Sunscreen

The morning was sunny as I helped my daughter apply sunscreen for a trip to the beach. I was responsible for covering her back, and I worked to slather the lotion on her skin around her bathing suit straps. I was careful to apply a liberal coat in hopes that all of her back would be protected.

When I was done, I launched into a disclaimer about the fact that while I tried the best I could, there was no guarantee that I had actually covered every bit of her exposed skin. If she were to burn in strange blotches, I apologized. But as this disclaimer was tumbling out, a brilliant idea momentarily slid into my brain. “They should make a sunscreen that’s color changing. That way, you’ll know if you are completely covered. For example, it could go on blue and then change to clear after a minute or so….”

“That’s disgusting, Mom!” my daughter argued, not even giving my idea half a chance. Color-changing technology works for other things like bathroom cleaner, baby bath thermometers, ceiling paint…. (Although, color-changing technology didn’t work for the large swatch of unpainted ceiling in my kitchen, but that is a story for another day). “What if you were putting it on at the beach?” she questioned. “That’s just wrong.”

Actually, I think color-changing technology could be a brilliant solution to this age-old problem. Though I have to admit, it might be somewhat off-putting to be an innocent bystander and watch people smearing themselves with bright blue lotion at the beach.

Lessons from the Tollbooth

Every experience, good or bad, can be considered an adventure. And every adventure, positive or negative, has its lessons. Let me set the scene….

It is 6:00 in the morning. It is still dark, and there is an unmistakable crispness in the air, despite the calendar’s July date. My daughter and I are traveling an unfamiliar highway in a Midwestern state to get to the airport for an early flight home from a nearly week-long adventure.

I have my electronic toll pass in the car with me, and even though it is from our home state, in theory, it should work here. The toll experience on the way in was spotty, but we made it through. Our home state removed the gates on their tollbooths many years ago in favor of speed and efficiency. Such is not the case here in this Midwestern state.

At the first tollbooth, we pull up to the gate, but the booth does not pick up the signal from our transponder. I wave it around in the car. Nothing. I push the “help” button on the tollbooth, and a male voice wishes me a good morning. I explain my situation. He asks me to read my transponder number. Um… it’s fairly dark in the car and I don’t have my reading glasses, but I don’t tell him this. I pass the transponder to my daughter. She reads the number, and I repeat it to the voice in the void. Once he confirms that I do, in fact, have an account, the gate rises, and I drive through.

After an hour or more on the road, the second tollbooth comes into view. We pull up, fully expecting (well… hoping for) our toll pass to work. Of course, it doesn’t. I roll down the window and lean way out, holding it under the barcode scanner that I discovered at the last tollbooth. The bright red laser line crosses the code. I watch the gate, but it doesn’t move from its persistent placement directly in front of the car. I push the “help” button and wait for a friendly voice. Nothing. In my rear view mirror, I see a semi truck approaching, but I figure he will go into a different toll lane. He doesn’t. In seconds, the massive rig is directly behind my car. We are trapped, and my daughter is trying desperately to hold herself together as she begins to panic in the seat beside me.

I step out of the car into the chilly dawn air, transponder in hand. I frantically wave it in front of the scanner while simultaneously pushing the “help” button. This tollbooth is completely unresponsive—nothing functional here, it seems. I breathe deeply, forcing air into and out of my lungs. I turn to the truck driver behind me. I muster my most helpless and apologetic expression and I shrug, still holding my transponder in my hand.

He pauses for two seconds. Then motions for me to get back in my car, and he begins to slowly back up so I can switch to a lane with a real, live attendant. But not only does he back up, he angles his truck in such a way as to block any traffic that might be approaching. Oh, bless you! I think to myself. I roll down my window as I move over several lanes, and I wave my thanks.

“How many more tollbooths do we have to go through?” my daughter asks quietly.

I sigh, reluctant to tell her. “I think only one,” I say, keeping my tone low and tender.

It’s finally light out when the third—and final—tollbooth comes onto the horizon. The tension I feel from the passenger seat is pulling on my heart. I take a deep breath. “It will be fine,” I say by way of calming us both down. And it is. We sail right through. What? How is that possible? I glance in my rearview mirror, looking for answers that are not there. I take a deep breath and finally relax.

We survived and have had substantial time to decompress, and I am happy to share the lessons I gleaned from my not-so-good-morning at the tollbooth:

Don’t believe everything you hear or read on the Internet. We heard our toll transponder would work, but I checked the website to confirm. Even so, our transponder didn’t work exactly as we’d hoped.

Trust that people will work with you and rely on the kindness of strangers. For the most part, if people see you are in a tough situation, they generally offer their assistance. That could come as a helping hand, but it could also come as a truck driver backing up and blocking oncoming traffic so you can do what you need to do.

Always have an escape plan, or just a plan, in general Even if you don’t need it, it is good to have a plan in the back of your head. Just think, for a moment, about what you will do if you get stuck. What is it they say…? Anticipate the worst but hope for the best.

Be a calming force for those around you. Now in reality, I had no idea how we were going to get out of our predicament. But experience tells me that these things have a way of working themselves out. And after only a brief panic, they did work out. After all, when was the last time you heard of someone being permanently stuck in a tollbooth?

{Image: FreeImages.com / Travis Cripps}

Fridge Lock

It is interesting how conversations progress in my house, and how quickly things change.

A week ago, my son came home from college and in all honestly, he might not have eaten the entire time he was there. On one of his first days home, he was eating a container of apricot yogurt. I didn’t know he liked apricot yogurt, and there were other flavors in the fridge I thought he did like. So I mentioned to him that I had purchased the apricot for his brother.

At first, he stared at me as though I had somehow insulted him. Deeply. And then he marched to the fridge, threw open the doors, and said, “Tell me which food in here is mine, Mom. What has my name on it?” He made a sweeping motion with his hand, indicating the contents of the fridge. “Can you tell me? Because I see none.” He turned and looked directly at me, taunting me, daring me to answer him. I stared back. Then I smiled and shrugged, but I did not answer.

Fast forward to today. I purchased bagels earlier in the week at his urging, but today he complained, “There are no bagels left. I only ate one of them, and the rest disappeared.” He was disappointed. Somehow, he had forgotten that food tends to disappear in a house with three hungry teenagers. And my house doesn’t have the seemingly endless supply of food that he enjoyed in his college dining hall.

“We should put a lock on the fridge,” he proposed, apparently backing off on his open-refrigerator policy of just a few short days ago.

“And that would mean that only I would have access to the food,” I countered, suddenly recognizing what a great idea this might be to have complete control of the food.

“No… I would have access, too,” he told me. “I know about fridges. I majored in culinary in high school.”

I laughed. “Interesting thought, but that might cause more problems.” I imagined one of his siblings trying unsuccessfully to get into the fridge—even for a glass of water, and I shuddered.

Yes, the conversations change quickly around here. This afternoon, as I left the grocery store with a full cart, I said to my boyfriend, “There. Now I won’t have to come back for at least two days!” It seems it might be a long summer of frequent food shopping. Maybe a lock is not such a bad idea.

Image credit: FreeImages.com / Griszka Niewiadomski

A spring walk

This evening, my daughter and I went out for a glorious walk. First of all, it is actually (and finally) spring. The days have been so gray recently that a nice day was more than welcome. The temperature was warm, and the trees have begun to bloom. Buds, leaves, flowers, the works. So many people comment on the amazing fall foliage in New England, but I believe the colors of spring rival those of a beautiful fall day.

But it was dark, and our walk didn’t involve seeing the spring trees blooming in bright green, deep red, and the flowers were not visible. It was dark, but on Friday night in spring in a college town, there is much life.

Our first interesting encounter involved a little brown rabbit sitting on the lawn not far from the sidewalk. It was still and waiting, seemingly staring down a female student who was also still and waiting. She looked our way, and I smiled at her, but she did not acknowledge us. She was in deep telepathy with the animal.

We continued our walk. As we approached the chapel, we could hear choral music flowing out through the open door. The stained glass glowed from the light inside the building. “Let’s go check it out!” I said, and I picked up my pace. My daughter held back, thinking I was going to go inside to listen. I only wanted to see if the front door was open and listen for a bit. It was, and we did.

We continued to wander, but nearly wandered into a party. So we turned around and went back in the other direction. We talked about life and college and finding a campus where there is a lot going on rather than one where students go home every weekend. And then we wandered by a second building that was hosting a concert, this one instrumental.

From every building we walked past, we could hear conversation or music or laughter. We passed two men taking a picture of a building that was nearly all glass and fully lit. We wandered into the neighborhoods where there was a family party with men laughing around a fire pit and children playing with light sabers.

It’s spring. Things are coming to life, and it was wonderful to be out walking with one of my favorite people. So far this spring, I filled more than all of my free time with a demanding graduate course, which is winding down. The final presentation is done. After this weekend, I will have only to revise the project and write a paper. I can see the end.

And I can see a bit more free time to enjoy the nice weather with my favorite people. And to blog. I can’t wait to get back to my blog!

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

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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!