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Archive for April, 2013

The Maze of Uncertainty Under My Feet

April 18, 2013 2 comments
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While it may look like Greek, should Greek be a labyrinth of pipes instead of a language, this is actually our water heater. Ta da!

I’ve always meant to get acquainted with the inner workings of our house. Being the biggest investment I’ll ever make, I thought I would find the time to learn what the hell all those pipes and wires are all about.

My intentions were pure.

But our first house was a fifty-year old split level, and the mechanical room was located in what can only be described as a decrepit dungeon. The furnace and some other contraptions were perched on a mass of exposed rock. Many a creature made their homes amongst the dirt floor and granite, cobwebs made up the vast selection of art in the corners.

My enthusiasm for the details waned.

When I turned up the thermostat, the furnace kicked in. The water flowed plentifully from the taps. The mice staked their territory, and upstairs, I staked mine. All was good, and perhaps ignorance was bliss.

Then we decided to build a house, and I assumed this would be my chance. The mystery of what pipe held what would naturally unveil itself to me as I laboured alongside the many trades that came and went. But the only thing that unveiled itself to me was my impatience with the project, and how interminably slow it was. The plumbers and electricians came and went with their leather holsters and tape measures, and honestly, I was just happy to see the back side of them leaving.

In my haste to have it finished, I missed it being built.

So in the following years, when things occasionally went wrong, and I needed to direct a handyman/plumber/man with toolbox to the mechanical room, I would wave them in the general vicinity, because truth be told I couldn’t tell our air exchanger from our wifi portal. A couple of the wisecrackers, who understood my vagueness for ignorance, commented, didn’t you build this house? And I did what I always do when caught out; I pretended not to hear.

So when our hot water started disappearing three days ago, I willfully ignored it. But freezing cold showers can only be ignored for so long.

A nice boy from the local heating and plumbing shop (is it just me or do they seem younger and younger?) donned his booties and asked me to show him the water heater.

I froze. I should really have located the water heater before he came. Then I babbled about how we had just moved in, all the while moving towards the mechanical room where, surely, the water heater must be. Or was that the central vacuum?

As soon as I switched on the light he confidently strode towards a box in the corner, and I exhaled. There is nothing I loathe more than feeling like the dumb housewife that I am. I seized on this opportunity for learning; no tradesman gets to quietly go about his work undeterred in my house at $100 an hour.

So, how does this thing work, anyway, I asked.

To his credit, he actually tried to tell me. But as soon as he started talking, my mind left the mechanical room and entered the arena of what I should make for dinner. I instantly regretted my feeble attempt towards self-fulfillment. He rambled on and on. I stared past his full head of hair (not one of which was grey) at the maze of pipes, but then noticed he was quizzically looking past me. He stepped around me and flicked a switch that was beside my shoulder. A piece of masking tape above it read boiler.

There you go, problem solved. On his way out the door, I launched into my (now familiar) spiel, about how silly I am, I can’t believe I didn’t check that switch. Not that I knew that switch was there, mind you.

No problem, happens all the time, he lied. All this to say that ignorance, while blissful, can also be expensive.

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Running Towards the Smoke in Boston

April 16, 2013 8 comments
Finishing Boston - Boylston Street was a sight for sore eyes and tired legs

This is what it’s supposed to look like.

Instead of reading her a story, I laid down with my eight-year old, Ella, and I told her about the Boston Marathon that would take place the next morning.

I told her it is the most popular and iconic marathon in the world, it is the crowning glory for thousands of runners, who log hundreds of solitary miles in preparation. It overtakes the city for the weekend, packing out the world famous pasta joints in the north end and clogging Logan International with runner-clad travelers. It has an atmosphere all of its own, uniquely Bostonian, and someday, I hope she will experience it first hand, and I will come and cheer her on.

It is chilling and saddening to think this very same conversation could easily have been repeated in the household of eight-year old victim, Martin Richard.

It’s been three years since I ran Boston, and being there was a dream come true – as boring as that sounds it is crazily accurate. A seed was planted in my head with a surprisingly fast (for me) half marathon time.

That was it. This odd thing on my computer screen told me I could qualify for Boston, and I decided it would be foolish of me not to try; computers aren’t dumb. I trained, qualified, and registered for the race I had always dreamed of doing, but never believed I could. I tell you this because people who are not runners may not realize that Boston is more than a race, it’s a lofty badge of honour.

In racing terms, my result was disappointing, but the experience of running it was anything but. Every mile was filled with laughter and inspiration, and kinship with the other runners in my midst. Some things you can’t put a clock to, Boston being chief among them. I didn’t want that race, that journey filled with people¬† – the very best of people – running into their dreams, to ever end.

And so, for someone to mar this event, this moment for thousands of amateur runners like myself, who feel like running Boston is the closest they will come to glory on a grand stage, is particularly vile and upsetting.

My friend, who had finished the race and was waiting to meet his buddy when he heard the bombs, wrote an emotional email to his many supporters after the tragedy. He wrote, “marathon runners are such amazing, peaceful people, and everyone is walking around with their heads down instead of celebrating.”

But of course, there is another side to the story. Someone – maybe just one person – planted those bombs. Hundreds, and by now likely thousands, in different ways, jumped forward to help. I responded to his email:

“When things are senseless, there’s no point in trying to make sense of them. On another note, though, did you see the people who immediately ran towards the smoke? See, there is hope and humanity all around us, let’s concentrate on their huge contributions, and not the crazy bastards who attempt to ruin our world.”

For its victims and their families, their worlds stopped yesterday, and for those people we collectively grieve and mourn. Yet, I can’t stop replaying the images of the hundreds of people trying to help. To all those who didn’t think of dangerous consequences, and selflessly did what they could for the injured, thank you thank you thank you for your bravery. You give us hope.

So for me, Boston will still be Boston, filled with unlikely heroes and courageous runners, spectators and officials alike. And maybe one day, my daughter will run this marathon, and I will stand on Boyleston Street and cheer her on.

Stay Gold, Ponyboy

April 12, 2013 5 comments

200px-The_Outsiders_book

As a parent, there is nothing better than introducing your children to things that you loved as a child, and watching the amazement on their face as they likewise are enamored by that same thing.

Or not, as may be the case. In fact, as always seems to be the case. That is to say, if I loved something as a child, it is almost a certainty that my children will abhor it.

Now, in both my and their defense, things like technology have come a long way in my thirty or so years (#liar!). With movies, for instance, special effects have evolved to the point where it is almost impossible for my kids to enjoy the same movies I loved. When I staged a screening of Pete’s Dragon for my children, my hopeful enthusiasm that they would cherish Eliot and Pete’s friendship as much as I did quickly went south when they started laughing in all the wrong places. Same thing with Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Shaggy D.A.

But they are vintage, I explained. It was a simpler time, you have to ignore the grainy picture, the poor acting, and the strange voice-overs.

They choose their movies now.

I moved on to books, and enjoyed a small window of success. I introduced my charges to The Paper Bag Princess and Where the Wild Things Are, with huge fanfare. When they asked me to reread these at night, my confidence in my tiny self was restored. Oh yeah, who’s your momma now?

As a fan of books, my kids are used to me shoveling them down their throats. I know, I know, I should back off, let them come to titles on their own terms, but I can’t help myself. YOU. MUST. LOVE. THIS. My enthusiasm gets the best of me. I can’t be tamed.

Yet with certain things I truly obsessed over loved, I tried to take a more delicate path, in order to ensure success. Since I know from past experience, when I return from the library with an armload of books for my kids, I’m met with three eye rolls, I have purposefully kept my lips sealed about the best book ever written for adolescents. The Outsiders, duh.

I speak for the generation of teenagers who listened to Kool and the Gang when I explain what The Outsiders meant to me. Despite never knowing how to properly pronounce The Socs, this book, about a family of orphaned boys and their peers, the Greasers, stole my heart and my imagination and made me pine for chocolate cake for breakfast. I went on to read every book S.E. Hinton ever wrote and wore out our Betamax machine replaying Francis Ford Coppola’s movie adaptation. Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Dally, ripped from Teen Beat magazine, adorned my walls. I committed half of the screenplay, including Robert Frost’s poem that Johnny reads, to memory, and in times of trouble I quietly utter, ‘stay gold, Ponyboy,’ which has been met with quizzical looks.

Outsidersposter

This gem of a book I’ve been saving, wanting to offer it to my own flesh and blood at just the right moment. Several times I held it in my trembling hands in the library, only to kiss it and replace it on the shelf. It’s not time, said a voice in my head, similar to Darth Vader’s.

Then, goddammit, the school system stole my thunder, and my daughter brought it home for required reading – required reading being the kiss of death for any novel. (Note that the school telling you to read a novel and your own mother telling you to read a novel are radically different.) It took me years to come around to Charles Dickens after being force fed Great Expectations, so I can relate.

But surely, reading a book with your mother hanging over your shoulder, you know, just in case you had any questions about the context, or a need to expand and discuss on the themes presented, would only help someone enjoy it more. There is nothing worse than ambiguity, after all. I made myself available.

So, I asked her once or twenty times, what do you think? She looked at me with one of those looks. I backed off, but noted her progress, and when she neared the end I begged suggested we read it together. Savour the moment. Surely, this would be her ‘aha’ moment.

We snuggled in bed with the book between us. I bawled openly. She looked at me with a new strangeness. Through my tears I tried to bestow the magic that the book itself failed to reveal. S.E. Hinton couldn’t make her love it, but surely I could.

Yeah, that didn’t work.

It’s a hard lesson for me to learn, but I’m taking ownership. Thou shalt not expect my children to love what I loved as a child, ever again. I do, however, have my very own copies of Jane Eyre and The Catcher in the Rye, underlined in all the poignant places, should she ever want to take them for a spin. #HopeSpringsEternal

Back Off Winter Sports, It’s Spring

April 3, 2013 8 comments

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Why aren’t you blogging, my friends ask me.

Truth be told, I get tired of my voice sometimes. It rings hollow and whiny in my ear and I can’t bear to expose it to y’all. Go read Slate, your time will be better spent. But lately the urge to write has been spluttering down there amidst my undigested Easter chocolate (did you notice how Reese’s jumped on the bandwagon this year? Pastel wrapped bunnies, eggs, lambs, roosters, Edward from Twilight, you name it they produced it in peanut butter and chocolate. Mmmmmmm). Back to my other urge, the blogging one. It generally appears when people I’m chatting with take the words out of my mouth. They say something – okay, maybe it’s a complaint, whatever – and I say, yes, exactly, a little loudly and over-enthusiastically, causing the other person to back away. Cue the blog post.

Lately, it’s about our spring schedules. That is, our over-scheduled children’s spring schedules and the driving involved.

The problem is that spring has sprung, but no one informed the winter sports. So they are continuing, even accelerating to two or three practices a week, while we are dusting off our field hockey sticks and baseball bats and trying to make our children well-rounded athletes. Not if hockey and soccer have anything to say about it.

The pitfall, of course, is the children will be those two words that every parent fears – left behind – if they don’t carry on with their winter sports, even though it’s spring. So us well-meaning parents, also known as suckers, try to do a little of both, and drive ourselves mad in the process.

It could be worse – I could have sired hockey and baseball players, or had nine kids. I feel for my friends with boys who have schedules much crazier than mine. There is always the just say no option. I took that route before – that lonely, higher ground – and my kids did pay for it.¬† I feel cornered and bullied into enrolling my kids for yet more soccer (a winter sport in Vancouver), while the reasonable voice in my head wants to just play field hockey, perhaps dabble in track and field, or here’s a thought: go for a bike ride with my kids.

Did I warn you that this would not be uplifting? There’s no winner here. If I sound bitter it’s because I am.