Grocery Fun

Grocery shopping is not my favorite chore of the week. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite chores. I can’t really say why other than the tediousness of navigating the crowds (since I have to shop on the weekend), the need to plan out a week’s worth of meals in advance, and the cost.

But in truth, I have a tendency to purchase similar items each week, relying on habit and luck to get me through. The only list I bring with me is the running list that lives on my refrigerator—the list where we write down the things that we need to purchase as we run out of that particular item. Between that list, the weekly “regular” items, and the items I pick up to create something edible for week night dinners, I am able to get through my grocery trip without wasting much time on planning.

Last weekend, W and I went to the grocery store on the way home from several other errands we had to do. It was dinnertime on Saturday, and I figured together, we could quickly conquer this weekly chore. We entered the store, acquired a cart, and we were off.

But the grocery list from the refrigerator was on a long, narrow sheet of paper, and it was only half filled. So I ripped off the bottom half (which was blank), and handed it to W. “Here,” I joked with him. “You get the items on this half of the list, and I’ll get the items on my half.”

He stared at the torn paper in his hand. Then, as I went off toward the produce, he veered the cart in the other direction. I slowed my pace, looked back, and he was looking around with a feigned look of slight puzzlement on his face.

Well, I don’t have time to fool around, I thought, and I continued on my normal grocery trajectory. I knew he wouldn’t be far behind. I picked up broccoli, tangerines, lettuce. Of course, I had no cart to put them in, so I was loading up my arms. I started to look at the green peppers, but I didn’t have two hands to manipulate the bag and check the peppers for firmness.

But then I spotted W, at the front end of the produce section. He was wandering around, still glancing at the ripped “list” in his hand as if there were something written there. We made eye contact, and I waved at him, motioning for him to come closer, and he did.

I dropped my produce into the cart. “I was needing a cart, and mine wandered away,” I commented.

“Well, I was trying to find the stuff on my list,” he turned his “list” to me, so I could see what he was in search of. On the piece of paper was a drawing of an array of fruit in the basket. “I thought it might be toward the other end of the store, but I couldn’t find it there, either.” He shrugged, the smirk on his face growing increasingly visible.

And how was I to respond to that? This crazy son of mine took a meaningless piece of paper and pretended to make meaning out of it. In the process, he took an ordinary shopping trip, and transformed it into something just a bit special.

A Random Cardinal

These days, there is always some random something lurking around every twist in the road that can flip the switch that allows grief to flood through me like a downpour.

Today, as I drove home from work, it was a cardinal that flew in front of my car as I navigated down the same street I drive every day. In fact, I was enjoying the routine of the drive. I was relishing the late afternoon light brought in by the weekend’s time change. I was enjoying the snow-less ground with its brown grass and scattered leaves left over from autumn, as it seemed it would be only hours before the landscape is once again buried under the heavy weight of winter’s last hurrah. (It’s almost spring, I have to remind myself. It won’t last long.)

But then it appeared—the cardinal. The vivid red bird flew across my path, dipping slightly as it crossed the road and disappeared into a row of bushes. My breath caught as I was simultaneously reminded that spring is near and that Dad is not. He would have noticed that bird before I did. “Look, at that cardinal!” he’d say, pointing. Sometimes it would be an oriole, or a bluebird, or a redwing blackbird. He always had a keen, birds-eye view that spotted them first.

It was that bird that brought the tears today—a random cardinal on a sunny Monday at the end of winter. While spring may bring the promise of new life and increased light, the newness will be intertwined with a million more random somethings just waiting to slip in and spark the grief anew.

{Image credit: FreeImages.com / Mike Munchel}

The Cactus

img_2681

Tonight at dinner, my daughter went running up to her room and came back to the table with something in her hand. “Here,” she said, thrusting it into my hand. “Do you like my cactus?”

Over the past year or so, she has developed a love of succulents. I’m not exactly sure when this happened or why, but slowly, the plants began to disappear from the windowsill in the kitchen and reappear on the windowsill in her room. I noticed that some smaller pots were materializing, and shoots had been taken from the plants of mine that hadn’t yet made the trek up the stairs. [I am really hoping she doesn’t decide she needs some of my Christmas cactus in the next few days because it has just started to poke out some teeny tiny bud-lings….]

I examined the ceramic cactus in my hand. It was “growing” in a pot that almost looked like a wicker basket. The plant had understated spikes that gave the green ball a distinct cactus look. And the cactus bloomed with two dusty pink flowers.

“It’s beautiful!” I told her when I had finished my inspection.

“I made it,” she told me.

“No you didn’t,” I responded, only partially convinced by her words.

“Yes I did. It came out of the kiln yesterday.” And then she turned it upside down, so I could see the bottom. “My initials,” she pointed out.

Indeed, the bottom indicated that the piece was handmade. And it was beautiful! She just started taking a pottery class at school, this year. I can’t wait to see what else she brings home!

Holding back

Frame on eye chart

We were at the eye doctor this morning. As my daughter was reading the eye chart, she missed the final letter. In fact, it wasn’t a letter at all, but a number, which she wasn’t expecting.

It brought me back to the very first time one of my children mis-read the eye chart. It was my son, and he was almost three. At that age, he was reading the pictorial eye chart. I love that chart, by the way.

Here was my tiny little boy—still a toddler—sitting in the doctor’s chair, expected to read an eye chart, something he had never seen before. When he missed the first image, I wanted to jump in and say, “You know what that is. Look closely.” I had to hold my tongue. And hold it again when he missed another, and another.

As parents, we develop a need to teach our children when they mess up and jump in when they need our help. But there are times when we need to step back and hold our tongue. In this situation, I had to work hard, pressing my lips tightly together to prevent myself from speaking up. This was something he had to do on his own. Clearly, I did not know how his eyes were or were not working.

Since that day so many years ago, there have been many mis-readings of the eye chart. And each time, I am reminded of the things my children need to do on their own, the times when I should not jump in to help.

While holding back goes against every thread of my motherhood, each time, it gets just a little easier.

[Image credit: FreeImages.com/Brybs]

Journey

DSC_0914

Recently, I have been feeling as though my life is spent attending to the needs of everyone around me—children, adults, felines, etc. I have lost touch with myself—the very things that make me who I am—and sometimes, I feel as though I am in danger of bursting into a million tiny pieces and floating off in every direction. I imagine my children’s initial shock at the explosion, like a ‘poof’ of something disappearing in a magic show, and then the scramble to gather the pieces. But it will be too late. I will be gone. As this image fills my head, I catch myself wondering whether ‘spontaneous explosion’ is a thing that can happen to humans.

Last evening, in my need to get out of the house for a few minutes of peace, I went on a journey. Okay… I lie. I took out the trash. But for me in my condo association, “taking out the trash” means a quarter mile walk to the dumpster. It’s usually a nice evening stroll, though if the trash is particularly heavy, it can be tedious. Last night, the trash was light.

My daughter had just come in from a walk and said she had seen a turtle laying its eggs by the side of the pond. As I approached the pond, I wondered if I would see the turtle. Because of the summer heat, the pond is covered in a thin, green film of algae, swirled by the breezes that sometimes play across the water’s surface. The pond is so evenly covered that it is reminiscent of the first skin of ice that appears each year when the cold sets in. The algae though, it makes the pond seem neglected, dirty.

Further down the path, I enter a thick grove of trees—the darkest spot on the journey to my destination. I am a week too late for fireflies, I think, though it isn’t quite dark enough outside to tell for sure. Last week and the week before, the fireflies danced under these trees.

On the walk back toward home, birds are flitting near a toppled and rotting tree stump left behind by a severe storm several years back. The smells of forest remind me that there is a drought, and in my mind, I am transported to the year I lived in northern California. There, the scent was similar—dry and dusty—but was tinged with eucalyptus and Manzanita. As I pass the pond once again, a bullfrog sings his mournful song.

The walk was not long, but the noise of the day has been replaced by the soft sound of my sneakers on the pavement and the night noises of nature. The last streaks of light are fading from the sky as I duck under tree branches hanging low above the walkway. I breathe deeply of the air that is beginning to cool down, and my mind is clear. The clarity may only last a moment, but I am ready to go back to work.

I open the door to my house and step inside, feeling just a little less likely to spontaneously explode.

Knots

IMG_2287

One morning last spring, W was practicing his knots (because Scouts do that kind of thing when they’re bored…). He was using a long length of climbing rope, and somehow, he thought that tying one end to the couch and the other to himself was a good idea. Hold that thought….

J and I were in the kitchen having a conversation about the day. We were preparing to do some community service, and we were reminiscing about previous experiences at this same site in years past. I had started my breakfast, but as usual, I had twenty-five different projects I was also tending, including the laundry in the basement.

W kept calling to me, wanting me to know just how far (or not) he was able to stray from the couch. He was, quite literally, on a relatively short leash.

I popped a bagel in the toaster, cracked two eggs in a pan, and took a quick trip upstairs to gather laundry. When I returned, the bagel popped up, and I removed it from the toaster. However, because the bagel was frozen when I put it in, one particular part just didn’t seem to be done, so I pushed it back down. I didn’t plan to leave it for the entire toasting cycle. I flipped the eggs and went down to drop the sheets in the laundry room. I started the washing machine, poured in the detergent, and added the sheets.

When I got to the top of the stairs, W made sure I saw his knots as I walked through the living room. “Nice!” I complimented as I gave him the thumbs up.

The acrid smell of burning toast hit my nose just as the smoke detector screamed a piercing bleep. Darn! My first thought came through the screaming of the smoke detector. A good bagel, ruined!

But then from the other room, interspersed with the beeps, I heard a small, pathetic, voice. “Help? Help me!”

And then a splay of laughter erupted from the child who had tied himself to the couch. Clearly, he had approached this knot-tying activity with a false sense of security. Because after all, what if…?

I looked at J and tipped my head, indicating our escape through the door. She smiled in conspiracy. We took off running out the front door (safety first, you know) where we stood on the front walkway laughing so hard we were doubled over. The bleeping of the smoke detector stopped as abruptly as it had begun. We were deeply amused with ourselves and the situation.

Back in the house, W remained in the living room, expertly tied to the leg of the couch. He, too, was laughing. Of all the times that the smoke detector could have gone off, it happened when he was unable to leave his spot in the living room.

Of course, if it had been a real emergency, I would have grabbed the scissors and cut him free from the couch before I ran out the door. He would have been mad, initially, that I had ruined his rope, but he would have been grateful that I had saved his life.

Burnt toast, however, does not constitute a real emergency, but a valuable lesson was learned that day. The thought of tying oneself to the couch to practice knots… maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Good Fence/Bad Fence

As poet Robert Frost writes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In New England, there is much evidence of good fences in the miles of rock walls that amble over hills and through meadows in their forgotten quest to separate the farms of yesteryear. As I look at these walls, I can see the neighbors, each on his or her side of the wall, walking the line together piling stone on stone after each hard winter.

I, however, would like to argue that good neighbors exist regardless of the state of the fences that separate them.

As the resident of a townhouse, walls are generally all that separate me from my neighbors. Thankfully, my neighbors and I get along. At least I like to think we do….

Take my neighbor with whom I have an adjoining deck. For a long while, we had a lack-of-privacy fence between us. Granted, it was supposed to be a privacy fence, but it failed miserably at that job. In fact, the fence actually rotted and began to fall apart. For two-plus years, there was a large hole—at adult eye level—which allowed us to chat without looking around the fence by leaning on the railing. If I stepped out my door, I would often hear, “Howdy, Neighbor!” and a lengthy conversation would ensue through the hole in the fence.

The new privacy fence, rebuilt earlier this season, has just enough space between the slats to allow for partial view from one deck to the other. There certainly is no true “privacy.” As we often say, it’s good we like each other!

On the other side of our house, our former neighbors had two little girls. While our decks were not joined, we did have a more effective privacy fence separating us. But that didn’t stop the girls. If they heard us on our deck eating dinner, they would lean over the railing and engage us in entertaining conversation. It usually started something like this:

“Are you eating dinner?” one would ask. And when we replied with the affirmative, the conversation would continue. “What are you eating? Are you almost done? I have sand in my shoes from the sandbox. Wanna see it?” On a crazier night, one might announce from just behind the fence, “I’m naked. Is that embarrassing you?”

Perhaps it’s true that good fences make good neighbors. But bad fences make better neighbors. Honestly, who needs fences anyway? I suppose I might need a good fence if I had bad neighbors.

IMG_2258

[Image is a photo of our privacy fence, stealthily snapped out my back door so my neighbors wouldn’t think I was creepily stalking them. Clearly, “privacy” is not the strong point of this fence.]