Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sing, Sing a Song

I can't sing.

But I do. All the time. Loud and proud and embarrassingly off-key.

In elementary school, I was relegated by Sister Thomas to the back row of the choir only partly due to my height. Mostly it was due to my lack of ability. In a sea of melodic Little Drummer Boys, I was a "Rum-Pum." I still loathe that song.

I had a Raggedy Ann & Andy portable record player on which I spun a bizarre collection of 45's and albums I scavenged from the recesses of our home. The 45's were mostly leftovers that my Aunt Rosie had passed along to my oldest sister. They included gems from Pat Boone, Chubby Checker and Elvis.

I still know all of the words to "Hot Diggity, Dog Ziggity, Boom - What You Do To Me" and "Dungaree Doll". I can blast out "Witch Doctor" like nobody's business, followed by "I want you, I need you, I -hi-hi-hi, lu-huv you...." in perfect imitation Elvis.

Interspersed among these 1950's gems were later additions, like "In A Gadda DaVida" and "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "Love Potion Number 9," likely purchased and then forgotten by older brothers and sisters.

Puberty arrived and I began to listen, obsessively, to Tapestry by Carole King, and Bette Midler's The Divine Miss M, which I found in the treasure trove. Imagine the sight of me, hovering over my little portable record player, singing along to "You've Got a Friend" over, and over, and over. It was not healthy. And then I found The Beatles White Album, which was the perfect antidote.

Soon my paper route money allowed me to expand the collection. I loved Elton John and Abba, Jackson Browne and Pat Benatar, Blondie and Billy Idol. I purchased Dire Straits' debut album at Dick's Record Shop, in Ironton, Ohio. The prices at Hills' Department Store were lower, but the convenience of Dick's couldn't be beat, since I could bike there. I was there every chance I got, analyzing the wall where the Top 40 were displayed in that week's order. Each 45 rpm single cost about a buck.

In junior high and high school, when Father Gabis at St. Joe began the process of pulling together our annual Variety Show, I was tapped for comic relief between acts because, clearly, I wouldn't be singing. For acts requiring a larger chorus, I was allowed to hum. Yes, hum. At some point, my friend Sally convinced me that if I stood next to her (defiantly, because at 5'2" with a good voice, she was front-row worthy) and listened carefully, I could follow her alto.

Sally was an enthusiastic and encouraging vocal coach. Without regard to decorum, she'd break out in the middle of "Endless Love" (the lyrics of which were edited by Fr. Gabis to include Jesus as the object of said Endless Love) to shout: "YOU DID IT! You GOT it! I heard it!"

I beamed. I glowed. I sang! And when Sally was absent from chorus practice, I was sent to the back row, to hum once again.

When I got to college, upgraded but still portable stereo in tow, I discovered that not everyone was a fan of my eclectic collection, which now included both Alabama and Electric Light Orchestra. I spent my money on beer instead of records and relied on the jukebox and DJ's for musical variety. I came up with the cash to see A Flock of Seagulls when they came to campus, though. Oh, I ran, alright!

These were the days before karaoke in bars, so my friends and I sang along with whatever was playing and voted on songs with our quarters. Madonna, Prince, The Talking Heads and U2 appeared in my collection of cassettes - no more albums for me, now that I had a Walkman. Mix tapes were the romantic gesture of the '80's, truly, and I have been unable to part with my collection.

With every move, from dorm to dorm, apartment to apartment to apartment, my collection moved with me. At some point in the early '90's, I finally started buying CD's. Now, with a subscription music service, I don't buy anything. I create my own playlists for every conceivable occasion: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, pizza night. I even create playlists for the characters in my novel.

My albums, now merged with Hombre's, wait patiently in the basement along with my cassettes and CD's. Like the well-loved Velveteen Rabbit, they are "real" and I can't bring myself to throw them away. Too many memories.

Though lacking in talent, I still sing anything and everything, everywhere: especially when driving. I've amused fellow road warriors for decades with my shameless in-car performances. It's my personal way of spreading the love.

I'm like a walking Wurlitzer. Put on a song and unless it's death metal or rap, there's a reasonably good chance I'll be singing right along. And probably dancing. And most definitely embarrassing my offspring.

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's There, Just Waiting

In our never-ending quest to simplify, simplify, simplify, we recently scaled back our telephone service. Since most people call us on our cell phones, eliminating the charges for call-waiting, three-way calling and voicemail seemed very logical. In the event someone called and needed to leave a message, we had an answering device on our telephone set itself, though I could not recall that we had ever used it. I dutifully recorded a message and pressed the "Answer On" button.

I arrived home this afternoon to see the "new message" light blinking. It was the pharmacy; a prescription was ready for pick up. And then I noticed we had 8 old messages.

How old, I wondered?

The first was from Purple Hearts; a pick up was scheduled on our street for next Friday. The machine announced that the message was recorded on Monday.  But which Monday? Today is Monday.  Hmm. A mystery. Delete.

Message number two was from the Bainbridge Library. A book reserved by B had come in. The machine announced that the message was recorded on Monday.

"Honey, did you reserve a book at the Bainbridge Library?" I called down the stairs from my office.

"I haven't reserved a book there in ages, Mom."

Not current. Delete.

Message number three was from a pharmacy we only used once, in 2010 or 2011, shortly after we moved and until I figured out that another was closer to home. Stale. Delete.

Message number four was from one of the kids' old friends, asking for  our new address for a birthday party invite.  Ancient. Delete.

Message number five began and my heart stopped.

"Hi Margaret, it's Dad," he began, his voice strong and clear.

He was calling from his cell phone, a South Carolina number I still know by heart, though it's been nearly three years since I've called it. He's still the only person who ever calls me Margaret.

"I wanted you to know I had to take your Mother to the hospital. "

Which time?

"She woke up this morning and her chest was so congested she could hardly breathe. She started coughing and couldn't catch her breath."

When was this? Was it up here, in Ohio, or back in South Carolina?

"She was coughing so hard she threw up."

Poor Mom!

"Her blood pressure was sky high. Maybe from all the coughing; I don't know. So I took her to the emergency room."

If he drove her and didn't call an ambulance, it had to be before his lung surgery.

"They started some antibiotics and took a sputum sample. They gave her something for her blood pressure, to bring it down."

I don't remember her having pneumonia in the last year or so. Or did she? Hmmm.

"They are going to keep her overnight. I'm sure she will be fine, but I wanted you to know."

Of course you did.

"I don't have her room number in front of me, so if you want to check on her, just call my cell phone."

Which hospital, Dad?

"Well, I better get off here and call the other kids. I have a whole list to go through. I'll keep you posted if anything changes."

You will; you always did.

"Tell the girls we said hello."


"Love you, Margaret."

I know, Dad; I know.

For a moment I just sat there, stunned. And then I pressed "save."

I don't know why. I don't know that I will ever be able to go back and listen to it again.

But still.

I know it's there, just waiting.

Just in case.

Just in case I ever want to hear his voice again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Necessary Awkwardness

For every stage my daughters go through, every life event they experience, I have a memory of myself at that very age and stage. I try very hard to meet them where they are, acknowledging their unique personalities, but I also try to recall where I was at that point and what might have helped me, in case they can't articulate what they need.

We have talked about menses openly and regularly (ha!) since they were in elementary school. I wanted them to be comfortable and knowledgeable. Unashamed. I wanted them to feel competent to care for themselves. Nobody did that for me and they wouldn't know to ask. I've taught them to track their cycles and to carry spare supplies. When they find themselves unaccountably emotional, I gently remind them to check the calendar. Might that be why they are feeling this way?

We have talked about sex. Not in a titillating way, but in a matter-of-fact way.  The mechanics are old news around here. They knew about egg and sperm long ago. They have known how the baby "gets out" for what seems like forever. They were curious and interested and so I explained it all to them. We use no euphemisms in our house. We name the parts accurately. I have always acknowledged (out loud) that they may be attracted to someone of either gender or they may be attracted to both genders and it's all perfectly normal.

For quite a few years, that was enough. A couple of years ago, I realized it was time for a different kind of sex talk. The sex talk I wish I had been given. The sex talk that might have prevented some of my own bad experiences.

My first boyfriend, when I was 13 and in 7th grade, was a 17 year old junior in high school. Our paper routes were adjacent, so we walked many miles together every afternoon for a few months. As time progressed, many of those walks ended in make-out sessions that I was completely unprepared for. He gave me attention and made me feel special, so I went along with it for a while. We broke up before things got too far out of hand, but not before I had a neck covered in hickeys that I tried in vain to cover with make-up. I truly had no idea how it happened. I thought he was just kissing me. I don't recall either of my parents commenting about it, though how it could have escaped their notice I don't know. I was the talk of St. Joe's for months.

So, instead of the mechanics of sex, now we talk more about the feelings. We talk about having crushes. We talk about how overwhelming it can feel when you really, really like someone and you want them to like you back. I have spoken to them about how nice it feels to be physically close to someone you care about, but how that does not have to result in intercourse. There are many, many ways to be close and to express love and affection. One act does not necessarily lead to another. There is no time-table or standard progression and anyone who tells them there is, is lying.

My daughters know that they own their own bodies.  They and only they decide who - boy or girl - touches them, where, and when. They must respect the boundaries of others, as well, if they are more physical than the other person is comfortable with.

I try to teach them to pay attention to their instincts. How does a person make them feel? Do they feel respected and cared for? Do they feel pushed, rushed or manipulated? Are they having fun? There are allowances to be made for adolescent awkwardness in flirting and in communication, surely, but if they are always feeling like they are defending themselves or arguing about why they do not want to do something, that should be a warning sign. If a situation makes them uncomfortable, they have a special code to text me so I can retrieve them without embarrassment.

I tell them about a couple of my high school boyfriends: big, muscular boys who were like octopi the minute the lights dimmed in the movie theater. I tell them how it felt to be constantly wrestling with those boys; that I thought it was normal. I tell them they don't have to put up with that. They can just get up, walk out and call me. It's not okay to be treated that way, but nobody ever told me that. Nobody ever told me that I could set a boundary and expect it to be honored. And so I tell them.

We talk about how our culture teaches boys that they are expected to push girls for sex, but often the boys may not really want to do it. They may not feel ready, but they are feeling pressure from their friends. Maybe some boys don't have anyone telling them the truth: that sex is only good when it is fully, joyfully consensual.  I don't want to scare them, but I tell them anyway.

We don't have these talks all at once, but in bits and pieces, and most importantly, often with Hombre. We touch on it during car rides or waiting in the drop off line at school. Maybe if I see something on TV or hear a song on the radio that brings it to mind. My girls are embarrassed, more so now than when they were younger, as the implications are far more real now that they are in middle and high school. They roll their eyes and tell me that I am "awkward." I probably am, but I don't care. I want them to know what to expect and to feel like they can handle it.

I worry and yet, as I watch my eldest walk out the door to the waiting car of her first date, I find I am mostly concerned about his driving skills.