Friday, July 26, 2013

Quiet Reflection

Oh the thoughts that enter my head when the house is finally quiet and I can actually think. What...your kids allow you to have deep reflective thoughts? Ha! Don't judge the Mommy on autopilot.

Tonight's personal moment of reflection involves my little brother. We didn't exactly have the Brady Bunch family experience growing up. Point of fact, there were moments where we actively hated each other. Passionately. But underneath all the urges to maim and/or kill were genuine moments of affection and caring. Being 5 years apart in age and of different sexes left us little in common. We had one year of shared school bus time (I moved on to Junior High and he eventually moved to a private school.) But I do remember defending him against the various and sundry "dicks on the bus" who got their kicks harassing little kids. If anyone was going to pick on my baby brother, it was gonna be ME. Heck, we didn't even attend the same high schools and I was away at college by the time he got there anyway.

So, distant. You get the picture. We'd find ourselves fighting over really stupid things, but uniting in solidarity when our parents got a little over-zealous with the discipline.

Fast forward a bit. I moved out of state, moved even further, got married, and pretty much lost immediate touch with my brother. I had no idea what was going on in his life except generalities and gossip shared by our Mother. We just didn't talk. Not close, see.

Then my brother got married. Oh the stories my mother would tell about his girlfriend/wife. Yes, I was worried in the abstract but then soon to be SIL asked me to be a bride's maid (matron?) and I thought "Sweet! I can get to know her better and maybe become friends." Wouldn't it be nice if the kids we were trying so hard to conceive had a cool uncle and aunt to visit. Yeah. That all went to hell. New sis-in-law was a little unhinged. That is being kind.

Fast forward again. I find out little bro is getting a divorce. Sweet! *ahem* I was not fond of his wife in the slightest by that point. The feeling was mutual. We barely saw them but once or twice a year at forced family dis-functions and holidays. It wasn't pretty.

So all was hunky dory in my world. M was getting rid of baggage-full-o-crazy and moving on with his life. Good for him! Moving on to the next drama in my world...

Wait.

Now we get to tonight's bit of quiet reflection. My mother mentions in passing "well, you know, the divorce hit him really hard..."  What ever she was rambling on about at the time didn't really sink into my deep recesses, but that statement has been floating in my subconscious for quite some time.  Did it?!  Here I was, dusting my hands together and thinking "goodbye to soul-sucking..." uh. You know, like you do, and being all relieved and happy for my brother. But I never really spent time thinking about how he was really feeling about his marriage ending. Remember. We don't talk much.

I'm not a great sister, I've come to realize. I do care! I really do. But I tend to get wrapped up in my little daily drama and don't spend a lot of brain processing time thinking about things that might be intuitive for others who may have a closer family relationship with their siblings. I just assume he is ok, doesn't care, or is strong enough to deal. He usually is! I think. I don't really know.

And now it bothers me. I wasn't all that supportive while he was married and I certainly haven't been there for him during his separation and divorce. (Granted he kept the separation part very quiet...but...) *sigh* So I have decided to try and be a better sister. I decided that last bit months ago during another moment of quiet reflection, but this just continues the theme. I have embraced the new girlfriend with joyful warmth and open sincerity. (Honestly, that part is easy because she is a total peach.) I have paid more attention to my mother's gossip and tried to read between the "it's all about her" lines and be thoughtful and responsive. You know, as much as I think he'd feel comfortable with.

Maybe, given a whole lot of time and effort, I can win back his confidence in me as a sister and someone he can count on. He can, you know. Count on me. I've always been here for him. He has just never (ever) reached out to me for any kind of help or advice. I can respect that. I come off as kind-of-a flake at times. I really am very thoughtful, caring and empathetic. I just don't always register those moments when I should actively SHOW those traits and DO something sisterly or be a good friend. Flake. Remember? Give me a break, I've been through a lot in my life and I'm doing my best. If I miss out on another opportunity to be a good sister or friend, someone give me a poke, ok? Thanks!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Maybe If I Flap Hard Enough, I Can Take Off...

Pretty new sleeveless maxi sun dress in a size smaller?  Yay me! Fits perfectly. Black and white stripes. Bold and fashion forward. But what's this? Oh no...

I have

floppy upper arms.

Loose and hanging skin! Gah! I knew losing this much weight would have some side effects, but dude! I have grandma arms. Eww!

Sure I could tone up with some weights and my stretchy band, but do you know how much muscle I'd need to build to get rid of the wings? I'd look like The Terminator. You know, when he still had his skin intact. "I'll be baaack!"

*sigh*

I guess loose and floppy is better than jiggly and fatty. I need some cute summer-heat friendly and fashionable way to hide my upper arms. Hmm. Maybe a short sleeve tee under my dress? Or a cute white cardigan or shrug? Maybe.

They need to make Anchor Arms for women. (Anyone get that Sponge Bob reference? lol)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Swimming

As I mentioned in my previous entry, we joined a private swim club for the summer. I'd read something about the place years ago when I was desperately trying to find someplace to get some swim therapy and the boys some lessons. Sadly, back then the "Cruiser's Club" was only open to residents of Sparta/Lake Mohawk. Apparently previous owners tried to open the place up to wider membership but the then current members voted it down. Not surprisingly, the place went under and the property was lost to the bank. It had been a private swim and tennis club since sometime in the 1920s, but the times they had a-changed and, as we all know, you gotta change with them.

Fast forward a few years and you have the current owners acquiring the property from the bank and making some much needed changes. They did away with the tennis courts (loads of other places to play tennis, after all), they modernized the parking, entrance (now handicapped accessible), locker room/restroom facilities, snack bar, and made extensive repairs to the pool itself. There are even more plans in the works for updates, but they wisely did the essentials first so the new Lake Mohawk Pool could be open for new members this summer.

I have to thank a neighbor for telling me about the new pool. She doesn't know she told me...she posted a "like" to the Lake Mohawk Pool FaceBook page and I just happened to see it on my feed. I always perk up when I see the word "pool" and was so glad I peeped the page.

Now for the real point of this post. I love to swim. I always have. I feel most at home in the water. Perhaps I was a fish in a previous life incarnation (if you believe in that sort of thing.) All I know is, once I sink into a pool of water, I feel this rush of relief coupled with a mood-elevating jolt of joy. It is one of the few times I feel pain free with a certain grace and freedom of movement. I am buoyant. Effervescent! I feel 20 years younger and 100 lbs lighter. It's a great feeling.

The boys have been enjoying the swim club too. For Tyler its all a matter of timing. We have to go when the crowds thin, the sun is low in the sky, and the noise level is manageable. It's been hit and miss, so far. If pool conditions are not to his liking, he can make our planned family fun time into a time of complete misery. Max, on the other hand, is happy to swim no matter what. He is a little fish, just like his Momma. If only he would learn to swim AND lift his head to breathe at the same time. He goes to take a breath and forgets to stay afloat/keep swimming. The kid sinks like a stone.

With one child who swims rather well now and wants to spend his time in deep water with Momma and the other who wants to spend his time where his feet can touch the ground...oh, it gets ugly. Tyler doesn't understand why I have to cater to Max. He doesn't get the whole "He is only 6, can't swim well and needs Mommy to stay with him and watch him." I wish the husband liked to swim. It's a lot easier when we can split things down the middle. John is not a fish. He doesn't like spending much time in the water. He'll hang out in the shallow end for a bit and likes it, for short periods on very hot days, but ultimately it's not his thing.

Poor Tyler was completely fed up a couple days ago. He did NOT want to hang in the shallow end and he wanted me to swim with him. No, he didn't want to go meet some new kids. No, he didn't want to dive by himself for a bit. NO he did not want to swim laps alone. NO he did NOT want to spend money in the arcade (did I mention they added a small arcade at the pool?) So he spent all his time blocking Max from practicing swimming from the wall to me, trying to push Max under the water, grabbing my arm and pulling me, and generally just being a big old horse-fly. I wanted to swat him. Add in the constant chorus of "Can we go home now?" and you get the picture.

It all culminated in Tyler putting his hand down right on top of a bee that had landed on the lane line floats. Getting his first bee sting trumped all, so we headed home for the day. Max was in tears. He just wanted to swim. So I told him Tyler would stay home with his beloved video games and WE would go swimming the next day, just the two of us. Tyler thought this was a fab idea. He was so done with the pool.

So we did it. Yesterday, it was a Max and Momma day at the pool. We practiced his swim lessons. We had contests to see who could stay underwater the longest. We tried to hold very bubbly conversations while sitting on the bottom of the pool in the shallows. I taught him how to "dive" like a dolphin. Then we played "Dolphin Delivery Service" - a game Max created. I was the dolphin and he rode on my back to various places bring packages and mail. I swam us all the way to Africa. Yes I did! I even tried to teach him how to do hand-stands in the pool. He can do it, if I hold his ankles and keep him upside down.



We had a ball! At one point, we were playing "work" and Max announced that we were both 17 and our boss was 48. His name was Maxwell and I was Rebecca and we had a lot of paperwork to do. The things he comes up with...it's hilarious. But I really felt like I was a teen again. I haven't felt that playful and energized in a long long LONG time. I was also completely waterlogged and, by the time we were kicked out of the pool at closing time, we were both exhausted.

I really want Tyler to swim. He needs the exercise and to get away from his computer for a while. But I think I may try for one more day of Max and Momma swim time. Maybe I need to alternate days. Take the boys one at a time. It's sad that we can't work out how to SHARE the Momma at the pool. But I will do what needs to be done to keep the peace.

But for now, I'm off to ask Max if he wants to go play mermaid beauty salon with Momma. That was a game I invented as a child. Or fish tea party. Time for this fishy to return to the water.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tripping Down Memory Lane

It's funny how something small can trigger a huge rush of memories. We joined a swim club for the summer and I was sharing with the boys how I used to swim almost every day when I was a kid. But that wasn't the trigger. After swimming regularly for a few weeks now, I found my hair was slowly hardening into a chlorine infused helmet. After a quick online search, I found "Ultra Swim" shampoo and conditioner. Wow! They still make that stuff! My Mom used to buy it for me when I was a kid. (The modern version smells a lot nicer than it used to.)

That got me wondering...do they still make "Sun In"? That was another staple in my summer beauty routine. Sun bleached summer hair in less than half the time. Yes! They still make it!

Then there was the big question. Do they still make "Love's Baby Soft Fresh Lemon Perfume"? I searched for it a few years ago and, while they'd brought back regular Love's Baby Soft, the lemon scent was no where to be found. Guess what! I found it tonight! I am so excited, I am giddy. I wore that stuff religiously as a pre-teen. It smelled so so good. I am going to order some. So what if I'm not 13 any more.

So now that I can smell and look like teenage me (kinda), what about my old summer hangout? The Hanscom AFB swimming pool? Does it still exist?

It does!!! Check out the pool's current incarnation. They are on FaceBook too! Lots of photos on the FaceBook page. Wow, that pool has changed. Back in the 70s it was an outdoor Olympic-size pool with a high dive, two low dive boards, and a kiddy pool. Now? They enclosed it so it is open year round. They have a water slide too! The old kiddy pool area? They covered it over, left it outside and converted it into a mini water park/splash n play area. Neat! I am really glad they kept the pool up with the times and made it even more accessible and useful. Good job, Hanscom.


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Evelyn

Growing up, I often studied our extended family in my efforts to understand just where my parents were coming from. It didn't help much. My mother's family, in particular, were an enigma to me. They were all so very different.

One summer, I spent a week living with my Grandmother and her sister (they lived together, two little old ladies keeping each other company in their twilight years.) My Great Aunt Evelyn, Aunt Evie for short, was a source of endless fascination. She wouldn't go anywhere without her cardigan - a light-weight, white affair that was hand-crocheted. It didn't matter if it was hotter than Hades outside. She would furrow her brow and say, "Well, there might be air conditioning!"

If we had to be anywhere on a schedule, we made sure to leave well in advance. Aunt Evie would need loads of extra time to scan the apartment to make sure we didn't "forget" anything. She would check the stove, pressing the off button for each burner 4 times while muttering, "Off. Off. Off. Off. OK. Off. Off. Off. Off. Good." Then she would go from room to room to be sure the lamps were all turned off. Finally, there was the locks on their front door. The deadbolt on top and the lock in the knob down below...the lower lock done first before the door was closed, again 4 times to be sure. Then the deadbolt was turned, with a key, four times to be absolutely sure it was secured. Sometimes we would all be piled on the elevator (they lived on an upper floor of their senior apartment building) and Aunt Evie would exit suddenly to try the door knob one last time.

I've always wondered if she experienced a stove fire, or some kind of electrical mishap with a lamp, or a break-in; but I never had the nerve to ask. And yes, I realized years later that she exhibited classic symptoms of OCD. She was still fascinating to me.

I guess I should give a little background about Evie. Family lore and stories I remember from over the years told me that she was very smart. Back in a time where it was unusual for women to receive advanced education, she won a full scholarship to study Math at university. She was engaged for many, many years to a very nice man but he eventually grew tired of waiting for her to set a wedding date and broke things off. Evie was very attached to her parents; especially her mother. My great-grandmother apparently did everything for her, like Evie was a helpless and hopeless child, well into Evie's adulthood.

Evie lived at home until her mother died (her father had passed some years earlier.) My grandmother took her sister in after their mother died and took on all of the responsibility for her sister's care and feeding, so to speak. Evie didn't even know how to do her own laundry. The math scholar! I got the impression that she was one of those super smart people who, at the same time, seemed to lack common sense. Book smart but not street smart.

Evie had a few different jobs, but I remember my mother saying she worked as an accountant for a department store for many years. She contributed to my mom's childhood household by helping to support and raise my mother, her sister and brother. Mom was especially close to her aunt. Aunt Evie spoiled her rotten, buying her clothes and trinkets when Evelyn's more practical sister had said no to my mother's rather expensive tastes. Mom painted a tragic portrait of a lonely spinster, spending her nights alone, chain smoking in her attic bedroom - reading or listening to the radio.

And so things remained. After the kids had grown and started families of their own, my grandfather passed away, leaving Evie and my Grandmother with only each other for company. Grandma and great aunt Evie...for my entire childhood they were a pair. I remember when they sold their duplex (my aunt and her family had lived downstairs and Grandma and Evie lived upstairs for many years.) They moved into the senior apartment complex in downtown Troy, NY.  Since neither of these sweet old ladies drove, it made things easier on them. Almost everything was within walking distance or a short cab ride.

My mother says my aunt was always very religious. She was devoted to the Virgin Mary and prayed all the time. She had many religious statues, crucifixes, rosary beads and medals. After they moved into the city, church was now within walking distance, so Evie would walk there. Often. Sometimes every day. And oh how she loved to go to confession. I remember one story my mom told me about how even the nice priest got a tad tired of hearing Evie's constant confessions and told her not to come back until she'd committed a mortal sin. That still makes me laugh. I can picture her bible on her dresser and the little blue prayer book devoted to Mary that sat on her night table. Just before Evie died, she gave that prayer book to me along with a bust of Mary that doubled as a planter (there was an opening behind Mary's head to put a plant) but I used it as a place to keep prayer cards and my rosary.

My beloved great aunt also stood up for me as my sponsor when I was confirmed (a Catholic thing.) I look back at those pictures and she had such a huge, proud smile on her face. She had a glow about her. Almost...beatific. I honestly thought she'd missed her calling. She should have been a nun! She lived like one, after all. 

Back to that week I spent with them one summer.  You might think that spending a whole week in a senior apartment complex with 2 elderly ladies was the height of boredom for a young teen. Nope!  I'd brought a good book, they had a TV, we went for a walk somewhere every day, we did chores (hanging out in the complex's laundry room was the social nerve center of the whole building and man those elders could gossip!) and we'd talk. I heard endless stories about when my mom was little and all the things they did when they were younger. There were some chairs out on their small balcony with a great view of the city. It was fun to sit out there, read and watch city life go by.  Then I finished the book I'd brought. With days still left in my visit, I needed something else to read, stat! I asked my Grandma if she had any books I could borrow. She told me her sister was the real reader. That gave me pause. I didn't want to read anything religious. Grandma laughed and said "Didn't you ever notice your great aunt always has a book in her purse? She reads allll the time. Especially in bed." Huh. Sounded just like me. Grandma pointed me in the direction of Evie's bedroom and told me to look under the bed.

Jackpot! I found a treasure trove of...romance novels!  Romance novels?! That was a surprise. I'd never noticed the kinds of books Evie was reading before. I dug through the stacks until I found a book that sounded interesting in a box tucked way under the bed. I took the book and sat out on the balcony and blasted through 10 chapters before I knew it. Woo was that book spicy. Racy, even. Steamy! Parts of it were making me blush. This was my sweet, super religious great aunt Evelyn's book? Wow!

At dinner that night I mentioned to my great aunt that I'd borrowed one of her books. Grandma had said it was ok, since I was looking for something to read. She asked "Which one?" so I showed her. She squeaked, blushed, stammered something unintelligible, paused dramatically for breath, then asked how much I'd read. I told her I was riveted and had read 10 chapters in one afternoon! She chuckled, then excused herself from the table. She came back minutes later with 3 more books. They were all by the same author and she told me to take them home with me. That was the start of my romance novel addiction. Months later I joined the Harlequin Romance book club. Ha! It probably lasted about 3 years before Steven King and other horror novels stole my interest and I cancelled the book club.

I still had the occasional Daniel Steel book or the like sneak into my stacks of to-be-read piles. Even to this day I enjoy a good romance.

I still think Great Aunt Evie should have been a nun. That is, if nuns are allowed to read steamy romance novels. Thinking about her still makes me smile. She was such a character! And a great influence in my life. I miss her.

Great Aunt Evelyn and My Grandma Madelyn (sisters)