That usually means something else isn’t. It always means something else isn’t okay.
E. called twice on Saturday. S. hollered through the bathroom door, over running water from the shower. “E needs for you to call as soon as you’re done! He already called twice.” We’d been messaging back and forth. He probably wants to pick something up on the way here. Ice cream, or maybe my favorite coffee.
I finished without rushing and returned his call.
“Yeah, you know that yield sign where you have to crank your head all the way back and it’s a stupid traffic flow design? The brand-new Mini-Cooper in front of me didn’t go when it was clear. We’re exchanging information now, I’ll be there in a bit.”
He sounded calm. That’s what made me nervous. When he got home, I took a look. License plate was bent. Otherwise, no major damage. Fender bender minus the bent fender. I looked at the pictures of the other car, walked into the house, and discussed the next steps, grateful it wasn’t worse.
I figured out I was a bench warmer as a third grader, before I knew there was a term for it. My parents allowed me to join Little Dribblers, our local kid’s basketball organization. All my friends joined, and they were the cool kids. I don’t remember how I ever got to the practices, I probably walked to most of them, but my parents weren’t always in the stands cheering me on. Usually, they dropped me off, picked me up, and that was that. Typical 80’s kid doing her own thing. Their work schedules often conflicted with extracurricular activities and there were two other younger kids at home. Later it would become three.
During practice I tried to keep up, watching the others with envy as their basketballs obeyed and bounced back to their fingertips for another forceful tap. I spent most of my time chasing my basketball. If a coach intercepted it and passed it back to me, I moved out of the way so it wouldn’t hit me in the head. I like to think I have a metal plate in my head that attracts moving objects. It’s still there and it still works. I was never good at catching.
My dad watched some games, but I rarely played. I learned that you have to be good to play, otherwise you sit and wait for the team to win. Or lose. Sometimes I’d go in and it seemed that just as I got warmed up, a buzzer went off or a whistle blew and there was a switcharoo. Back to the bench. Cheer the team from there.
The following year, the sign up form went home again. I looked at it, but I knew better. I wouldn’t bother. We didn’t have a smooth driveway with a basketball goal for me to practice. I didn’t get any better. I wanted to play because my friend played, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as they did. I preferred to spend my time in different ways. After all, if I was going to sit on a bench, I’d rather sit there reading a book, not wishing to dribble basketball.
I wondered why
made me queasy
we drove around
looked at an empty lot
paid for it and
at each other
did we just purchase
a new home?
we found out
there's a baby
on the way to
help us occupy it
so much expectation
twenty one years
three times over
“Someday I’m going to be a grown-up like you and I’ll have to use that fork thing when I eat. So let me be a kid and eat my broccoli however I want, even if it’s with my fingers.”
She’s not wrong. I mean, she is eating the broccoli, I observe as she kicks her legs back and forth in her seat at the kitchen table. Her seat since she turned one. Same spot. No one sits there. If they do, she reminds them there are other places to sit.
I’m the one who gave her frozen broccoli florets when she was three. I thought it was odd, but that’s what her home daycare sitter did. She’d give all the kids florets of frozen broccoli on hot afternoons. Any time I took some out to add the obligatory green vegetable side dish to our dinner, she asked for a piece. In my curiosity, I gave her one, expecting her to toss it aside. She ate the whole thing and asked for more. Then she ate more at dinner.
Okay, so broccoli is a thing. She likes it, so why fight it? Now, it only gets eaten with seasoned salt. Small pieces. Warm, not frozen. Sometimes she’ll stab a fork into it, but I still see her occasionally get some with her fingers. I don’t argue anymore, because yes, sooner than I’d like, she’s going to be a grown-up like me and have to use that fork thing when she eats.
Enchanted Rock. It’ll enchant you to want to hop on boulders and flit around like a mountain goat until you realize you’ve gone too far and the only way to a trail, any trail, is down. And it’s steep. If you hike often and lift lots of weights, no problem. We don’t. Sure, side stepping your way down works, unless the descent is too steep. Without rails and nothing to hold on to. Slide down if need be. If you’re wearing weather proof shorts, you’ve got the perfect seat to a fast slide all the way down a massive pink granite rock.
Don’t lose the trail map. On second thought, study the trail map, make a plan, and read about what’s on the other side. Not many people going your direction? That’s a slap in the face, shake you back and forth until your eyes pop out sort of sign that maybe you’re going the wrong way. The hard way. The way meant for experienced hikers twenty years younger. The guy rappelling down the boulders you went around? Yeah, he won’t be able to save you.
Toes slide to the ends of shoes as you have a death grip on the rock trying not to lose your footing. Stay balanced. Focus. One foot in front of the other, lean back a little, bend the knees. Be patient, be patient, be patient. Once you get going it’s hard to stop so if you want to jump step it down, you’d better be ready and balanced for what’s coming.
There’s a trail. No one is on it. This goes to the lake. The car is on the other side. How far to go around because we so are NOT going back up to the other side. Go back. Regroup. Thank goodness for the checkpoint telling us YOU ARE HERE with an arrow marking our spot. Yes, we are, here, but how do we get out?
Take the other trail. But Mom! It looks like we have to go back UP! I can’t do that again!
More people. That’s a good sign. Better than the map. Keep going. It’s a bit rocky, but nothing close to what we just went through. Aha! Here we are. Everything looks familiar. Stop for a snack. Guess who thought of packing them? Take more glugs of water.
Dad! This is the way we came up!
And the way we should’ve come down. Who says adventures are always fun?
Life lessons learned: Together, you’ll get through steep descents and boulders. Sometimes, you’ll slide down on your ass.
Ever been “Netflix dumped?” It hurts. Not as bad as a real break-up, but still. I mean, I made a commitment. I promised. I said yes to an entire series with you. Then you went off and didn’t even wait for me. You cheated and watched. Every. Single. Episode. Without me, after I promised you I wouldn’t stray.
This isn’t the first time you’ve done it either. Season 4 of Stranger Things. How could you? After all, on your eleventh birthday, I vowed to let you watch season one. I fulfilled my end of the deal. We watched that first episode the night of you birthday. I even allowed snacks upstairs. Every day until the end of season three, we all watched it with you.
I worked that day and you just couldn’t wait. You promised you’d wait for me to get home even though summer break had already started for you. Lucky. But no, I got home and you had to brag about binge watching it. TWICE! Because you started watching when they dropped it at midnight. You would’ve thought you’d won a hot-dog eating contest. Glutton.
Then Heartstopper. Same thing. You watched a few episodes and swore you’d wait for me. I only got through the first three and you left me behind. Again. You had already gone through them twice, so why rush the third round? Sheesh.
The last one was Wednesday. Seriously!? You didn’t even know about Wednesday Addams until you found teasers for this Wednesday! I don’t want to watch anything with you again. You keep Netflix dumping me. I hate being mistreated this way. Take all the fun out it. I’ll watch on my own from now on. Don’t start on me when I decide to watch something without you.
Three hours at Target. I didn’t plan to spend so much time there. What I typically say to myself after a Target run is I didn’t plan to spend so much money there.
When the kids were younger, I’d put them in the cart, stop at the snack bar, order a bag of popcorn, and speed walk down the aisles grabbing what I needed, a little of what I didn’t, and maybe a little something for myself. A bottle of wine strategically placed on an end cap or a new notebook. Later, I dropped off the oldest in the LEGO aisle, speed walked with little sis in the cart, bag of popcorn in tow, and picked him up on the way to the checkout lane.
Yesterday, I’m the one who needed a bag of popcorn and a bottle of wine. Three hours! Swimsuit shopping. Little is now thirteen and she scored a dressing room while a line of hopeful weekend Target shoppers patiently waited their turns. The downside to big box shopping is no one runs to get more outfits in different sizes for you. That was my job.
I found the dressing room stall she took over. She let me in to see one option. “The bottoms are weird.”
Sure enough, they were weird. Too much fabric was missing. “You’re not adult enough to wear that, no ma’am. I’m not adult enough to wear that!”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, but the top is cute.”
I stepped out to wait and out flew empty hangers, tops, bottoms, and a request for more. “Can you please bring me something bright, but NOT anything neon colored. Maybe something neutral that will suit my skin tone.”
Oh for the love of summer! There weren’t many other options. “You hate florals, so I don’t know what else you want.”
“Just pick something. If I get out of here, someone else will take my spot and I’ll have to get in line and wait all over again.”
I return to the massive swimsuit section to hunt for muted tones. I selected florals with neutral backgrounds. On purpose, along with some abstract prints. With spring break a week away, maybe that’s why everyone was shopping for swimwear. It could also be because all swimwear tends to disappear by April. Get it now or try to squeeze into last year’s swimsuits, if they still fit.
Knocking on the door, I offer a pile of four more swimsuits. “These aren’t quite your style, but you might like them once you’ve tried them on.”
“Ummm, I said no neon colors. I want something bright.”
“You said neutrals.”
“Well, neutral brights.”
I decided not to go where my brain wanted to go, we’re in public.
She hands back everything I brought without trying them on. “Never mind. I’ll take a look myself and get back in line.”
“There’s no line. It must come in waves and it’s calmed down now.”
I take the hangers and get them in order. The two teens working the dressing room looked exasperated. We’re heading back, so I decide to put them back myself.
There are two more possibilities from a wall of options. She heads back to the dressing room and I go back to my shopping list. I haven’t gotten anything I meant to get. I’m in the gardening section when I get a message.
“Where r u? Mom? Mom? Mommy!?”
She finds me and plops into the cart a hoodie, a pair of yoga pants, another swimsuit, and a pair of silver hoop earrings. She makes her way toward a bunny Squishmallow plush toy in the holiday section.
“I have a gift card,” she grins.
“With fifteen dollars left on it! You have two swimsuits in here. They’re priced by the piece,” I explain. “How much is that one top?”
“And what do you plan to wear on your bottom half?”
We discussed options, chores, the gift card, homework, and more chores.
“I’ll meet you at the checkout lane,” I call, as she heads back to return most of what she thought she was getting.
Three hours. One swimsuit. Hoop earrings. A Pusheen hoodie. Pruning shears and some odds and ends I needed.
Target runs seemed so much easier when I stopped to buy popcorn.
In December, my mom stayed with me for two weeks to help me as I recovered from surgery. When I say help, it means she made sure I didn’t get up and break doctor’s orders, cooked all of the things with my husband, and cleaned everything that maybe didn’t need cleaning. Every morning, after mini-me got to school, we sat at the kitchen table and had coffee.
Morning coffee chats across the table typically revolved around whether or not we needed extra coffee, updates with my sisters, a good morning from my 20 year old as he headed off to work, toast or breakfast tacos, a chat with my dad who was home alone. In two short weeks, I grew accustomed to cafecito with Mom. We had one more chat before my husband dropped her off at the airport to return home.
Winter break gave me about three extra weeks of down time. When she returned home, we continued our morning cafecito dates via Face Time. I’d hear my phone ping: “Cafecito?”
“Hold on! I just got up. Give me 10 minutes.”
The coffee gets started, I pull my hair into its morning ponytail and retrieve my laptop. The screen is bigger. Coffee steaming, I bring it to the table and start the call. We chat. Dad pops in to say hi before he goes out for his morning run. Mom shakes her head because we know it’s too cold for him to go out, but it’s pointless. Bundled up, he goes anyway.
We continued these cafecito dates every morning until I returned to work in January. I don’t know why we didn’t do this before; Face Time is something we were already using. Getting accustomed to that morning rhythm helped us establish a new way to check in. Now it’s on weekends, sometimes Saturday and Sunday, sometimes on one of the two days.
We chatted again this morning, discussing a pan dulce* flavored coffee I sent her last week. “It would be so much better with a concha, but I’m going gluten-free for Lent.”
“Oh just eat whatever you want and don’t worry about it,” she reassures.
It’s a seasonal flavor, but I’ll stock up on what I can find in the clearance section. No big plans for the weekend, but at least the wind has calmed down where she lives. The Texas panhandle is notorious for windstorms that will kick up the dust nonstop for several consecutive days.
“You remember my friend…?”
“I saw the obituary for…I thought she looked familiar.”
“Hold on, your dad wants to say hi.”
“I don’t know why she doesn’t want me to…” Dad starts.
And so it goes.
Saying goodbye a few times, our conversation doesn’t seem to end. Either one of us will interject something on our way out of the call and we wind up talking for another fifteen minute chunk.
My second cup of coffee is nearly empty, so I know it’s time to get on with life on my side of the screen and let her get on with hers. She has my niece’s birthday party to attend.
“Have a slice of cake for me!”
The call ends and I close my computer. I’m looking forward to spring break so we can meet for cafecito every morning.
*Pan dulce is Mexican sweet bread, or pastries, many of us enjoy dunking into our cafecito (coffee).
A perfecto tú ju-u-u
a perfecto tú ju-u-u
a perfecto mija ah-lees
a perfecto tú ju-u-u...
Papá siempre trataba diferente maneras de comunicarse con nosotros. Le gustaba inventar palabras como él pensaba que deberían ser pronuciadas. Él siempre nos cantaba esta versión de Feliz Cumpleaños. ¡Perfecto!
Sticky shoeboxes covered with construction paper
long slot cut through the top
where little envelopes drop
one for every classmate
wiggly heart shaped Jell-O
Cindy's mom brought to the class party
shiny gold boxes wrapped in red cellophane
the popular girls got
from their little
Outgrown class parties
little messages delivered between
are any of those for me?
they're all for those girls
a pile of them
I wonder what they say
They sigh as if annoyed,
but we all know
they like attention
"I have so many!"
Oh, shut up
I wish they were mine
and my first
"real" Valentine's Day gift
a thin gold bracelet
with a heart slipped through the chain
I never wanted to take it off
until that one day
several months later
where it made its way
to the back of my jewelry box
do I dare wear it again?
Galentine's Day before it became a word
ditch the study sesh
none of us have boyfriends
so why not go to dinner together?
No tables available at the one
cafe, of course not,
couples got first dibs
because people plan for these things
we drive around,
it's late now,
and we find a little Italian restaurant
where I taste fried calamari
for the first time
order our entrees
and realize we don't
mind being single
A rainy weekend
greets the rare Saturday
No plans made,
but we have each other
Where do we go to dinner?
Everything is booked
Let's just go to our regular place
My gift is first
should be perfect,
it's something he enjoys
then I open the card
and he hands me a small box
okay, I say
and there it is,
the ring I had been eyeing
I say yes
he slips it on,
call my mom
and we head out
to dinner, nothing fancy
but I can't stop staring
at glittery possibilities
cute pencils with fun erasers,
stickers, snacks, a book for each one
goodie bag assembly line
load my car and brace myself
for my first classroom party
on the other side
every student gets something
it isn't fun being left out
even if it's from the teacher
and cute little notes pile up
on my desk
(I'm glad I'm not the parent!)
chocolate fountain and goodies
from PTA in the staff lounge
and bonus points for the one
who brought a small
bottle of Champagne
flavored jelly beans
Craft stick picture frames
with my little
cherubs inside them,
trimmed with sparkly hearts
googly eyes, and glitter
whipped cream topped pancake
with berries and hot cocoa
fluffy stuffed animals
heart covered pajamas
"I lovey dovey you!"
Gift bags with snacks
because they're always hungry
can't go wrong with candy
lemonade for one,
a root beer for the other
decide against deodorant
and find a silly squishy plush toy
because they still like getting them
"Oh, by the way, can I get
something for my friends?"
It's 9:30 p.m.
the day before VDay
No, just no.
We should be getting ready for bed
"I'll ask Dad!"
Wrestle with insomnia
get up and find my seasonal
place them on the table,
one of those shiny gold heart
shaped boxes wrapped in red cellophane
and a green squishy love bug plushie
flanked with a red Ring Pop and a tube
she skips down the stairs as if on cue
the minute I put everything down
she picks up the love bug
twirling it in a dance
and sings her happy theme song
"You're going to school with me today!"
At work the office calls
I have a delivery
a bouquet of flowers
unexpected and appreciated
text message exchange with
who stopped by to visit on Sunday
I pour myself a glass of cheap Champagne
fill the sink with dishwater
all of the ways people love me