Thursday, October 29, 2009

Today’s note is brought to you by the letter F

Write about another ‘F’ word my friend Susan suggests to me in a recent e-mail. I’d been whining to her about how I wish we could have lunch, the little matter of 1,100 miles separating us notwithstanding.

She was referring to ‘friends.’

The first time my older son went to Germany was as a foreign exchange student his junior year of high school. Susan’s daughter is now in her last year of law school, but as a high school student she also spent a year abroad. At that time, Susan and I were both adjuncts sharing a third-floor office in the oldest building on the West Virginia University campus. The idea of a child being that far from home, was, well (pun intended) a ‘foreign’ concept to me.

Little did I know…

So the year my son was gone, Susan was my rock. The one friend who could know firsthand what I was going through. I wanted to keep the whining (notice a trend here?) to my husband to a minimum because he too was missing our eldest. So Susan ate endless spinach salads at lunchtime with me and commiserated.

Susan is an introvert, which doesn’t stop her from being a top-notch public relations professional. I am an extrovert, like her sister Mary was. Mary and I also shared that same office for a time, her clutter and my anal retentiveness not getting in the way of our friendship. Susan and Mary were not only sisters, but best friends, and I envied them that. I have a sister, whom I love and who loves me, but ours is a prickly relationship.

Mary was born on November 1, and one Halloween she threw herself a costume party to celebrate. She hadn’t been feeling well (and you know any story that starts with that is going to end sadly and badly), but that night she laughed and twirled around the dance floor with her husband as did Susan and her husband and me and mine. My husband was dressed like a zombie biker (no makeup, just the expression) and I borrowed a witch’s costume from a much younger (and thinner) mom of one of my younger son’s friends.

In April the following year Mary died, six months shy of her 50th birthday.

I loved Mary, I love Susan and all my friends who are like sisters (and brothers) to me. And as I stare down fifty, whining and complaining the whole way about each new wrinkle (real or imagined) and each pound around my middle (real) and lament I really am too old to have any more babies (real or imagined), I gotta say what we say every Sunday in church when prayers for blessings are offered:

Thank you, God.

I really have had and continue to have wonderful friends in my life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Car Talk

On a recent Saturday, my husband and a work buddy spent seven hours (I clocked 'em) working on getting our older son's 1995 red Honda Civic with 226,000 miles on it up and running to sell.

It was the running part that took so long.

This little baby got my ‘baby’ to and from college first year, but with said son studying abroad for six months this vehicle needs to go.

I’m partial to red cars…when my over-six-foot husband was in grad school we bought a new shiny red Sprint, the size of a tomato soup can. After that, we had a darker red wagon, and my current car (which I share with my mom, who lives with us) is a red Tracker. The big guy drives a midnight blue Taurus X built on a Volvo chassis. He used to have a shiny red motorcycle, but that’s a different story.

Youngest son is angling for his grandmother and I to get a new car sooner rather than later because he is due to ‘inherit’ the SUV.

It takes a leap of faith and lots of praying when children start driving. My mom always volunteered be the designated ‘rider’ when my older son wanted to go out on the interstate. After going through four kids of her own learning to drive, she was a pro at it. One brother, a teacher, spends his summers instructing driver’s ed.

I’m a nervous passenger. It’s not that I don’t trust my son’s driving, I worry about what the other drivers are doing. Actually, my son, at almost 19, is a much better driver than I am at…well, how old I am has already been discussed!

His making the long trek to and from college his first year to our new Midwestern home in that Honda with 226,000 miles always made me jittery. Naturally, the biggest thing I had to worry about was something I hadn’t even thought of. His father had inadvertently booked him into a hotel in an Illinois city in an unsafe area of town. Really unsafe. When this wandering child expresses doubt about something it must really be scary.

Life is scary. Letting our children get behind the wheel of a car or get on an airplane to fly many miles away from us or go away to college in another town tests our mettle as parents. Sometimes bad things happen when and where we least expect them too.

This is the part where I wrap things up on a positive note, but not today. A high school girl who used to come into the elementary school library where I volunteered died this week. Every parent’ s worst fear.

So hug ‘em and kiss ‘em and hope that you have a mom like mine who will go out on the interstate to drive with them when they need the practice.

Monday, October 26, 2009

50 is not the new 30, part 1

 In two months, I turn 25x2. 

 No matter how you do the math, it's still the big FIVE-ZERO. 

 When I turned 40, my older son hand-lettered a card for me that proclaimed "Forty is a BIG number!"

 Yeah, well, fifty is an even bigger number.

 Lotta talk that fifty is the new thirty. When I was 30, I was pregnant with Mr. Card Giving Son. Fifty is definitely not the new thirty.

 Uh uh.

 Whining about the topic makes me feel petty and shallow.  Over the years, good friends have died way too young, leaving behind children. Another birthday should be celebrated, not reviled.

 I am the mother of two children whom I fiercely love and adore. I even like them too.

 Once I joked that if I turned up pregnant with number three, the doctor would have a lot of explaining to do. My mother sagely pointed out that  it would be me who would have a lot of explaining to do.  My husband’s mother had a ‘surprise’ baby at forty, which I think ‘scarred’ my poor husband for life!

 I’m not a baby person. Ask anyone who knows me. I hold them out, stiff-legged as tho I’ve never seen, or mothered one, before. I prefer ‘em walking, talking and most definitely toilet-trained.

 ‘Grandmother fever’ has certainly not infected me yet, either. My husband and I waited nearly nine years, on purpose, before we had kids. Ours are still in their teens.

 And yet…

 Turning fifty seems to slam the door shut on that part of a woman’s life: the feedingdiaperstoilettrainingpreschoolhomeroommompto-ness of it all.

 When I was in 5th grade I set my goals: I wanted to have ten children, live in Connecticut and be a writer. I’m too chubby to be a reality show star, I’ve never been to Connecticut and I’m finally at the point in my life I’ve always wanted to be at with writing.

 Embracing my gray hair has been easy, now I need to make peace with the number that goes with it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mother's Intuition

So this week, Erik (our son spending a semester at University of Rostock, in Germany) has been sick. Could be the European version of the crud here but sounds like a sinus infection, to which he is prone. When I wrote this originally, it had been a few days since we’d ‘skyped’ but his girlfriend, a funny, smart, adorable girl attending a small eastern college, is my Facebook friend and she keeps me posted.

Now I have a ‘partner’ in worry, and it’s comforting. Sure, I have my husband, and he worries too. But in a quiet, sensible, non-gnashing-of-the-teeth sort of way.

Totally at odds, thank goodness, with my penchant for overreacting.

When Erik was seven weeks old, he refused to nurse on one side…howling and drowning out Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 2 a.m. feeding program of choice. (My over-the-top crush on Jean Luc Picard, as well as the time Mr. Rogers started to look real good to me, is the topic for another post. Or not at all.) With a screaming baby propped up in one arm, and “What to Expect the First Year” (the great follow-up to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) in the other, I read up on possible reasons.

Ear infection caught my bleary eye.

Off I trudged the next day with infant in tow to the pediatrician’s. The doctor was not an unkind man, having ‘signed off’ on the two of us staying an extra day in the hospital when the pipes froze in our apt. in Flagstaff, Arizona…coldest winter in recent years there. Later we’d tell Erik the story that there was ‘even snow on the cactuses’ that December.

The doc told me point blank that babies that young do not get ear infections but he’d humor me and look in the kid’s ear.

Much to the doctor’s surprise…a bright red ear infection met his eye.

We changed pediatrician’s.

The familiar tale follows of more ear infections, tubes, later allergy shots. Erik’s a fairly healthy kid, except for the recurring sinus and a rather stoic one…like his father.

Nevertheless, I worry. This son is an ocean away, battling a bug, taking classes in a language he’s fairly fluent in…but still.

But still I feel vaguely sick…homesick for having him home, knowing all the time, as I did the first time he went away for a protracted amount of time, that it’s just the harbinger of things to come…the natural order of things.

If we do our job right as parents, if we follow our intuition and care for our children, it’s their job to leave us.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Faith is next, you know... says my husband the other day.

 Uh uh I say, absentmindedly.

 We are sitting in our home office, backs to each other...he working on lofty projects...the third edition of his mass media textbook, a very readable tome that utilizes a wonderful narrative style.

 He is the smart one. I am the cute one...well I used to be 30 years ago....

 But I digress. Which is what this post is all about.

 Digressing. And focusing. And, eventually, faith.

 DH (dear husband, a phrase coined by somebody somewhere I really like...along with losing one's girlish looks, one also loses brain cells) continues, pointing out I've touched on the topics of family and fat (my two favorite subjects). It's time to tackle FAITH.

 When I decided to blog, I wanted to be focused. I'm all about focus. For the ten years I taught beat reporting at a large mid-Atlantic university, 'lecture' number two was all about 'finding the focus.' What was the story about? What's the tag/gist/hook? Lingo like that.

 During that time, I also had a little slip of paper pinned to a cluttered bulletin board in that home office (there my husband and I sat parallel...still exchanged lots of 'uh uh's') with the word FOCUS printed on it. 

As I said, I'm all about focus. 

 Together with my mom/writing partner, I currently write faith-based women's fiction.  Overall, we've had 27 novels published, with two more upcoming. 

 Over the years, I've taught Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, served on committees galore, and one very fractious church vestry. Currently, I'm the 'assistant' to  a wonderful man who leads a sixth grade 'faith formation' Wednesday night class. And I just accepted a call to serve on a committee at this new church in a new denomination (for us) in a new (year and half) town in a familiar part of the country once more.

 What does all this have to do with faith? Not a thing. No focus at all. But lots of digression.

 I can't write about my personal faith. I can lay bare my soul re weight loss and gain and the bittersweetness of watching children grow up. But I can't find the words, despite being a 'professional' writer, to express how I feel about my faith. 

 This much I can say: I have faith the sun will rise in the morning and set at night. I also have faith in something I can't see but can feel: God’s presence in my life.

 That’s where my focus is.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Weighting Game

When my husband was diagnosed with diabetes in May 2001, he embarked on a diet to lose the excess pounds that no doubt contributed to the disease. He succeeded. With diabetes prevalent on both sides of my family, I also took this as a wake-up call to drop weight. Also, I didn’t' want to be the short, fat wife of the tall, skinny man.

 I promptly gained nine pounds that year.

 Eventually I  lost a significant amount of weight, too.

 Which I promptly gained half of back when my then 16-year-old took off of for a year as a foreign exchange student in Germany.

 If you 'Google'  Yo Yo Dieter, I"m sure there's a picture of me right next to poor Oprah.

 I can rattle off what I weighed most years of my life the way avid baseball fans can deliver rapid-fire batting averages:

 Third Grade: 89 pounds (on the scale at school...I'll take a public flogging over a public weigh-in any day of the week)

 Fourth Grade: 120 the height I am now (stretching toward five foot three inches)

 End of Eighth Grade: 175 the height I am now. Throw in a unibrow...the middle school years were not what I'd call the ' Wonder Years'....

 Mid-Summer 1974-155...I'd discovered there were cute older boys in high school...for gosh sakes! And my maternal grandmother had been diagnosed with diabetes so I followed her exchange diet with her that summer.

 High School (The Wonder Years) 130 pounds

 College (Ditto The Wonder Years) Between 130-140 pounds

 August 14, 1982-My wedding Day....163 pounds (love was and is fattening!)

 April 1990-First Pregnancy weigh-in: 163 pounds on my scale at home; 165 on doctor' layman's terms I was a chubby first-time mom according to doctor's notes, which I somehow saw at some point...

 August 1995-Giving birth to second son...number worthy of George Foreman!

 And so on and so forth.....

 Right now I'm smack dab in the middle of high vs. adult low. Until this weekend of overindulgence, I would have said losing 12 more pounds and maintaining it would be just fine with me. Now of course...that number has 'inched' up somewhat.

 In a little over two months, I enter a new decade. Am bound and determined to hit a 'happy weight' and stay there. 

 What's your happy weight?




Thursday, October 15, 2009

Deep in the heart of ... east Germany

Yes, I know it's all one Germany now. But all summer I teased our older son about going to college 'behind the iron curtain.' My mother, who lives with us, had an uncle (her father's brother) who made videos about the Rock nee Rach family history. She warns me that the Rocks were prone to exaggeration, a trait no doubt useful since she and I write fiction together.

Around the turn of the last century, her grandfather lived in a German village in the Ukraine. He, according to family lore, and fifty other men fled the village and hid in a swamp. They wanted to escape impressment in the Bolshevik's army.

Also, my mother pointed out, the town was a dive. 

As 'legend' goes, a horse's hoof narrowly missed her grandfather's face.

This Rock escape to America, became an indentured servant almost...married my mother's grandmother, Alvina, a cranky woman who kept birds and helped other German refugees come to this country.

Oddly, enough my sister is a social worker who keeps birds...and who is on occasion, cranky.

I wanted to write about a conversation I had today with a woman I know about the flip side of holding on and letting go, of being protective of your children, of a decision she made about her child where I would have made the opposite. But I can see into her heart and her side because she knows bad things happen, like being widowed at a young age with a houseful of children.

So I think of chatting with my son today. It's cold over the old east Germany, the wind off the Baltic and all.....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peter Pan

I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!
Not I,
Not me!
Not me!
I won't grow up...

We sat in the pediatrician's office, waiting for a routine 'well baby' check up...maybe our baby was three months old?  The woman across from us cradled a much larger child, silky black hair spilling down his shoulders, a tiny spittle of drool at the corner of his mouth. He wore blue. His actual age was four. His mental age was six months. And would be forever. He had been thrown from the back of a pick-up truck along a stretch of Arizona highway when he was just a baby. The woman was his caseworker waiting with him for a check-up.

Now our baby is a world away on his second sojourn, navigating university classes in a foreign language. When Erik first  approached us about going to Germany, he was barely in his teens.  At sixteen off he went, as a foreign exchange student. So many people asked us how could we let him go? 

How could we not?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting Started

Inspired by my older son, I'm giving this a whirl.