Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The joys of the empty nest...

I hope you’re enjoying the holidays and that you don’t mind if I serve up a rerun I wrote a while back. I thought it was preferable to writing about New Year’s resolutions I don’t have a prayer of keeping.

There are just the two of us living at home now. All the kids are married and have homes and lawnmowers and telephone bills of their own. They have children, cats and dogs, and cars they have to pay their own insurance on. Sometimes our house sounds too quiet and feels too empty. I can no longer hear even the distant echoes of someone yelling, “Make him stop looking at me,” or “Make her come out of the bathroom. She’s been in there for two years.” Like my mother-in-law before me, I need a family fix when the silence and the emptiness begins to bother me.

Mom was always so glad to see us when we went to visit her in Southern Indiana, encouraged us to come more often, and cried a little when we left. Not a lot; it was more like she just held a Kleenex in one hand and her eyes got shiny.

I used to look in the back seat to make sure we hadn’t managed to leave any children behind, then turn to my husband and say, “We’ve got to get down here more often. She misses you and the kids so much.”

He would then say something profound like “uh-huh” or “you’re right” and we would head north. Now, the fact that he admitted I was right should tell you something. In those earlier days of marriage, admitting the other one was right just wasn’t done unless it was a matter of Grave Importance. Nowadays, we say “yeah, you’re right” real quick because we know it’ll stop the argument before it starts and very few things are Gravely Important enough to argue about.

Since he did agree to the Importance of visiting his mother, we would always make plans to visit more often. I hoped the fact that we had these good intentions made her miss us less, because, of course, the plans didn’t materialize. When you are 30-something and have three children who participate in 27 organized sports apiece in addition to the homework they don’t do until it’s three days late, plans have a way of falling apart right before your eyes.

But we made it there a couple of times a year anyway. We slept all over her house, ate everything in sight (she’s a spectacular cook), monopolized the television, and promised to visit more often. Then we’d leave for home again, with Mom standing at the door waving her Kleenex.

Twelve or so years ago, for the occasion of their brother’s wedding, our older children and their families were at our house. We had such a good time. Since I’m not the cook my mother-in-law is, I sent people to town periodically for chicken or pizza. They slept all over the house — I had to lay grandchildren sideways across the sofa bed in order to use the computer. No one monopolized the television only because one of the grandkids hid the remote and no one knows how to change the channels if you have to get out of the chair to do it. I shopped with my daughter and daughter-in-law, played Scrabble with my sons and son-in-law, and waved to my husband in passing. I tried to act like I wasn’t giving advice when I was, like I wasn’t tired when my eyelids were at half-mast, and like it didn’t bother me that my son and brand new daughter-in-law were moving 1000 miles away when it did.
It was, all in all, a splendid weekend.

When the last car drove out of the lane, I stood in the yard and waved. I probably had a tissue in my hand — or a paper towel; I can never find the Kleenex when I want one — and my eyes were undoubtedly shiny. Then I went into the house and sat on the love seat and listened to the silence. My husband sat in the chair, his hand curved around his rescued remote control.

We looked at each other, smiling, in our blissfully quiet and empty house. I said, “As glad as I am to see them come, I’m just as glad when they leave.” It made me wonder just what kind of a mother and grandmother I was. I not only fed them carry-out, now I wanted them to go home.

Before I could make guilt into a family pet, my husband picked up the phone and punched in Memory Dial One. “Mom? All those years ago, when we’d leave and you’d stand there with your hankie, you weren’t really crying, were you?” He listened a minute, then said, “That’s what we thought.”

He hung up and looked over at me again. “She was crying, all right, but it was with relief.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

All heroes don't wear uniforms...

Have you finished shopping? Have you started cooking? Are you enjoying this most sacred and beloved of holiday seasons? Are you feeling really tired but really happy? I hope so.

I was sitting in the chair at Hairtique while Denee did something about my roots this morning when I heard someone in the background mention carrying grudges. I frowned into the mirror—and a frowning woman with a headful of aluminum foil is not a pretty sight, believe me. This is Christmas, I thought. We do not need to talk about grudges.

Then I thought about gifts. (Aluminum foil on your head intensifies the thinking process. At least, that’s the story I’m sticking to.) I love giving gifts, like receiving them, enjoy coming on something old and cherished and giving it to someone who will love it as I have. I am oh-so-fortunate that I don’t really need anything, nor do I even want much. Exept, like Gracie Hart in Miss Congeniality, I really do want world peace, which brings me to grudges.

What better gift to both the giver and the receiver than tossing off a grudge borne too long for whatever reason? It’s free, it’s loving, and it’s huge. Unlike many of the things we wrap, it will be remembered forever. Just when the receiver thinks she’s forgotten it, it’ll turn up at a time and place when she needs it most.

And while we’re at it, what better gift to anyone on your list than the one of time, watching “Jeopardy” with your grandmother when you need to be doing something else; reading Green Eggs and Ham for the 100th time when the supper dishes are still languishing on the table; shoveling the snow from your neighbor’s path? What better gift than sharing a sustained, gasping laugh over a cup of something warm and comforting? What better gift than listening in silence to someone who needs to talk? What better gift than saying, “No, you don’t look fat,” simply because the person needs to hear it?

In the post office where I work, hundreds of parcels addressed to “any soldier” have crossed the counter this holiday season. Some are sent by parents and spouses whose own particular soldiers have requested care packages for friends who don’t receive them, some by veterans, some by people who just want to do something. The senders have spent countless hours assembling the boxes, then stood in line cheerfully, filled out Customs forms, and paid $12.50 a pop to make the day of someone they don’t even know. It seems all heroes don’t wear uniforms.

But all heroes give. Whether it be forgiveness, time, laughter, empathy, money or most difficult and most importantly, of themselves. Giving, from the very first Christmas with the birth of a child who grew up to give all, to now when so many have forgotten or no longer believe, is a primary “reason for the season.”

With that, I wish you the merriest and safest of Christmases. I hope you have family time and more food than you need. I hope you get whatever gifts your heart is crying out for. And I hope you give.

Till next time.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010
It is December, the time of retail dreams. Or nightmares. It can go either way. Although my job is not precisely retail, I do spend many hours each day working with the public. December’s our busiest time, and I come home at night with both my feet and my smiler worn out. On the way home today, when I was congratulating myself for not screaming, “HURRY UP!” to a customer who wouldn’t move, I thought a behavior list would be a good idea. You know, from the point of view of the person behind the counter who has sore feet and a smile that’s fraying around the edges.
Then I thought—it’s a long drive home; lots of time for thinking—I should also make a list for folks on the other side of the counter. I was a consumer before I was a public servant. Sitting here hungry and half asleep, I’ve tried to decide which list to start with. In the interest of being fair, I flipped a coin.
The person behind the counter won the toss—winning depending on how you look at it. Therefore, if you are the clerk/cashier/whoever-else-is-serving the public, here are a few basic rules.
• Say please and thank you and smile. While you’re meeting the customer’s eyes. If you look over his right shoulder, all bets are off.
• Stay off the phone unless being on it is your job.
• If the bill ends is $5.23 and the customer gives you $20.25, know how to count the change back. Don’t wad it up and put it in her hand.
• If someone jumps the line and you catch him, tell him kindly he’ll have to take his turn. You can grind your teeth, but smile while you’re doing it.
• If your friends stop by to visit, tell them to go home.
• If you’re bored, don’t look it. Stay busy.
• If you don’t know the answer to a question, find someone who does.
• Use lots of hand sanitizer.
• If you haven’t had a complete 10-minute break since the second week of August, well, sorry. That’s just the way it goes. It’s not the fault of the customer in front of you.
• If a customer gives you a hard time, call him names in your head and hope he walks out in the rain to a flat tire, but don’t take it out on the next customer. He’s innocent.
• If you’re required by management so far up the corporate ladder they have nosebleed to ask stupid questions of the clientele, just ask them. You can’t get out of it and everybody knows you didn’t make them up.
• Don’t make fun of anybody in front of a customer. Even if you’re funny, chances are good someone will hear you who’s either hurt or offended by your attempt at humor.
And now, if you are a customer, here’s a list for you.
• Leave your cell phone in the car.
• If you’re writing a check, have it made out as far as the amount. Don’t fill out your check register while people behind you are waiting.
• Leave your cell phone in the car.
• If you have a complaint, be civil about it. Ask to speak to a manager. Chances are good the person waiting on you can’t help you, but they can help the people behind you.
• If you think you know their job, forget it. Unless you’re doing it on that particular day in that particular place, you don’t.
• Leave your cell phone in the car.
• Don’t hand over a fifty to pay for a candy bar. The cashier’s change is limited.
• If you can’t speak English, bring along someone who can. The person behind the counter can’t help you if she can’t understand you, and being multilingual isn’t on most people’s job descriptions.
• Don’t complain about the prices. The person taking your money doesn’t set them.
• The service person is not your babysitter. Don’t expect them to do everything for you.
• If you need to blow your nose, do so. Bum a tissue if you need to.
• Leave your cell phone in the car.
I’m sure I’ve left things off these lists, but they’re a good place for all of us to start. I hope you have a good week, whether you’re shopping or selling or both. Till next time.


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