Who’s Driving?

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I was supremely confident as a child that I could drive a car. All I needed, I’d say, was the green flag from the government for seven-year-olds to operate a vehicle and I’d be off!

Oh, I had experience: My parents occasionally allowed me sit-on-their-lap steering privileges home from church on Sundays. And at fifteenish, I pulled a few turns unassisted in that same church parking lot.

Man, I was set!

By the age of nearly-sixteen, however, shift got real. My mother may have realized this, as I was enrolled in Driver’s Education at school and had grown tall enough to look her in the eye. One day she took me to a quiet neighborhood side street, steered herself for the worst, and told me we could switch places.

Even on the best of days (as in, post-op heavily-medicated) my mother does not handle other people driving. When my annoyingly patient and meticulous father is navigating the roads at a rate that would put a sloth to sleep, she’s frantically kicking the floor of the passenger side in phantom braking actions.

Turning the wheel fully over to me is on my mother’s list of Bravest Things She’s Ever Done.

For my part, I was counting on my first time driving as heading the list of Epic Life Adventures or Most Awesome Experiences Ever. Right? Instead, as I sat in front of the wheel completely on my own, I was gripped with terror. The awesome power of everything I was now in charge of washed over me and my mind blanked. My foot convulsed at the pedals the same way it did when I tried to navigate a sewing machine. The wheel was strangely hyper-sensitive. All of the cars parked calmly at the sides of the street were trying to leap out in front of me.

“I thought you knew how to drive!” My mother screamed as we jerked along and sashayed from right to left.

I thought I did, too, I told myself. I felt sad, confused, surprised, and hopeless. We pulled over and returned to our former roles. My confident plans of self-dependency and road freedomness dissolved forever. Maybe we should’ve used an automatic.

Luckily, my driving actually improved from there. I throw that out, in case anyone has determined to never set wheels on pavement when I’m out and about.

This morning, however, I was thinking about life. Specifically, if at all, I was pondering on my decades-long feeling of directionless discontent.

I kept thinking, Who’s driving, anyway?

I have been a stay-at-home mother for thirteen years, ever since being fired in the first trimester of my first pregnancy. I have felt motivated some days more than others. Lately, however, my life has felt completely out of my hands. My children cannot legally drive (yet), but I’ve put them and my husband in the front seat, crawled back over Cheerio crumbs and Hot Wheels cars to the dirty back of the car, and wondered why I keep getting car sick.

And yet, I don’t move.

What do I do?

Well… I pretend to be useful. I hand around a few snacks, break up fights, give the pretense of modeling good behavior, and pick up loose wrappers now and then. Oh, and sometimes I tell the person steering exactly what’s wrong with his driving.

As the tension in the car rises, I withdraw to less activity. I tell myself I am not sleepy when the suns sets over our dented hood, intentionally tiring myself to a state of drunken drowsiness when that same sun rises over that same hood. I eat the bad car snacks. I forget to shower at camp sites. I wonder why the floor cannot stay clean even though I’m snapping at everyone to please pick up your garbage!

Who’s driving, anyway?

Shortly after that first, fateful day at fifteen when my mother gave me full control, I attended the driving portion of Driver’s Ed at school. Perhaps because I was the tallest female, our instructor picked me for the first turn. I don’t learn well by going first; I’m an observer.

The rest of our small group piled into the small sedan, buckled for safety, and waited for me to start the engine. I gulped. I adjusted everything I could think to adjust: seatbelt, steering, seat, side mirrors, rearview mirror, headrest. We’d been walked through this in instructional videos during class, and I was determined to get all the steps right. Then, ignition -with foot on brake pedal, of course. My hands flew to 10 and 2 like boot camp soldiers. I looked forward through the windshield, and waited for whatever hell the instructor at my elbow would direct me through.

My turn didn’t last long then, either. Another boy in the class took over after a few blocks and did marvelously. He drove better than the instructor! It turned out that he’d been allowed to man tractors on his grandfather’s farm since thirteen years old. Cheater.

Who’s driving? Floats through my mind when I wake up and get ready for the children’s day. They need to dress for school, eat breakfast, sit up at the table, not punch their brothers, pick up their shoes, do their homework, eat right, not talk back, feel loved, and then understand that I am a person and I love their father and our relationship is the most important of all.

Yeah, we’ve been seeing a marriage counselor. She’s a good driver.

Who’s driving? My mind recalls the sappy Country Song “Jesus Take the Wheel.” That’s a subject for a few pages all its own, so I’ll summarize with: I may not be in a great place discontentedly backseat driving, but I trust that spot a lot more than the places He might take me.

I know others in a similar state. Their reactions have varied from meekly asking for a turn at steering, to pushing the special Eject button James Bond-style and parachuting irresponsibly to a new adventure.

I’d love to end this personal reflection with a determined statement; a wonderful aphorism on life to pass on. Unfortunately, all I’ve got are chocolate almonds, yesterday’s clothing, and criticisms.

Perhaps you know a good solution? Anything’s better than here.

Maybe.

One Year!

We’d like to interrupt your regularly-scheduled programming for this small announcement: Today is my one year anniversary of blogging!!!!!

For 365 days I met my goal of writing a post EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I consider this my true blogiversary, since this site was my first dive into the wonderful world of bloggerhood. At first, I thought I’d post on here and no one would see. Over time I’d work up to writing so frequently and so well that talent agents would contact me and I’d be the undiscovered superstar that childhood bullies and bad-grade English teachers would regret ever doubting.

Instead, I’ve connected with a much better thing: other people who also share a love for writing, a tendency toward mental illness, or simply a quirky perspective I understand. The potential for stardom may still be out there, but have to find it. I have to do a lot more work than show up at my computer an hour before midnight, blearily trying to think of a rhyme for Engrish.

If you’re still with me, I also need to announce another announcement. I will no longer write every day. Frankly, the stress has been high with things like, say, four active children and housekeeping and a side job and breathing in and out. Yes, I will regularly post; no, it shan’t be daily.

Thank you so much to The Academy and such, but most so to my family for surviving and supporting and to ALL OF YOU reading my words right now, before now, and in the future.

The Wall

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Today, I hit The Wall.

Not only did I hit it, but I carried it with me for the entire time I spent at the gym. I even felt its musty, bricky presence most of the day.

Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about and are duly concerned for the safety of my person or my vehicle. Don’t worry; I’m referring to an exercise term. first learned of The Wall in high school from my track coach. She was good at coming up with power slogans each year, and one of my favorites was Break on Through to the Other Side.

Runners hit this figurative wall when they feel they cannot move any more. Usually, a dedicated athlete can keep going, at an easier pace, and find his stride again. Some days, however, nothing helps and one has to walk.

Today was one of those days.

I woke up early, put workout clothes on, ate a bit of toast, then drove over to our local gym. I could tell it was going to be a tiring, ho hum, nowhere, very bad run. I could tell because when I climbed the stairs to the track my knees hurt and I felt tired already. And then, when I warmed up, I felt as though I had already run my usual two miles even though I had only done 1/28th of that.

No matter which song I shuffled to or which motivational lie I told myself, I felt exhausted the entire time. My body was not my own; I was dragging it by my (draining) will power alone, at a pace that would shame a sloth.

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During my cool down, I recalled another memory from my high school running days: a race in which I hit The Wall. This was during my brief stint on the cross country team, near the end of our season.

Every race, the coach recommended we have a personal goal. Mine was that I would stop and walk one fewer time each race. At this point, I was up to not stopping at all. I hadn’t really set a personal goal, but I was just going to do my best since it was the last race if I didn’t place. Unfortunately, Coach should have recommended that we share goals with people if those goals were going to affect them.

Case in point: one of the girls who was always behind me kept trying to pass. I’m somewhat competitive and knew that she paced slower than I did. Every time she came up on me, I went faster. My logic was more that my pace must be slowing, not that I should keep her back.

Before the midway point, I was toast. She finally passed me, and I had to walk. Coach took a picture of me on that race that I still have. She didn’t do so to humiliate me; she was always snapping good action shots. I was moving slowly enough to capture the moment without much blurring…

I’m the sort to jump to bad conclusions easily. If the husband’s not home from work yet, he must have been in an accident. If a child says he needs to talk to me, he’s committed a felony. If I had to walk a race, then I’m a horrible athlete and should never put my running shoes on again.

Except that running usually feels good.

Except that despite my melancholy, the sun still comes up the next day.

And running in the morning sunlight is one of my favorite things to do. Why would I let a little setback ruin a perfectly good sunrise like that?

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I won’t.

 

 

unsplash-logoSiyan Ren
unsplash-logoRoger Burkhard

Limited Edition

“The only real limitation on your abilities is the level of your desires. If you
want it badly enough, there are no limits on what you can achieve.” -Brian Tracy

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When I attended junior high school (ages 12-15), I knew my limits. There was no way I could run The Mile in gym class.

Those sadistic teachers didn’t know what they were talking about, and I would show them they wouldn’t control me. I walked the whole thing, out of spite. I considered my intentionally-slow gesture a brilliant defiance to The Man -though, I wouldn’t have known about such a term at the time.

Sometime just before ninth grade, however, I changed my mind. I learned about an achievement called The Presidential Fitness Award.

Mostly, I thought I had a chance because I was freakishly good at an exercise we called the dead-arm hang. Basically, one hung from a raised bar (like a monkey bar) with his arms locked in a bent position. It was like holding a chin-up at the part where the chin is up.

This woman’s got it!

Another requirement was the sit-and-reach, wherein one had to sit and touch past his toes without bending his knees.

A third was a set number of sit-ups in one minute.

A fourth was some number of push-ups in that time.

Problem was, the final requirement was running a mile in under 8 minutes. Like, obviously, I’d have to actually run. Like, I’d have to run fast.

I hadn’t recalled the Presidential Fitness Award in many years. Then, right in the middle of my participating in a social media challenge involving planking, a woman at my book group brought it up.

Planking, if you are unaware, is an abominable abdominal exercise. The way I’ve always done it is to go into a sort of push-up position, but upon my bent forearms.

active-aerobics-beautiful-917653Kind-of like this, though the woman with obvious cleavage in the background is doing the more-accurate position.

The current world record for planking is 8 hours 1 minute. We were simply encouraged to get up to 1 minute if just starting out, or 5 minutes if we already had some planking under our belt. The friendly contest ran for one month.

Even when not actively exercising, I work on my abs. I’m a bit vain about it, though I don’t show them to anyone besides my husband and the mirror. Point is, I decided to go for the 5 minutes.

At the time that my friend in book group mentioned how she knew she’d never earn the Presidential Fitness Award as a teen, I had just passed the 2-minute mark for planking.

Her comment brought me back to junior high. I could see the gym clothing-clad teenagers slumping around the grass field we used for measuring a mile run. (Yep, we were poor as dirt -and grass- at my school.) I could see myself, quite literally suddenly running each one-day-a-week we ran the mile.

I saw myself stretching forward at night to will my arms and hands to reach beyond my toes; to elasticize my body to pass the reaching test.

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I remembered being tested for the arm hang, sit-ups, and push-ups.

Most importantly, I remembered my elation as I finally WON the coveted honor and received my printed certificate.

I was also a bit disappointed that Bill Clinton’s name was on the signature line, as my parents were Republicans.

Anyway…

Each night in the more present time, I continued pushing toward my plank limit. I wanted it badly. I believed in myself. I believed in the cute little chart posted online of adding more time each night until I would finally reach 5 minutes.

On the evening that I made it to 3 minutes, however, I dropped to the ground with rubbery arms. It was suddenly so hard!

That wasn’t supposed to happen. I was going to keep going; I was going to add and add and make it to the ultimate goal.

Maybe I need to work on my arms, I thought, and tried to do push-ups. Yes, they were woman push-ups. I wanted to be able to get up once I was down, you know.

Next night, I got all set to plank for longer than 3 minutes. I played motivational music, stared at a poster of Chuck Norris, told myself pumped-up aphorisms, and drank nature’s protein straight from the guts of the fabled mangu-mangu tree root.

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Or, I simply got down to it with my timer.

The seconds counted down from 3:30. I strained. I motivated. I clenched my abs. I told myself I was mighty and could do it.

And… I collapsed after the first minute. My arms knew better than my motivation.

Sometimes our abilities are limited by more than the level of our desires. No matter how badly we want something, even something somewhat-achievable like exercise goals, we may not get there.

I’m not going to tell anyone to give up on dreams, except myself. But that’s my negative self-talk talking and I’m not supposed to listen to her.

Instead, I’ve learned that there are some limiting factors I have little control over. I didn’t fail. Heck, three minutes out of five is 60% on a grading sheet. That, and it was two full minutes longer than I’d ever done before: a 300% improvement.

And when it all came down to it, I won the online contest. All that the participants had to do was comment on their stupid post.

Coming of Age

My oldest son recently turned 12. I spent a few months days in denial, particularly since that means he will be a junior high student next year.

After the shock wore off, the full weight of responsibility hit me suddenly: I am mother to THE MOMENT.

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It’s A Day No Pigs Would Die, Catcher in the RyeFinding Neverland time of life. My son will be crossing the bridge of life into manhood, and I’m wholly unprepared. I’m not sure what to do first.

Child Protective Services might get called if we try a Native American Vision Quest, or Sateré Mawé bullet ant gloves.

I suppose I’d better just arrange for a good, old-fashioned death maze that leads to a formerly-trustworthy man possessed by a somewhat-immortal killer wizard.

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After all, I want my son to be prepared for whatever challenges he might face in life.

Food on Your Family

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There is a recall out for chopped Romaine lettuce.

Normally, I am unaffected by produce recalls because my lettuce was purchased thirty days ago and I am still telling myself that I’ll eat it. I can cut around all the brown spots, right? We’d hosted a family party Sunday, however, so I bought that huge package of Romaine hearts from Costco the day before.

As each heart was ripped out and discarded, I had the mental image of pulling cash from my wallet and throwing green bills away.

Which leads me to a common question I hear: how much does it cost to feed a family?

I have four boys. They’re young, and have always had modest appetites. My husband, who has never passed 150 lbs in his life, says he feels full after soup. Still, our food costs are going to be more than a young couple working full time or a small family of three.

Plus, kids grow. They eat more when they grow.

I lived with my younger brother when he was a teenager. I’m safely estimating that I’ll have that TIMES FOUR in a few, short years.

One perk to having children is that people will occasionally offer me free food. As in, Chelsea, I’m moving and am just throwing away all the food in my fridge. Do you want to come over and see if you can use any? Or, I’m going on a restrictive diet and left some pantry items on your porch. Give away what you don’t use.

It almost makes up for how much I spend otherwise. Actually -no, no it doesn’t.

Whenever I think I’ve got it bad, however, I think of larger families. We’ve hosted my husband’s sister’s family of eight children a handful of times. Don’t worry -we’ve returned the favor. But adding six people to ten is easier: just kill two chickens instead of the one and throw a bit more flour into the roll dough.

I may go into Costco to buy bread and come out with a new set of tires, but my weekly trips and expenses for food are about equal to my sister-in-law’s daily ones.

One of my favorite films to watch growing up was Yours, Mine, and Ours, with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. Although it has many pertinent scenes, every time our relatives come stay I replay the grocery store part in my mind. In the film, the poor cashier enters the products manually. Tub after tub of oatmeal follows bags and bags of Wonder bread, AND they have two more shopping carts to go after all that. The cashier totals it all up; they spent $126.63 (the equivalent of $920.87, using online inflation calculators).

The North family really could have used a Costco.

We took our ten house guests to the world’s largest Costco last time they were here. My husband was at work, so we may have resembled members of a certain lifestyle involving two wives. Each adult manned a shopping cart and helped herd the dozen children roaming around us.

It was somewhat exciting to purchase 36 hot dogs, multiple loaves of bread, 5 lbs of cheese, and enormous bags of chips -and know that we would eat it all within the week. We filled the carts with food and diapers, plus children in time-out.

I felt overwhelmed projecting how much regular grocery bills must cost. And, as with any large organization (recalls aside), their family has waste. have waste, and feel that I do fairly well planning out meals and reusing leftovers.

I find myself mentally calculating what the cheapest take-out meals are (Chinese food, pizza, or chicken “on the bird” from Costco), least-expensive home meals are (bean soup, grilled cheese and tomato soup, pancakes), or how often we can visit relatives at mealtimes.

I mean, when the boys do hit puberty, I’m going to be in trouble. Donations? GoFundMe, maybe? Actually, taking a full-time job might be the best option.

I wonder if Costco is hiring.

 

Reflecting on the Future

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My grandparents had a mirror in their bathroom, opposite another mirror on parallel walls. I could see myself in a hundred rooms in a hundred rooms.

Sometimes I walk where memory shadows still linger: a former neighborhood sidewalk, a street route I drove when I first earned my driver’s license, that base of a tree where I sat with my love in that park.

I see me in the past and even remember the thoughts and feelings of those moments. I think how I will walk there again in the future, and wonder what I will feel then.

 

unsplash-logoAlessio Lin

Happy Birthday to Me

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March 23rd was my birthday. As an adult and a parent, it’s not like I expect a lot of streamers, balloons, presents, or even free time to use the bathroom uninterrupted. I’m just mentioning it to explain why there is a picture of dessert at the top of this post.

Birthdays=cake. Right?

Right.

My side job involves monkey-typewriter skills to produce content for those annoying webpages you go to when you search for party ideas and find you’ve landed on a collection of pictures stolen from actual artistes but leechingly getting the ad revenue for them. I’d say it pays the bills, but it’s more like funding peanut butter on a tortilla for all three meals at college.

What? Oh, yes: CAKE.

I found this Chocolate Easter Egg Nest Cake while researching ideas for Easter Desserts for Some Purpose That Will Rank High in Search Engines. It looked fancy. It looked tasty. Above all, the directions looked doable.

Maybe I just wanted to make that edible nest thing.

Point is, I bought (most of) the ingredients. I harvested that instant coffee. I mixed the flour and cocoa and yoghurt into chocolate cake. And, who helped me? Not those lazy children. Not that husband-who-works-a-steady-job-so-I-can-afford-something-called-“yoghurt”-as-opposed-to-“yogurt.”

Actually, my oldest son did help me. We (mostly) followed the recipe, substituting for the fact that NO STORES around our little suburb had Woolworth’s Gold Greek Yoghurt nor Woolworths Gold Hand Finished Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringue.

I’m no professional baker, but I’ve made my share of cakes. From scratch. And, not just “scratching” open a cake mix box. Although we followed the directions, the cake turned out like a round brick. The Sahara Desert has a moister surface than it did.

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Still, I whipped my own meringue, filled the darn thing, drizzled hodgepodge ganache over the top, and perched that cute, actually-inedible nest up top. Jellybean birds flew through the window and laid their little clutch inside it and the birthday cake was ready to serve.

I suppose I hoped the filling and topping might soften up the cake slabs. I optimistically hoped the cheap brand of instant coffee we found at Whale-Mart would not make it taste like overpowered, cheap instant coffee. I also get a bit pigheaded when I start a project (I like to call it “tenacity”).

I even forged ahead when we had to pickax a few holes in the top in order to place some candles.

But the chocolate rock stayed solid, its meringue/cream/sugar innards gooshed out when we attempted excavation, and the darling chocolate and vermicelli nest chewed and digested much like actual twigs.

We all tried some. You know, after singing about birthdays and happiness.

“I like the jellybeans,” my second-oldest said. “Can I have more?”

“Cake?” I asked.

“Jellybeans,” he and two brothers answered.

“Sure,” I sighed.

Determinedly, I sliced myself another piece. I dolloped the escaped filling atop the bits of pumice I removed. “Welp,” I told my husband, swallowing broken brick and teeth, “Maybe next time I’ll not bake it as long.”

The sweet man adopted his encouraging face. “I’m proud of you for trying it.”

“Can we have more jellybeans?” Asked the dog, the cat, and the rat.

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Wednesday

Arthur Dent, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, explains that he “never could get the hang of Thursdays.” For me, it’s Wednesdays.

Midweek is not only Hump Day. It’s also our Garbage Day and my all-articles-are-due-by-noon Deadline Day. And, silly as it is to complain about, my two hour house cleaner is due to arrive.

The cleaner is part of my recent attempts to not be depressed anymore. You know, because cleaning is depressing. I’m not entirely sure it’s working, however, since my overall problem is that I procrastinate and then explode.

universe-2151332_1920Yep, like that.

So…. Wednesday is really Meltdown Day. Meltnesday. Meltdownesday?

As usual, I woke up after trying to stay up late finishing stuff and now feel like I have to clean the whole house so the cleaner can see the floor to mop it and then finish typing 500-word-each content articles that are so boring I want to get in a car accident on the way home from taking children to school just to avoid it and then watch the garbage truck drive right past my house because
+I
+++forgot
++++++to set out the cans last night
+++++++++…..again.

Plus, it’s our Birthday Season. But, maybe most days are actually like this. Even in Australia.