness? And find a way to tell him that he’s my inspiration and not my sarcasm.

Or remember that fathers are not thanked nearly enough for the things we take for granted, like Chris Rock said in his comedy show, “Dad, thanks for knockin’ out this rent.”

Snoopy cards worked for a while, but I’m not 13 anymore. Garfield hardly creates shoulder-moving laughter. I don’t even take those off the shelf.

The musical cards are good, but it doesn’t seem right to send him The Beverly Hillbillies theme song more than once in his life no matter how much he loves Granny and Jethro.

I like the serious cards too, but I have to be careful of the dripping saccharine and femmy script. So usually I buy a blank one or make one at home. Those are the best anyway. My own words.  I sometimes sign it, “From your favorite pest.” I thought this year, I’d buy a card and make a blog post for him. Perhaps more public than he’d like but I wonder how other people feel in front of the card rack.

I know he liked to be out on our row boat back in the day, but I can hardly bring myself to buy him the card with a schooner. Maritime theme might be a little much. The baseball cards are also a mismatch as I’m sure I’ve never seen him watch a sports game unlike Mom and Ciocia who are taken with football as much as they are Tom Brady’s good looks. (Note to self: Make mom an NFL card for Mother’s Day.) The trophy cards remind me of dust collectors and middle school. So those don’t work.

Why can’t Hallmark make a PBS card? Say, David Attenborough observing a bird through binoculars with some clever British-ism written underneath. Or a picture of Mr. Humphries dancing in his Greek Costume in Are you Being Served? Or the Lady Dowager Grantham saying something whip smart about fatherhood. I know he’d get a kick out of that.

In the card aisle of Walgreens, the woman next to me said to no one in particular:
“There are too many. I just want the one for me.”

I wanted to reply, ‘Oh my god. I know what you mean.’

Instead I stepped away from the layers of cards and took out the little notebook I carry in my purse. I wrote down what she said as if I had just remembered something else for my grocery list.

I wondered what the security cameras were capturing: Me lingering among the cards for too long dressed like I just cleaned a garage, snapping photos and scribbling in my notebook. I don’t know what the radio code word is for crazy but I pictured the security guard saying, “We’ve got a 594. Let’s keep a watch on the nut job in aisle 3.”

As I made my choice, another couple came to hover. They were with a young boy in a wheelchair. He was severely disabled. They were helping him pick out a card. As the woman chose a card, the man said, “He said he wanted serious.”

“Really? Serious? Okay.”

And then a few quiet minutes later she said,
“…not all of them are appropriate, but there are a couple of good ones to choose from.”

Sympatico.

I was about to tell them…hey I have this blog post idea that’s running through my head about how Father’s Day cards don’t resemble my father or probably anyone’s father for that matter. These are just poor caricatures or cheezy sentiments. Most of these cards don’t capture his personality or the kind of relationship we have or the fact that my Dad’s paralyzed and none of these cards even make sense with that perspective and some seem down-right offensive. We buy the cards anyway, because it’s the thought that counts.  I would just like to make my Dad laugh and tell him how awesome and brave he is and that he is my rock and my beacon. I was going to say it in all one big breath.

But I held that all back.

I had the realization that all of us standing there were trying to honor our fathers in the best way we knew how. Each of us with complex feelings just under the surface, as we silently pulled cards out and stuffed them back into the rack, looking for just the right one.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

The Workings of an Over-Soaked Brain

I kept thinking of this video today as I was drool-napping on my couch.

Today my brain is at maximum saturation, like the sponge in my sink that needs to be squeezed out before it can soak up anything else. What a week: Busy season at work, read during Lit Fest and took my Memoir Boot Camp Intensive.) I’d like to put my figurative self through an old fashioned dryer roller but since I can’t really do that, I’ll just keep napping on and off and hope some brain cells spring back anew.

(Several naps were taken in preparing this first paragraph, for example.)

Today was the last day of my fantastic Memoir Intensive where we critiqued the first few pages of our opening chapter and created a draft of our book jacket blurbs. I have reworked this opening chapter 9 official times over the last two years, not to mention the crumpled pages that led up to the draft being official. And still, work to do.

Hear the sound of my head thud like the over-soaked sponge in my sink.

It feels so rich and nuggety when I get to work with a new craft element (theme, structure, Horizontal Plots, Vertical Plots.) Things excitedly take shape until I hit my first wall. The information gets tangly! Story lines get too dense in one place, too sparse in another. What do I keep in? What do I take out? Sometimes my brain gets soggy from all the information I’m processing.  More decisions. More work. More shaping.

Not in a blind perfectionist kind of way, but in a let me deliver this better.

So much rides on the first chapter, the first page. Clarity is needed but under the softness of subtlety and intrigue. You can’t front load too much or the whole piece flips with it.

On break, I said to a fellow classmate: It’s like the ice skaters! They make it look so easy and when they turn they are using every exercised muscle in their body. You watch them and you think, I can do that until you try to balance your body weight on a blade without your ankles shaking.

What I forget is that the skaters spend hours a day practicing and not just for a couple of weeks, more like a lifetime. We might see a rare face plant on TV but mostly it looks effortless. Why? Because they practiced the face plant so much that they’ve learned how to master an artful execution. And so back to the draft until I’m ready for the final surrender.

I’ve loved to write since I was a kid, and have only in the last few years taken it up in a serious way. I have had my share of face plants. I have also avoided total wipe out on the page by the lucky bend of the knee. Words fall together in such a way that the idea survives even if on precarious legs. Inside I clasp my hands in joy when a fellow writer sees what I’m trying to get across. Success. And yet, the revision always seems to loom.

Do you hear my sigh and dragging knuckles?

I’m just a little tired. But no steps are wasted when you’re moving forward.

 

P.S. Thanks for all the well wishes from so many of you regarding my Lit Fest Participant reading on Friday. It was heart pounding awesome! It was only 5 minutes, but it was a special goal for me to reach.  I think it was podcast. So I’ll share the link when it goes up. Awesome writers. Inspiring stories. Supportive audience. Cupcakes and wine. Pinch me.

Blueprint: a short musing

Who am I?

This is easy to answer on the surface. I’m a woman. I’m a first generation Polish American. I was raised Catholic. I have liberal points of view. I’m a romantic dreamer with a contradictory streak for being practical. At your baby shower, while others bought you the cute tiny pair of shoes that will be worn for one week, I probably gave you a basket of onesies in different sizes and a handful of books. For your wedding, I probably gave you kitchenware. I save the precious gifts for birthdays, for all other occasions something useful but thought out carefully- most of the time anyway. I’m sure I get that from my mother, a subconscious blueprint that got traced onto me.

We all could, on the quick, rattle off some defining things about ourselves but if we dig deeper we see from where or from whom these things were transferred. The older I get the more conscious I am of how I have been shaped. Growing up bi-cultural and bilingual surely fueled my desire to travel abroad. And probably had something to do with feeling at home and unafraid when I left for Eritrea, Africa at age 22. We either absorb our influences or repel against them. I enjoy leisure time more than my mom because I grew up seeing her work too hard – an observation that also creates an imprint, just in reverse.

I’m currently taking a Memoir Intensive workshop and am deep in thought with this question as I work on the structure of my book. Hence the short post this week- so much work to do, not enough time!

As a writer, whether I like it or not, I have to create myself as a character so that I can accurately answer- Who am I? Perhaps this is the shortest question with the longest answer in the world. For everyone.

Every character is dynamic- there are no absolute villains, no total angels, even God is complex. To write about yourself means to not only show your best side, but the shadowy dark self too. It also means you have to ask yourself…who was I before and who have I become? To know that, you’ve got to look at your blueprint, the big ole map of your life. Some of it’s written in invisible ink.

I’m looking at my floor plan and I keep pulling up planks.
I’m finding the most interesting things.

Love Truisms and Contradictions

 

I get confused about what kind of dating advice to follow. It seems like everyone has a strong opinion about how to find love or as it may be, how love finds you.

I’m single and lately I’ve been wondering if love is guaranteed for everyone.  If so, does it come by way of devoted method (Match, Speed Dating, Singles outings)? By chance, regardless of method? Or is it like my mother says przeznaczenie – destined, marked.

Am I cynic or romantic if I say: chance?

In January when I told my hairdresser that making a rotisserie chicken was on my list of goals for the year, she paused and said, “I knew there was a reason you were single.”

“Because I haven’t roasted a chicken?” I laughed so hard I gave myself a temple headache.

“Yes! Girl, you gotta come over my house. I’ll show you how to do it. Shit. No wonder.”

“You think I’m single because I’ve never roasted a chicken?”

“Yes!! You gotta give a man something to bite into. He needs a drumstick. I’m telling you. You gotta Google that shit. It was on Oprah. It’s called Engagement Chicken or something like that. Seriously. Google, Oprah Engagement Chicken and you’ll find it. Man needs to bite into something.” She gnashed her teeth and mimicked eating a chicken leg.

If only it were that easy:  Rotisserie Chicken as enchanter.

Is this the secret?

I’m sure there are thousands who have been wooed through the stomach, but kitchen magic is not my strong suit. I can cook, just not in a love spell kind of way. Although let the record state, I have cooked with lavender.

People mean to be encouraging. But I find that when someone speaks with certainty on a method, (if one believes love is found through a method) it’s because it worked for them.  Therefore it is the way love happens. Not everyone takes this stance. So we’ll just call them “some people.”

Other people have learned from bad experiences and come crawling back from the field with warnings and tales to tell. They give me glimpses that sometimes love is not unlike a medieval world in simplicity and torture. We can also call these people “some people.”

Then there are: single people, serial daters, high school sweethearts, thrice remarried folks, long haulers, players, second chancers, life partners, one time yes’ers, serial monogamists, soul mates, companions, special arrangement people, sell-outs, the Montagues and the Capulets , the happily married, chance encounter miracle receivers, this-is-what-you-do-now-people, I fell out of love with you shruggers, weekend fling types, meant to be types, there’s a reason you’re single caution blinkers,  heartbreakers, the  heartbrokens, misery marriages, love at first sight prophets, slow cookers, radio holding John Cusacks, The Live to Tells, My parents (married 46 years), and those on the catch and release program. That’s more points of view than a fly has eyes.

sometimes you have to be Lloyd Dobler fearless

Maybe if I compounded all these opinions and insights I could have a 365 degree view on love. Maybe by considering all angles, I can come to know this elusive beast. [Insert Unicorn joke here.] But that’s the thing, to understand its many facets doesn’t mean I can find a way to get it. I can’t will it. That’s too much logic for something that appears at random, in my opinion. Love and marriage can turn out so many different ways. My mother once equated it to Roulette.  I didn’t ask her if she meant Russian.

 

Best to avoid the Don Draper types. That furrowed brow means trouble.

My favorite truisms that are contradictions.

 

1)  You’ll find someone when you’re not looking

2)  You need to put yourself out there

Which is it?

1)  There are Plenty of Fish in the Sea

2)  It’s hard to meet a good guy

 

1)  Guys can be shy, make the first move

2)  Guys like the chase, let him make the first move

 

1)  Do the things you love and you will find him

2)  Take a plumbing or mechanics class

Also known as:

1)  Be Yourself

2)  Try something different

3)  Live in England

 

1)      Show your interest

2)      Feign disinterest

 

1)   Be Open

2)   Protect Yourself

 

1)      Don’t settle

2)      Nobody’s perfect

 

1)      I knew he was the one. I just knew.

2)       It took me a while to know. It takes time to know someone.

 

1) You have to have a spark.

2) Sometimes the spark comes later.

Also known as: Don’t kid yourself, either way.

 

I have mulled these truisms over. My truism is this: It’s a mystery what brings two people together.  I think it comes down to luck.

Kurt and Goldie? Cute! Please tell me they're still together.

Maybe you’ve had this experience too? This advice. These contradictions. So many possibilities! No one certainty? There have been days, when I’m bummed that I’m single, longing for a soul mate who may or may not exist.  Self-love is hard won in the face of rejection and don’t I know it.  On the flip side, I have felt excited and grateful for the freedoms of being single– traveling the world, experiencing variety and having a chance to grow and live out my dreams where the only compromise or hindrance of reaching a goal is negotiating with myself. Self-love comes into play here too. Seems like that’s one kind of love you can make appear. The other one’s a mystery.

The Sound of the Doorbell

I used to live in a secure access apartment building in a nice downtown location during my first 4 years in Denver. The only stranger who ever came to my door was the occasional buzzed-in person knocking on the wrong look-a-alike door or a mom and her daughter (tenants from the building) who were selling cookies. I want to add that the Mom had some healthy force behind her knock. My friend Laura calls it the Cop knock. Anyway, The Cop knock made me spring off my sofa in a tangle of blankets annually.  The first time I looked through the peep hole, I expected to see some thug coming to collect his debts at the wrong door. Instead, I saw a sweet blonde girl in her green Girl Scout vest asking if I’d like to buy some cookies.  Sure kid, as soon as I unglue myself from the ceiling.

I never heard a doorbell at that apartment. When someone buzzed at the front door, my phone rang. I forgot they existed.

Now I live in on a street dotted with charming bungalows and I’m noticing something different. People ring door bells. The old apartment still had me deprogrammed, so I’m startled every time.

1.) Because I thought that door-to-door solicitation ended not long after my parents bought the Encyclopedia Britannica from a guy in a suit.

2.) I have an old timey doorbell that sounds like a mouse hits the chime with a hammer in a quick one-two stroke and then runs away.  It’s a sound I enjoy but don’t hear often. When I’m expecting friends, the door is just open.

This probably isn’t a big revelation for anyone who lives in a neighborhood where kids are selling things. But the last two people at my door were adults.  One was selling oranges out of his truck the other was a roofer in the neighborhood giving out his business flyer.

I answered the door suspiciously, especially with the orange guy. With no truck (that I could see), no business cards, two oranges in his hand and a paring knife in a makeshift cardboard sleeve, I knew whatever he was about to tell me, I was not going to reach for my purse. He tried to sell me a box of fruit for $45, then $35, and finally did an about face at $25 and crossed the street to the next house. I love fruit, but how many oranges can a single girl eat?

Besides, I couldn’t quite tell if he was a legit business man.  I really like the idea of buying direct from someone’s farm.  Love the idea. Only I didn’t see any proof that this was real. He was also rather abrupt with me.  All I kept thinking is that this guy is talking too fast, I have the screen door open and he has small knife in his hand. I didn’t feel threatened in the slightest but it occurred to me that the older I get the more suspicious I am of people’s intentions.

I am glad for my common sense, but I realized how things have changed since I was a kid.

I used to be one of those door-to-door kids in my old neighborhood in Lowell.  First I sold Donna Deanne chocolate bars (Plain, Almond or Crispy) $1 each. I toted them around in a cardboard carrying case to help raise money for my school. Sometimes I would just throw the money right into the box or slip the dollar bills into an envelope. Quarters would jingle.  I feel like an alien when I say, kids handled cash! People trusted them! Kids went door to door alone!

I remember my brothers and me eating a whole box. We had to tell my mom she owed the school $12, or was it $24? She wasn’t very happy with us. We just loved those Crispy ones.  I walked to every house in my neighborhood trying to sell my candy bars. I even went to weird apartment buildings, all in the name of trying to win a prize.  If I remember correctly:  Sell $50,000 worth and get a t-shirt. Sell $1,000,000 and win a Boom Box (cassette recorder included).  I exaggerate of course, but when you’re a kid, those goals seemed that huge. Over the eight years I sold things in school, I mapped out the best houses. Remembered which people didn’t answer their doors. Who had broken doorbells and who were repeat supporters.

God Bless Mr. Ouellette and Mr. Flynn, neighbors on either side of our house, who were my biggest customers no matter if I was selling chocolate, stamps, wrapping paper, magazines or overpriced cookie tins, they bought whatever I was selling.  I could count on them in part of my tally. I never sold enough to get the Boom Box but it didn’t stop me from dreaming of making a big sale.

So, it turns out the orange guy is legit. I asked my neighbor, and she has seen his truck. That made me feel good, although I thought his prices were steep and he could work on his customer service delivery. Still, he’s just trying to make a sale. I wonder if he’s mapping out the best houses. If he remembers one house from the next. If he’ll try again.

Funny what memories get called up with the sound of a doorbell.

Top 10 Valuable Translations from Mom

Mom drinking a glass of wine like she means it.

When I was born, I weighed in at 10lbs 11 oz. For those of you spatially challenged that’s two 5-pound bags of sugar with a small grapefruit head. (Thanks for the push out Mom!) I guess if I asked her when the challenge of motherhood began, she could probably say right from the beginning. I wanted to come up with a Top 10 list to honor my Mom and let her know that even though I poke fun at her, I really do heed her advice.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Top 10 Valuable Translations from Mom

 

1. Ironing Clothes/Dressing up

Translation: Care about how you present yourself to the world

2. Buying multiple loaves of bread for the freezer

Translation: Be prepared for company or World War III. Either way, it’s good.

3. Czyś ty zwariowałas? Have you gone crazy?

Translation:I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Your idea is definitely doomed.

4. Buying multiple shampoo bottles, soap and toilet paper

Translation: You never have to experience running out of anything if you think ahead.

5. Shopping at thrift stores, hand-me-downs

Translation: Spend your money on the right things and send your daughter to college without loans

6. Running into the basement and dancing like a crazy person when my brothers band practiced The Beatles, “Twist and Shout”

Translation: You’re never too old to dance (especially in your own basement.)

7. “No money, no funny.”

Translation: No money, no funny.

8. The urge to cover things in plastic.

Translation: Take care of your things.

9. Owning vacuum cleaners of every shape and size.

Translation: Life gets messy in hard to reach areas. Have ways to clean it up.

10. Fighting with me over what’s a good or bad decision.

Translation: I love you.

Four Things I Learned from a Woodpecker

Northern Flicker Woodpecker in my front yard (just on the edge of the shadow line)

Last month, at 6am every morning, I heard a woodpecker drumming into a telephone pole behind my house. Despite the early hour, I found it a pleasant way to wake up. It only lasted a few seconds so it didn’t get annoying. It was better than using my battery-powered beeping alarm. I felt like the bird was telling me, ‘Hey get up! I’m out here doing my work already.’

At first it was just pecking for bugs in the wood, but then I heard it making a rattling tin sound. Lying in bed, I would think, ‘oh little birdie. You’re hitting a metal plate, you little pea brain. Try a different spot.’

I talk to the birds. Sort of. Mostly I’m trying to listen. If a bird jets down in front of me and holds itself there in a too long way with its glossy black eyes staring straight at me, I think, what message are you bringing?

I wanted to identify the kind of woodpecker it was, so I did some research online. Turns out it’s a Northern Flicker Woodpecker. And it sometimes bangs on metal to communicate and mark its territory. So much for thinking the bird didn’t know what it was doing. Who’s the pea brain?

Nature Lesson #1 Sometimes you have to make some noise.

This is a great reminder as I learn how to market myself as a writer. Nobody is going to find me if I just quietly scribble in a notebook. Nobody will know to knock on my door. I have to bang on some metal.

Just a week or so ago, the woodpecker took up residence in a rotted out tree hole in front of my house. Every morning when I lift the shade, she’s there. Her sleek brown head pops out of the 3-inch hole revealing paint brush red markings on her neck. I sit at my kitchen table and watch her while I eat my breakfast. I wonder if she can see me. I’m kind of fascinated by her because I know I’m watching a process happen. It’s spring and I’m sure she’s sitting on some eggs. When I walk by the tree on the way to my car, she retracts her head back inside.

For a few mornings, I watched her spitting out beak-fulls of wood pulp. She was burrowing deeper into the tree to make her nest bigger. ‘Exhausting work, little birdie.’ I thought as I sipped my tea. Sometimes efforts feel like that: just a tiny beak-full of wood pulp against the gigantic tree of life.

Still, I could see she was making progress.

For one, she was an opportunist. When the trees got trimmed recently after a storm, some of the rotted branches left a cavernous hole. It would be a fixer-upper nest, but she moved in and got right to work.

Nature lesson #2 Don’t reinvent the wheel, when you have one.
Nature lesson #3 Don’t underestimate little efforts.

I have so many ways I can apply these two lessons in all areas of my life. In terms of writing, I have resources everywhere. It’s my job to scout them out. There are trail blazers who have gone before me who can share important information. I don’t have to drill my beak into solid wood, at least in some areas anyway. I know that birdie has carved out a perfect nest for herself and she did it one spit full of wood pulp at a time. Perseverance: A wise word my writing teacher imparted during class.

The other morning I saw a squirrel just above her nest on a tree branch. It seemed relatively disinterested in its spastic little run up and down the branch. But I worried, would the squirrel try to eat her or the eggs? Should I intervene and making noises if I saw it go too close? I could see the bird sensing and reacting to the squirrel’s presence. The bird popped out her head from the hole and twisted her neck all the way up to look up at the branch above her. She stayed that way for a while in a stare down with the squirrel. She looked like a lady perched in a window of a New York tenement looking up to a neighbor on a fire escape. It actually made me laugh.

Nature lesson #4  Protect your efforts.

I noticed the Northern Flicker Woodpecker doesn’t leave her nest for too long. I see her fly out for food or rendezvous with another Flicker briefly. I suppose there will be other times for her to cruise around the social circuit more when things are at a less precious and crucial time. But for now she goes back to that nest to sit with her eggs.

They’re incubating and she’s waiting for them to hatch.

Mom, Advice Columnist?

I have an idea. Well, my friend Deb’s idea really. Last week she called me and said, “You should have your mother do an advice column on your blog.” I laughed.

“I’m serious. It would be so funny because she’d start off all her answers with ‘What are you crazy?”

We laughed even harder.

Hmmm…maybe my readers would send in their dilemmas. Who couldn’t use a wise Polish woman’s sensibilities to help with those hard to navigate conundrums? Especially when it’s not your own mother and there would be no inherent conflict, i.e.: I told you so.

On second thought….

Actually, what my Mom will do is say nothing- which is the worst kind of I told you so. It’s like ’ I told you so’ to the max! To the 10th power. It’s so deep an ‘I told you so.’ Her silence reverberates like a gong. She says nothing and it’s all I need to know. It’s good to have this. So I know when I’ve royally veered off track.

Not only is my Mom fortified with post-war Poland sensibilities, but with her love for Dr. Oz, Oprah, 48 Hour Mystery, and Pass Book Savings Accounts, she’s bound to hand out some wisdom nuggets.

And you may even act on them.

Find me on Facebook and message me. I promise to keep your question confidential. Perhaps from time to time I could feature one in my post.

I could call her column:

Pani Matusiak’s Wszystko w Porządku — Mrs. Matusiak’s Everything in Order
Or
Ask Jannett’s Mom
….because let her worry about someone else

I joke. But not really. My mom has doled out good advice. Seriously. The most level headed woman I know. Conservative? Yes. Low on drama and tears? Yes. Ability to plow through heartache? High.

Did I really need an elaborately carved wooden Indonesian headboard (slightly damaged) for $500 at Pier One Imports when I first moved to Denver?

I walked out of the store reluctantly and called my mom in the parking lot. I wanted to tell her about the unbelievable deal I just found marked down from $1,200. (She can’t resist a good deal), but my deep subconscious knew why I was calling her.

If you ever want to kill an impulse, call my home number. Ask for Halina. You’ll end up driving home and investing 2% more into your 401K plan. Trust me your bank account will thank you.

Later I decided I didn’t even like the headboard design that much. It would have been an expensive mistake. I’m so glad I didn’t buy it.

I take care of most things that I buy. So that sucker would have stayed in my life forever.

Here’s the thing though, I would have bought it if I loved it to death. I would have bought it if I weren’t newly settling into a place. While my fantasy impulse was saying ‘BUY! BUY! BUY! This is so awesome.’ The voice of reason was saying, ‘Don’t do it, dummy!’

I’m glad the voice of reason is louder than my impulse voice; most of the time anyway.

This is an interesting thing I keep coming back to with my parents’ values. They are instilled in me and yet I somehow find myself resisting them. Do I really need x thing? If so, why? Or why not?

What I find myself so deeply resistant to are these phrases: ….save money for later…in the future…when you retire…someday…when you….if you…

I know you understand me when I say, haven’t we all seen it all go wrong?

The vacation never taken, the retirement never enjoyed, the suffering that comes too soon and in spades to ones we never expected.

The end, it just comes too quick; the future, unpredictable.

I don’t advocate for reckless behavior, because it’s good to strive for balance day to day. But what is that balance?

Some years ago, I said to my Mom, “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow!” My go-to response.
She responded, “Don’t say that.”

I planned and went on a trip to Paris on my own.

My choices have to make some kind of sense. I want to enjoy the way I move through the world. Even if at times it is confusing to know what is right for right now and what will be right for me in the future.

But I think it comes down to this one single question: with anything I do and with anyone I engage with—

Does this enrich my life?

What does my Mom think of this philosophy when she has bank rolled me in the past?

Mom and Ciocia Play Matchmaker

This was the number card I was given at brunch yesterday while I was waiting for a table.

 

I was talking to my Mom on the phone a few months back when Ciocia asks to talk to me. The conversation played out like this:

“Czy słyszałeś od kogoś?” Did you hear from anyone? Ciocia asks.

This is not an unusual question. I am the one in the family who keeps in touch with my cousins in Poland via internet, often retelling bits of family news that is passed on through email, Facebook or Skype.

“Nope.” I say.

I can’t quite tell if the silence on the phone is from Ciocia not hearing me (she’s hard of hearing) or whether she got distracted and is watching something on Home Shopping Club.

“No email?” she says.

“Why, are you expecting to hear from someone?” I ask

I could hear my mother in the background. Her voice drops into alpha Polish octaves and mutters things like, “Oh. Uhh. Uhh. You just had to, didn’t you! Uhh. You had to. I told you not to say anything. I told you. Now you’ve done it. You didn’t have to tell her.”
I picture her motoring around the kitchen in a state of contained fuming.

Co? Co!” -What? What! hisses back Ciocia.

Now they’re bickering.

Watching my mom and my aunt fight is like watching two alley cats claiming the same ground. When one of them walks out of the room, the other will start up the argument an hour later, even though an icy silence has created a crevasse between them.

One last claw swipe into the air, just to let the other know they have not been defeated.

I’ve never seen better fighters with so few words and no profanity. They make can make a common word a searing insult. As I’m listening to them bicker, the alarms turn on in my head.

Red alert. Red alert.

“Cioooooocia, who did you give my email to?”

“No one.”

Bickering continues.

“Ciocia.”

“Nice boy from church.”

Do you hear the slap on my forehead?

She copied my email from the info card I left for my parents before I moved.

Daj mi. Daj mi.” Give me. Give me, says my mom as she grabs the phone from her.

“You gave my email to some guy at CHURCH?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with it? There are so many things wrong with this.”

“He comes to church every week. He dresses nice. Very polite. Nice guy. I can tell. Good person.”

Do you hear more forehead slapping?

“MOM!!”

My mother’s mouth moves away from the receiver. She is growling at Ciocia again telling her- I hope you’re happy now. My mom hoped for a surprise attack.

I ask my mom to start from the beginning so that I can strategize damage control.

My aunt ran into the ‘nice guy from church’ at Market Basket and said, “Hi. I no see you in church today.”

“I went yesterday.”

“Oh yeah” said Ciocia, “You single? I have niece for you.”

Leave it to Ciocia to get right to the point.

What the stunned nice guy from church was thinking when my Polish 85 year old aunt and mother walked up to him in a grocery store, is both fun and horrifying to speculate. Thankfully, he never wrote so we were both spared the awkward.

My Mom and Ciocia mean well. They really do. How can I be mad at Ciocia for saying “you single? I have niece for you.”

If she weren’t so damn funny, I’d be mad at them for real.

It makes me wonder about something I hear my mom say to me once in a while, “I know you, better than you know yourself.”

When I see my friends watching their young toddlers grow, I think to myself how that might be possible. They know their child’s temperament, strengths and weaknesses. Reactions can be anticipated. Challenges prophesized. I told you so, said or held back in an effort to allow their kids to learn lessons. Each of these things folds into itself in a careful geological layer.

My Mom and Ciocia have the advantage of watching me become myself. So could they in fact, actually choose someone right for me? I mean maybe a better question to ask is, could they do worse than me? Their ears prick up at the first sniff of something gone off. They wouldn’t stick around to ask questions and contemplate why.

Those are instincts I have learned the hard way.

I have never been pressured by them to get married nor have children, so for them to concoct a Mission Impossible plan makes me wonder.

What if they can they see something I can’t?

Out on a Limb

I tumble for ya.

I know what you’re thinking- those are some pretty hot looking bow ties, right? I know. There is a lot going on in this picture.  If the 1980s era was about excess than my three tier bow tie shirt exemplifies the times. I’ve never seen another shirt like this in my life. Would the generation of today believe me if I told them, this was cutting edge fashion? More importantly, washboard abs and 12-inch waist line, where did you go?

I post this picture of myself in restitution to my mom. She was disgruntled a few posts back that I published a Skype photo of her with “włosy nie czesane”- hair uncombed. I told her I was sorry and that I would post an embarrassing photo of myself just to be a good sport.

I’m only all too sorry that my other favorite photo of me standing in front of a Billy Idol poster in a safari ensemble is safely tucked away in a box in my parents’ basement. It was another hands on hips shot. The stance I usually take when I mean business.

It’s hard to know what to comment on first.

Despite the white flats, acid wash jeans, Madonna belt, spiral perm and pink frosted lipstick, let the record state that I had a boyfriend. Long term. And no, he was not imaginary like Jan Brady’s boyfriend, George Glass.

A few years ago I was “putting myself out there” on match.com and decided to post this photo in the gallery of photos to showcase my best self. I hated the artifice of perfectly poised photos and thought a royally goof-ball photo balanced out the nice headshots and the potentially snobby sounding things that I enjoyed: English Breakfast Tea, reading, traveling, writing, theatre and art. Surely my prince charming would see this photo and die laughing, but I don’t think anyone picked up on my sense of humor or the idea that I try not to take myself too seriously. Was that not the right approach? Who cares! Life’s too short to pretend I didn’t wear three bow ties on a blouse. I know somebody is out there laughing with me, maybe even in a pair of parachute pants.

My current self is still a part of my 80s self and I’m not ashamed to say we are the same person. While I don’t have the acid wash jeans or the frosted lipstick anymore, my hands are still on my hips.

Whether it’s meeting a new guy, sending out my essays to literary magazines (3 rejections this month) or sliding down a double black diamond like a human luge, that proverbial limb is something I want to keep crawling out on.

It’s scary as shit, but I know its got the greatest views.