Monday, September 29, 2008

"Like Finding a Grain of Broken Rice in a Particularly-Soggy Bowl of Shredded Wheat"


That's an apt word for how I felt during my run on the Superior Hiking Trail last week.

Maybe Glimmery.

Possibly Elysian.

Having my feet off asphalt, dodging rocks and roots, listening to the creek burbling nearby, I very nearly wanted to whip up a quick fire and cremate myself right there and then, just so I could pay the place tribute by scattering my ashes amidst those trees.

The truth is I'm a tragic slogger of a runner; I might have popped my ankle on an unruly slab of the Canadian Shield at any minute; I could've been mauled by a crabby badger; yet I couldn't have been more happlefunky.

As I huffed along, a googly smile on my face, I twigged to something: I'm a very simple soul.

Oh, yes, I is.

With nothing but time on my hands and mud on my shoes, I started cataloguing the tenets that result in my simplicity. Clearly, I think trails are crunk. But I've got other values, too, Luther. Like four of them. Pretty much, I think--

1) Stuff should be fun
2) I should stop and holler about stuff when it's fun
3) Profiteroles should run for president, and then I would have something to vote for
4) People should say what they're thinking and let the hell go of all that blah-blah-blah namby-pamby fake nodding and smiling. If there is any discrepancy between what people are thinking and what they are saying, their bodies should explode into rainbow-colored confetti and fall gently to the earth.

My values brainstorming continued throughout my 70 minute run, taking a breather only when I crouched down in a stand of browning ferns to empty my bladder...and then for the two minutes after that, as I struggled to retrieve my wayward Ipod--it suddenly fancying itself a speculum and me in for a pap smear--from the general region of my cooch. After the bathroom break and intimate struggle with technology ("Look! A very talented part of my nether regions pressed 'Play'!"), I hopped back on the trail and revved it up again, adding, revising, tallying, working very hard to keep my values list tight, lest I overreach my calculated and complex hope of simplicity.

As the podcast I was listening to during my mental shenanigans ended, the playlist shifted to music, and I tell you, Moses, that if listening to The Cure on a fine fall afternoon while flitting through low-hanging branches doesn't convince you that Friday you're in love, then you need some cotton candy and a hug from your mama because you're lolling in some serious doldrums.

The Cure morphed into Morrissey, and, perhaps trying to outrun the existential morosity, I sped up, racing the last twenty minutes back to the car, tacking on a final triumphant 100 meters at the end.

Out of habit, I stopped the timer on my watch and started digging into my shorts' ultra-secret key pocket.

Or as I now call it, my ultra-secret lame-ass lose-your-key pocket.

Yup, mostly likely during my ungainly cha-cha with the Ipod after that powder room break amongst the ferns, roughly 35 minutes back, the key had tinkled to the ground, alongside my Mr. Peebodies.

Fer feck's sake.

It was dusk; Groomeo was awaiting my return so he could have his go at running and peeing in the woods; and I suddenly had miles to go at a slow, slow creep. What to do?

Re-clipping the Ipod, restarting the watch, and turning my face downhill, I was off, a veritable Steve Prefontaine sans cheesy mustache (my mustache is much more delicate and feminine). Twenty-five minutes later, I encountered the whole family at our neighborhood playground, where Groom greeted me with a hearty, "So help me, if the kids ask one more time 'When will Mommy be here?', I'm going to duct tape their skulls together."

After my brief-but-inspiring narration of the key-loss saga, Groom took off on his run, which he finished at the still-locked Toyota Camry near the trailhead. Nice job, that: having a ride home.

The next day, with daylight and refreshed spirits and cooches on our side, the entire family would join in on Key Hunt 2008 (not to be confused with Key Hunt 2006...and, man, wasn't that a David Blaine fiasco!)

--a hunt which, in the dense foliage of the Northwoods, would be a challenging search akin to finding even a lick of foresight in one George W's blindered brain.

By the end of that day, thus, I was back to my usual morally-nebulous self, finding that I'd failed to live up to even the simplest of my values:

1) I'd had some fun, but it had ended rather crud
2) I'd made some noise while I was having fun (who can't sing along with "Please, please, please, let me/get what I want/this time"?), but then I shut up when the crud hit
3) Profiteroles were still not president
4) The only frank thing I had to say was, "When the Mara Salva Trucha gang offered me those ride-ganking and hot-wiring lessons back in '97, I damn well should've taken them up on the offer, even if it would have relegated me to a year of payback as their international drug mule."

(this story to be continued anon in "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want: This Key")

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Free Launch"

At some point in my twenties, my desire to have children became incontrovertible.

Uh-HUH. I wanted kids. Fo' sho'.

This certainty necessitated a messy break-up with my 46-year-old vasectomized boyfriend of six years. I'm sorry, Jack. You had not the sperm I needed. Plus, you were kind of emotionally shattered and full of scary landmines. In all, it was a healthy escape, that break-up spurred on by my insistent femme-eggs.

This certainty was born out of an instinctive feeling that having kids would bring me a life where I might romp with the wee ones--in slow motion--through Central Park, helping their little Hanna Andersson-clad bodies to launch kites into the air. We would fly kites. Then we would eat Italian ices before tripping over to FAO Schwartz, where we'd empty my teeming wallet on the purchase of a 7-foot stuffed giraffe.

Oh, yes. I wanted kids for the fun, the joy, the carefree adventures we'd have together.

After a few years of anguish, I got really lucky and had a couple.

Well, hardee-damn-harhar on my Vaseline-lensed visions of parenthood.

Indeed, as has been well documented in this space previously, life with kids is often more about the suck than the joy.

Sure, sometimes we get out kites. Pretty much, the kids get all excited, and then they get impatient during the 8 minutes it takes to untangle the kite string. Their repeated "Is it ready yet?" questions quickly become annoying. After that, the kite finally ready to go, the kids try running, string in hand, and then they trip and get bloody knees, or they can't run fast enough to ever get the too-big kite to fly, or the kite insists on diving straight to the ground time and again until it noses directly into some asphalt and splinters, or there's not enough wind, or, as you can see, some suck overtakes any slow-motioned vision of joy.

Other times, we go to the park, and often it's fun and all, but equally often, there are issues of strings (of snot) and bloody knees and wind and splintering and hunger and sand in the eyes that send us all trooping back home, quick-step, not at all in sun-dappled slow motion.

On average, parenthood seems to run about one (unexpectedly) terrific kid outing for every two stressful, whining, blister-ridden trips to the playground.

Parenthood, therefore, has proven to be about one-third "we're havin' a ball" and two-thirds "are they asleep yet?"

Despite this reality,


there have been surprising gratifications, ones I never imagined back in my empty-womb days.

Specifically, an unforeseen benefit of spewing out and then raising my kids has been the chance to re-process my own childhood from an adult vantage point. While my kids are having different experiences than I did, there is enough overlap that I can watch my daughter stepping into a moment, gauge her reaction, and then fly back through time to a similar day when I was eight, remembering my own reactions. I actually get to be analytical about experiences that just "were" when I was living through them myself. They give me new reflections of my own junk.

And, really, what is having kids all about, if not giving me a chance to think more about myself and how it all comes back to me?

Honestly, though, look at this series of pictures:

Jocelyn, first day of kindergarten, 1972
MOOD: Tentative

Girl, first day of kindergarten, 2005
MOOD: "Is there a word for both excited and nervous at the same time?"

Groom, first day of kindergarten, 1976
MOOD: Brash

Niblet, first day of kindergarten, 2008 (Girl contemplates shoving him to the floor by the 5th grade lockers)
MOOD: Mock Brash

Der Wee Niblet, even without formal education, uses body language to indicate he realizes all this hue and cry may ultimately signify nothing.


The photos have it.

We are all uncannily resonating with each other. She is me, and I is her, and he is him, and we is a jigsaw that makes an us.

I look at these photos and have a revelation: all this shizz is just going to keep happening, inn't? In 2028, some other five-year-old is going to get on a bus, right?

And if that five-year-old is my grandchild, I'll look at her and see my grandmother's smile on her anxious face. Later, when she takes up gymnastics, I'll remember how her mother, my daughter, liked to do a cartwheel to approach the kicking of a soccer ball; and how I, in junior high, loved doing leaps in gym class, fully fleshing out the required navy blue polyester shorts in my arcs through the air; and how my mom, in her own navy blue polyester shorts, used to turn somersaults down the hallway lined with the green shag carpet; and how her mom used to dance in the kitchen on the hot days when she would wipe down the walls to cool down the house; and how her mom used to do a handstand in the lake when only the ladies were looking;

and how each of us will echo the other

until the whole place goes black.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"She Couldn't Pour Water Out of a Boot If The Instructions Were on the Heel"

A few weeks ago, I was driving a van load of kids towards sweet treats. In addition to massaging the New York Times crossword puzzle, pushing back my cuticles, and pouring Malbec down my gullet, this is what I do. I drive the small people. Towards the ice cream.

Right around the Lake Street exit off the highway, 8-year-old Girl-o-mine advised me, "Mom, don't close the windows right now with your magical driver's seat electronic wizardry; I have my fingers hanging out one of them."

Triggered thusly back into the annals of his five vast years of memory, Niblet then chimed in with a dramatic tale of near finger-loss eons ago when he was a mere boy of four, recounting a story that gisted, "One time I had my hand in the window, and then the window started going up, and then I pulled my hand out really fast, and for a minute it seemed like my hand was going to get caught, but then it didn't."

At this point, Brain Trust Neighbor Child, age 6 and strapped securely into the seat next to Niblet (but loosely enough to draw mind-renewing breaf into her lungs), dislodged her finger from her nostril long enough to ask, "So, did one of your hands get chopped off?"

She threw out her query while staring directly at the live, animated version of this clearly double-pawed popsicle sucker:

Up front, suddenly entertaining the idea of cranking up every gadzookian window in the van--especially if Brain Trust's paw wandered near one--I rolled my eyes and pictured this girl's future as a visual merchandiser at The Gap, should all expectations be exceeded.

Yea, Fluffernutter. You got it. Ever since that fateful day, we've had to call the lad Stumpy. He used to be a regular General Grievous, but now, since the amputation, well, he's been relegated to a life of single-light-saber battle.

Fortunately, Niblet piped up with a kinder explanation, "No, look, Brain Trust Girl, I have all ten fingers, and they still wiggle. See me right here next to you with two hands?"

She nodded slowly, still a bit bewildered, and reinserted her finger into the neglected nostril.

Monday, September 15, 2008

“Jesu, Joy of Jocelyn's Retiring”

On the surface, Johann Sebastian Bach was just another poncy wig-wearing composer. But beneath the wig lurked something more menacing: the ability to derail promising futures.

And perhaps lice.

If he’d been born even a year sooner or later, I might actually have a high school degree today, and a high school degree, as popular lore would have it, can open doors and transform income potential. With that degree tucked into my back pocket, I could currently be enjoying a high-paying professional career in a positive work environment, leaning on the water cooler and swapping stories about landing the Steverson Account, signing collective Hallmark cards to celebrate birthdays, all while surrounded by intelligent, supportive colleagues.

However, Bach had another idea when he somersaulted from his mother's loins in 1685, an event that, three hundred years later, put a crimp in my degree-seeking style. That harpsichord-plinking mucker-upper.

It rolled like this:

1985 was the year I was to graduate from high school. 1985 was also the year that marked the tricentennial of Bach’s birth. The confluence of these events was akin to Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb and the subsequent birth of a guy named Caleb Powers about 40 weeks after a city-wide blackout 70 years after that invention. In both cases, one thing happened, and later another thing happened, and only the canniest observer could possibly link the two. My head is kind of cannish, for sure--like a Campbell’s soup can; it’s all roundy and full of sloshing liquid and on occasion goes crackers. I canny.

So that’s how I know Bach made me not graduate. My connectual and linking abilities sussed it out. See, to commemorate it being 300 years since Bach popped out, my dad decided, in 1985, to take his college choir on a tour of Europe, where they would travel from country to country, performing in various cathedrals for those citizens who had long wanted to hear Montana and Wyoming cowboy kids warble chamber music.

As long as my dad was taking a crew of teens through France, England, Germany (East and West), Austria and Czechoslovakia, and there was a “the more bodies, the cheaper the price” deal in place with the tour company, my mom decided to go along and sing as part of the choir. What, then, would be the hardship of a couple more tag-alongs, like my sister and me? (alternate reading to satisfy the wrong, plain wrong, hyper-grammar correctors in the audience: " my sister and I?")

The tour would depart in May and last for almost three weeks. We would see towers and castles and churches and cheeses and beer gardens and gazebos and tombstones. We could literally weep over Bach’s crumbled corpse. (note to my 18-year-old self: read up a little on that dude, so you care a bit more genuinely about him than you do the lads loitering in each city’s central square, smoking and sporting attractive Euro-trashy Flock of Seagulls’ hairdos)

(Fer Christ. Look: a statue. In a Europe place.)

The plan was set. The choir and the Jocelyn were ready to rock the Continent.


I happened to be attending this diploma-granting institution named High School. It was a small-minded place with unreasonable policies, like don’t set stuff on fire or urinate on the books or feel happy or miss more than 20 days of school each semester. As it turns out, I had missed four days already, before Plan Europe evolved:

I had missed a morning in my role as president of the AFS Club (American Field Service—an international student exchange organization; I had lived in Denmark with a family the previous summer thanks to this program) to set up an all-school assembly. I had missed two days while attending speech meets out of town. I had missed a fourth day for a National Honor Society activity. I was clearly a subversive.

These four absences plus the 17 days I wanted to take off to tour Europe with the choir—well, I’d had enough college algebra (an honors course all the anarchists enrolled in) by that point to know it all added up to something, like, more than 20.

Thus, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma.

My family’s first recourse was to petition the school board and see if an accommodation to 21 days could be made for me, noting that my “extra” absences had been school-related. After not-much deliberation, though, the board announced its decision, which read, “If we make an exception in this case, we will then have to make an allowance for any kid who wants to go to Vegas for two weeks with his parents. Petition denied.”

The upside of this decision was that it peeved my parents. They came around to a position I’d long held myself: screw the school.

Trying to find a different avenue, my mom called the college (1-800-COLLEGE) I was planning to attend that upcoming fall. Once she explained the situation and asked, “So, hypothetically, if Jocelyn were to not graduate from high school, could she still show up and do a significant amount of underage drinking on your campus in September?”

The college’s response was, “At our institution, we would give credit for a student going on a trip like the one your husband is leading. We would not penalize that student. Yes. She can drop out and still come vomit in our arboretum this Fall.”

Holy Jody Foster, but hadn’t I chosen the right college? I squealed with delight and began packing my bag for Europe.

It was a great trip. Our tour group had a bus driver named Animal, like the Muppet. We had a tour guide named Michael, he of too much cologne and calculated charm.

(The line-up: my dad; Hugo Boss-Scented Michael; Totally-Rad Jocelyn; Gold-Chain Sporting Animal; and a Wyoming Lass named Lori [back in high school, in what no-doubt remains a seminal life moment, she sang "Desperado" to her senior class at their prom])

Ultimately, getting out of high school for last month was a dream. Getting out of high school to drive around Europe was a gas. Getting out of the plodding graduation ceremony of my high school class seemed a pip…

until I attended it, alone, after returning from the trip. I sat by myself, in the highest row of seats in the huge public arena (where I’d rocked out not only to Rush but also to Black Sabbath fronted by—yea, baby—Ronnie James Dio), and I felt,


apart and alone.

I felt sad and disconnected from something that was supposed to mean something.

For three minutes.

Then I realized I was wearing a skirt I’d bought in London and that feeling apart and alone one last time during my high school years was fitting.

As it turned out, my personal graduation--way up high in the rafters there, with the ink still wet on my passport (cheap Eastern European stuff never did dry)--more accurately reflected what high school had been than any formal ceremony ever could have. As I sat there, listening to the tolling of my classmates' names, it was right that I viewed the pomp and circumstance from a distance, the physical space signifying an emotional one I'd felt for years.

Certainly, I had moments of melancholy as I sat in the upper tier that night (Row ZZ--Top!). But burgeoning underneath my disaffection was a liberating sense of glee as I realized that,

quite gloriously,

I'd already moved on.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Wherein Jamie Lynn Spears Breaks My Bank"

Every time they want an increase in their allowance, the kids pull this kind of emotional blackmail.

Niblet's all, "But I'm scawwed at night and need someone to sleep wif me."

Damn that Zoey 101 episode the kids watched, where the dorm was haunted by a malicious and creeping slimy green mist. Niblet knew there was no way the show-making people could have pretend made that kind of ooze. Clearly, it was real, and, therefore, such a thing could be spritzing around and lurking under his vewwy own bed.

He proved the legitimacy of his fear by waking up, crying, four times the other night, with a final tally of 3 hours of wakefulness between 2 and 5 a.m. (fellow passengers on this tearful journey: long-suffering Ma and Pa). Finally, after a big fight, he gave his pappy a firm embrace in the bed, and they slept in a sweaty headlock until the sun finished rising. During this time, the mother figure crept off to the guest room, where she wound herself in a fleece blanket and a smidgeon of regret that she'd had a second child.

However. The next day, as the parents dipped their heads to the scalp into a steaming pot of coffee,

Girl was all, "Okay, brudder, I'll sleep with you tonight, so you don't have to be scared."

Thus, at 8:30 p.m., the two of them snuggled into his twin bed and slept, without waking, for 11 hours. And again with it tonight.

And now--*dramatic sigh*--since I'm rather a puddle on the floor when faced with their soft, seraphic dewiness, I just might have to up their allowances to one dollar AND twenty-five large American cents per week.

What a couple of manipulators.

Monday, September 08, 2008

"The Chicken/Egg Conundrum, Mammarily Speaking"

For me, the underlying question is this:

Was it Bristol Palin's massive Double Whammies that first attracted the Hockey Hunk who knocked her up?

Or did her sideboard of melons develop later, as a result of said knock-upage?

If so, and she was pancakeish in the chestal region pre-baby-baking, does this lack imply she might actually have other attributes that drew Hockey Hick into her panties?

Like, say, a remarkable personality? (I understand from her mother that Bristol is "strong and kind-hearted." All the best teen mothers are.)

Hmmm. I wouldn't bank on the personality. If it wasn't her boobies that snagged Hockey Honkey, it could only have been her thick, lustrous hair that turned his attention away from the puck.

...or the fact that she jumped out of her seat in the bleachers one time during a big pep ralley, holding a sign reading "Go, Trojans!" However, our Hockey Hero, a bit shakey in his literacy, read it as "No Trojans!"

At any rate, Bristols's got the healthy hooters now, ready to be rolled into the White House on a luggage cart and, one one fateful night, slapped on top of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago's china plate during a State Dinner when she storms in late after a fight with Baby Daddy, hauling Hockey Hobbit Junior on her hip. She'll huff to the table, toss the kid to Nicholas Sarcozy, and lay her rack right on top of the lucky Trinidadian dignitary's lamb. For her, this body language will smack of frustration and defeat; for the wide-eyed PM of TT, however, it will smack of hope and joy and the dawn of renewed relations between his "country" and Bristol's.

Our country's future lies in our youth.

And the negotiating power of their oversized Rib Balloons.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"A Childhood Well-Lived"

At the end of a summer vacation, these are knees I trust.

They show evidence of

tumbles from the monkey bars

trips down the new brick path

scrounging in the garden for ripe plum tomatoes

falls off the scooter

bang-ups on the soccer field

and one,


poke with the evil end of a kids' tooth flosser,


during a fit of wild and rammy

bedtime dancing

to the national anthem of The Philippines.

I appreciate these knees. They have not lounged on the couch.