Flashback Friday – 10cc “Hotel”

So many of my life’s memories revolve around music.  Specific songs take me back to places and times in my past that will be with me forever.

Chautauqua Institution 1976. Hanging out in the winter time at the home of friends. Doing nothing, avoiding any responsibility, just being a teenager. Why is it that hours upon hours of total inactivity bring back such strong memories?

We were the “cool kids” – the ones that parents probably didn’t want their children to hang around with.  I was on the fringe…afraid to be too bad, but enjoying the feeling of rebellion.

Levi’s, work boots, leather wristbands. Long hair parted in the middle (on both the girls and the boys)  A pack of Newports in my coat pocket that I would hide before I got back home.

That was the winter that I discovered 10cc.  I loved this song – I don’t really know why.  I still have the album. I think I memorized every word to every song. In order.

Ah, youth.

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Long Distance Grandparenting

Nearly every Monday morning at about 5am, I wake to the sound of my cell phone vibrating on my nightstand. I don’t really mind this early interruption to my slumber. My weekly “Morning, GaGa!” photo makes me smile every time. Sometimes, if I am really lucky, I even get a video!

If you know me, or have read some of my other posts, you know that our only granddaughter lives very far away. This makes it quite challenging for us to see her (or her Mama and Daddy) with any regularity. I will say that we are well acquainted, though, thanks to the use of technology. We Skype at least once a week and my phone is full of photos (nearly 2,000!) and videos of their daily activities.

I love the fact that we can experience their daily life from afar, and I feel that Fee knows us pretty well, something that would not have been possible twenty years ago, when our children were small. She takes our weekly visits in stride, greeting me enthusiastically when the screen pops up with a “Hi GaGa” and a smile, or hiding away in the corner under a blanket fort while I ask “Where is Fee?” She is a smart one, that one. When I ask her if she could give me a kiss or hug she replies, “I can’t – there is glass there!” referring to the computer screen that is between us. He first question is always “Where has Poppa gone?” and when he is here he will sneak up and surprise her, receiving a squeal and a giggle when she sees his face appear behind me.

This is not to say that it is easy. I long to hold her on my lap and tell her a story, or to tuck her in to bed at night and kiss her forehead. When I am out and about and see other grandparents doing things with their grandchildren I feel a pang of envy. I am sure they see me staring, and probably wonder what kind of a creepy individual I am.

When our children all began to move away their lack of proximity was tough at times, but it was manageable.  They have all been able to come home quite often, and we text each other almost daily. It has been exciting to visit each of them and get to know the cities that they now live in. It wasn’t until Fee was born that we truly realized how difficult the distance would be.

Our girls were very lucky.  Both sets of grandparents lived close by. They were always available for birthdays and Sunday dinners. They babysat whenever we needed them to, and even watched them for the day when they were sick so that we could both get to work. My mother-in-law loved those days. She would settle them into her own bed and serve them toast and chicken soup. Our parents were close to the girls and very involved in their lives.

When two our daughters came home a few weeks ago they paid a visit to their paternal grandmother. She took them upstairs to the apartment that she had lived in with their grandfather when they were both little girls. It was wonderful to hear them reminiscing about the times that they had spent there as children. Listening to them recalling these special memories made me think about my own impact on my grandchildren and what their memories will be.

In less than a month Jim and I will be grandparents to two little girls.  These last few weeks are almost as hard for me as they are for their parents.  I wish that I could drop by and give my daughter a break from chasing a two-year-old around so that she can rest. I want to be there to see our new granddaughter soon after she makes her appearance in the world. I wish I could see the expression on Fee’s face when she meets her new baby sister, and be available to reassure her of her place in the world when she feels displaced and out of sorts because she is no longer the center of the universe.

After Christmas we will take another trip to see them in their own home. It will be a long plane ride that I wouldn’t even consider again if it weren’t for the prize at the end of the journey. When we get there I will have to load up on enough kisses and cuddles to last me until the next time we visit. It will be hard to leave not knowing exactly when that visit will be.

In the meantime we will rely on technology to keep us familiar. I think I may have to upgrade the memory on my phone!

Granddaughter, little girl, toddler, hello, greeting, sundress
“Morning, GaGa!”

Little Sister

My memory of that October afternoon is very vivid. The sky was clear and blue and it was the peak of fall leaf season.  I was at the neighbor’s house on the corner climbing a tree. As I emerged from the red and orange canopy I looked out in time to see Grandma Mary’s old green car pull up beside me. She called to me through the open window and told me it was time to go home. Mom had gone to the hospital – to have a baby.

It’s funny how old memories like that are clear about some points and fuzzy about others. My recollections don’t really contain much anticipation about your imminent arrival. I am sure that my self-involved,  seven year-old mind had probably not spent much time thinking about how your presence would affect my daily life.  I honestly don’t remember much about your homecoming or subsequent baby and toddler years. Small bits do come to mind – your long, blonde hair (that I envied – mine was coarse and a nondescript dark brown), your kindergarten graduation, Easters and Christmases and a few birthday parties you had with friends. There were typical sibling skirmishes and “two against one” divisions, but nothing is really distinct.

When we were young we were far enough apart in age that we didn’t do a lot together, outside of the regular family gatherings.  I was a pretty independent and social child, always going to play at the neighbors or off to a school or church or scouting event. As a teen I was extremely detached – far too ‘cool’ to hang out with family. I was always out with my friends or at school. I really didn’t spend a lot of time at home, except when our parents went out every Friday and Saturday nights.  Being the family babysitter was a job that I was not particularly fond of. I know that I was not an attentive caregiver.  I am sure that I spent most of that time on the phone or in front of the television, not bonding with my siblings.

I do remember that one summer when I was in college. You were about 12 years old, worried about middle-school “girl problems” – friends, school, fashion. I was 19 and very worldly (or so I thought). We spent the summer sleeping in the same small bedroom while we redecorated yours. We stayed up late, calling in requests to the local radio station. I gave you a ton of advice –  it was heady stuff, being looked up to like that. I loved the attention. The best part of the summer, however, was discovering the joy of having a sister to share things with.

It seems like we have almost always been at different points in our lives, and that has made it tough at times. When I got married and you were my Maid of Honor you were only 14 years old. When my children were babies you were enjoying college. I recall how I coveted your freedom then. It was great fun to come and visit you in your dorm and pretend to be a co-ed for a weekend, though. It felt good to forget my responsibilities for a while. The long letters and telephone calls we exchanged did keep us close then. I had never been away from home that long myself, and I think I felt your homesickness almost as much as you did.

Over the years our relationship has ebbed and flowed, sometimes strong, sometimes distant. It seemed at times we both focused on what was in front of us, taking each other’s presence for granted.  Once you were an adult on your own, much like when we were younger, I sometimes let my own self absorption get in the way. My jealousy of what I saw as your single, carefree lifestyle plus my additional obligations to husband/children/work made it easy for us to drift a bit. Dealings with parents certainly added their own complications to our relationship…first driving us apart, then bringing us back together.

Now we have come full circle. You have your own family responsibilities, just as my girls have all left home. We don’t have Mom to bring us together any longer, it’s completely up to the two of us. To me, sometimes our bond feels tentative and new..

You are a now single parent – something that I never experienced. I am humbled by the amount of work I know you face every day. You made a courageous choice to do it on your own, something I don’t think I would ever have had the strength to do. I also appreciate having the opportunity to be “Tia”. I know you have been a wonderful Aunt to my girls and I only hope I can do half as well with your son.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that we have become close once again. I think that your physical proximity will be good for us as well. It is so nice to have family just up the road, someone who shares much of the same history and understands me because of it. We are finally getting to the point where we can have a conversation that doesn’t just center around our parents and their needs. That is refreshing.  It is nice to have you as a friend.

On this anniversary of that October day so long ago, I would like to take the time to wish you a Happy Birthday!  I want you to know how much I appreciate our relationship – every bit of it. You have helped me throughout my life in more ways than you could ever know.  I am blessed to have you as a sister. I Love You!
Sisters, Concert, summertime, adult sisters, Middle-age

Flashback Friday – The Carpenters “Superstar”

So many of my life’s memories revolve around music.  Specific songs take me back to places and times in my past that will be with me forever.

I think we were in 5th grade – maybe 6th. That would make it around 1971 or 1972.

I loved visiting my friend Jan’s house. She had a RECORD PLAYER! We sat in her room for hours listening to 45’s on the small portable…changing the little yellow disks each time we put on a new tune. I remember the Carpenter’s singing this song over and over.  It was a love song – what did we know about love? We were eleven!

Her brothers would bother us occasionally, which would result in a loud complaint to her Mom, and protests of denial from the younger sibs. We would slam the door and return to our music. What else did we listen to? Probably Donny Osmond or Bobby Sherman, but I remember the Carpenters the most vividly. I think I still know the lyrics to every song.

Their household was so different from ours. Her family moved to the area from an exotic, faraway place – Eastern Pennsylvania! They knew about things I had never heard about before like the Pennsylvania Dutch. I remember singing the song “Shenandoah” in the kitchen with (or maybe for) her Mom. Her Mom talked to us like we were adults and had certain expectations of how we should act and behave. She was astounded that I didn’t like peanut butter. Her Dad was an executive. He wore a suit to work. He also wore sweaters, like the Dad’s on TV.

We played cribbage in their family room and skated in their basement. There was a button underneath their dining room table that rang a bell in the kitchen. I believe it was put there to call the maid. I don’t think they had a maid. It was cool, though.

Sometimes at school we would switch lunches. Jan would bring me lebanon bologna sandwiches on white bread with cream cheese. I had a “Holly Hobbie” lunchbox. I don’t remember what my Mom would make for her. I am sure it was boring in comparison.

Every time I hear the Carpenters I think of Jan. I am so glad that we found each other again a few years ago via Facebook. We met for dinner a few summers ago and reminisced about all of these things and more. I learned about her family and told her about mine. We actually have a lot of things in common and she is a wonderful, supportive force in my life.  It is nice that we can still find that easy, comfortable rapport.

I went back to the house (where her Mom still lives) to visit with a group of classmates and plan a reunion last winter. We looked for the bell in the dining room, but we couldn’t find it. No matter…they still don’t have a maid.

Yellow record disk, record insert, triskelion, 45RPM, 45's

Anything but orthotics

So it’s come to this.

It started with a trip to my chiropractor this past July.  I have an ongoing problem with chronic pain – centered mostly in my hip area. I have tried dozens of things over the past ten to fifteen years to find relief and so far nothing has worked.  My yoga instructor recommended the perfect chiro, so I paid him a visit.

After a few weeks of tugging and pulling and cracking he asked to look at my shoes. After examining the soles of my trusty Birkenstocks he told me that I tend to “Underpronate”. He then advised me to go home and Google search the problem to find a pair of appropriate shoes.

Initially it sounded like a great idea.  I LOVE shoes! Who wouldn’t want an excuse to buy a new pair? Although my Birks are my go-to summer footwear choice, I have been known to have a bit of a penchant for pretty, pointy pumps. Just thinking about the beautiful snake-skin heels that I have in my closet (which I can no longer wear because of my problem), I smile with affection. As a matter of fact, at my past place of employment my nickname was “Shoes”. My motto is “any outfit is good, as long as you wear it with great shoes”.  Shoe shopping is my favorite. Pants may tug and blouses might not button correctly, but you can always find nice shoes. Macy’s shoe department is my nirvana!

Black Snakeskin Pumps, shoes, high heels, pumps
**Click image for photo credit

Actually, I was a bit concerned about what I might find when I looked on the internet, and my fears were justified.  It seems that the only shoes I located were running shoes. Here’s the thing – since I stopped running 10 years ago (as a result of said hip problem) I don’t DO running shoes.  I simply cannot bring myself to lace up a pair of sneakers to wear as a form of regular footwear.  They don’t feel right to me unless I am wearing  running shorts or yoga pants.

What to do?  My only option seemed to be to visit a “real” shoe store.  You know, the kind with salespeople who actually touch your feet? They sit on these weird little benches with an angled ramp in front.  They untie and tie your shoes like you were a three-year old and look up at you with smiling faces as they squeeze your toes to make sure you have enough room.

Just entering the store was intimidating.  The clerk who greeted me looked down at the Steve Madden flats that I was wearing with a sad smile. He was definitely judging me. When he asked if he could help me I mumbled something about my feet/hips and my chiro. He immediately jumped into action, leading me by the elbow to a computerized machine that had the outlines of two feet on the floor and a video screen at eye-level. As I stepped into place, the screen flashed a colored image with mostly RED pixels representing the pressure points on the bottom of my feet. “Oh, this is very bad!”, he exclaimed, reaching for a pair of inserts from a shelf on the wall.  “Here try these”, he said as he put them on the floor inside the diagrams.  I stepped into them and the angry red dots suddenly turned a soothing yellow/green. “Isn’t that better?” he inquired.

I had to agree that it did feel nice. As I nodded my affirmation he expertly directed me to a seat on the other side of the store and disappeared behind a curtain into the stock room. After a few minutes he returned with a box and pulled out the UGLIEST pair of Mary Jane flats that I have ever seen. They had very round toes and velcro straps that were about 3/4 of an inch wide. Swallowing my instant disgust, I decided to play along.  He slipped the inserts into the shoes and gently slid my foot inside, asking me to walk around and try them out.  “Well, how do they feel?”, he asked.

Orthopedic Mary Janes, black shoes, corrective shoes
** Click image for photo credit

My toes were sliding around at the top of the shoe, so I told him that I thought they felt loose. “That is because you have been crushing them for so long”, he admonished. “They need space!” I decided that honesty was the best track at this point, so I let him know that I would probably never wear this type of footwear and asked if he had something more enclosed, like a loafer. He sighed heavily and went back to the stock room, only to return with a pair of oxford-type shoes that buckled over the instep.  He removed the insert from the first pair and placed it inside the newer ones.  While they did look a bit better, they were still not anything that I could see myself wearing.

Realizing that I was fighting a losing battle I asked him if he had anything more stylish. This time he huffed off and returned with a pair of pumps that looked to be about the only thing in the store that I might possibly consider.  I put them on and walked a few feet.  They slipped off the backs of my heels – obviously too loose.

The salesperson looked at me expectantly.  When I told him they didn’t fit he sighed so loudly that I was sure they could hear him at the register in the front of the store.  “I am sorry, ma’am.  I don’t believe we have anything here for you.”, he said as he started to move away towards a woman a few rows down.

Utterly defeated, I left the store and returned to my car. I then drove a half mile up the street to the nearest department store, where I proceeded to try on every pair of black loafers that they had in stock, finally settling on a pair that had decent arch support.

I do understand that these shoes will not solve my problem.  I also understand that my vanity will continue to contribute to my pain.  It’s just that I am not quite ready to let go of the hope that I will one day wear pretty, stylish footwear again.

Running shoes do come in some nice colors, don’t they??

Brooks Ghost 7, Running Shoes, Sneakers, Gym shoes
**Click image for photo credit