Woman@Heart

Musings on Life, Love and Leftovers

Archive for the tag “humor”

It’s A Guy Thing

My husband, Nick and I have lots in common. We share the same religion. We’re voting for the same candidate for president. Jeopardy and Blue Bloods are must-see TV. We parent three adult sons and spoil a beautiful granddaughter together.  For sure, he’s the man I want bringing me a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates on February 14.

But over the years, I’ve noticed that our personalities collide, a lot. Nick likes westerns. I prefer comedies. I’m a diehard Steelers’ fan. He’s Bolts all the way. My car radio is set to R&B, his to classic rock. I like cake. He’ll take pie.

Nick was born in Newark and I’m from a little town near Pittsburgh. I used to wonder if that was the root of our differences. Then I thought, maybe it’s because I’m the youngest of four and Nick is the seventh of nine. Or perhaps it’s because I have brown eyes and his are blue. But the realization of a simpler answer trumped my earlier theories — men and women are different. When I was playing with Barbies, Nick was setting up his Hot Wheels track. When he was being introduced to Barbasol, I was learning about mascara.

shutterstock_97121432About three weeks ago, our contrasting preferences became even more apparent when I invited him to go shopping at the mall. I figured that our trip would take up most of Saturday afternoon and part of the evening. Nick was planning on a 30-minute outing (travel time included).

Not only do Pinks and Blues clash when it comes to how long a shopping trip takes, we’re oceans apart about what we want to shop for. Ogling the latest in barbecue accessories or scoping out bug spray in Home Depot is Nick’s idea of the ultimate buying expedition.

For me the mark a successful mall visit is finding the perfect pair of shoes – no matter how long it takes. Before I became a wife I thought that everyone loved shoe shopping. Nick has since taught me that if you circle Male instead of Female on credit applications, you probably don’t consider footwear as a personal fashion statement.

About an hour later, from across the winter boots display, my husband sent a pained look my way. I was veering into the purse department. Of course there was a basketball (football, baseball, soccer, golf, hockey, curling, bowling) game waiting for him on TV at home  and I suspected that he’d rather be watching a 6-foot-6 dude take 3-point-shots instead of discussing the merits of pebbled leather. Or giving his opinion about which looks better, the hobo bag or the tote? What he really wanted to say is: “Don’t you have a dozen purses in the closet already? Pick one of these and let’s get home before the third quarter ends.”

Men and women are on shaky ground when it comes to problem solving too. Women understand that sometimes all you need is a listener who nods supportively and mutters “Hmmmm” at suitable intervals. Just because we pose the question, doesn’t mean we’re looking for the answer. Men, on the other hand, are programmed to fix things — here’s the problem, here’s the solution, end of story.

This is where my husband shows his royal blue streak. His problem-solution skills are right up there with some of the greatest minds of his gender — Einstein, FDR, Knute Rockne. But after this short discussion outside the dressing room, Nick won’t be so quick with the answers anymore:

“Boy, I don’t like the way these pants look,” I said modeling them for him.

“They are a little tight,” Nick observed. “How’s your diet going?”

“Slowly. Why are you asking?”

“Because you said you didn’t like the way your pants fit.  You could always do what your friend did and try liposuction.”

“I didn’t say they didn’t fit. I said I didn’t like how they looked. I don’t like this khaki color.”

“Ohhhhh, ” he sheepishly replied.

I’ll leave you to imagine the rest of conversation, but you can be sure that Nick will never again suggest liposuction to his bride. In his spare time, he’s now practicing variations of: “Claire, you look fabulous in whatever you wear.”

It’s true that I might be from Venus and sometimes Nick wishes he was on Mars, but after many years of marriage, we’re proof that opposites attract. It may be a girl thing and it might be a guy thing. But one thing’s for sure – thanks to an odd-colored pair of Capri pants, come next Valentine’s Day I’ll be getting a larger bouquet of roses. And that box of chocolates I told you about earlier, it’s certain to be a three-pounder.

Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

My sister-by-choice, Sue and I just returned from New England where the magical display of brilliant colors amazed us. This annual spectacle serves as the official kick off to fall. Exhausted from our leaf-peeping, we plunked into our seats and settled in for the five hour flight to Los Angeles. In the old days (maybe last year), a flight attendant stood at the front of the cabin pointing to features on the aircraft as passengers readied themselves for take off. Today, Sue and I were directed to a mini-screen anchored in the seatback in front of you.

This MTV-like video contained the same basic information reminding passengers to fasten their seatbelts, turn off any electronics and where to locate the nearest emergency exit. As part of the routine speech about FAA rules, the choreographed dancers used coils of plastic tubing from an orange-coned mask in one hand as though they had dropped down from a compartment above. In possibly their best fly girls impersonation, the performers demonstrated what to do in case the cabin lost pressure. “Grab the one hanging in front of you and put it on,” they sang. “Breathe normally. If you’re traveling with  a child, put your oxygen mask on first.”

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This directive isn’t new. Some three decades ago (did I say that out loud) I took my first solo flight as a mom with my 8-month-old son, Shawn perched on my lap for the 80-minute journey from San Diego to Sacramento to see my sister, Sadye.

New to all this mothering stuff, my mind quickly weighed the plusses and minuses of putting Shawn’s mask on him before I secured my own. If an emergency really did happen, what would I do? How can I put my mask on first? What if I don’t get to my son in time? My maternal instinct, whirling with protective strategies, kicked in big time. Before my mental scenario took hold though, the flight attendant explained: “If you don’t get oxygen, you can pass out or get disoriented and you won’t be able to help your child.”

In spite of my instinctive reaction to care for Shawn first, that wasn’t the safest choice. I needed to secure my own breathing first. This was a startling concept for this rookie mom to embrace – the importance of taking care of me before  my child.

I’d been absorbed by motherhood months before Shawn was born. For me, it started when I first saw his heartbeat during a sonogram and felt his tiny feet kick inside my tummy. I prepared myself to love and nurture this little person long before my husband, Nick, and I picked out a name, a preschool or a college fund. His welfare would always come before mine. For a flight attendant — or anyone else — to ask me to protect myself before taking care of my son is attempting miracles.

Pretty much the only time we’re okay with putting ourselves first is on the second Sunday in May. You know it better as Mother’s Day. The 24 hours (well, maybe more like two hours)  when mom’s the top banana — pampered, fussed over and honored as if she’d made it to the finals of “American Idol.”

From California to Connecticut, sleep-deprived women are lovingly served burnt toast and lukewarm tea for breakfast. Homemade cards, bouquets of handpicked daisies and warm hugs are the treasured gifts of the day. Dad has arranged for a bucket of chicken for dinner and the afternoon is spent doing what mom likes to do – (if only she could remember what that is).

It’s hard for most moms to make the switch from caregiver to care-receiver. For 364 days a year, we’re meal-planning, check-book balancing, nutrition-seeking beings, with just one mission – keeping our family safe, healthy and happy. Our days are divided into many roles — wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, aunt and friend — and we do our best not to disappoint anyone. But on this springtime Sunday, we’re told to put away our day planners, toilet brushes and coupon caddies. We’re coaxed into relaxing while our kids take care of us.

Many Mother’s Days have passed since that first flight I took with Shawn. We arrived safely in Sacramento without any oxygen masks popping out from overhead. But that day, I left the plane with a new appreciation for why – sometimes — it’s okay for mom to be first. A relaxed, replenished mother is better equipped to take care of those she cherishes.

Finding a few minutes to take a breath can seem like an insurmountable task when you’re raising children. But if you plan it right, you can sneak “me-time moments” into your day. My favorite breathers are a 75-minute yoga practice, meeting a friend for a mocha or reading a few pages of a captivating mystery.

On a really good day, I’m soaking in a hot bubble bath, blissfully uninterrupted by the demands of life. Don’t get me wrong. Very few days play out like a 1960s TV sitcom. Most of the time I’m torn between hectic schedules and conflicting demands. But if making time for me benefits my family, then I’m willing to take one for the team.

Today and every day, if only for a few minutes, Put Your Oxygen Mask On First. Those deep breaths energize us to face burnt toast, muddy tracks across the kitchen floor, college tuition and that endless pile of mismatched socks.

 

Stuck on Sticky Notes

People often ask me where I get ideas for my essays? Well, this one came during the cool down after a Zumba class. In between calling out commands to stretch our calf muscles, our young instructor lamented that she’s starting to forget things. “I’m now dependent on sticky notes to keep my life in order,” she groaned as we relaxed the biceps in our upper arms. She feared her gray matter was having too many gray moments.

Nervous laughter swept through the class of 20, all over the age of 40-something. In between exhales, I smiled and gave her a knowing nod. I’ve survived for years thanks to sticky notes, to-do lists and e-mail reminders. My motto: The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory.

stickynote-pencil-copy-rotatedI’ve made peace with having to write everything down. In fact, I had to write down the idea for this column as soon as I got home from class, or I would have forgotten it. Many in my circle of girlfriends share this malady. We’ve discovered that as life gets busier, it’s harder and harder to remember simple things. We rack our brains to recall the name of an actor we saw in a movie last night. Wonder if we left the milk on the counter. We forget where we put car keys, cell phones, and sometimes for a moment or two, even our kids.

I used to fret about losing my memory, but I don’t any more. With age-earned wisdom, I liken sporadic forgetfulness to a baseball catcher’s overload. With a job, a husband, kids, a grandchild, dogs and a book club, there are simply too many balls to snatch. The less urgent stuff – buying stamps, taking out the trash or fertilizing the roses — occasionally drops out of my mitt. That’s not a sign that dementia is my next stop on life’s train ride.

There’s no shame in relying on a system – even if it’s made up of colorful scraps of paper — to help you remember to turn off the flatiron or pick up poster board at the drug store. There are lots of mornings I jot down a to-do list before I’ve gotten out of bed. I stash a pad and pencil in my nightstand drawer for that reason. Random notes to remind me to: e-mail Sue about a book I just finished; figure out what movie theaters are near Houston before I buy a gift card for my nephew or pull the pot roast out of the freezer so we can eat before 8 o’clock tonight.

So what if I can’t remember the name of Sue Grafton’s newest book (X) or the collective term for a group of turtles (a dole). I’ve already apologized to my teammates for our third place finish in last month trivia challenge. I should have remembered the book title. I don’t think I ever knew the turtle term, though.

For decades my head’s CPU has been bombarded with information. My computer-like brain is always on the job, processing data gathered from my thousands of days on this earth. When I was 12, it was so much easier. I barely had a decade of life under my belt. Twelve years of fact and fiction to keep straight. Maybe three contemporary U.S. Presidents and four Beatles to remember. There was lots of room in my head to memorize state capitals, multiplication tables and words for a spelling test. Homework was my brainteaser. If there was something important I needed to do, my Mom reminded me. Back then I had maybe 90 people in my life, including schoolmates, aunts, uncles and TV characters. Nowadays, more folks than that follow me on Twitter.

As the years pile up, so does the minutia. Names, places, computer programs, all vying for a spot in the mind’s filing cabinet. It’s an ongoing battle to determine what’s worth remembering, what can be retrieved by a Google search and what to delete from your cerebral hard drive. No one keeps track of everything. And why would we want to when there are notepads, calendars and other memory-saving shortcuts at our beck-and-call?

More power to those of us who’ve joyfully embraced our yellow and pink sticky notes as a white flag of surrender. We fight back by keeping our minds sharp and our pencils sharper. There was one more thing I was going to add, but I forgot what it was. Guess I should have written it down.

 

 

 

Off The Grid

“We’re out of toothpaste,” my husband Nick shouted from another room. “Which list do I write that on?”

“The purple one,” I replied.

I’ve learned the best bargains on sundries and non-perishables are at a discount chain. I get fresh fruits and veggies from a health food market and everything else from the neighborhood grocery store. So there are three pre-printed lists hanging in my pantry – color-coded, of course.

I can’t take full credit for this idea. My long-time friend Arlene unintentionally introduced me to the concept years ago during a lunch break. Peering over my turkey sandwich, I spied her preparing an after-work shopping strategy.

“Is your list printed?” I asked, unable to hide my surprise.

She laughed. “Yeah, I got tired of writing the same things over and over, so I typed a list and made copies.” She handed me a sample. Dish soap, shampoo, dog food, TP. Arlene’s system was simple — checkmark the items that were running low.

I naively adopted her blueprint, expecting Nick and when they were still living at home, my sons, to embrace the system. I dreamt that, after taking the last of the something, those living under this roof would circle the item on the list, sending a clear signal to replenish the chocolate syrup, tortilla chips or mouthwash. It didn’t take long for Claire-the-realist to propose a compromise — leave the empty “whatever” on the counter. Code for “I took the last one.” shutterstock_212311645

Living in the digital age, we’re inundated with hundreds of list applications to keep track of groceries and home supplies. Still, I prefer the feel of a pen and the crinkle of paper. I love my smartphone as much as the next gal. I’ve downloaded a whopping 47 apps. At the tap of a fingertip, I can tag a song, play word games or check the status of my delayed flight. Occasionally I use the device to make phone calls.

Apps are convenient and amazing, but I’ve trusted my reminders to a pencil and a spiral notebook for decades. The time it takes to move a ballpoint pen across the page allows my thoughts to crystallize. Plucking at a keyboard or poking a touch screen isn’t the same. Besides, paper’s battery never dies and even a dull pencil writes.

I was reminded of the benefits of simplified communication on a late summer afternoon, a few years ago. While I prepared for an expanded version of my monthly book club, an unusual quiet blanketed my house. The gentle buzz of the water cooler silenced. Ice cubes didn’t drop in the freezer. No digital read-out reminded me there’s two hours left to chill the white wine. After a bit of investigating, I learned a power line was inadvertently tripped and parts of Southern California and Arizona were left without electricity.

I had limited time to notify the usual group of eight, now expanded to about 30 because a local author wrote that month’s selection, that without air conditioning and illumination the meeting was cancelled. My cell phone didn’t connect. No Internet access, either. Twitter worked for awhile, but I knew my group of friends wouldn’t be checking my tweets. I could alert those within walking distance by knocking on doors, but shoe leather was impractical for friends living miles way. Fortunately, mounted on my kitchen wall was an operating telephone. I dialed a few other traditionalists who still used landlines and asked them to spread the word.

The hot weather made staying inside uncomfortable, so while my son, Seth, barbecued already defrosting hamburgers, husband Nick and son Jake dragged a couple tables and chairs to the driveway. Neighbors, rolling coolers filled with ice and carrying goodies originally intended for book clubbers, joined us for an unplugged evening. Conversations flowed and it was hours before the glow of candles dotting the tables faded and flashlights began to dim.

An accidental blackout turned into an impromptu block party for adults, teenagers and kids who happen to live side-by-side. We savored this unscheduled break from laundry, homework and economic woes. There was no fretting about what dish to bring or what clothes to wear and plenty of the time to enjoy life off the grid.

Human error caused that evening’s blackout, giving us an unexpected break. Before summer ends, let’s reenact a “lights out night” and relax under a star-dusted sky with neighbors and friends. We can switch off, power down and unplug everything–except the fridge.

Better stock up on matches, candles and flashlight batteries. Guess I’ll add those items to the yellow shopping list. Or is it the purple one?

 

 

Make Mine Diamonds

We were out to dinner with friends the other night when the topic of wedding anniversaries came up. Actually, in between appetizers and the main course, I brought the subject up. I knew Jim and Becky’s* 40th was next month and wondered how these two would mark their milestone occasion. They traded knowing glances. “We haven’t decided yet,” Jim volunteered.

 Always the helpful soul, I piped up with my trademark suggestion: “You know that’s a diamond anniversary!” My husband Nick rolled his eyes, frowned and then added: “She says that about every anniversary.”shutterstock_336087602.jpg

I smiled at my groom. He’d know. I’ve chanted this rallying cry pretty much since the day we joined hands to cut our wedding cake.

Whether it’s the first or the 51st, I believe every wedding anniversary should be celebrated, acclaimed and lauded. And — for my money — nothing says celebration like diamonds, whether they’re in earrings, a necklace or a ring. Successfully navigating the ups and downs of 40 years of wedded bliss is certainly worth a diamond or two, so I put in a plug. 

Becky took a sip of her drink and smiled at me. The guys swigged their beers and went back to dissecting last night’s baseball game.

The next day I went online seeking advice from anniversary experts and stumbled upon Anniversary Gifts By The Year. I’m in favor of taking the guesswork out of shopping, but these guidelines (divided into traditional and modern suggestions) postpone the good stuff until many decades of being Mr. & Mrs. have passed. This sequence seems backward to me. Is this what the American National Retail Jewelers Association had mind in 1937 when they first devised the list?

If Jim conformed to tradition, he would give Becky rubies — not diamonds – to commemorate their two scores of marriage. Rubies are nice, but why the 40-year delay? And if Jim follows those same traditional gift-giving gurus, Becky would spend the next 20 years anticipating diamonds.

It makes sense for young couples to exchange practical gifts when they’re just starting out. I guess that’s why suggestions like clocks, linens and pottery show up for anniversaries 1 to 10. Some argue that working toward silver and gold, rubies and diamonds are a great incentive to stay married. I say phooey. Give your wife diamonds early and often. The monthly payments alone will keep you together for the next 30, 40 or 50 years.

Guys, listen up. A wedding anniversary is the perfect time to go off script – or in this case – off list. My husband has done this a time or two. For our second anniversary, instead of the recommended cotton, he opted for boogie boards. For our 11th, he bypassed steel and got me an Espresso machine. Not exactly a sparkling tennis bracelet, but it’s a start. In return, he received a gas barbecue grill.

For our 29th anniversary the “list” didn’t offer any traditional gift recommendations. The modern suggestion touted furniture. Just what every girl wishes for — a new chiffarobe. Nick wasn’t thrilled either. He was hoping for golf clubs. True to form, I proposed diamonds. Nick responded with granite (countertops). I’m not complaining. Granite is a sturdy substance, not as strong and shimmery diamonds, though. Still, much better than a coffee table.

Six years ago, Nick and I marked what’s traditionally known as the Pearl Jubilee. And believe it or not, the modern gift idea is diamonds. After all these years, I could legitimately finagle some ice out of my groom. But Nick had a better idea — a voyage to the land of his heritage, Ireland. It didn’t take me long to swap the promise of diamonds for emeralds of another sort.

And since a trip to the Emerald Isle was way better than a single piece of jewelry, I put my Every Anniversary is a Diamond Anniversary crusade on hold. Until now.

Next Tuesday Nick and I will celebrate a marriage that has endured enough years to be eligible to become president, plus one. And even though the list-makers recommend bone china as the appropriate gift for 36 years of sharing the same remote, I see things a bit differently.

For the past week, Nick has noticed a few hints gently seeded around the house making the case for adding a fifth C to the 4Cs  used to determine a diamond’s quality (color, clarity, cut, caret … and Claire).

Of course, I could be easily talked out of an ice-crusted bauble in exchange for a champagne toast, a foot massage and a warm, tender kiss from the same man who, year after year, continues to say “I do.”

 

*names have been changed to preserve their marriage.

 

 

 

The Refrigerator Door

Most people think the primary purpose of their refrigerator door is to keep the food inside cold – the lettuce crisp, the eggs fresh.

They are wrong. Well, at least in my case.

Sure that’s the original idea, but my fridge does so much more than protect the milk from spoiling. It’s really an appliance-sized art gallery, showcasing my family’s personality, goals, achievements.

When my children were small, the door was the place to hang school awards, newspaper clippings of athletic victories and report card successes. Those white panels recorded the many stages of my growing sons including the photo of my oldest, Shawn and his pal, Mike, proudly displaying their catch of the day or Jake walking across the football field to shake hands with the other team’s captain.

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The refrigerator has served as a gigantic magnetic letter board, where my sons moved around colorful shapes in their early attempts to learn the alphabet–a tradition I’m eager to watch my granddaughter, Windley Marie, continue. Back then, there was a steady stream of art projects, including a Popsicle stick-laden frame declaring– in a six-year-old’s best handwriting–my husband, Nick as the World’s Best Dad.

Just like the media’s short news cycle, those memories have been upstaged by more recent happenings. Right now, held up by butterfly magnets, is an invitation to celebrate my youngest son, Seth’s college graduation juxtaposed near Windley’s birth announcement. A photo of me and my sisters, Sadye and Sue, sharing a laugh shares space with the boutonniere Nick wore at our wedding vow renewal last August.

Some things require permanent placement, however, like a photo from the ’90s of Seth with Max and Baylor, our dogs. Through winning and losing seasons, both Pirates and Steelers schedules compete alongside the Padres and the Chargers. The ladybug magnet given to me by my niece, Frances and the I Love Lucy one, a gift from niece Maria, will always have a spot on my KitchenAid holding miscellaneous notes, invitations and prayers.

Hidden among the family’s calendar, sandwich shop loyalty cards and the lottery tickets, beats the heart of my vibrant family. Each time I reach for the milk, or take out the lunchmeat, I’m greeted with this running Fadden Family news banner. It’s always on, streaming through the events of the day, the week and the year.

This easily updateable scrapbook serves as a haphazard window into my family’s life, keeping me focused on how quickly time passes. Blanketed with shopping lists, dental reminders and a Trader Joe’s coupon that expired last week, this metal canvas doubles as a larger-than-life reminder to pause and savor these sweet, fleeting moments. And to treasure the small things that translate so seamlessly into life’s biggest blessings.

 

 

My World of Simple Pleasures

I was born 42 years after my mother, during a time of innovation, progress and the Beatles. And although the most important ingredients necessary to be a good mother and grandmother – love, discipline, patience, faith and a sense of humor – remain the same, there are many reasons I’m glad that I got to be a mom and a sitie in this day and age instead of the ’60s. There are inventions, newfangled ideas and discoveries that streamline my life in ways my mother would have never envisioned.

Sure, she lived in astonishing times. Advances like cars, television, Teflon pans and supermarkets made parenting easier for her than for her own mother. I’m certain my mom marveled at her laundry chute, coal delivery, the five-string clothesline in our backyard and Tupperware.

But if she were alive today, she’d be amazed at the many services, short cuts and accommodations we have at our fingertips. Think tanks all over the world are busy creating products to make our tasks easier, our homes cozier, our lives healthier and our spirits lighter. Maybe they’re not major strides in civilization like finding a cure for polio or travelling across the country by airplane. But these small, simple pleasures bring a smile to my face, a song to my ear and can reduce the wrinkles around my eyes. I stay on the lookout for them, because it’s easy to take them for granted.

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Little things like dishwashers, surge strips, permanent press and smudge-proof lipstick, impact the quality of my daily life. Improvements, enhancements and technological advances like these get me through the workweek with minimal wear and tear. Not only do conveniences like these make me look better and feel better, because of them I have time to spare. I can relax, take a walk with my husband, Nick or enjoy game night instead of ironing, hanging laundry or standing in line at the post office.

In many ways its a tad easier to be a woman in the 21st century than it was in say, 1816. Here are, in no particular order, some 50 reasons why I’m happy to be living today. With any luck, by tomorrow my list of simple pleasures will expand.

Kleenex with aloe

Dimmer switches

Squeezable jelly

Mascara remover

Amazon Prime

Frozen pancakes

Crock pots, crock pot cookbooks, crock pot liners

Nutrition facts labeling

Gift registries

Snapshot check deposit

Voice mail

Neighborhood yoga classes

Ceiling fans

GPS

FitBit

Milk frothers

Mobile dog groomers (thanks Natalie)

Pause, fast forward & rewind

Copy & paste

Airport cell phone parking lots

Toothpaste with flip-top caps

Scanner printers

Instant oatmeal

(Grand) Baby video monitors

Carbonless copies

TV remotes with a sleep timer button

Pre-cooked chicken

Wrinkle-resistant shirts

Flight trackers

Caller ID

Daily moisturizer with SPF 15

Heated driver seats

Hearing “Sweet Child of Mine” play when one of my sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth calls my cell phone. And “Pretty Woman” should Lisa or Rachel give me a ring.

Cell phone cameras

Flavored coffee creamers

Self-adhesive postage stamps you can order by mail

Words with Friends

Used paperback book stores

Gift cards

Relaxed fit jeans

Microwave ovens

Bread makers

The Weather Channel

Return address labels

Shampoo shelves in the shower

Gift receipts

Cash back

Book club readers’ guides

Extended wear contact lenses

The craziness, chaos and demands of life slow down by the end of the day.  It’s then that I can sit quietly with a cup of Irish Breakfast and let my thoughts settle. That’s when it hits me — during these few quiet moments when my work is done, I once again realize what I’m most grateful for: the good health and happiness of my family. But there’s also a soft spot in my heart for that pre-grated cheddar cheese in the handy zipper-lock bag that makes taco night a breeze.

Dad’s A Catch!

Earlier today–5 a.m., to be exact–I found myself sitting at our kitchen table, both hands curled around a lukewarm mug of coffee. My sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth had just left with their dad for a day of deep-sea fishing. For some crazy reason, I felt the need to get up early and see them off.

My quartet of fellas–donning jackets, gloves and baseball hats and carrying a tackle box full of fishhooks—looked somewhere between sleepy and joyful as they walked out the front door. An ocean adventure on the horizon. A day on the high seas is not my idea of a great time. The closest I’m willing to get to a body of water is a spa pedicure, like the one I indulged in this afternoon. Thankfully, none of my hobbies involve waking up before the sun rises, taking seasick pills or inhaling the scent of fresh mackerel.

The same isn’t true for men or at least my four. They have no aversion to stinky, gory or dangerous. Securing a slimy worm on a hook is no big deal. My husband Nick can live blissfully with bits of dirt captured under his fingernails, and never worries about breaking one of them during a basketball game of HORSE. He searches for TV shows about shark attacks, dirty jobs and battles between Sparta and Athens. Threadbare t-shirts, holey socks, jeans that look like they were just shot out of a wrinkle gun — all part of the male bravado.Nickcatchesabigone.Sept.2011 - Copy

Dads like my husband are heralded for teaching kids useful stuff like how to hit a wiffleball off a tee, draw to an inside straight or burp Yankee Doodle. Athletic supporters, nine irons and cleats aren’t a mystery. Nick has taught our trio how to tie a Windsor knot, use an electric shaver and repair a leaky spigot. Clutching a pipe wrench, this handydad tutored his sons on the merits of “righty-tighty; lefty-loosey.”

I’m glad to be the contrast to Nick’s daddyhood. This mom has introduced her kids to black-and-white TV sitcoms, Motown and chocolate chip cookie dough. As they grew, I imparted a mixture of practical (check for TP before you sit down), emotional (laugh some everyday) and spiritual (what goes around, comes around) wisdom. Because of me, they can sew on a button, shop for the best price on a box of cereal and avoid burning their grilled-cheese sandwiches.

I can whip up a scrumptious batch of cranberry scones. Not to say that Nick can’t, but why duplicate our efforts. He’s the one who fills the propane tank and mixes marinade for grilled tri-tip. Our practical divide-and-conquer strategy plays to our strengths. Nick would rather push a mower around the lawn, check the tire pressure or demonstrate the proper technique for hitting the 7 ball into the side pocket. I’m OK being the guru of gift-wrap, farmers’ markets and white sales. Someone’s gotta put that worm onto a fishhook and it’s not going to be me.

To be successful at this parenting game, a wise couple merges their best qualities. If mom is the heart of the home, then dad is its backbone. Both roles are essential and operate best when working together. Mom may have the softer shoulder to cry on, but Dad’s sturdier hugs are just as comforting.

Now–toenails freshly painted–I’m back at home. The house is quiet, but the fishing poles and vests tossed in the corner of the family room tell me my guys are back. I sneak through the house and find four anglers asleep on sofas and beds. A wrapped package in the refrigerator contains the results of their adventure. We will have fish to barbecue tonight.

During dinner they’ll debate whose catch was the biggest, laugh about reeling in a ball of seaweed and lament the yellowtail that wriggled free. I’ll laugh along, grateful that–unlike a certain fish–the special moments my sons’ caught with their dad didn’t get away.

 

 

What I’ll Do On My Summer Vacation

Summer is the best time for vacation. Daylight lingers, delighting us with sun-soaked rays. My husband, Nick and I stick to this timetable, although it’s not every 12 months we can afford to pack up and caravan to a distant place. Big vacations are sprinkled in whenever we can swing them.

Even though we budget, often our travel plans put us in the red. Nick and I don’t mind. We know memories are worth more than hefty bank accounts. Past summers have been spent horseback riding in Kauai, boating on Lake Tahoe or rafting down the American River in Sacramento. My family has picnicked near the Golden Gate Bridge, taken a cruise to the Bahamas and trekked to Pittsburgh for a family reunion. We have photos of us in front of the Liberty Bell, the St. Louis Arch and the Statue of Liberty.

But more often than not, we staycation, devising our own (reasonably priced) entertainment. In spite of financial reality, I’m not quite ready to do away with family vacations all together. There are a few places I’d like to see  before the days get shorter – Washington, D.C. and the Grand Canyon to name two. But in between the major getaways, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer. So, before it’s time to turn the clocks back, I’m hoping to:

  • Lick toasted marshmallows and melted chocolate off my fingers after a barbecue.
  • Really listen to the words of “America the Beautiful” when it’s sung on the Fourth of July.
  • Watch Mary Poppins (for what might be the 63rd time).
  • Make do-it-yourself Chipwiches. Use vanilla fudge ripple ice cream.
  • Avoid full-length mirrors while wearing my one-piece “slimsuit.”
  • Score big time in a water balloon fight.
  • Hit an exacta at Del Mar.shutterstock_110964818
  • Recall the fun I had as a little girl after dark, catching lightning bugs in southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • Smile at the memory of my mom’s voice telling me to let them go.
  • Hug my family every chance I get.
  • Hit a wiffle ball over our backyard fence for a homerun.
  • Use a lot of SPF 30.
  • Mix up bowls of Candy Apple Salad (equal parts: Granny Smith apples, Snickers and Cool Whip).
  • Take in an afternoon Angels’ game. Sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
  • Buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack.
  • Keep quiet when someone ate the last Twix ice cream bar.
  • Buy a new sun hat.
  • Win a game of Monopoly – or get sleepy trying.
  • See the summer blockbuster movies. Crunch buttery theatre popcorn.
  • Tempt fate and try my luck on the Slip ‘n Slide.
  • Avoid travel brochures touting romantic getaways to Rome, Paris or Athens.
  • Eat cotton candy and grilled corn-on-the-cob at the fair.
  • Dust off our telescope and be amazed at the jewels found in the night sky.
  • Learn to swim. This may take several summers.
  • Fill my phone’s memory with lots of pictures.
  • Ignore that Y-shaped tan line my feet get after wearing sandals.
  • Taste the tomatoes, zucchini and green peppers, Nick grew in our backyard garden.
  • Shun the Halloween and Christmas displays already at the stores by early August.
  • Enjoy the extra hours of sunlight.
  • Curl up on my patio glider and read, read, read.
  • Sing along with Carly Simon: “. . . these are the good old days. These are the good old days. These are — the good old days.”

 

 

 

 

“Mother U R the GR8ST”

I will probably never be named Mother of the Year and that’s OK. My award is receiving praise, even for a moment, from any of my three sons. When they were young, I never unearthed a software solution to block spam, a plan to lower the price of gas or even an easy way to remove Orange Blast Gatorade stains from the front of baseball uniforms.

I am appreciated by my sons for less notable, but in their eyes, infinitely more important reasons. Over the years, I’ve heard: “Mom, you’re awesome.” (Shawn, when I found his missing soccer cleats.) “Claire, you’re clutch (Jake, after having his sweatshirt mended.) or “Mom, you rock!” (any of them upon discovering a full bag of peanut butter M&Ms in the pantry). The highlight, though was the day, Seth, 11 at the time, declared me the greatest.

The title of this essay comes from his reply to my e-mail. Now, you might ask why I was e-mailing my son whose bedroom was less than 100-feet away from my own. But in those techy days, long before texting, e-mail is the easiest way to supply him with information or get his attention.

I recall excitedly clicking open this email to learn what wonderful, motherly thing I had done to warrant such a declaration. Was it the fact that Seth’s PE clothes were clean and ready to go every Monday morning? Maybe it was the way I had shredded my Sunday paper into confetti searching for pictures of food items to match his Spanish word list. It could have been an acknowledgement of the miles and miles I had put on my old Villager minivan, not to mention my own chassis, hauling him from basketball, soccer or football practice. But alas, no. None of these routine yet important mom tasks garnered me Seth’s proclamation.

shutterstock_173294123

It was just a little thing I had done during the course of my daily duties–finding locations of Dairy Queens in San Diego County and e-mailing them to him. An afterthought to me, but huge news to my youngest.

After returning from his summer vacation in Sacramento, Seth had told me that he loved to go to DQ, a place his Aunt Sadye took him for ice cream Blizzards, burgers and hot dogs. Wanting to maintain my spot as number one — and not wanting to be outdone by my sister — I invited Seth to lunch one winter afternoon. We ended up at what I thought was the nearest DQ, only to find that the ice cream and burger joint had transformed into a haven for fried chicken lovers. We settled for chicken fingers and fries. Disappointment had painted Seth’s face but he didn’t complain. With his eyes cast down, he slowly dipped his chicken into Ranch dressing and nibbled his fries. I said nothing, but I knew that my son’s happiness was just a Google search away. A few moments at my PC would mean hours of future fast food happiness for the Fadden family.

Even though the message was only five words long (two of which were the letters), Seth’s brief e-mail taught me a lot about being a mom. In a flash, it emanated what’s important to Seth. I knew he appreciated the everyday things I did — dinner on the table, allowance on Fridays and clean clothes. But his e-mail signaled another message. What was top priority to me (getting your homework done) was different than his number one (shooting some hoops).

Fortunately, there was room for both kinds of important – good study habits and jaunts out for caramel Frappuccinos; washing behind your ears and staying up too late; taking out the over-flowing trash and sock wars. With just a few keystrokes, (20 to be exact) Seth had showed me that somewhere amid the busyness of daily living, mother and son still connect – whether it’s via the Internet, or over milkshakes.

During those hectic years of raising kids, so much time is spent on cleaning and grocery shopping, packing lunches and signing permission slips. It’s hard to look beyond the day-to-day tasks for those award-winning Mom moments. These chances don’t come along every day, but they’re there if we look for them – rare opportunities to be nominated as your child’s Mom of the Year (or at least of the Day).

My sons are grown. Still, they wave the magic wand of appreciation. I’m overjoyed when I garner another glowing e-mail from Seth, or a compliment from Jake or a thank you from Shawn.

It may seem as though I take their praise in stride, but the truth is I’m SFE2E (smiling from ear-to-ear) because I’m OLM (one lucky momma).

photo credit: Pinkcandy/Shutterstock.com

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