Friday, September 4, 2009

A Moment of Silence

I can still hear the words said to me the day my first daughter was born. I was lying in the bed, all hooked up on IVs and monitors, getting a final pep-talk from my Mother. “I know it sounds strange, but from the moment you see her, know that you’ll never be alone again.” I remember thinking how clingy and needy that statement sounded, which is so uncanny for my Mother.

Let me set the stage of my life for you. I live in a house with a football and BBQ crazed husband; two seven year-old girls that can go from loving each other to hating each other in zero to five seconds; an incredibly happy four month-old baby girl who talks more than I do; two excessively needy pugs who must be touching you at all times; and a cat who thinks she’s a dog. So just looking in on my family life, sure, I get it; how could I possibly ever be alone in a house that full, right?

There are those obvious moments as a mother I think, “THIS is what she meant.” Come on moms, you know what I’m talking about. Moments like when you’re sitting in your bathroom, with the door closed, doing, well “potty things” and then suddenly you hear the little coo from outside, “Mommy, are you in there?” Go ahead...say no. Twenty-bucks says the door will still open and the tiny person will trot in anyway. Entire conversations have taken place for me this way. Important stuff that couldn’t wait! Stuff like, “I just saw on Wizards of Waverly Place where Selena Gomez put her hair up like this......and I think I might try that.”

As a mom, have you ever tried to take a long, hot bath and just relax after a hard day? How’d that work for you? Yeah, I’ve tried that a few times. The tiny party crasher typically appears again claiming a sudden need to take a my shower...and will proceed to relay every conversation that she was a part of that day to me while taking said shower. Ahhhhh yes, that was truly a relaxing bath.

Ever try and outsmart your household by getting up early? I really thought I was on to a gold mine of an idea here until one morning, about a week ago. I was sitting at my desk, in the dark mind you, drinking my coffee and reading emails. Keep in mind that I make every effort to be so quiet when I get up; I don’t want to disturb anyone. Suddenly, the quiet beauty of that serene moment was broken as I jumped out of my skin and screamed when the darkness whispered, “Hey mommy, what cha doing?”

Those same little voices travel with you on a daily basis. On weekends they are there as you run errands and in the mornings, when you’re trying to get going, there they are...chatting about who knows what, as you try and tune them out just long enough to let the coffee kick in. Oh come on, I can’t be the only one who has ever sat there wondering to themselves, “Just how loud would have I have turn up my Michael Jackson CD to drown out the ramblings of the backseat in order to allow me a moment of peace this morning?” In case you’re wondering, your stereo won’t go loud enough...the backseat will just talk louder and, if you’ve got a helpful child as I do, they’ll just suggest you turn down your music because you might not realize it, but listening to music that loudly can harm your hearing and hearing is something that cannot be fixed. What, she was actually listening when I said that?

Yep, I can no longer sit on my couch without first asking the pugs for a spot. I no longer can walk freely up or down the stairs; I have to be on constant lookout for a Lenny-comet or an Oggy-streak that might whoosh by at any moment, knocking me off center. I no longer have a true claim to “my side of the bed”. No, I now just lay in the area where my husband, the cat, and the occasional driving by of a child can most easily find me to wake me up just as I am dozing off to ask me such Earth shattering questions as, “Did you see that play?” or “Mommy, are you asleep?”

I now understand those great revelations of motherhood. Truths such as the fact that showers and baths are strictly for the purpose of daily cleaning; there will be none of this silly laying around and relaxing in a hot tub nonsense. A bed is a place for family snuggles, where cats feel most comfortable when her right paw kneads into your side all night and where one masters the art of drowning out volume level 22 of televisions as it blares those can’t miss moments of Monday Night Football.

A car is just another opportunity to learn about the latest fashion trends and some kid named Matthew who your daughter thinks is cute but won’t tell him because she’s not interested in getting married or having babies until she’s at least explanation issued all in one long breath by the way. And getting up at 5:00 a.m. is not a signal that you want or need a few moments alone. No it’s actually a signal to anyone under four feet tall that you’ve carved out a bit more time to just hang-out with them.

Last weekend, my husband took the kids with him to my Mother-in-law’s for the entire weekend. Yep, the entire weekend! I was able to spend the weekend watching chick flicks, listening to low-volume music, instead of hearing the television booming with some crap I couldn’t even recognize. I ate cheese toast for dinner because, well, that’s all I wanted, and never even worried about what anyone else wanted. I went to the restroom with the door wide-open and no one came in! I spent 40 minutes turning my skin into a wrinkled mess in the tub as I listened to deafening quite of my house.

I walked around with my coffee Sunday morning peering into the rooms of my daughters just smiling. I could almost hear their laughter. I could hear my seven year-old singing as she sat on the floor drawing. I could hear the sounds of my new born snoring as I gazed into her empty crib. Even though they weren’t physically there, my heart was pounding with the flood of memories that years of all of us being together have created. I was the only person in the house, but I wasn’t really alone.

By 2:00 p.m. my house was once again flooded with the beautiful sounds of little girls, playing dogs and preseason football. It was the most melodic sounds I had ever heard!

Later that day I thanked my husband. “Yeah, I knew you needed some time by yourself’” he said. Okay, I’ll let him go on thinking I was thanking him for his noble gesture of giving me some time to myself, but I know the truth. I was actually thanking him for bringing all those wonderful sounds and over crowded moments of non-existent solitude home.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Everyday Strangers

When we were kids, I’m sure we were all taught the same rule...never talk to strangers. Right? So being kids, we found the loop hole and figured out that if we knew someone’s name, then they were no longer a stranger. Think about it, when kids first meet at a playground, at school or at the grocery store while their parents become myopically focused in a search for the brand of tuna they have a coupon for, the first thing they do when they cross the path of another little kid is say “Hi, my name is Becky. What’s your name?”

Some where along the way, we decided that this loop hole is either no longer worth our time or that we can no longer be bothered to put effort into learning the names of people we might seldom, if ever, see again. Why is that? Don’t these random encounters or even the daily consistent glances mean anything? Are these people some how less important than the rest of us?

I can’t take credit for this line of thinking. No, it was my Grandfather, Horace Hartsell, a Dean at the University of Texas Dental School, who set this record straight for me many moons ago. I remember going to the campus with him during the summers thinking “Gadzooks! My Grand-Daddy knows EVERYONE!” Even at the Country Club, I was still amazed as he knew the names of the cart attendants, the wait staff and even the lady that sat at that mysterious desk by the front doors. Sure, I knew Mike the Club Pro but that was because he was my golf coach and the life guards were my swim teachers, but how did HE know them? Why my Grand-Daddy even knew the sacker at the Safeway up the street! They always had long talks, well in my 6 and 7 year-old mind they were long, about their families, sports and the goings on of local politics.

I watched this line of thinking carry through to my Mother as well. When she was a high school principal, she knew the names of every janitor in her building, all of the lunch ladies, the crossing guard and even the school district maintenance folks that migrated on and off our campus as necessity dictated. We’d be there late at night because she had to work on some display case or prepared a presentation for an upcoming teacher in-service and I’d watch as she talked and sang-along with janitors who played radios in the background while they danced and sang through the halls of my high school carrying out their nightly routines. I noticed the little snacks that the lunch lady would leave on my Mom’s desk most afternoons with a note on it about “thought you might need a little pick-me up”.

Now I’m a people watcher by nature; I love people! I love everything about them. I love to eat by myself in a restaurant and easy-drop on the conversations at tables around me; not because I have any vested interest in what they are discussing, but I like hearing how people communicate with others when they think no one else is listening. I love watching the way a parent plays and giggles with their child in a local park. I appreciate the way a person walks down the street humming to themselves or waits patiently at a stop light, waiting for their opportunity to cross the street.

I like to write stories in my head as I watch these moments. Where do I think that person is going? What is their end goal once they get there? I guess this is my own way of making sure they aren’t strangers to me, incase I get the chance to say hello to them. But why do we all wait for that moment to come to us? Why is it that the norm has become for us to wait to be approached instead of reaching across the aisle and just saying “hello”? Are we really all that busy? Is what we’re doing that much more important than what they are doing?

It got me thinking the other morning as I got out of my car and I watched the BELO campus janitor cleaning up debris over by the news trucks, as she does every morning around 7:15 a.m. (she’s incredibly consistent with her schedule – I know this because again, I’m a people watcher). Every morning I see her, every morning I say quick hello as I rush by, but it dawned on me...I don’t know her name! I’ve never said more than “good morning” to her. Why not? The entrance to my building is what...500 feet away? Is stopping to talk with her and not rushing inside to opening that email for five more minutes really going to cause some kind of catastrophic upheaval in the Underworld? At what point did I forget the lessons I watched my Mother and Grandfather not only teach, but live?

At first, as I typically do, I just let the thoughts and questions bounce around in my head for a few hours as I got into my day. Then, as my boss and I were walking over to a meeting at the Dallas Morning News, we passed a wall of photos. This wall had over 50 photos of recognized employees. I paused for a moment to check it out. I had seen that person..and that one...OH and I rode in the elevator with that one the other day. And then it hit me, and it hit me hard, I didn’t know any of their names. I hadn’t bothered to strike up a conversation or say more than a passing, robotic “hello” with any of them.

I’m a firm believer in practicing what you preach. I also believe that the Universe sends you messages from time to time to help get you back on track; now whether or not you listen is up to you. Suffice it to say, I listened. I have been completely humbled by the fact that I let a beautifully subtle lesson shown to me throughout my childhood by both my Mother and Grandfather fall to the wayside in utter waste.

So why don’t we all take a gander at the activities surrounding our every day lives. Whose paths do you cross? Do you know the name of your bus driver or the security attendant at our commuter train station? What about that bagger at your grocery store who always carries out your bags? When you’re at a restaurant, why not attempt the name on the badge instead of referring to them as “Miss”? And on that note, when they do ask you how you are, why not return the gesture and inquire as to how they are doing? You’re going to be spending the next 30 to 60 minutes with them anyway…why not be the one to offer the ice breaker; be the person to break-up the monotony of the standard server/guest routine?

Show your kids that taking time to say a real “hello” to people in your every day life is still okay...there’s no need to fear everyone; not everyone is a red light person. Drop a thank you card in your kid’s backpack for her teacher acknowledging their extra efforts. Ask about your favorite checker when you notice she hasn’t been there in a couple of days. Stop and tell the manager at that restaurant about the great service you received, don’t just call out the bad stuff.

If we all make an extra effort to acknowledge those around us and all they do, it’ll show the Universe that we really get that we’re “all in this together” and that we’re all important. If we take a moment to slow down and share a moment with those around us, we will be adding more value to these seemly random relationships. We’ll also be adding a little more back into the value of people in general.

And by the way, that lovely lady I see each morning is...why, her name is Cornelia.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Humpday Haiku

Time to post my blog
Fall brings sinus infection
Nothing more to say

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Great Dunkin Donuts Moments in History

So I took a little liberty with the phrase “in History”; that just sounded much grander than saying “in the past 38 years”. Well now that I think about that, 38 years is really a stretch because I can only remember substantial pieces from the last 35. Somewhere around 5 is when I start remembering moments in my life vividly. Five is also the age when I decided I was going to marry Chewbacca, apparently I didn’t mind that we were different species or that technically, he wasn’t real. So, let’s go with that then, “Dunkin Donuts Moments from the Past 35 Years”.

There, I feel better knowing we’re going into this with complete honesty today.

Now that we have cleared that up, you’re probably wondering to yourself, “What the hell is a Dunkin Donuts moment?” I’m glad you asked...I’ll tell you! A Dunkin Donuts moment is a moment when you’re just sitting there and something so oblivious, something that’s been a part of your life for many moons, suddenly smacks you in the face and you say, out loud typically if you’re me, “OHHHHHHHHHHHHH I get it now!”

Yes, the phrase “Dunkin Donuts Moment” was coined by my Mother and became a standard of our family jargon on a summer’s day in Houston when I was 21 years-old. We were in the car at Chimney Rock and Westhiemer sitting at a stoplight. I remember just sitting there starring at the Dunkin Donuts on the corner, which I had a tendency to frequent for their donut holes, scrumptiousness at its best! All of the sudden I yelled, “OHHHHHH I get it!” My Mother calmly looked at me and said, “What Becky?” “Dunkin Donuts…..get it? You’re dunking your donut!” My Mother, beautifully composed and reserved in her reaction said, “Well yes baby, what did you think it meant?” It was at that moment that I knew, I knew I was screwed. I replied timidly, “Uhm, Mr. Dunkin’s Donuts.”

That was it! It was game on from that moment on with me and my Mother! All those years of terrorizing her for “noticing” the flowers on Eldridge for the first time were about to bit me in the proverbial butt! We used to turn down Eldridge and she’d say, “Oh look at those flowers they just planted. They are gorgeous!” After about the eighth or ninth time she said that I said, “Mother, it’s the same damn flowers that have been there for weeks! It’s kind of like when you figured out that Andy Gibb was the Bee Gees brother. Duh!”

First of all, I feel this is the appropriate time to apologize to my Mother for my teenage mouth and the ruthless taunting that was held at her expense because of her Andy Gibb comment up to that moment in my history. Next I should explain that after I got over wanting to marry Chewbacca I moved on to the grand celebrity love of my life, Andy Gibb! Sighhhhh…… Yes, THE Andy Gibb...the same one that died of an overdose on March 10, 1989 (and no, I didn’t have to look that date up for this column...I sadly just know that off the top of my head). Yeah, Chewbacca and Andy Gibb where my first two crushes right out of the gate; you would think that would have been a monstrous tip-off for my parents that relationships with men weren’t going to be my strong suite.

Anyhow, I digress though. In our family it started with Andy Gibb, moved to Eldridge and became part of our family’s vernacular as an unspoken friendly jab of “duh”, with Dunkin Donuts.

I’d like to say that those moments stopped then and I became more aware of what was going on around me. Sadly no such luck. In my never ending quest to prove that an IQ is just a number, my Dunkin Donuts moments have continued on a somewhat regular basis. In fact, one occurred yesterday.

I was sitting at my desk, working away and listening to 70’s on 7 on my XM radio as I always do. Sitting there, singing along, I happened to look up, mid-song, and catch the real name of the Carole King song I was humming along to. I was floored to discover that the actual name of the song was “Jazzman” and not “Jasmine”. Considering I own the CD and have sung along to it for years thinking it strange that “Jasmine” would have a soul (as the lyrics explain), I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. Alas, I exclaimed loudly, “OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

As is standard for such an event, I immediately contacted my Mother and sister to inform them of my latest epiphany. And no, before you even ask it, I’m never smart enough to keep these moments to myself; I always incriminate myself. And how did my Mother reply you ask? “Hey Dunkin, how’s Andy?”

This is one of those consistencies of family that I actually find endearing. These are the connections and inner secrets that make any close relationship fun and special. These are the moments that make us laugh when we recall them and give us a bond with others because it proves that no matter what, they still love you and think you’re pretty fabulous. It’s a common humorous event we can all understand and appreciate.

So today, let me just leave you with:
• Women don’t get wooly, they get weary according to Three Dog Night
• Jimmy Buffet did not, in fact, step on a pop was a pop top in Margaritaville
• And the reason Morrissey sounds so much like the lead singer of the Smiths is because...well, he WAS the lead singer of the Smiths

Monday, August 31, 2009

12:34 and Other Oddities

We’ve all got those special little qualities that make us all unique. I’m not talking about the tiny mole on your right hand that resembles Abe Lincoln or that one rogue strand of hair that protrudes from your chin until you realize it and pluck it immediately hoping that no one saw. No, I’m referring to those things you do that make you totally you. If what they say is true, that we all have a twin walking around some where, it is then, these “quirks” that make us all uniquely ourselves.

What’s that you say? You don’t have any quirky qualities? You’re……”normal”? First of all, what is “normal” and would you want to be and secondly, we’ve ALL got something. Look, I’ll help you out and I’ll go first.

My favorite time of the day is 12:34. Now I don’t really care if we’re talking AM or PM here, it’s the sequence of 1234 that’s important for this game. Every day, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, my little internal clock goes off and I notice that it’s 12:34. Perhaps it’s my OCD personality that causes this, but for that instant, those sixty-seconds in time, I smile knowing that everything is in order and that all is totally lined up in the Universe. (Note: For those of you playing along at home, please don’t point out the multiple time zone thing…..this is my own personal happy moment, so just go with it please.)

Still can’t come up with anything? How about this one; I cannot throw Tootsie Roll Midggie wrappers or drier sheets away until I have tied them into a knot. knot...right in the middle and then off to the trashcan they go. Unlike 12:34, I don’t really have an exact explanation for this one other than perhaps I just feel that they look tidier this way.

If you’ve ever seen me eat M&Ms then you know what’s coming now. I feel that there is a right way and a wrong way to eat M&Ms. If we’re talking Peanut M&Ms, the correct steps would be to put one in your mouth, cut the peanut out and then squirrel it away to the side of your mouth while swallowing the chocolate and outer shell. Once you have three peanuts successfully captured and clustered together, you can chew those up and start the process all over again. I don’t even have a hypothesis as to what started that thinking process, but my explanation for plain M&Ms actually does make sense. I eat them in sets of twos: two blues, two reds, two greens, etc. Once I’ve eaten all of them in their little orderly set, I eat all the singles together in one last chomping motion. See, this way, all those singles aren’t lonely any more and won't be traveling to my stomach without a match; this way, they get to make the journey in a group.

Maybe your unique qualities aren’t this extreme. Start slow if you need to and build up to it. Qualities to this magnitude take years to properly cultivate and grow.

Are you one of those people who won’t let the food on your plate touch anything else? I’m sure you won't find this too surprising, but I actually get this one. Again for me it’s a control thing; I understand that once it all hits my stomach it all unites into one giant mass of mush for my body to process , but this way I’m still in control and the food tastes will stay separate, as they were intended to be. (Caveat – Just to be clear, this rule does not apply when eating mashed potatoes and corn as those items need mingle and become one cohesive group pre heading for my stomach because, well..just because!)

Toilet paper – we all know it goes on the toilet paper dispenser one way and one way only, right? Can I get an AMEN on this one from the crowd? Keys on your keychain and bills in your wallet...they all have to face the same way, right? High-five me on this one! Come on, don't leave me hanging!

Sigh, okay so perhaps I’m a bit extreme with some of these. Maybe everyone doesn’t bend a soda cans in the middle before they throw them away or separate their wooden utensils from their plastic utensils into different containers on their kitchen counters for aesthetic reasons. But you can’t tell me that you haven’t been sitting in someone’s office before and found yourself rearranging things on the table beside you or have never walked up to a picture that was hanging on a wall and straighten it...even if you weren’t in your own house.

I used to think I was a bit odd or strange because of these little quirks. Though now that I have daughters of my own and I am beginning to notice their own special brand of ticks, I’ve come to realize that it’s these ticks that make them unique and special. It’s these ticks that give them consistency and a sense of control in their own little Worlds. It’s these ticks that make them more interesting and entertaining to watch.

So I say, forget the name calling people! Down with the labeling of being “anti-normal”! Next time someone calls you “odd” or “eccentric” because you stopped dead in your tracks from unpacking those groceries to turn all the cans in the cabinet the same direction, turn around, smile warmly and thank them for noticing! Embrace your inner compulsive self and wear it as a badge of honor, for it is these things, these special little qualities in your character that make you uniquely you.