Black Fried Day

“Soooo, when do you have to head back home?”

“Mom, I live here.”

“Oh.”

Today is Black Fried Day, that special day of the year when I start wondering when they are all going back to where they came from: the land of bickering butt faces. 

Unfortunately that land is HERE, where they were created and this is the gathering season where they conglomerate and feast off each other’s worst traits and cackle with delight. I have no one else to blame but myself for them being butt faces. Because their dad has been hiding in the bathroom pretending to poop for the last two hours. 

It’s probably just my pre-pre-pre to the pre-diabetes kicking in. Yesterday I ate all the food and drank all the wine, so today I am fog-brained, without humor or personal space. The happy glow of yesterday has worn off,  when a loud and colorful fight over the youngest using the oldest’s coffee cup for his hot chocolate would have been funny.

The fight interrupted crucial recovery time in my office where I was waiting for the ibuprofen and coffee to give me some hope of being a nice person today. 

Stomping out to the living room, I threatened to take the youngest’s technology away for the rest of his life if he didn’t stop swearing and smack talking at his brother. But when I looked at the oldest, I paused. Stumped. There was nothing I could do to punish the oldest. He already lives in hell, otherwise known as a corner of our basement with no door, while he ‘gathers himself’. 

Still, I felt the need to get him where it hurts the most (because that is what we do here). 

“Actually that’s MY coffee cup. ALL of the cups in the cupboard are mine. Except the one that is your dad’s. You’re welcome for getting to use them.”

My daughter, who was sitting in the living room ALSO drinking from one of MY coffee cups, said with a self righteous smirk on her face “Really mom? You’re only fueling this.” 

This same girl asked us yesterday what Grant and I talked about when no kids were around. “Do you run out of things to say when we aren’t around? Do you just go silent?”

The always witty fifth born said we probably just sit next to each other in our tv chairs and show each other funnies on our phones and guffaw. (He didn’t actually say guffaw-that’s creative embellishment on my end.) 

I imagine it’s probably weird for the kids to think we have a life outside of them. How dull for us it must be in their eyes. 

Little do they know we have a very cool life that doesn’t include any of them.

The secret society of Grant and Heather.

Picture us this coming Sunday night, the half three who still live with us have gone to their separate corners for the night, the other three finally gone to their home away from home. Me sipping wine from the oldest’s coffee cup with wicked pleasure. 

We both sigh heavily. 

“I miss them so much when they aren’t all in the same room.” I say. 

We sigh again. 

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” we both say in unison, Grant with a raised eyebrow and me with a knowing smirk as we hunker down all comfy next to each other in our tv chairs and start peacefully scrolling on our phones, sharing funnies and guffawing.

Playing the Field for a Minute

I received an email from my husband today:

“Do we need to talk about anything?”

Below his words was a forwarded email from Apple: 

Dear Heather, 

There was a billing problem with the service you subscribed to: Clover Dating App. To continue enjoying this service, please update your credit card information. 

Regards, 

Apple

Grant has an Android phone and does not subscribe to any Apple apps, but he still gets the email notifications on all purchases which keeps all us iPhone users who share the same Apple account in check.

I went down the list of our iPhone/iPad/iPod/XBox users. 

I knew Duncan had only just recently separated his Apple account from ours so I sent him a picture of the message from Apple along with the text: 

“Hey there. Any chance you happened to subscribe to a dating service under my Apple account? I may or may not be in trouble with your dad. He thinks I’m playing the field.”

His response was three laughing face emojis and a “WOW.”

I wasn’t sure if that was a guilty response or that he was saying WOW because he thought I was guilty. It’s hard to tell people’s tone with texts.

His follow up was “I would not get an app like that” which I mostly believed. 

Dillin has been self sufficient for years when it comes to all things techy, so I sent a group text to Dan and David:

“Did one of you two fancy young gents download a Clover Dating app? Your dad is concerned I’m trying to find someone new to replace him so fess up and get me out of trouble.”

David: “I did not.” (This overly simplified response COULD imply guilt. Or it could be he was in class and not supposed to be looking at his phone.)

Daniel: “No” with another damn laughing face emoji followed by “I should though.” (Another possible guilty response: the reverse psychology approach. He is taking Psych 101 this semester and getting way too smart for his own good.)

This just left Mitchel and Maria to ask. But Mitchel was in the middle of two days of basketball tryouts so I didn’t want to stress him out over the idea that I might soon be dating someone new instead of his dad so I left him out of the texting inquisition.

I CALLED Maria because I can always tell by her voice when she is lying. She just laughed and said someone probably hacked our account and that I should just change the password. That seemed EXTREMELY suspicious to me. Especially when she abruptly changed the discussion to the Disney Plus channel that everyone in the family seems to be super excited about. Except me. Quite frankly I have enough pressure keeping up with Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube channels I subscribe to. I need to take a vacation to get caught up on all my shows. Maria was worried that she was going to be bumped off because you can only have 7 different profiles per account. “Your dad and I share a profile on all the other streaming apps so why not Disney Plus? We share everything.”

But then an evil little voice whispered in my brain: “Or DO WE?” I DID take my wedding ring off in the TSA Security Line last week. That’s where it starts you know: one tiny step in the wrong direction. Maybe after that brief moment of not being married, my alter ego got caught up and subscribed to the service just to have some creative fodder to write about: all the men I COULD have if I WANTED to have them. And what’s with all the laughing emojis from the boys? Am I not date-able? Is that so far off the spectrum of reality? 

After I had my little mental temper tantrum I realized my thinking was very small picture focused. Besides the obvious fact that I don’t have TIME for a dating app (it’s hard enough choosing what series to watch in the evening before I go to bed), I have big picture ideas that mostly involve keeping Grant on my team. 

So I changed the password to our Apple account. 

Mitchel’s probably going to be super bummed about all those girls he will miss out on.  

Not Now I’m Cleaning the Kitchen

The other day I visited the daycare that four of our six kids went to after our home daycare friend closed up shop. I was called in to help the owner who is my long time friend replace some of the flooring in a couple of areas. It has been years since I have been there. When we had David our fifth child, I called UNCLE and found someone to come to our house to help. It was just silly the idea of hauling the older boys to grade school and three little ones to daycare every morning. It was not only exhausting, we were pretty much going broke. So for several years we added high school and college ladies to our tribe, some of whom now have grade school age children of their own. Our last life saver, had two babies during her time helping us and got to bring them with her to work, which was a win win. We only had one bad experience with our eclectic mix of support: we call her the ‘almost let the house burn down nanny’. But that’s a different story.

Walking in the doors of the daycare I was brought back instantly to how it felt to leave my kids every morning. I pretty much cried every single day but I’m not going to lie, some days they were tears of relief. Raising kids is HARD and my outside the house job back then was WAAAY easier. So I’m probably pretty lucky I had to work inside AND outside the home to help make things work.

The walk through started with the infant section and it was all I could do not to plunk down on the floor and get a baby boy fix.

But that would have been weird. And frowned upon since there are probably rules about who gets to hug and smooch on the babies in a public daycare.

There were six of them, all boys, yummy and soft with their bottles and their binkies. My friend started this infant division twenty years ago for me and another family who just kept popping out babies. Infant care is an expensive thing to provide as a daycare owner: Washington State Law says the ratio of caregivers to babies has to be 1 to 4. Which is why it’s so expensive for parents. The going rate per baby is now $1600. Yikes!

We toured the toddler rooms next. They had just finished up lunch and were getting ready for naptime. The eating area looked pretty much like a tsunami had hit but one little boy was still contentedly eating at the table all alone closing his eyes with each bite, savoring, until he got in trouble for being slow. The teacher gave him a choice in her detached teacher voice: he could take his plate to the sink or she would do it for him. He didn’t like either of those choices and pretty much pitched a shit fit. I don’t really blame him. Eating fast is bad for your digestion and he was clearly still enjoying his applesauce. The enabler in me wanted to sneak him a cookie to put in his pocket and eat under his napping blanket but I didn’t have any on me. Plus I suppose that too would have been frowned upon.

Next up was the pre-school section, ages 3 to 5. If you ever need an ego boost, go visit a herd of four year olds and you will leave feeling like like you are the coolest person on the planet. I’m pretty much famous now. Every single child came up and asked me what my name was and told me theirs, along with a fun fact about themselves. Things like “I just washed my hands.” “I hate applesauce.” “I have a fish.” One of them asked me if I was a police officer. I said “NO! Even cooler! I sell floors!” And they all oohed and aahed. Children are so perfect. I’m not sure I realized that when I was raising them. I was just so crazy busy surviving. I wanted to sit down on the floor and hug every single one of them and tell them how perfect they were and that their parents LOVED them.

But they too were getting ready for naptime. The younger ones had already gathered their mats and had hunkered down with their blankies, some conked out within seconds, which I found fascinating and wondered what was in the applesauce. But one little girl just didn’t want to comply and the teacher was talk-yelling in at her in this on the edge of hysteria voice to “GO TO SLEEP”. I wanted to ask her if she would instantly fall asleep if someone was talk-yelling at HER. But I reminded myself how desperate I was sometimes for my children to JUST GO TO SLEEP.

Still, I wanted to start a mutiny. Gather them all at the craft table and make glitter signs that said: “Say NO to NAPS!” or “We can sleep when we’re 50 and OLD.” or “Naps are for Pussies.” But I didn’t. Because that too would have been weird. And for SURE frowned upon.

But some things occurred to me during my visit.

First, I really miss little kids. So much.

Finally.

It took me awhile: fourteen years in fact. I simply had to get over the exhaustion. But now? I want to hang out with little kids again. I want to tell them they are perfect every day and hug them. I want to make giant messes in the kitchen with them and not care about the clean up. I want to not feel pissed off and robbed when they won’t take naps and just maybe lay down with them and tell them stories till I fall asleep. I’m different now, rested and more relaxed and a little less in a hurry to push through things like I did in my thirties, which I honestly don’t remember much of. It’s probably because I was running through life with my eyes closed and my breath held.

Mind you, I don’t have much guilt over how we raised our kids. My husband and I did our absolute best and all six of them turned out PERFECT in their own unique and awesome way, even if I didn’t TELL them they were every single day. BUT I hope that someday in the future, I get to make big messes in the kitchen with THEIR kids, because no matter what you hear from wise old women when you’re in the middle of raising your babies, a messy kitchen is gonna bug the shit out of you.

Until one day it just doesn’t. 

P.S. To my mostly grown up children who are still living at home: I do NOT mean that you don’t have to clean the kitchen when it’s your dish night. When you don’t it bugs the shit out if me. So make note. 🤣

Keeping My Eyes On Them: Football Momming

I have loved football since my super cool babysitter Jeanie, the oldest of five sisters, taught me how to hold and throw a football when I was ten. But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be the MOTHER of five football players, which is a little more emotionally complicated than watching the game on television. 

I am writing this post while I wait for Dave and Mitch to finish their work out at SNAP Fitness.

On a Sunday. 

The day after Dave’s team played their asses off but lost in a state playoff game on the west side of the state. 

We all knew the team was going to be hard to beat. They had us in numbers and size. But our boys’ season had already lasted longer than the competition told them it would and their hearts were big, filled with confidence and pride that was put there by highly skilled coaches who LOVED THEM. So we knew it was possible to win. We drove 346 miles each way to watch these boys play and I remember walking up the bleachers to where we always sit between the thirty and forty yard line to the left of our team, mid way up and having this tearful moment of hysteria. For the win of course but more so for every single boy’s physical safety.

Football is not a rational game. Eleven fierce men on each side beating the shit out of each other over a ball. So I feel like I am perfectly justified for crying with anxiety one minute and the next screaming with absolute RAGE over game changing bad calls made by the refs. My voice is still hoarse from screaming at yesterday’s game. Though I refuse to boo. Somewhere in my past I was taught that booing is uncivilized and I don’t want people to think I’m like the Ancient Booer from ‘The Princess Bride’. No. I don’t boo. I yell things at bad refs like “You should be ASHAMED of yourself.” My husband wishes I would just boo. 

Our oldest son Duncan, who is twenty five now, played on the DLine and was an explosive and dangerous player suiting up for varsity his sophomore year. His senior year he got his bell rung playing at Joe Albi Stadium. Grant hadn’t made it to the game yet and I didn’t see the hit because I had taken my eyes off him. I was chatting with my mother in-law and distracted by the younger kids, handing out crackers and juice boxes. Seeing Duncan being carried out by a couple of fellow players on each side of him, his legs kind of dangling, and wobbly, their arms under him in support aged my heart. 

I was wearing a walking boot at the time but I remember moving at the speed of light down the bleachers to the entrance of the field house where they were taking him. Two stadium guards tried to tell me I could not enter the area and I remember the words “MOVE OUT OF MY WAY” erupting from my mouth in a demonic growl that made them both step aside. 

It turns out you CAN run in a walking boot.

Duncan was so concussed that he couldn’t remember his dad’s name or count backwards from 10 and the ER doctor suggested that we do a cat scan just to make sure there wasn’t any bleeding on his brain, which they only do when it’s bad. 

All he kept saying was “I need to get back to the team. I need to play. They need me.”

It ended well: ‘just’ a good concussion.  He didn’t get to play football for a few games, which to him felt like the end of the world. But I remember how it felt to think MY world might be ending. 

Since then, we always sit between the thirty and forty yard line on the left side of the players away from most of our friends. I don’t like to talk to people when my boys are playing. Most of my friends understand: when I took my eyes off Duncan he got hurt. 

Dillin also played DLine. Toward the end of his senior year he wrote a paper about football, telling about how it felt to not be noticed by his coaches, about not being big enough, or fast enough. How he threw away his participation piece of paper at the football banquet because they spelled his name wrong. But then how he made a decision to hit the gym and work his ass off and MAKE himself known. The one thing I have come to know about Dillin is that when he makes a decision to do something, there is no getting in his way. He took ownership of himself and consequently had a very memorable senior year including an interception that changed the entire tone of the game, turning a losing first half into a winning second half. He made the news. And they knew his name, pronouncing it properly for all of Spokane to hear. My eyes were on him so I saw his smile from clear up in the stands.

Daniel moved around a lot: DB, safety and strong safety. Him playing those positions honestly scared the shit out of me. It became my ritual on gameday morning to look him in the eyes and tell him “Keep your body safe” and then “But win” and then “Just run really fast when you intercept the ball and don’t let them catch you” which he did numerous times on JV and then on Varsity his senior year. He was in the paper enough times to fill a shadow box I made him for Christmas. The boy played six years of tackle football without a single broken bone. This year at college, he broke his thumb in six places playing flag football with his fellow WSU football team equipment managers. I maybe should have been there. His words were “But we won 44-0 so…”

David broke the middle finger on his left hand, through the skin on his first game in the 8th grade, under a giant pile of boys (where I of course could not see him, so my super powers were diminished.) He got the most “gruesome injury” award by the brothers but was devastated to not get to play again until the last game of the year: something about growth plates and him needing his middle finger, which makes sense. He is known for using it a lot. This year, as a junior, he broke his left hand on the second day of practice. He was x-rayed, splinted and back to practice on the same day, to at least watch the plays, determined to not lose too much ground. Once the swelling went down, he was able to play like a beast man with a badass club cast, on both sides of the line for JV and some OLine for Varsity. The club cast helped me keep track of him: his angry fierceness shocking from the son I have known to be unwaveringly compassionate off the field.  He knows his senior year is just around the corner. Hence the gym on Sunday, mindset already in place that it’s up to him. I recognize the hell-bent look.

Grant made Mitchel play freshman football after choosing not to play in junior high and he was made better for having played, his confidence and physicality grown and his understanding of TEAM stronger. As primarily an OLineman he helped his team to a winning season of 9 and 1 but did get to experience his first sack on the DLine, so there might be some defense in his soul. His coaches were so good in terms of skill building and passion fueling that I think he will be back next year. The game held joy for him that he did not expect to find.

My fifteenth year as a football mother is complete and like the end of every season, my warriors are tired, beat up, thinner and slightly melancholy that it’s over. My eyes have been looking up a lot in thanks and gratitude. I do not take their health and safety for granted, on or off the field. But words can’t really describe this fiery, fierce heart rush I feel when I watch my boys play, each having their own personal and unique experiences on the field. The team is a microcosm of the real world, a practice field of sorts, where it’s not all fun, where things can be hard and not always fair, where sometimes you get the shit beat out of you. But when those winning moments come, they are powerful and life changing and made exponential as a team: fuel for the future to help them play their hearts out for a different team.

Uniform Love

Several months ago Mitchel would not let me kiss him goodbye when I dropped him off at school. He was super mad because he was wearing “bad” uniform pants and apparently it was my fault. Never in the history of time has one of my boys denied me a goodbye kiss. Ever.

There is this thing that all five of my boys do when we say goodnight or goodbye or I love you: they bow their heads down and I kiss the tops of their heads. Trying to remember when this started, I  asked my husband and he said he started it. Apparently I used to kiss the boys all over their faces with messy mommy love and he would kiss the top of their heads, to balance things out with cool dad love. Manly, easy to display in public, love. The realization that this ritual was not born of me threw me a little off kilter. I thought I was the boss of our family rituals. But I’m glad that I intuitively evolved (without realizing it until now) to an acceptable form of showing affection for my now giant man boys because I still get to put my face up close and inhale the essence of them. Their smells of sticky softness and dirt and squirming adventure have changed to Irish spring soap and hair product and occasional sweat along with courage, optimism and sometimes fearful anxiety that makes me want to pull them tight and once again place wet smooches all over them to create a mother shield that fends off all that is harmful. But I don’t. Because it would be weird. Plus I want them receive my love openly, without embarrassment or reservation. On their terms. These terms have been steady and consistent for a long enough time to feel like a code. An unwavering mother son code that has withstood the test of time and height and age. 

Until twelve year old Mitchel changed the terms, boldly declaring that there would be no love accepted from a mother who made him go to school wearing wide legged uniform pants that bagged weird in the butt

I suppose it was inevitable that he would be the one to mess up my universe. Being the sixth born and youngest of five sons, he continues to push every boundary as he tries to figure out how to stand out and blend in at the same time. His life is complicated enough without having to worry about what the kids at school are going to say about pants pulled from the “uniform bingy” that his oldest brother probably wore to the same private school nine plus years ago.

But for the record, the pants situation was not my fault. Nor was it his dad’s fault. It was 100% Mitchel’s fault. And some decent parenting went on the night prior to the bad pants day that would NOT have happened with the first born, though he turned about pretty good despite the lack of tough love that we should have thrown on him at a much younger age.

Let’s rewind two weeks prior to the day Mitchel shunned my love:

Mitchel: Mom, when do we have to wear pants instead of shorts for uniform?

Me: I’m pretty sure it’s the day after Halloween. Which is coming up so you should see if there are any pants in the uniform bingy that fit you.

Mitchel: I really think we should be able to wear shorts in the winter if we want.

Me: Well you can. But there are of course consequences. Which will affect your dad or me, since one of us will have to come pick you up from school for breaking the uniform code. Which means there will be more consequences. For you.

Mitchel: Hmmm. Okay.

One week later according to his dad, pretty much the same conversation took place.

Enter 7:30 pm on the night before he is supposed to go to school wearing PANTS instead of shorts.  

Mitchel: Mom! I don’t have any uniform pants.

Me: Did you look in the uniform bingy?

Mitchel: I don’t know which one that is.

Me: It’s the one that is marked “UNIFORM CLOTHES” in big black letters.

Mitchel: (groans)

Mitchel (10 minutes later): There aren’t any pants that fit me. David says he threw his away because the knees were ripped out. Except for the pair he burned in celebration of never having to wear a uniform to school again. There is only one pair in the bingy and they don’t fit me.

I put the pants burning vision on hold for another day, immediately recognizing the rookie move to try and put the blame for no pants on David and force me to the mall at zero hour. David and I will have a discussion later about pyromania and its long term effects on a solid future.

Me: Bring them here.

Mitchel brings the pants to me and I look at the tag. They are exactly his size.

Me: Try them on.

Mitchel groans and goes to his room to put them on. He comes back visibly upset and hunched over, dragging one leg, clearly in terrible pain, wearing a pair of pants that fit him perfectly. They are not too short or too tight or too loose but he says they look weird.

Me: Well it’s SEVEN THIRTY. I’m NOT going to take you to the store tonight. You will have to wear these for ONE day. The day after that is Friday and free dress. We will get you some pants this weekend.

Mitchel: Groans and stomps off to his room, slamming the door behind him. His limp is gone. Weird.

The next day, in front of the school, I sit in shock when Mr. Bad Pants does not bow his head for his goodbye kiss. He smiles uncomfortably at me as he gathers his things.

Mitchel: I’m going to have a terrible day because of you. I  do not want your love right now.

Me: Well. That’s a sure fire way to guarantee yourself a bad day. But whatever. I bet not one single person will notice your pants. They’re blue like everyone else’s pants and you’re a cool enough kid to pull it off and be a trendsetter if they DO notice. By the end of November everyone will be wearing wide legged pants. Then you’ll call these pants your lucky, life changing pants and probably be able to sell them for millions of dollars when you’re world famous. Who’s gonna be the best mom THEN? Huh? You’ll be begging for my kisses. And I may or may NOT be available to give them to you. I’m  completely on the fence there. So. Take THAT.

Mitchel: You clearly do not understand me or the people I have to deal with at this school. It’s a cruel world mom.

And he leaves me, his back stoic and straight, backpack draped casually over his shoulder, walking with exaggerated confidence. And my heart falls in to my stomach as I think “My God what have I done, letting the boy go to school with bad uniform pants? His life may indeed be ruined by this one key moment that could have been avoided by a 7:30 pm trip to the mall last night. You read about these moments in the NEWS. I am the worst mother in the universe.”

But this thinking passes quickly. I’m a mother of six. I know shit. What has happened here is very simple. The student momentarily scooped the master of guilt tripping. I laugh and whisper “Well played and bravo to you Mitchel Siwinski. You are soooo getting some new pants this weekend.”

And he did. Two pair. With hidden security pockets “to keep your stuff safe and 4-way stretch for game changing comfort”. But funny thing: he’s keeping the bad pants. He told me they may indeed be lucky because he had a really great day.

But I feel the need to make it known that since that day, I have not been denied a kiss by the man boy. So he could have been bluffing about the great day. It’s hard to say.

 

It’s Not about the Size of Your Pants but How you Play the Game

It’s our anniversary and so we start the day with breakfast and mimosas to toast 25 years together.

Grant: Did you notice our waitress has bitchy resting face?

Me: Her lipstick is really bright so I was mostly just looking at that. Are you getting a bad vibe? I’m just worried she’s not gonna ever bring us another mimosa. One doesn’t seem like enough to celebrate such a long time. It feels like a miracle. Though my parents were married 26 years before they divorced so we should be careful about celebrating too loudly.

Grant: You have to take off their separation time. So really, we have already beat your mom and dad.

Me: Yes! We’re winning. I would toast to that but I’m empty.

Grant: Crap. I forgot to take a stomach pill.

Me: Let’s for sure buy some stomach pills. Otherwise we won’t be able to have snacks, lunch, more snacks and then dinner. With drinks in between all of that. Good stomach health is important today.

The waitress brings us our check. She does indeed have bitchy resting face. But I overhear her talking about her three little boys to another customer. So we tip her well even though she was slow to bring us our second mimosa. Little boys can cause bitchy resting face.

We stop at Walgreens for stomach pills. I get completely paralyzed in the mascara section. My GOD: do I need long, thick, plump, or voluminous lashes? Very black, kind of black, ebony, brown-black, or brown lashes?  I buy mascara MAYBE once a year and always find myself so torn. I find Grant in the aisle where they sell things like orthopedic socks and bedside toilets and we make a few discoveries. For $18.99 you can buy a fork, spoon and knife with a red handle that apparently helps increase eating for people with dementia. We giggle at something to help relieve strain in the scrotal area. It helps with fatigue “down there”. It’s important to stay in tune with the latest medical aids. Especially Grant who is in his 50’s now. I myself am only 49, so it will be a few years before I need scrotal aid.

In addition to stomach pills and mascara, I find a wooden G & H to decorate. Maybe for our 26th anniversary celebration. Go big or go home on this day I say.

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Grant: Where to next wife?

Me: I could use some work pants. I don’t have a single pair of pants that I can button and I am tired of wearing moo-moos and cute boots. Cute boots are a lame attempt to try and mask the fact that I am wearing a moo-moo. Plus one of my boots has a hole in the heel and little rocks keep getting in there.  It’s rattly when I walk. Embarrassing.

Grant: So we should look for new cute boots?

Me: No. I can duct tape the hole. I need pants. Winta’s comin. It just seems so NON anniversaryish, buying pants.

We go to the mall with the intent of finding pants to fit my bigger than last year’s butt and a new Seahawks hat for Grant. While he stops at a sports store with hats in it I wander into the most expensive store in the mall just to touch a few things and try and get an idea of what today’s fashion is. A twelve year old sales girl swoops in on me and pretends to be my new best friend. “Whaty up to today?” I just don’t feel like explaining to her what I’m up to, mostly because I’m just not sure what I’m up to, so I put down the $200 pair of black pants I am looking at and mumble something about needing a snack before I find the perfect pants. The music was just too loud anyway.

I turn into the store next door for women who have “real butts and such” thinking maybe this will be my mecca land. But if feels fraudulent in there because all the pants are cleverly folded backwards to look like size two pants when they are really size twenty or more, like the pants should be ashamed for being a bigger size. I can not support hypocrisy.  Plus I’m mostly NOT a size twenty and I don’t want a repeat of six months ago when I went to the thrift store and bought a bunch of size twenty clothing, explaining to Grant that I was “planning ahead”. Hence the moo-moos. That I thought I could make cute with boots.

I walk out and see Grant sitting on a bench. No hat. So far shopping is a bust.

We walk further down the mall.

Me: Maybe I should buy a new bra. My favorite one is falling apart.

Grant: There’s Victoria’s Secret! We could go in there!

He is suddenly interested in shopping.

Me: No. I hate those people and always will. Ever since I wanted to buy a cute bra when I was gigantico prego with Daniel and asked if they had a 42 triple D and that awful brat sales girl just turned her nose up at me and said “we don’t carry sizes that big”. I wanted to DIE. And when I turned to leave the store, my big belly and boobs knocked over a stupid skinny mannequin.

Grant: She was just jealous of your giant boobs. But NO. Let’s not go there. They are bad, bad people at Victoria’s Secret.

He is saying these words but his body is steering us both toward the store. We laugh and I tug him in a different direction.

Me: Now THIS looks promising! I like some of these outfits!

Grant patiently sits back down on a bench and I walk into the nice, dignified quiet store and start looking through what I think are wonderful styles. FINALLY! I have about ten items in my arms to try on when I look up and around me and realize that the only people in the store are women in their 70s and 80s. I’m not kidding. There is NO ONE under the age of 70 in the store. Granted they were all very lovely and well dressed women but the moo-moos have been bad enough on my ego. Not only am I not a size 20 I am not even CLOSE to being eighty and so should MAYBE not dress this way. I put the clothes back on the rack, quietly exit the store and sit down on the bench next to Grant with a dramatic sigh.

Me: I don’t fit ANYWHERE. I don’t know who I AM anymore. I belong NOWHERE. God I hate shopping.

Grant: Then why in God’s name are we here? We should be drinking our second breakfast.

Me: Yes! Let’s get the hell out of here.

We walk through Kohl’s on our way to the car and I am practically knocked over in shock by the most perfect, cutest little dress I have ever seen and it is only $29.00! I grab a size large and hold it up for Grant.

Me: Look!!!! Finally a dress as cute as my nightgowns. OMG I’m so buying this! Can I buy this?

Grant: Sure. But that IS a nightgown. Though I bet it would look great with your cute rattly boots!

I look around and realize we are in the pajama department

Me: Well who the fuck would put the pajama section right at the entrance of store. Everyone knows it’s supposed to be in the BACK of the store!  I’m so pissed! I was in love with this dress until I found out it was a nighty. The world is a cruel place.

Grant: Yes it is. I have yet to find the perfect Seahawks hat so I feel your pain. Let’s go drown our sorrows.

Though I DO actually find some new pants before we leave the mall. I buy two different sizes of the same style: one sort of snug and one sort of loose. Because I just don’t know which direction I am gonna go right now in terms of butt size. And GOD only knows when I will go shopping again.

But then we go to Jack and Dan’s for a beer. We hunker up to the bar and I see this brick with the initials G H S engraved in it.

Me: OMG! It’s our initials! It’s a sign that we ARE winning! And that we are FINALLY in the right place!

And we clink our drinks to further proof that we are winning. Even though we both know the initials stand for Gonzaga High School, the private high school four of our six kids have attended so far.

We are both just happy to still be playing the game.

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How the Tibetan Buddhist Monks Practically Saved My Life, Sort Of

I have been laid up for two weeks after some extensive reconstructive surgery on both sides of my left ankle. It turns out that, in addition to some shit I don’t understand, my jagged ankle bone was trying to cut one of my ligaments in half. My ankle was clearly trying to amputate itself. Ankle suicide. I don’t really blame it. It has to have been kind of rough carrying me around for so many years. I am NOT a light load. Though it has made me wonder what the hell my right ankle has been doing all this time that would create such an imbalance of strength and power. Is my right ankle a slacker? Or has it been the strong one this whole time, carrying most of the weight while my left ankle has slowly tried to kill itself?

This is not my intended topic: what causes one ankle to be mentally ill and the other one strong. Because that’s just weird.

However the subject leads quite naturally into the thing I want to talk about: Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas.

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What, you don’t see the connection? Weird. It’s so clear to me. But I guess since you’re not inside my brain (thank God for you) I’m gonna have to explain.

Ever since I was a little girl I have immersed a lot of my time and energy into artistic activities that may not be deemed in any way practical by a lot of people. I know that my parents often raised their eyebrows and thought  “Oh lordy, what do we DO with this one?” I think that if I had shown an iota of talent in any of the things I persisted at they would have been more encouraging. Instead they kind of just “rolled with Heather’s current fancy” because I never seemed to settle onto any one thing for very long. There was always something more interesting to me just around the corner to try. And I have gotten worse as an adult, especially with this vast cyber world where you can learn about pretty much anything or be inspired by something with a 20 second search.

It’s kind of like taking a little nibble out of each piece of candy in a big box of chocolates because you don’t want to commit to just one or two because then you will get full too fast and not get to taste the other pieces.

Although that’s a bad example because I would never NOT finish a piece of chocolate. Plus it’s kind of rude if there are other people who also have rights to the box of chocolates. Just sayin.

Anyhoo, when I was a kid I dabbled in pretty much anything that called to me: perfume making, rock polishing; drawing; painting; furniture refinishing (my grandmother’s antique night stand was never the same); macrame; crocheting; singing; sewing;  piano;  paper mache (maracas with light bulbs where my favorite-dual purpose!); cross stitch; pottery; quilting; bird house making; gardening to name many.  I wasn’t really good at any of these things and it never once entered my mind that I wanted to be an artist in my future. I just loved DOING those things.

Yes, it was for sure satisfying when something turned out cool. I remember trying to draw a picture of a lion once. I must have been around 10. I kept showing my mom what I thought was my finished picture and she would say “you can do better”. This happened many times before my mother finally said “Yes! Beautiful!” And I gave it to her. She framed it and put it on a shelf and said it should be a reminder to me of what I could accomplish when I stayed focused and did my best. I found the picture in her stuff when she died and kept it. Not because it was a good picture but because it was a reminder of the joy I felt when I was making it and also the peace I felt handing it over to my mom, an offering of my love.

My children and husband no longer even bat an eye when they find me in the breezeway smashing glass or under a cloud of dust from carving soap stone with a dremel tool or stripping the plastic coating off of copper wire. The copper was for my latest endeavor, this year’s “Make Time for Kids” clock for an auction in April benefiting Casa Partners…

http://www.casapartners.org/

…I love the cause, because this group helps kids during the transition from a tough home situation to foster care. But I also love any excuse to create something that wasn’t there before. She “Goddess of Time” turned out quite gaudy and slightly over the top but pretty enough to get a little cash at the auction (I hope).

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Goddess of Time
On the day I started working on her I emerged after three or four hours of focusing on rocks and glass and copper wire and paint and my daughter took one look at me, smiled big and said “Oh mom! You’re doing art again aren’t you!” I looked at my hands all covered in epoxy and paint and held them up laughing. “How can you tell?” And she said “Your face is lit up.”

While I admit it was a little bit hard to hand her over to be on display and then auctioned off, because she and I had a lot of fun bringing her into the world, I was really quite happy to give her away and move on to the next “thing”. That’s just part of it, see?

So. Back to how my depressed ankle and Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala art are connected.

On day three after my surgery bummed-out-ed-ness began to spread over me, a dark gloomy haze. The nerve block they gave me from my knee down had completely worn off and the pain was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life: a vice grip lined with spikes slowly squeezing my ankle. So I turned to the pain pills the doctor prescribed which took away much of the agony but made me groggy and out of focus and weepy because I didn’t even have enough clarity to doodle with colored pens. And I thought “What’s the point ANYWAY? Everything I do is pretty much crap.” Because when I get bummed out it suddenly MATTERS that everything I create is crap. Depression, which thank goodness for me is generally situational and not chronic, is (at least in my mind) the opposite of clarity. It is like looking in the mirror when the glass is fogged up and having the audacity to call yourself ugly.

And so I turned to my iPad and Netflix and the series “House of Cards”, a well written but very dark show about the evil people and politics in the White House (perfect for my mood) and checked out completely on tv, something I rarely do for more than an hour or two let alone the THIRTY NINE HOURS it took to complete the 52 episodes produced thus far. I surrendered and thought dramatically (as is my way)  “Let it be done to me: narcotics and television, the beginning of the end of my life as a recluse who dies in her bed, with dirty hair, surrounded by Reese’s peanut butter cup wrappers and soggy half-frozen bags of peas.”

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But something happened four days into my binge: I started to feel better. And I am POSITIVE it’s all because of the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala art that I learned about in the 33rd ‘chapter’ of House of Cards.

In the story, as part of a cultural exchange, Tibetan Buddhist monks were on public display at the White House for thirty days while they created a sand mandala. Here are a couple of links to explain this beautiful healing art in detail:

http://www.worldreligionnews.com/religion-news/buddhism/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-this-tibetan-art-form-seen-on-house-of-cards

http://www.mysticalartsoftibet.org/mandala.htm

But in a nutshell, the great leader of the group decides on a design, which is filled with specific healing symbols, the main deity (or god) being in the center. The chosen monks then re-create the drawing from memory and proceed to carefully and slowly fill in the drawing by sending millions of grains of colored sand through these tiny little funnels called chak-purs using vibrations from a small narrow steel rod. All through the process they pray, chant, meditate and sing, asking the deity for blessings and peace and enlightenment for themselves and the world. They are totally focussed on the act of creating for hours upon hours. (I hope they get potty breaks and such.)  And when they are finished, the beautiful, detailed creation is consecrated by the leader and then SWOOSH! the beautiful mandala is smeared with a small broom, DESTROYED to symbolize the impermanence of our material life. The sand is then placed into an urn where it is then usually poured into a moving body of water in another ceremony to disperse the purifying power to the world.

I had become deeply involved in watching the process of the creation so when this SWOOSH! happened on the show I sat up from my reclined position on the bed and yelled “Nooooooo!” And then flopped back down and thought “Oh! No wait.” I laid there for quite a long time, thinking about the dark questions I had asked myself earlier in the week and in other dark times in my life “Why bother? What is the point? To what purpose does it serve, especially when all I create is talentless crap?”

But see here’s the thing: we are all creations who are designed to create not criticize the creation. And when we open up our hearts to what calls to to us, be it music, art, stories, poetry, gardening, architecture, cosmetology, bee-keeping (that’s for you Sara), interior design… really I could go on and on because it is so personal, that which calls to our hearts, that which begs us to be a part of its own creation…when we answer, when we become fully absorbed in the process, engaged, meditative, focussed,  we become less concerned for ourselves and more connected to our God and His universe. And that act of answering the call becomes the very part of the world that makes it lush and beautiful and interesting and glorious. It is fantastic magic (that’s for you DG-ha!) and we owe it to ourselves and to the world to listen and act, regardless of the final outcome, for though it will indeed all be gone someday, just like the sand mandala, the act of saying YES is what creation really is and this yes is what is eternal.

The day of the sand mandala episode, my family had gone on a day trip to Montana. They returned that evening, gathered around my bed and grinning, bearing gifts: a huge piece of tangled driftwood with a dragon head in it (at least that’s what I saw);  102 railroad spikes (they counted them before me: pieces of gold before the queen); a smooth rock the size of a cantaloupe that had the most spectacular shades of rust and green and grey and blue and they all kept taking turns petting it while I held it like a baby. “We thought maybe you could make something from all this when you feel better.”

As if I could say no!