Pool Side!

I remember watching my boys swim at a local pool a few summers ago.

David, then 10, is wearing his big honkin’ green goggles that cover his entire face, well, at least his eyes and his nose. His mouth is still exposed. He reminds me of a huge green bug. Kevin, then 5, still won’t put his face all the way under the water. “Blow bubbles!” I say. He won’t. He whimpers a bit, then shoots other people with his water gun. Kids squeal. Adults express mixed reactions. Some smile and splash back. Others look annoyed. Some glare. Kevin does not have his water gun etiquette down yet. I make a note to work on that with him.

The coconuty smell of sunscreen wafts through the humid North Carolina air. Heads bob up and down in the clear water. The sun scorches my shoulders. I mentally calculate the last time I sprayed my boys down with SPF 50. It is time again, probably. Sweat beads on my forehead and drops down on the pages of my David Baldacci novel. I think of how refreshing it will be to jump into the water.

The lifeguards gaze lazily over their sunglasses, every now and then glancing down at the phones in their laps. Texting, playing Candy Crush (yes, I know Candy Crush is sooooo 5 years ago . . .)

A dad with his two girls, probably ages 3 and 4, sit to my left underneath their own umbrella. He coerces them to eat strawberries or how about a banana?

“No, you can’t have a cookie until you eat your fruit. Don’t make me call your mom.”

He takes a swig of his beer, stands up, hands on his waist.

“But daddy! Stwaberries make me feew sick!” One wails. He takes another drink. Sighs.

Stay consistent, I think. You can do it. I send him mental energy. Words are unnecessary. You are the adult. Don’t be manipulated by their adorableness.

I smirk to myself as if I am always consistent with my own kids. As if I didn’t just give in earlier today when they begged me for leftover pizza and Sunkist for breakfast. Then donuts on the way to pool. As if I don’t say things like, “Fine! Eat the cookie! Eat all the cookies! Make yourself sick! I don’t care!”

“Whatever, eat the cookies. Just don’t tell your mom you didn’t eat your fruit.” The dad sighs. The girls jump up and do some kind of happy sister cookie dance. Then the next thing I know their faces are smeared with chocolate. Dad tells them to go jump into the water to clean their faces and he settles down in his pool chair with a magazine.

At this point David is playing sharks and minnows in the deep end — basically a game of tag — and Kevin is still shooting people with his water gun, turning around quickly as if the victim will have absolutely no idea what happened.

I stand up, stretch, and walk on the hot pavement to the deep end to watch the game. Two boys, probably around David’s age, are playing. They may have been brothers or friends, or neither, or both. The boys climb out of the water, dripping, panting, amongst a dozen other kids.

Boy 1: “Oh Man! We’re screwed!”

Boy 2: “Dude, I think you can come up with a more appropriate description of our situation. How about, ‘we’re currently disadvantaged?’”

My English teacher heart grins so big, and I quickly skip back to my pool bag. I pull out my little notebook and jot down the dialogue I just heard that simply locks this pool experience into the books.

“Hey! No running ma’am!” the lifeguard shouts from across the pool, Candy Crush on pause.

I give him the thumbs up sign.

IMG_3247

Because, snacks.

Even though my boys are 13 and 8, most of the time I go grocery shopping without them, because, well, it’s just less stressful that way. However, if they do have to go with me, I make sure to fill them up with snacks before we go into the store, which usually means rummaging under the seats of the car to see if there are any old granola bars or maybe some peanuts or dried bananas leftover from trail mix. If they don’t have something to eat before grocery shopping, we become the owners of aisle five.

When they were younger, something mysterious would happen as soon as they walked through the threshold of the automatic doors. In those short steps, they would become whiny, irrational, obnoxious little beings.

Sometimes random items would appear in my cart. Organic blueberry pop tarts? (Where did these come from? We get the regular kind.) Reese cups? (Once these entered the cart, I couldn’t put them back on the shelf because of my own addiction.) Depends? (Who needs these? No one, yet.) My boys made it a game to put random items in the cart just to annoy me. They thought they were funny. How embarrassing to have to say, “Oh we didn’t need this, nor this, how the hell did this get in here? I’m so sorry…” to the cashier as the items floated through the conveyer belt.

If we went to a store where there were, god forbid, samples, my kids would tear off in opposite directions and fill up on turkey, cheese, cookies, or whatever was available, acting as though they hadn’t eaten in days.

I found myself saying the following over and over on any given grocery store trip:

“Stop touching the cereal boxes.”

“Get out from under the coffee display!”

“OMG! Get OUT of the freezer!”

“Stop dancing!”

“Watch where you’re going!”

“No, you cannot open the string cheese right now.”

“Act like you have some sense!”

Anyway, today they are old enough to behave themselves in the grocery store.

Or so I thought.

Until yesterday.

You see, I had gotten most of the groceries for the week the previous evening without my boys, but as usual, I had forgotten the bread, the eggs, the Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the Cheetos, all the staples. So, after I picked up the boys from school, I said, “We’re gonna run in Food Lion real quick. Or you can stay in the car if you want.”

No, they both wanted to go into the store with me. “We’re gonna be quick,” I said at least nine times. As we walked through the produce aisle, I tossed some oranges into the cart. As I turned my back to examine an avocado, I saw David sauntering off, texting as he walked and Kevin wandering the other way.

“Ya’ll stay close! I am not gonna spend time trying to find you when it’s time to leave!”

I peered into the cart and noticed some peculiar items. Cheese puffs. White powdery donut holes. An entire coffee cake. None of which was on my mental list or that I put in the cart. How mysterious.

I took the foreign items out of my cart and placed them on a shelf, not where they go. (Sorry, Food Lion staff).

“Wait!” Kevin exclaimed, suddenly appearing from…somewhere. “Those are my groceries! They are my snacks for school!”

“No, they aren’t. I already got snacks for school yesterday.”

“But I want these snacks! I need them, Mommy!”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Side note: I’m getting really sick of Kevin asking why not? When I tell him “no” on something. We have talked about this over and over and over. It’s normal kid behavior, but that doesn’t matter. It grates on my nerves. I gave the answer that slips from my mouth and hear my mother’s voice, “because I said so.”

David, at this point, reappeared from a few aisles down and chimed in, “Because mommy says so, Kevin.”

With no warning whatsoever, Kevin exclaimed, “STOP IT DAVID!” and he flung himself on the floor, right in between the pickles and the salad dressing. He sprawled himself across the entire aisle, blocking anyone who may have been trying to get through.

“Get up, Kevin,” I said.

He didn’t move.

“Get up now.”

“I can’t. I’m so mad.”

“Get up now, Kevin, or you’re not playing on your Kindle the rest of the day.”

He didn’t move.

At this point, I was simply not sure what to do. People were starting to watch us, and my face felt hot. I could drag him up, but that may have caused a bigger scene. I breathed, like I had learned in yoga class. Then I thought, fine. He’s old enough not to throw tantrums in Food Lion and I would never worry that any one would kidnap him. They would quickly return him once they realized what they were getting into.

Shoppers walked by, some suspiciously, some sympathetically. I prepared myself for any “parenting” advice that sometimes came in grocery stores. I always loved that.

Kevin lay straight out in the middle of the aisle, and I did the only thing I knew to do. I walked away, down the aisle, through the dressings and ketchup and mustard. David looked at me, puzzled.

“Aren’t we gonna get Kevin?”

“He’s fine.”

We strolled through the aisles, suddenly realizing we needed more items than we initially thought. Funny how that happens.

A few aisles later, Kevin, scowling, arms crossed, shuffled up behind us.

“Hi Kevin!” David said cheerily, to annoy.

Kevin glared at David.

We maneuvered down the aisles, picked up the eggs, the Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

“I’m sorry,” Kevin mumbled to me.

“What are you sorry for?”

“For my attitude. But I really wanted a snack for school.”

“I forgive you.”

“Then do we have to talk about it?” he sighed.

“No.”

We picked up some yogurt, dropped it into the cart.

“OK, both of you go grab one snack each for your lunches this week.” Yes, they already had snacks for their lunches, but some kind of unusual compassion in me let these words spill out before I could catch them.

“Oh yes!” Kevin exclaimed, jumped up, and dashed down the chip aisle, David close behind him.

Kevin grabbed Cheetos and David, cool Ranch Doritos.

“Okay, we’re done. We gotta get out of here!” I was so incredibly done.

“One more snack mommy?” Kevin asked.

 

 

Completely Puzzled

A few weeks ago, my bestie from high school, Caren, flew up from Orlando to spend the week with me. I have only seen her maybe four times since we graduated from high school nearly 16 years ago, so as you can imagine, we wanted to fill our time with plenty of meaningful, friendship building activities. After she arrived at the airport, we grabbed a bite to eat and then headed to the store to pick up groceries for the week. We decided, as we were throwing salad, quinoa, and other organic items, (I mean ice cream and four types of cookies) into the cart, that we needed some type of bonding activity. A puzzle was just the answer. We spent around 45 minutes in the puzzle aisle examining every single one while the ice cream in our cart melted. Right before we walked out of the store puzzleless because I didn’t want to tackle an under the sea scene and she didn’t care to work on a Star Wars one, the answer, once again, became very, very clear: A 750-piece with a pink and purple sky, with mountains, a river, and trees in their autumn peak, all surrounding a white castle flashed right before our eyes.

Our eyes met and we knew.

This was the one.

That evening, amidst laughter and heartfelt conversations, we started construction on the border. She took the sky, and I took the foreground, which were those blasted, confusing swirls of autumn trees.

Caren’s job allows her to work from her computer, so she stayed home with our puzzle while I went to work the next day. Around 2 pm, a nagging feeling appeared in my mind. I sent her a text:

Me: 2:14 You better not be working on the puzzle

Caren: 2:16 I’m not

Me: 2:17 Yes you are

Caren: 2:18 Only 2 pieces

Me: 2:18 Stop!

Caren: 2:19 OK, no more. I will wait for you

An hour later…

Me: 3:15 Stop working on the puzzle!

Caren: 3:17 Only two more pieces

Me: 3:20 Ugh! I’m leaving work. Be there soon. Leave the puzzle alone.

We worked on our puzzle on and off through afternoons and evenings. Occasionally, my boys would help, but they typically lost interest within a few minutes. As the days crept by, we realized something was off. We had yet to connect the sides with the border, and we just kept thinking we had not found the right piece OR that there were missing pieces. The bottom border was almost a wavy line. I had put the bottom together, and while I just had this nagging feeling about it, I truly felt that maybe Walmart had sold us a defective puzzle.

“I think this piece fits here, but I just need some scissors to trim the edge here, and then it will fit,” I said, halfway kidding. Caren exploded with laughter, and we continued to work on our project.

One night after a very exciting SCC basketball game (Go Flyers!), we plopped down at the kitchen table to work on our puzzle. Caren peered at the bottom border pieces and burst into hysterical laughter, like to the point where I thought something may be wrong with her.

“Are you kidding me? These don’t fit! This one doesn’t fit! This one doesn’t fit! Renee! You have been forcing pieces together that don’t fit!” she exclaimed.  I was a bit embarrassed, but mostly relieved to know the problem, even if it was yours truly.   Laughing, she pulled apart the border. She connected some, reconnected others, the wavy border straightened, and the mystery was solved. Shew. No more blaming Walmart.

Caren left for home before the puzzle was finished. While I was left to complete it, I just wasn’t motivated. A bunch of trees were left, and they literally looked as if autumn had thrown up. The oranges, reds and yellows all swirled together near the bottom of the puzzle. One Friday night, though, I decided I wanted to finish the puzzle, glue it together, and frame it.  I spent an hour or so connecting piece by piece together until it was finished. Every piece fit. I snapped a picture of the masterpiece and texted it to Caren.

The next morning, I woke up, and with coffee in hand, I admired my work. Suddenly, I noticed something very peculiar. There was a piece missing from the sky. Just one. Gone.

puzzle-4

I figured one of my boys had snagged it to be funny. I asked each of them, “Have you seen this piece?”

“Nope.” David said, “Maybe you should ask Kevin.”

puzzle-2

“Kevin, have you seen this piece?”

puzzle

“No! I promise! David probably knows!”

With each passing hour, my technique changed:

“I really want to frame this picture and hang it up. Could you please give me back the missing piece?”

“Look, I don’t care who took it or why. Just put it back. Have it back by the morning at 6 am. I don’t even need to know who stole it.”

“No one is leaving the house until the piece is back.”

“We aren’t eating again until the piece is back.”

“Stealing puzzle pieces from your mom’s puzzle and lying are sins.”

“I NEED MY PIECE BACK NOW! GIVE IT BACK!”

No admissions. None.

I even questioned Bailey, my two-year-old Rottweiler, and she claimed that she had no idea where the piece had gone.

puzzle-3

Days later, the piece is still gone. No one will admit to it, and if it doesn’t appear by Friday, I’m just going to glue the puzzle and frame it without the 2 X 2 inch chunk of sky. I’m done questioning the suspects. I don’t know what else to do.

As of now, I’m still completely puzzled.

 

 

 

Feet

One April afternoon, we sat on a park bench under an oak tree with squirrels dancing through the branches, and she said, “Look at your feet.”

Curious, I peered down at my chipped, purple toenails peeking out from black strappy sandals.

“Where are they?” she asked. I stared at them, wondering where she was going with this. “Because you are not where they are.” My initial reaction was to recoil, but I was already there, had already done that.

Yesterdays and tomorrows swirled around like clothes flopping around in the dryer. I closed my eyes, tried to restart. Opened them.

Two young boys, probably seven or so, are throwing a Frisbee across the grass, a golden retriever running back and forth between them.

Moms, laughing, sharing inside jokes, are pushing their toddlers in the swings.

The squirrels are now playing hide and seek in another tree, darting through the branches.

The fresh smell of pine and hydrangea. The freshness of right this moment.

While it was fleeting, it restored me just for a few moments, until the dryer of memories started back again. Swirling, Tossing, Throwing, and the squirrels and moms and Frisbee throwing boys, even the Golden Retriever started to fade.

Years have passed since that day, and I still think about my feet and practice. Like today, I pause, look down at my toes (now red).

Oh hey. Where you are, feet? Am I where you are?

 

She crept out during the hymn,

not the first one, or even the last one, but the middle one. Her keys jingled a bit in her hand, purse slung over her shoulder, her eyes on the floor. A few looked up—peered over their hymnals—curious. The couple that rubbed all over each other during the sermon glanced her way and kind of grinned. A man in a suit and tie guarding the exit tried to make eye contact, touched her shoulder, as if he thought they were equal or friends, but she knew he didn’t think that. Not at all. She pushed past him, dodged a few more glances, dropped her bulletin in the parking lot before sliding into her car.

And that was that. There wasn’t anything left after that. Not at all.

Lately I have been trying to keep my boys talking,

you know, to keep the conversations going. With Kevin, who is eight, it’s absolutely no problem, but the older one, the 13-year-old, well, his word count has decreased in the past year. Sometimes he will excitedly chat about wrestling or football, or a teacher who he thinks is funny, but all too often his answers are just a few words.

“My day was fine.”

“I learned about prepositions.”

“Yes, I ate the lunch you sent. Yes, the carrots too.”

Fair enough, but sometimes I just really want a conversation, so I ask the question, “Do either of you have anything you want to talk about?” Most of the time a topic is not given, but comments are.

“We need to get Chinese food.”

“Can we get Little Caesars tonight?”

“Did you get a video of me pinning that guy at my wrestling match?”

Sometimes conversations begin about 5-7 minutes after the boys are supposed to be in bed for the night. Ironically, this is the time frame when suddenly more meaningful topics emerge.

“Mom, do you know what I’ve been thinking about? God. Is he real or not?”

“Mom, you know. I have been wondering. How did I get here? Like, really?”

“Mom, there is a kid at school who is mean to me.”

Yes, of course there will also be the occasional urgent, “Mom, I forgot to tell you that you need to sign this permission slip before tomorrow. Yes, I know I have had it in my book bag for two weeks, but I just remembered. At least I remembered before tomorrow!”

“Mom, I forgot to tell you about the solar system project due tomorrow. I have everything I need except I need help painting Neptune. We didn’t have the shade of green I need for the rings. Can we run to Wal-mart real quick?

Sometimes though, mornings are when I like to talk. After all, we have a 15-minute drive to school and yesterday morning I asked a question, and here is what unfolded.

“Does anyone want to talk about anything while are driving to school?”

David: “NO.”

Kevin: “Oh! I do!”

David: “No, Kevin, I can’t handle it.”

Kevin: “But I need to tell you something!”

Me: “Go ahead, Kevin.”

David: “UGH!”

Kevin: “David, stop with your attitude!”

David: “Be quiet.”

Me: “What do you need to tell us, Kevin?”

David: (makes disapproving grunts, sighs, and other 13-year-old noises)

Kevin: “I really want to talk about why quesadillas are better than tacos.”

 

I mean, as you can see, what else is there to say? Best topic ever.

 

 

 

I felt her again today, right where she likes to be, attached to me like a barnacle.

She feeds off me, I’m pretty sure.
Sometimes she presses so hard that I gasp, and she may ease up a little, but only for a few seconds.
Sometimes I feel her in the back of my throat, my chest, my head.
Today, while I drove to work, there she was, clasped so tightly.
She stayed that way during class, although she backed off a little, but afterwards, she tightened her grasp and sat with me in my office.
I tried to ignore her, but she didn’t like that and squeezed fiercely.
Finally, when I could take no more, I looked at her, straight at her, and said, “What do you need from me? What do you want me to know?”
She said nothing. Just sat looking at me and I at her. Seconds into minutes. Tick Tick. Tick.
I felt the ache. We sat together.
Funny, after another minute, she loosened herself and slipped out the door.
I guess she just needed to be felt.