Thursday, August 28, 2014

Spork Tales

Another installment of back to school stories....

"Mom, did you buy hot lunch when you were in school," middle son asked.

"In elementary school I remember I did, not alot, though. I remember the fish sticks and I liked those."

"What about the pizza?" he said.

"The pizza we had isn't the fancy stuff you guys get now from a pizza place.  Ours was frozen squares of pizza.  I used to get that too but my mom made my lunch most days and then when I got older, I made my own."

"Did you get hot lunch in middle school?" he continued.

"I have no idea.  I can't even remember what the cafeteria looked like in my middle school.  When you get older, you will realize that you block out most of middle school.  Plus, our middle school was only two years, so it wasn't long enough to remember it all."

"What about high school?  Did you get hot lunch then?"

"No, I couldn't."


"Because my friends and I all sat in what they called the Bag Lunch Annex.  My high school was huge.  I don't even know if I ever walked into the real cafeteria.  No one brought hot lunch in the annex."

"It was a rule?"

"No, it wasn't a rule.  It was an unwritten rule.  It was a rule made up by someone a long time ago and passed down throughout all the bag lunch carriers over time.  It was sacred though and you wouldn't want to be the one who broke it."

"Did anyone ever try?"

"Oh yeah, every so often at the beginning of the year, usually a new kid, would try to come in the annex with hot lunch.  But everyone would yell, "Bag! Bag! Bag!" and they'd leave.  An unwritten rule is still a rule but it's harder to prove since it's not in writing.  Nowadays everything's in writing because people like to sue each other.

"Did any kids ever sue about the Bag Lunch Room?"

"No, I really don't think anyone cared.  The Bag Lunch Room was a crowded mess anyway.  It was probably more comfortable in the cafeteria.  But the annex wasn't set up for hot lunch.  No napkins, no spoons, not even a spork."

"What's a spork?"

"A spork?!  It's a spoon that's a fork. Your grandfather John used to bring them home from work."

"He stole them?"

"No, he worked in the food business and had a lot of sporks.  They're the greatest thing ever!  You can eat canned peaches with them and get the juice, or macaroni and cheese with no problem.  Sporks are fun. They used to have those with hot lunch.  Do you want me to make you a spork costume for Halloween?  Your brothers could be a hot lunch tray and a carton of milk!"

"Um, no.  Why would anyone dress up like a spoon?"

"It's a fork too!"

"That's okay, mom.  You're so weird."

"It's an unwritten rule!" I said with a smile.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Cheese Touch

I fancy myself a pretty good multi-tasker and a person who pays attention to details. I'm thorough, I like to think.  When last school year ended, I responsibly took stock of supplies.  I assessed the uniforms for signs of irreparable damage and purged.  I emptied backpacks and cleaned them.  I put lunchboxes back to their summer home atop the refrigerator.  I went through all those papers, saving only what I thought the curators would really want in the boys' Presidential Libraries in the future.  I am that mom.

And then summer came into full swing and we did the summer juggle of work and kids, kids and work.  About two weeks into our summer, I noticed a smell in the kitchen.

"Do you smell that?" I asked Coach.
"I don't smell anything," he replied.
"Do you smell that?" I asked my father in law, Jimmy, who was working on his morning Sudoku.
"I really haven't been able to smell for the last 20 years.  But let me know if you think we need to evacuate," he said.

So, I began my quest to find the smell.

First, I blamed it on one of the dogs.  Honestly, they do smell but it wasn't that kind of smell.
Then, I figured it was the trash can so I removed the bag and scrubbed down the can.
It worked for a day and then the smell was back.

Then, I blamed it on one of the appliances so I did an inventory of the refrigerator and freezer, purged the old take out and scrubbed it down.  It helped for a bit but then the mystery smell returned.

So, I tackled the dishwasher, the microwave and even, the oven.  I cleaned the counter tops, scrubbed the floor, cleared the pantry.  I checked the cabinets, checked the plumbing lines, I was exhausted.

Summer was coming to a close and still the stink remained.  Am I losing my mind?  Not a single other man, from any generation, seemed concerned about this smell that only I could smell.

And then I was distracted in my quest because school has begun.  Oldest son reached up to the top of refrigerator to grab the lunchboxes.
"Here you go, mom?"  he said, "What's that smell?"
"You smell it?!  Do you really?  Oh, thank you, thank you!  I thought I was losing my mind!  Finally, someone else smells it.  I have NO idea where it's coming from!"  I said as I started making lunches.

...and then I opened oldest son's lunch box...and to my horror, I discovered this...

I screamed.  My son shrieked.  The other boys ran to the kitchen to see.

"What is that?" they yelled.
"That was your croissant cheese sandwich from June 10th," I replied, disgusted with the scene and myself.
And the room erupted in hoots and hollers.  It was the greatest thing they had ever seen.
It stunk and it looked gross.
I was Mother of the Year.

The smell is now gone but the tale will live on.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mistake on the Lake

So, just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.

My husband's family is originally from Cleveland, known to many as "the mistake on the Lake." Today was a perfect example of how this moniker seems to transcend time and space.

Five passengers set sail that day for a three hour trip, a three hour trip.......

Coach and my eldest son, were invited to go crabbing along the beautiful Chesapeake Bay with one of my husband's brothers, Mike, another brother and his young son.  Mike has a boat that he adores; he spends many, many hours on his beloved vessel which I long ago started calling the SS Minnow, primarily because I've often questioned its sea-worthiness.

Never mind the fact that the forecast called for rain for most of the day, never mind that the crab season has been horrible, these men were going crabbing on the eve of Uncle Mike's 50th birthday no matter what.

This episode of Deadliest Catch meets Gilligan began with Coach steering the Minnow into open waters via the requisite 4 foot channel, only to become grounded on a sandbar due to distraction by the 8 and 11 year old first mates.  What follows is the actual recounting by my son:

Mom, it was wild.  So, we were totally stuck and the only way out was to push the boat back into deeper water.  Out of nowhere Uncle Chris took his shoes and shorts off and climbed in the water in his underwear!!!!  He pushed the boat back into the channel, almost naked but not afraid.

The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed.

The crabs were not plentiful.  The chicken necks they brought only drew the attention of eight crabs.  Coach announced the cruise was over and they should head back.

Eldest son continues his interview:
It was raining really hard and I noticed some smoke coming from the back of the boat.  And it got thicker and thicker and Dad was yelling to get the boat in to the dock quick.  I had my life vest on so I wasn't too nervous but we thought the boat was going to catch on fire and Dad told me to turn away from the engine in case it blew up.  We got to the dock and Dad got me out quick, along with everyone else.  Uncle Mike turned the engine off and tied the boat up.  I don't know what was wrong.
Coach said, "I guess we should feel a little badly.  We probably screwed up a lot of the wedding photos."

"What wedding?" I asked.

"There was a wedding going on under a tent right by the dock.  Sort of an embarrassing way to crash a wedding.  I bet all their pictures are going to have quite a bit of smoke in the background."

The Minnow would be lost

Coach continues, "Yeah, Mike called us when we were driving home.  The boat's half sunk at the dock.  Something about the gas line.  I'm glad we're outta there."

"Didn't I tell you guys that I thought this whole crabbing idea was stupid," I said, "You're from Cleveland!  You're not fisherman.  That boat is not seaworthy!"

"Well, not anymore, for sure," replied oldest son.

And with this, dear Jimmy, my father-in-law, who sat quietly during the tale of the SS Minnow, interjected.  "You know, our family is actually a descendant of an Irish sea captain."

"Really?  And how exactly did he meet his eternal reward?  Did he die at sea?" I shouted.

And with this, Jimmy lifts his downcast eyes, starts to chuckle and says, "Well, if we're being honest.....yes, he did go down with his ship."

Mistake on the lake..and the bay...and the open sea.
Point for mom.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Musical Chairs

As another school year begins anew, my sons love hearing tales of old school in our house.  Some of their favorite stories actually come from my husband, who with five brothers, had alot of teacher mayhem tales.  But, growing up in Connecticut, my stories seem to have the New England charm any young boy finds magical with such foreign concepts as well water, skating on frozen ponds, the legend of the Charter Oak tree and of course, school bus stories.

My oldest son plays the trombone.  I feel for him, playing a big instrument and juggling his backpack, books, lunch and whatever else he has to bring to school on any given day.  But in a "When I was your age" one-uppance, I casually said to him, "You're lucky you get driven to school."

"Why?" he asked, "Didn't you like taking the bus when you were my age?"

"Well, sure," I responded, "What's not fun about being with your friends on the ride to school, and picking your special seat and the race every morning uphill (Truly, my walk to the bus stop was uphill albeit, not both ways.)  And when I played the flute in 4th grade, it was fine because a flute is small.  But when I got into 6th grade, I really wanted to be in jazz band.  My teacher told me I should learn another instrument."

"Oh, trumpet," he answered.

"No, better.  Tenor saxophone.  You know, the one with the curved neck and the big bell.  It was fabulous and I was the only girl in jazz band.  I loved it."

"Mom, this story is sort of lame.  What does this have to do with the bus?"

"Your mother sacrificed prime bus seating for her art.  You have no idea what it does to your seating options when you board the school bus with a tenor sax case.  No one wants to sit with you and if they do once, they never do it again.  They do the bus seat spread, moving all their stuff across the seat.  I can spot that look that comes with it a mile away now."

"That's kind of sad.  How long did you play tenor sax?"

"For years, but then I wanted to be in the orchestra and you don't need a tenor sax in that and I knew I couldn't earn a coveted flute chair, so I decided to talk to the teacher again."

At this point middle son chimes in, "Oh my goodness," he explained, "did you play the gong?!"

"No, better.  I played the bassoon.  No one in my school had ever played the bassoon.  It was in the back of the instrument closet.  And that case was even bigger than the tenor case!"

By now, I had them enthralled with my tale of musical, musical chairs.

"Did you ever bring both instruments on the bus at the same time?" they asked, wide-eyed.

"Well, I'm not crazy!  And technically, jazz band and orchestra never met on the same day.  It would have been catastrophic.  But that bassoon case saved my life one morning."

"It did?" they asked.

"Yes, it was a cold, snowy morning in Connecticut but we still had school, because when I was young and lived in Connecticut, they never cancelled school.  And the buses has chains that they put on the wheels to give them traction which they don't use here in Washington, D.C.  As our bus went to stop on our hill, because everything was uphill, it slipped a bit.  But we were young and back then, there were no crossing guards, so we all started to cross.  But the bus wasn't stopping.  And just as I put my bassoon case up, the bus touched it and stopped."

"So, you saved everyone's life," said middle son, grinning from ear to ear.

"And then they all wanted you to sit with them because you saved them all," said oldest son.

"Oh, I never really thought about that," I replied, confused.  "I don't remember them all asking me to sit with them.  I think we just got on the bus and I sat with bassoon, alone.  Oh, I think I like your ending better."

"Yeah, that was a good one, mom.  Goodnight."  And they went to bed and I went to put clothes away in my closet.  And up on the top shelf, looking down at me, was my beloved flute case which I've carried with me all these years because, well, it's much easier to move around with a flute.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Don't Dance

Every time I hear Lee Brice's song I Don't Dance, I think of Coach.  On our recent vacation to Florida, which is 30 hours roundtrip in the car and alot of music, we heard that song innumerable times.
Sometimes in life, it's the seemingly tiny little things one person does for another that make all the difference. For Coach and me, it was four dance lessons that spoke volumes.

On my first date with my now husband at a local pizza place, there was a football game on.  Trying to act like I knew the game, I mentioned the 60-yard line.  Without even looking shocked, Coach turned to me and said, "So, let me get this straight, you sat in the front row in school?"  he asked.
"Yes, and you were the boy who called me for the homework, right?"
It was true love in bloom.  We were night and day; yin and yang.  But somehow it seemed to work.

A high school coach during the time we dated, his baseball team got great joy out the fact that Coach, for the first time anyone could remember, had a girlfriend.  When he took the team to Florida, the pilot of their flight got on the intercom and said to the entire plane, "We have a high school team on board today and the players tell me they are going to win the championship this year.  On behalf of US Airways, we hope that happens because the team has told me their Coach is going to get married if they do."

5 years later, we were getting ready for the big day.  For all of his coaching experience, my sweet husband could not dance.  I wasn't much better; my father was an excellent dancer and a great lead so I really never paid all that much attention.  And those square dance sessions in elementary school PE class weren't going to help us.  Coach agreed to dance lessons at Arthur Murray.  We arrived at the studio, CD in hand with our wedding song - Marcus Hummon's Bless the Broken Road, the original, before others recorded it as their own.  Coach handed the CD to the instructor and said, "How many lessons do we need to dance to this song?"
She listened to the song, nodded her head and said, "Well, it's not a regular waltz-type song.  Can you pick another one?  I have lots of wedding songs you can choose from."

"No," he said, "This is the song.  If you can't teach me to dance to it, I'll go somewhere else.  The song doesn't change."

"I can do it in four,"  she answered, as if we were contestants on Name That Tune.

With every session, the instructor emphasized that a dancers leads with his body movement, not his words.  It was hard for Coach to grasp that one instruction.  He had to fight hard not to yell "time out" or blow a whistle.  He always wanted to call the plays, to let me know exactly what the moves were. Coach would nod his head and clap, until finally I said, "We're not in a huddle, will you stop that?"

Our wedding video captures the culmination of our four beloved Arthur Murray dance classes.  Coach started out gingerly, counting in time with the music, the entire guest list in a circle around us, his fellow coaches counting off "1-2-3, 1-2-3."  About one minute into the song, Coach said, "Okay, I'm ready.  I'm gonna spin you."  The crowd erupted in cheers at that spin and a fellow coach ran out onto the dance floor and wiped his brow.

Every year on our wedding anniversary, I put on my wedding dress first thing in the morning and we dance to "Bless the Broken Road," usually in the kitchen with our three sons watching and giggling.  And every year on our anniversary, I always wait for the inevitable, "I'm gonna spin you."

He does dance.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rest Stop

Summer time.  Pool.  Cookouts.  Fireflies.  Flip Flops.  Vacation.  Pee Cups.

With five in our family, and Jimmy, traveling by automobile is the ticket we purchase for our summertime getaways.  And we will drive just about anywhere there's a road.  Coach is the driver and I am the assigned navigator, which basically means "all other duties as assigned."  These duties include but are not limited to:

  • Packing
  • Finding the Suitcases
  • Maps & Guidebooks from AAA
  • Cooler cleaning and stocking
  • Snacks
  • DVD Player
  • Arrangements for Dog Care
  • Arrangements for Jimmy Care (just kidding, he does fine on his own)
  • DVD/Audiobook/DJ Duties
  • The Pee Cup (I'll get to that)
The day prior to departure requires a secret trip to our public library whereupon I bring about three bags and fill them with DVDs, audiobooks, and CDs.  Our library has a limit of 50 items on each patron's card, so I've been known to bring my kids' cards and continue the check out on theirs. My record is 85 items for our drive to and from Florida - 15 hours in the car one way.

We make this trip in one drive.  One glorious, loving, peaceful, family-filled 15 hour drive of bonding and sharing.  It is truly memorable.

We play the license plate game, with our checklist of all 50 states.  We've come close but never hit all of them.  For some reason, we think Dakotans must love their states because we've yet to see either North nor South Dakota traversing the Eastern side of these United States.  Or maybe they are smart and stay away.  We've seen Alaska and Hawaii which has raised some questions from the boys.  "No, there's no bridge to Hawaii."

Last year, on our drive home from Florida, we were making good time as we crossed into South Carolina.  Fifteen hours in the car with five people could be multiple pit stops.  However, Coach tries to only stop when the car needs gas or Mom really has to use the bathroom.  The boys?  Well, they are subjected to the "pee cup."  Last year I chose my father in law's very old, very faded Notre Dame travel mug as the pee cup.  Probably an affront to the Fighting Irish but it was perfect, had a lid, was too old and beaten up to be used as a coffee cup anymore and won the title "Pee Cup."

Middle son was disgusted by the concept of the pee cup but Coach wasn't going to stop just yet.  So, I pulled out the cup, handed it to him and said, "It's a moving Rest Stop. Pee."  At first he thought I was kidding but quickly realized I wasn't.

"I can't do that," he exclaimed, "How am I supposed to pee in a moving car?"

"Pretend it's a new circus act."

He peed directly in the cup, giggling with glee the whole time.  He brothers grinning from ear to ear with pride over this huge accomplishment.

"Now hand it to me VERY carefully and I'll put the lid on," I said nervously.

And he handed it off smoothly.

But, in my overconfidence as the mother of three boys and the best prepared navigator ever, I bumped my arm just a tad and the contents of the Fighting Irish mug dispersed.......directly into Coach's lap.

"What the $@%*@(%#!!!!!" he shouted, as the car swerved.

Laughter erupted in the car.  "Mom spilled the pee cup on Dad!  Mom spilled the pee cup on Dad!"  Hoots and howls.  Howls and hoots.  This was better than the time youngest son pooped in the bathtub with his brothers in it with him.

"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" I said, most sincerely, "I am so sorry!  I don't know how that happened."

"Enough!" Coach exclaimed and the car fell silent.

Completely silent.  Utterly silent.  More silent than any library or church I've ever been in.  For 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour.  All I could hear in my head was the narrator from Spongebob Squarepants - 3 hours later...

...we approached the state line.  "North Carolina Welcomes You," it read.  I looked warily at my dear husband, soaked in urine, and gave a tiny smile.

"Well, I think I'm going stop for some gas here," he said, "and get out of these clothes."

"That sounds like a good idea.....Um, do you want me to pull out some fresh clothes while your getting the gas?"

"That would be nice.  Thank you.  And can you get rid of the disgusting mug?"

"Of course, your dad is gonna be upset that I used his alma mater as a urinal, but do you think you could run in and buy another cheap know, just in case?"

"Certainly.  I'd be happy to.  It's worked out so well."

Mom smiles lovingly at Dad.  Dad gets out of the car to get the gas and I turn to the three boys and say, "This is fun, isn't it?"