GOTTA HAND IT TO HIM

 

hand

As I was getting out of the pool today, a little boy sitting on the top step looked me up and down and said matter-of-factly:

“You’re squishy!”

“Squishy?” I repeated.

“Yes, squishy,” he said.

Now I may no longer have my 20-something body but I would hardly consider myself squishy. So I plunked myself smack down next to him and said:

“Exactly how am I squishy?”

He looked me up and down again, then changed his mind:

“No,” he said, “you’re not squishy. Actually, your crumbly.”

“Crumbly? Do you mean I’m crumbling?”

“Oh, no,” he said thoughtfully. “Just crumbly.”

“Where am I crumbly?” I asked him.

“Hmm…your face and on your hands.”

I opened up my hands.

“No, he said, on the back of your hands.”

I turned my hands over and saw all the freckles and age spots.

“Oh!” I said delightedly, “You mean I’m wrinkled and getting old?”

“Yes!” he squealed, as if I finally understood him.

“Well, guess what?” I said.

“What?” he said excitedly.

“I’m going to get even older and older and older and. . .”

“Then you’re gonna die!!” he yelled out with great enthusiasm as if he’d just completed the punch line to a joke.

“Yes, I will,” I replied a bit taken aback. “Does that bother you?”

“Oh no,” he said, “That just means that your human life will be over and then it will be time for your spiritual life to begin.”

“I see, and how do you know so many wise things?”

“Well, I am four and a half,” he said solemnly, “Life goes on and on and is always changing. Old things go out and new things come in.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. But will you do me a big favor?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Next time you see me, will you call me ‘speckled’ instead of ‘crumbly’?”

“Speckled?” he asked incredulously.

“Yes,” I said, “Speckled. Just think of me as a speckled egg.”

“A speckled egg?” he laughed. “That’s so funny. Okay. You’re a speckled egg!”

Well, I figure that’s better than being squishy and crumbly. 

 speckled egg

 

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DON’T DIE WITH THIS REGRET

man in casket

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” is the regret most often heard from the lips of the dying.  Those were the findings of an Australian palliative nurse.  So, if this is true about us, does that mean the primary reason for our personal sufferings in life is because we are too fixated on pleasing others?  Can it also be the root of our obsession with youth and beauty?  Is this why so many people who should have rich and happy lives simply don’t?

 This morning I watched a boisterous group of three year-olds play, “Red light.  Green light.”  They had trouble getting started.  By the time the teacher had the last ones properly lined up, the first ones were already wriggling out of their places.  Some hopped on one foot, others giggled and twirled, and one little boy never did get in line.  Corralling them was like trying to stop 18 grasshoppers from twitching and leaping; an impossible feat.

 For the half hour that I watched, the teacher pleaded for them to “stand still,” “listen to me,” “don’t push Sally,” “stay on the blue line,” “get back in order,” “no talking,” and on and on.  When I left, I realized that of the 30 minutes they had for the game, they only actually played about 10 of them.  Maybe our lives are like that:  two-thirds of the time we align ourselves with the group, or are forced to.  The other third we try desperately to be our unique selves and navigate our independent joys.

 One would hope that with maturity, we ‘grow out of it.’  However, if that list of regrets is accurate, we just may not.  So, I wonder.  When my own children reach adulthood, will they have found the unique qualities which make them individuals and pursue them?  Or will they, like many, be so influenced by their peers and society that their own true selves get lost in the shuffle?

 My grandmother always said, “Example is the greatest teacher,” and she was a great one.  These days, though, the young take theirs from computer screens, not flesh and blood people.  They are better ‘talking’ with their thumbs than their voices.  So, what will be their dying regrets?  That they didn’t speak up?  In the end, maybe that is the very, same thing.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a non-fiction memoir of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s.

BLOW THE WHISTLE!

 

lifeguard

Yesterday, the pool where I swim was packed with about 50 kids.  I was in the middle of my laps when suddenly the lifeguard above me blew his whistle.  “Hey, you guys,” he bellowed in his 20 something, baritone towards the far side of the pool, “She said STOP!”  I paused to look over.  Two little boys were apparently bothering a little girl.  They looked up at the guard, looked back at the girl and moved away.  I wondered how he even observed the threesome so far away and in the flurry of all those screaming kids. 

 “Good for you,” I said to him.  “Above and beyond the call of your job description, I think.” 

“Well, they’ve got to learn sometime,” he said matter-of-factly.

 Indeed, they have ‘got to learn sometime.’  We all do.  Truth is, what we don’t learn well from our parents at home will be taught to us by the world whether we like it or not.  From that first speeding ticket to the finance charge on the credit card we neglected to pay on time, we are learning lessons constantly.  Like that guard, we should also be teaching them.  When you witness events that are disturbing or might put another in danger, don’t be afraid to blow your whistle. 

 In my 20’s, I saw a mother slap her toddler for reaching for something on a grocery store shelf.  When the child began crying, she slapped her again and told her to, “Stop crying!”  When the child cried even louder, she grabbed her ponytail and began pulling her down the aisle.  I couldn’t take it any longer. 

 “I am getting the manager right now,” I said as sternly as I could.  “You are hurting her.”

“Don’t you DARE tell me how to handle my child,” the woman huffed.

 Now, to be honest, I did talk to the manager, but what I said was fairly innocuous.  In the years since, I have become more adept at doing the right thing as opposed to the ‘politically correct’ thing—which to my mind is tantamount to little above dead silence.  A year ago, I informed a mother that her son was doing hard drugs.  It was a difficult call, made more so by her flat out denials and hostility.  Recently, I heard that she put him into treatment.  She has not spoken to me since.  I can live with that.

 

 

 

 

HELEN HUDSON HERE: RAISE THE ROOF!

Granny let me have a party at our house back in the 70’s with Imagea bunch of my hippie friends.  She bought potato chips and 7 Up and told me I could even crank my record player up a notch.  (“In A Gadda Da Vida, Baby” was a fave.)  As she retired to her bedroom, she said, “Now have fun, dear, but don’t raise the roof!”  Funny that I am remembering that little piece of advice right now.  Because when the architect said he was going to ‘raise the roof’ of our old, fifties ranch I had no idea what I was in for. 

We are now at the end of week two of ‘the renovation’ and  someone has dropped a bomb in our backyard.  The cement patio is jack-hammered up.  The white picket fence has been ripped out and stacked behind a tree.  The salvageable rose bushes are stuck in a clump of what was the lawn but is now a churned up, chocolate mess. 

Should I venture to step out the patio door now, I would fall into a five foot pit of old bricks, broken up cement, spiky, metal rods and rotten boards filled with rusty nails.  Inside, the walls have been sledge hammered out into piles of rubble.  Now, there is a panoramic view from the living room smack into the master.  Well. . .we were looking for more light.  Now we have it.

Renovating a house is like living a life.  You really don’t quite know what you’re in for until you’re IN it.  You have a vision of what you hope it will be, but getting there can be treacherous, circuitous and downright messy.  The same goes for raising kids.  You have a vision of who they might become but their own paths often wander far astray and leave you anxiously wondering. 

I have to remember that tomorrow at 7 am when the crew arrives and Thomas gets behind the wheel of that back hoe and Lenny wields his jackhammer, biceps blazing through the concrete.  Remember that, as Salem guides the men through all the drilling, pounding, banging of boards and whizzing of saws.  Remember, that somewhere in the endless swirl of plaster dust that settles everywhere at once—that all dreams, no matter how starry take shape in chaos.  Raising a roof means tearing things down but the view will amaze you. 

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a non-fiction memoir of the years she and her husband cared for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s.

   

CLEAN YOUR ROOM!

A friend came by to see our new house last week  Nothing really ‘new’ about this 50’s ranch but I welcomed the chance to show it off.  She marveled at the view from all the windows of the grand trees which surround us and we giggled at the constant creaking of the floors.

As she opened the door to my daughter’s room, my heart sank.  Clothes were heaped everywhere, dresses flung on the floor, dirty Kleenex, candy wrappers, a half-eaten apple, and an unmade bed.  Her bathroom, however, made the bedroom look like the Sistine chapel.   

Her room has looked like this for so long that I didn’t even cringe when my friend said, ‘Gosh, she’s as messy as my son!’  And while I have asked her to clean it hundreds of times, it still looks as if the person who lives there is careless and uncaring.

Now experts on the subject say that kids’ rooms are messy because they, “have too much” or because they are “exerting their independence.”  And while both points of view have value, my take is this:  Your room reflects who you are. 

As a teenager, my own room had a posters of Led Zepplin and the Doors on the walls.  An incense burner sat on my dresser, love beads hung from my desk lamp and my stuffed animals snuggled on the paisley bedspread.  Granny even let me tape peace symbols across the windows.  Those were my statements of independence. 

So truth is, I don’t really want my daughter to just ‘clean her room’.  I want her to value her clothes like her friends and not just dump them on the floor when she is through with them.  I want her to realize that not capping the toothpaste or nail polish is like hanging up on someone without saying, “Good-bye.”  I want her to understand that leaving gooey trash on a strand of pearls or a white, silk blouse, is like cussing in the middle of a Keats poem. 

When my daughter walks into this room of her own, I want her to own it as the full expression of who she IS.  So that anyone who crosses her threshold in the future will see her best self not the one on view at present.  Before I post this, though, better be sure that I made my bed this morning.  I have to lie in it.


GET A LIFE!!!

When my oldest first said these three words to me I really was speechless.  Then I laughed.  After I wiped the incredulous look off my face I just stared into her then 16 year-old eyes and said:  “I have one but unfortunately for you, you’re a BIG part of it.”  Now if you have teenagers and haven’t heard this yet—trust me—you will.  And, if you are a parent of ANY sort you know one thing for sure:  Your life hasn’t been YOURS since that first cry.

Some parents simply cannot handle the reality of that.  It’s just too all-consuming.  Casey Anthony comes to mind.  But most of us adapted piece by piece, year by year as our offspring grew.  Then one day we realized that even our simplest thoughts almost always include our children.

Teenagers aren’t cool with that.  They so desperately want to be free and on their own that sometimes just looking at them sends them into a frenzy.  This afternoon, while driving my youngest, I was warned, “Don’t talk to me!”  So, I didn’t point out the cool clouds that were stretching across the purple sky ahead of the oncoming storm or the funny, looking dog being walked by the funnier looking woman.  Just drove in silence.

 I remember being her age.  When my grandmother drove me places I even hunkered down in the seat if I saw anyone I knew.  Just couldn’t wait to be ON MY OWN.  It didn’t help that hers was always the slowest car on the road.  The worst thing, of course, was running into a friend when she was with me.  If it were a boy, I fairly died inside.

Somewhere along the line, though, I grew up and thanked her for all those rides.  Had lots of adventures.  Saw some of the world.   Graduated from college.  Had a career—then another career.  Fell in love.  Married.  You know the rest.

I have 40 years of memories BEFORE my kids were born.  Way I figure it, they have a LOT of catching up to do to REALLY get ‘A LIFE.’  Yup, (and it makes me smile just thinkin’ about it) I had a life.  Still do.  Only it isn’t just MINE anymore.

 http://www.helen-hudson.com 

SHHH!! DON’T TELL!!

 While rinsing the chlorine off this morning in the YMCA shower, a gaggle of giggling little girls squeezed altogether in the open stall next to me.  Although several others were open, they chose to rinse off together.  Like spies on a secret mission, they peeked out from behind their vinyl curtain as if to be sure the coast was clear.  Then the giggling stopped and the whispering began. 

“My aunt is visiting us,” confided the first.  “She’s the one with the gray hair.  She is very, very old.. . .but don’t tell anyone!”

“Why not?” asked the smallest in a whisper.

“It’s a secret.”

“Oh,” they all seemed to understand at once.

Then one broke the silence:  “How old is she?”

“Oh, pretty old, I think,” the first replied.  “Like my dad’s age.”

“That’s not old,” piped the third.  “My dad isn’t old but his mother is REALLY, REALLY old.  She’s my grandmother.”

“All grandmothers are old,” added the fourth. 

“How come?” asked another.

“They have to be cuz if they weren’t we wouldn’t be here.”

At that moment, I turned off the water and pulled back my shower curtain.  As I stepped out, four pairs of very wide eyes looked up at me.

“You’re so right,” I told them.  “Without grandmothers we wouldn’t be here—and don’t worry I won’t tell anyone how very, very old your aunt is.”

“Okay,” said the girl, “Cause she would really kill me.”

“No worries,” I said, “Considering there are about 400 people out there today, I will never even know who she is.”

“Phew,” said her friend as I left.  “That was close.”