Adjusting the rear view mirror

adjusting the rear view mirror

Have you ever stopped to wonder why, exactly, the rear view mirror even needs adjusting?  Aside from trying to avoid eye contact with the people in the back, I mean.  If you’re the only one driving the car, and you tend to sit the same way every time, why on earth would your eyes ever NOT be at the same height?  (Unless you are incorporating padded butts into your wardrobe, in which case I’d say that rear view mirror adjustment is the least of your worries.)  Why is rear view mirror adjustment even a thing?

When I posed this query to my surgeon aunt, she looked at me with a mixture of confusion, scorn, and pity.  Clearly, she asserted, the adjustments are made to accommdate our gradual shrinkage over the course of a day.  For those of you not familiar with the concept, we all shrink between 1-2 cm over a day spent upright as gravity slowly compresses the gelatinous discs between our 33 vertebrae.  The merciless squeeze of gravity causes each of these little pancakes to shed about 15% of their respective heights, a cumulative 1-2 cm effect. According to my aunt, our eyes are actually slowly shifting relative to the mirror and the dashboard over the day.

I was dumbfounded.  I knew about this whole shrinkage thing, but I’d somehow not managed to connect the dots.  Honestly, I didn’t believe it.

So, I’ve been tracking my trends over the past three months.  And I’m gobsmacked to report that I begin every morning needing to adjust the mirror upwards and I adjust the thing slowly downward with each re-entry into the driver’s seat.

Every. Time.

The only exceptions are if I’m really concentrating on my posture, just took a yoga class, or have spent the day napping.  Seriously, test this out for yourself.

Anatomy: Part II

The second in a continuing series of potentially awkward anatomical conversations while driving.

—-

She was about five when my cut-and-dried eldest asked, “Mom, whose body has more parts, boys or girls?”

As usual, I wondered just where this was going.  She could easily be wondering about ponytails and accessory nipples, right?  Or, she could be talking about who wears more jewelry or generally has more piercings?  Fingers crossed…”What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, you have a nose, two eyes, two ears…parts,” she replied, verbally rolling her eyes.  I took a quick glance in the rear view mirror and confirmed that the eye-roll was more than just verbal.

“Oh, are you wondering about potty parts?” I asked, once again chastising myself for adopting this non-progressive naming convention.  She nodded, giving me a look usually seen when I attempted to explain something painfully obvious to Jimmy.  I needed to adjust that rear view mirror.   “OK, how about I get a book that has drawings of all of the body parts, boys and girls, with labels and diagrams?”  I asked.

Jan 2008 037

She’s shown a preference for dense, medical texts from a surprisingly early age.

My practical, level-headed eldest replied, “Oh, yes, that would be very helpful.  Thank you,” and returned to her drawing.  Lucky for me, such a nicely line-drawn book of Just The Facts does in fact exist and was quickly reserved at the library.  A couple of days later, attempting to sensitively and privately go through said book, she caught sight of her 3 year old sister down the hall.  Despite my admonitions to keep this “just between us,” the book was clearly too good not to share.  “Hey, get in here!  You love this kind of stuff!” she hollered.

So, yeah, we own our own copy now.

 

They say you can’t go back

The following is written as a birthday gift to my dear friend, Sara (Juni) Vacek.  She hates this picture, but it’s one of my favorites.

Sara

Sara, future biologist for the DNR, honing her craft summer of 1997

Earlier this month I was, happily, forced to examine the question:  Can you go back?  It all began when my college friend, Sara, arrived on the train from St. Paul.  As I pulled up to the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, my palms were  quite sweaty.

Milwaukee Intermodal

Milwaukee Intermodal Station looking far more photogenic than I’ve ever seen in real life.

Sara and I had been thoroughly and completely besotted with each other those last few years at Lawrence University, and while we’ve stayed in touch, neither of us could claim that our friendship is a day-to-day reality anymore.  While we have spent time together in the 20 years since graduation, it has not been nearly enough.  Further and perhaps more importantly, we haven’t actually been alone together for any length of time in that past 20 years!

I know in my heart of hearts that my best girlfriends are those for which time and separation aren’t an impediment.  Still–a whole week just the two of us?  What if our ease of rapport had vanished?  This could have the potential for disaster writ in the form of awkward silences.

Ang Sara 98

Ang & Sara joined at the hip, c. 1998

Question #1:  Can you really go back to an intense friendship, set down for a time?

 

The first five minutes were, at least for me, a little bit awkward.  Fortunately, however, I guess that enough of each of us is still the same that the skills, attitudes, and knack of the friendship resurfaced in no time.  Fortunately for us, in the case of a true friendship, not based on selfish need, you can go back.  The silences were the comfortable kind, not awkward at all.  I was in charge of guest relations, Sara was in charge of explaining the world to me.  We did a jigsaw puzzle.  We listened to the sound of each other’s breathing at night–and then put in earplugs.  It was all good.

I’m trying to find some tangible reasons for why this was so–why we were so quickly able to revert to old comforts and patterns?  I think that partly it was due to the fact that our friendship was forged during a time of deep intensity, the fires of young adult optimism and exuberance.  My clan of this type of friends almost all share that in common–solidifying under the stress of a time of high emotion.  New motherhood, residency, education, death.  And the other bit?  It’s the mysterious question of how two people are cut to fit eachother, despite coming from a different bolt of cloth.  I don’t know.  If you figure out the magic formula, please let me know, because making friends as an adult is tough!

Great Friends

Perfect platitude for the occasion

Answer #1:  If it’s the right friendship, you can go back and just pick up where you left off.  

 

Sara came to town so that we could spend time taking a seminar at Bjorklunden, a halcyon place in Door County (more on this later).  On the three hour drive up north,we made a detour through our college town, Appleton, Wisconsin and wandered a bit around campus.  It was a Sunday, relatively early, so the student community was just starting to come to life.  We made a loop, littered it with remembrances and recognitions, grabbed a bite to eat and were on our way.

LawrenceUniversity-MapSM

Oh, you need a map you say????

Question #2:  Can you ever go back to a an important place in your past, like college?

 

LU 94

My version of Lawrence University, fall 1994.  

We pulled up to campus and parked in a visitor’s space.  As we walked around, actual memories mingled with anxiety dreams that featured Lawrence.  (My favorite is that I’m walking into my dorm and realize that I haven’t checked my mail for the entire term and don’t know my mailbox code.   These are the things that really eat at my subconscious, apparently.  Also the dream where I forgot to put on a top.)  The buildings were the same for the most part, as was the landscaping and, believe it or not, the smell of the place–some combination of fall mulch and youthful vigor.  But the actual life of the place?  The young adults wandering the campus?  Cut from a different cloth entirely.  Here’s a brief highlighting of some of the key differences we observed:

  • I didn’t notice any piles of forlorn Ice House cans outside of any of the buildings on the quad.  This is due, likely, to the fact that at this moment, only one of the houses around the quadrangle is occupied by a fraternity.  Other occupants include a house dedicated to the theme of swing dancing and another, Gaming.  This fact is thus far the only piece of Lawrence that has struck any sort of a chord of familiarity with my Big 10 -worshiping spouse.
  • The student union is a new glassy building dedicated to the memory of Rik Warch.  He was President during Sara and my tenure and, in fact, 25 years of Lawrence’s 200+ year history.  His figure looms large in our and many’s memory.  He had a way of making my awkward, 22-year-old self feel important and worthwhile.  And he was so. damn. smart.
    Rik Warch

    Rik Warch-Lawrence University president 1979-2004

    I imagine that for most current students, it’s mostly the oversized oil painting of the man in ceremonial garb that looms large.  Hey kids!  Why aren’t you talking about Rik?

  • Inside said Union, we stopped at the cafe for a quick bite.  While Mozzie Sticks are, in fact, still on the menu, there is no aggressive middle aged townie screaming out their readiness to waiting customers.  Instead, a sedate backlit sign displays orders that are ready.
  • Menu items included a variety of associated icons, and the tables displayed their key.  Among the 20 or so icons were the usual vegan, lactose free, gluten free.  They also, if memory serves, included commentary on the grazing experience of sourced pigs, type of music played for the dairy producing cows, and whether or not fisherpeople sang shanties during their voyages.  But as Sara so patiently explained, it’s so that these mysterious millennials can curate every decision and action in their lives.  Not a bad thing, probably a good thing, just different.
  • Finally, one difference that’s almost a similarity.  We were confused to find that a former small cafeteria space in Colman Hall had been converted into large apartment-style places for 18 students to live, with the unifying factor being that they prepare their own three squares a day.  Two of Sara’s collegiate causes were represented therein:  The environmental group Greenfire maintained the space and students who transferred their board their to dine with the group were members of the McCarthy House Co-op.  We begged a peek inside.  They were her people, but man alive was that space a lot neater than I remember the former Co-Op House, sprawled unceremoniously behind the Chapel.

    LU tree

    Best maple ever, c. 1997

  • The heartbrakingly gorgeous maple between the library and the art center is gone, gone, gone.  Sigh.

Answer #2:  So, in the case of college, nope you can’t go back.  

Lawrence the Place is still the same, but it’s just not ours anymore.  What an interesting characteristic of colleges and universities.  The students who pass through them fiercely lay claim to the institution, but really they are laying claim to the memory of their brief four years of the place.

Reflecting on this made it so apparent to me how difficult it must be for alumni directors of any short-term type place to create a sense of unity across decades of alumni.  Maybe that’s why there’s so much clinging to landmarks and mascots and, at some larger places, teams.  They are truly the few constants across time.  And almost everyone’s four years are completely separated in time, with very little overlap.  It’s almost like the question of how your body can really still be your body despite the fact that the individual cells that constitute it are continually dying and being replaced, (except for the central nervous system and, interestingly, lens of the eye).  So, the place was still our Lawrence University, but completely different;  it is a the same body, but made up of almost completely new parts.

So, for these two examples, the answer to “Can you go back?” is different.  But what of Bjorklunden and other such places?

 

If this entry left you reminiscent for those years at Lawrence, or Lawrence in general, check out a recent podcast put together by 2 students in 2016 on the mysterious disappearance of The Rock.  In it, people of my vintage are referred to as “somewhat old alums.”

Imponderables

Well, it’s happened again and I missed it.  I turned down Rawson the other day, and the trees there were definitely fall-ish.  Not majority fall-ish mind you, but the seasonal corner had been turned.  Despite my best efforts and intentions to notice it this year, once again I blinked during the slight course-correction that marked this veering into autumn.

It is one of those miniscule changes, a tiny, ephemeral, imperceptible shift that markes the borderline between one and the other.  I miss it every spring, too, when I set the goal to notice the moment when the trees are more green than bare.  I’ll mentally catalog the increasing spray of green over the winter-bare branches, waiting until that aha! moment when it’s tipped over into spring.  I always miss it.  Same with sunsets, the halfway point of an ice cream cone, and the moment during a party when it’s peaked and starts to head downhill.

2010 Flordia and others 092sunset

Maybe it’s not so much that we can’t sense these moments, but that our brains can hold onto the enormity of the moment.  The best word for them, therefore might be imponderable.

One time when the girls were both still young, we waited near the baggage carousel at O’Hare.  These were the days of a stroller, diaper bags, and relatively useless kids.  Sure the older one carried her sippy cup,  but I was still in full on sherpa mode while Jimmy waited to snag a few more bags.  I’m sure my face looked exhausted.  Perhaps that’s why a woman came over to chat with me–motherly solidarity in face of the hell that is an airport with kids.  She was perhaps 20 years older than I was, and had a nice, relaxed, sensible face.  She commented on the girls’ adorableness (true), and how traveling with kids is not for the faint of heart (also true).  She was waiting to pick up her adult son.

“You know, I can’t remember the last time I held him,” she said.  “You spend all those days and nights just doing it, thinking it will never end.  But one of the times it will be the last time, and you just won’t notice it.  I don’t remember the last time I held him, I wish I did.”  She smiled a little sadly and looked up to wave to the tall young man coming down the escalator, hands entwined with a young woman–he belonged to her now, I suppose.  The woman turned to say goodbye and “I know it’s silly to say, but enjoy it.  You won’t realize when it’s ending.”

I’ve gone back to that bittersweet memory often, fully intending to note the last time I picked the girls up.  I tried to pick Evie out of bed this morning and I couldn’t–and I don’t remember the last time.  Another imponderable slipped past, like summer into fall.

First Date

Author’s note:  I kept trying to write this story, and there’s too many little detours that need to be mentioned.  So, I’m just going to write it as I’d tell it.  During the asides you have to imagine me holding up one hand, frozen, as if sustaining the main thread of the story, while the other hand provides colorful gestures.  Trust me it works and people love it.  I think.

 

I took the girls out to dinner the other night.  It was early, so the restaurant hadn’t really filled up yet.  We were seated in the back room, empty save for only one other family with kids;  we were in “kid wasteland.”  The other family consisted of what were clearly a new mother, her mom, and her babies.  They were tiny and new, curled up sleeping against the women’s as they quickly, anxiously finished a one-handed dinner.  Clearly this was a first “time out with the baby” experience, which they confirmed.  I was  immediately taken back;  except for the fact that there were two babies instead of one, it might as well have been me and my mom with a relatively new Natalie.

Aside 1:  The girls wondered how I knew that they were twins.  I pointed out that unless the grandmother had simultaneously had a baby (she heard that and guffawed) or that the family’s baby had already made a best friend of the same age, the best bet were that these babies OF THE SAME AGE UNDER THE CARE OF THE SAME PEOPLE were, in fact, twins.  I hear that parents of twins get asked stupid questions all the time.  “Are they twins?” is merely a variant of my 7 and 11-year-olds’ question.  Another favorite has to be when parents of a boy/girl twin pairing are asked if they’re identical.

 

. . . I would imagine that Natalie was quite a bit older than these little ones, maybe closer to a month, when we had or first date.  It took me quite some time to rally to the idea of actually facing the terrors of dining out with an infant.  That’s a realistic concern. However, heaping helping of postpartum depression added to my hermetic state.  Luckily, my mother is a professional “propper up of people,” and she spurred me on to a lunch at the nearest sit-down place:  On The Border.

Aside 2:  Natalie was born in Arizona in June.  This was fortunate for me, as my mother was still teaching school and could stay indefinitely over the summer break.  Lucky for me she did, as I really am not sure how else we would have survived.  Two of my most vivid memories of the time were staring out this one particular window, and setting a daily goal of emptying the dishwasher.  Postpartum depression is no joke, and my mom’s a winner.

DSC_0194

Mom and baby Natalie.  Note the St. Norbert College shirt;  I think she probably missed a lot of Pat’s stuff that summer.  Sorry about that one, Pat.

 

. . . On the Border is a chain Mexican restaurant, with the attendant loud decor and music.  It was the perfect place in which the cries of a baby would be lost in the shuffle.  I don’t remember what I ate, just the overwhelming desire to get to the part where they bring us the check!  My diaper bag bulged with enough supplies to sustain us for up to a month;  we never needed them.  She slept in her little carrier the entire time.  Thank you, On the Border!

Aside 3:  There are no On the Border restaurants in the immediate Milwaukee area, however there’s a strip joint a little ways off that bears the same name.  You really couldn’t mistake the two.  The different approaches to signage alone make this impossible (busty lady vs. cactus and lime).  Despite this, one of Jimmy’s coworkers once took her sister to the wrong On the Border for lunch.  Interestingly, they weren’t put off by the sign, the fact that all the cars were parked around back, the lack of windows, or the darkness of the entryway.  It wasn’t until they were asked to pay their cover that things finally clicked.  An honest mistake, I guess…

Image result for on the border

This is a family blog.  No comparison sign will be posted!

 

. . . The memory so fresh and real, I asked if the girls and I could come over and look at the babies.  They were sweet and gorgeous, and their mother really looked fabulous.  Before I even realized that the words were there, I was asking if they’d had to spend time in the NICU?  Luckily the mother provided me with an out, replying that “yes, they’re pretty small aren’t they.”

Aside 4:  Despite truly being small, they really just had that slightly NICU-ish look about them.   I have a problem digressing medical, as I have all of this information in my head rattling around that’s not being used any more.

 

. . . The mom and grandma didn’t seem taken aback, though, and my girls hovered over them making all the appropriate cooing noises.

Aside 5:  My medical colleagues can attest to the fact that any babies that spend more than a brief time in the NICU tend to take on a characteristic look.  Part of it is the charmingly nicknamed toaster head, which develops when these little ones spend long periods of time lying very, very still on cribs instead of floating in a nice buoyant belly.  But the other part is my observation that they always seem just a little more tense, even in sleep, as if awaiting the next interruption as they go about the tricky task of sustaining life.

 

. . . It was no more than a minute or two, but the exchange was important to me.  For the new mom, it will either be lost in the blessed forgetting fog of first few months, or it will be one of the sharp memories that comes back unbidden.  The moments of early motherhood are mostly snapshots for me, but I got to relive a vivid one:  the first date.

2015-04-08 19.53.00

Another great date night with Evie. Their manners may still be in process, but they’re generally quiet!

Pickup Lines

There are many  posts bemoaning the woes of the parent pickup line at school.  I have to admit–I’m part of the problem.  Last year, our carpool stood at four little girls who, despite my best efforts, were always painfully slow to board.  I would watch in horror as the cars ahead of me pulled away, making it excruciatingly clear that, yes, it was me holding up the pickup line.  And drop off?  I always felt that circus music should have been playing as the  kids and gear spilled explosively out of all orifices.

This year, we are adding one more kid to the mix, making a grand total of 5 girls in a 3-row midsize SUV in which seats need to be shifted ahead to access the third row.  Oy-vay.  In a desire to avoid being lambasted by mom bloggers such as those mentioned above, I  developed a surefire, guaranteed plan for the pickup line.  I’ve called it the Carefully Balanced Pickup Plan (C.B.P.P.), and I include it for your perusal below:

pickup plan_1

 

It really looks like a nice, well thought-out plan, doesn’t it?  The kids are sorted by size and skill level, with the lollygaggers relegated to later boarding in acknowledgement of their foot-dragging approach to the car.  We actually ran a drill several times in the driveway.  We had it down.  However.  First day of pickup, despite my getting out of the car to supervise and repeat instructions in a drill sergeant- like manner, we came in at an embarrassing 1 minute 12 seconds.  I know I was getting dirty looks as I returned, sweaty and panicked, to my driver’s seat and peeled away (ALL THE WHILE CAREFULLY FOLLOWING THE POSTED SPEED LIMIT.  Sheesh.).

How did this dismal failure in the face of preparation and practice occur?  You will note that the success of the C.B.P.P. depends on a number of assumptions.  And you know what they say about making assumptions.  

Here’s what really happened…

Assumption #1:  Participants will enter expeditiously and be on the alert at pickup.  3/5 kids noticed me pull up.  The others were distracted by fidget spinners and an invisible butterfly.

Assumption #2:  All “stuff” will be easily maneuvered and neatly packed.  One carried an art project apparently involving the entire contents of a recycling bin.  Another one had a cupcake, the least maneuverable and most despised birthday treat of all.

Assumption #3:  Snow gear will miraculously fit in trunk.  This hasn’t happened yet, but the fact that the kids are asked to stow their gear in those insane giant Ziploc bags makes it highly unlikely.

Assumption #4:  3rd row occupants will nicely pull 2nd row seats into position.  One of the third row occupants has a younger sister in the second row that needed to be teased rather than assisted.  The other third row occupant claimed to be unable to use her arms after a mysterious playground incident.

Assumption #5:  2nd row occupants will easily buckle up.  Have you seen how exhausted new kindergartners are after a full day of school?  Even I have to admit that this was asking too much.

Assumption #6:  1st row occupants will not be distracted by the radio.  I was distracted by the fact that I’d accidentally left the audio version of the fifth Outlander book playing (highly recommended, not exactly suitable for children…).  Natalie was distracted by the need of all preteens to immediately reset the radio at all times.

Assumption #7:  All complaints and commentary will be held until disembarkation.  The following conversations continued despite instructions to focus on entering the vehicle:  who I sat by at lunch, who vomited during lunch, who was getting yelled at in the pickup line, can I go to Kayla’s house, can we have a smoothie, and I call dibs on the bathroom when we get home.  This was just one kid.

Assumption #8:  Participants will not attempt to circumvent the C.B.P.P.  

 

Sixth Grade

Natalie started sixth grade this year.  That feels weird.  Sixth grade is one of the first grades that I can remember with any narrative certainty.  Oh, I have memories before that, but they’re more like snapshots, or maybe little repeating GIF’s.  Sixth grade though, that’s where the narrative arc that continued for some time began.  Or should I say narrative arcs.  I could start any of a number of painful young adult novels with events that occurred in and around sixth grade.

St. Mary's School

St. Mary’s School, on the hill, Janesville, WI

It was the year of Mrs. Neumiller at St. Mary’s K-8 parochial school.  My class had a reputation for being “lively:”  fun for the teachers that still had the energy, hopelessly exhausting for those that didn’t.  Mrs. Neumiller fell into the latter camp, and if memory serves, she quickly retired after our sixth grade year.

st Mary 6th_1

1987, St. Mary’s 6th Grade

She wore a collection of chunky turquoise rings that hung loose on her fingers as she wrote on the board, held in place only by knuckles grown arthritic with age.  She wore a pen on a string around her neck that dangled forward as she distributed communion wine at weekly mass.  And she wore a look of harried concern most of the time.

 

Here’s a sampling of some of my story arcs that got their roots in sixth grade . . .

…Once, while demonstrating how one can perform the Heimlich Maneuver on oneself using the back of a chair, Mrs. Neumiller lost her footing, slipped, landed across the back of the chair and had the wind knocked out of her.  It probably hurt a lot.  I’m pretty sure that most of us either stared or laughed.  Theme:  kids are mean, and it takes awhile to have the human decency knocked into them.

…In sixth grade I started trying to look like other people.  Prior to this, I thought that looking unique was most important.  I sewed some clothes, made some interesting choices at the store for others.  I wore a sweater with sheep on it.  I had my mom put my damp hair in braids so that it would be wavy in the morning.  Then someone called me Tina Turner, and that was the end of that.  Conformity it was.  I tried to figure out how to make my bangs big.  I had a curling iron, but not any of the correct products or a mentor to teach me.  My mother had styled her hair by letting it air dry short for as long as I can remember.  My bangs never achieved the lofty heights of my classmates who had older sisters and ready access to mousse.  Theme:  even a desire to conform isn’t necessarily enough. 

 

Sixth Grade_1

Sixth Grade, before I started to experiment with big bangs.

…I got my period in sixth grade.  Shortly thereafter I was at a pool party at a classmate’s house and, newly menstruating girls being what they are, unpredictably had it arrive.  I had to use feminine hygiene products from her mom’s cupboard.  It was not OK.  Theme:  puberty sucks and I should really have been keeping track of things on a calendar.

…A classmate’s father died that year after a brief battle with brain cancer.  I remember her standing up to offer an intention during morning prayers one day.  She used the word “chemo” in such a familiar way that it still gives me chills.  It was the first funeral that I ever attended.  It rained.  I started to realize that life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan.  Theme:  life doesn’t come with any money back guarantees.  This is hard to learn.

…That year, we participated in a goal-planning activity.  It came with a green, shiny booklet that I’m sure was sponsored by a bank or something. It was the first time I had to answer the question “where do you want to be in 10 years?”  (I still hate that question).  The program also attempted to teach us basic financial skills and boiled money down to understandable facts.  I began to get the idea that maybe finances were a topic that could be discussed rationally and and without all sorts of emotion hanging onto them.   Theme:  there are ways to approach life other than your parents’ way;  this can feel like betrayal at first. 

…I longed to be noticed by boys, but I had absolutely no idea how best to go about it.  Apparently, showing off in class, dressing like a middle aged woman, and laughing painfully loudly was not the correct way.  Theme:  they’re really pretty easy to figure out once you stop trying so hard.

 

I wonder what narrative arcs Natalie will start this year?

I hope that her memories of me are of the patient moments.  I hope that she can avoid some of the embarrassments and that those that are inevitable are quickly blurred by memory.