The Sublime Four Percent

Midlife Sentence | Bloody Babydolls and Halloween

Earlier this week, I was walking the dog and I came across the house of my new favorite neighbor.

I don’t know if he does this every year for Halloween, just started this year, or maybe someone new moved in and is  distinguishing him or herself as the new neighborhood Halloween master. I’d never even noticed the house before now. Up until recently, the house next to it, the one closer to the main thoroughfare, was much more noticeable, mostly for being a complete wreck.

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Moving my kid abroad and practice in managing my expectations – our first two days in Austria

Midlife Sentence | Weiner Neustadt Austria

I don’t ever remember being that little girl who envisions her wedding. I don’t remember setting any particular expectations of parenthood, or thinking about what my first house might look like.

There is one little daydream I have long entertained, though, without really ever thinking about it: that of our kids going to the same university their dad and I were attending when we started dating.

Since the boys were little, we’ve been taking the six-hour drive North to Moscow, Idaho, for a football game every fall as often as possible. There were years we couldn’t make the time, or waited too long to get a hotel room, but there was a while when we made it a regular habit.

We joked about indoctrinating our kids as future Vandals. We bought all the swag, we took tours through living groups, we showed them where we’d lived and hung out. They dug it. And who wouldn’t? The Palouse is ridiculously gorgeous in the fall when we would visit, and the 130 year-old campus is the picture of time-honored tradition, with cobblestone lanes weaving through stately brick buildings. I’m sure most of it doesn’t look much different from when my grandparents attended in the 1920s.

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This might be the hardest

Midlife Sentence | empty nest, leaving, moving out

For someone who has such a crappy memory, I remember pretty vividly that time I was late in my third trimester with our first son, feeling ginormous and crabby. Summer was coming, friends were gathering for an outdoor concert in the lovely late spring weather and I, too tired to go out, bloated, with a bladder squished to the size of a peanut, wondered how forty weeks could seem like such a long time.

This was just the worst.

Then we were bringing home our baby, all 8 pounds and 21 inches of never-seemed-so-small and me huddled in the back of our car. I rode, holding his head steady in the impossibly large baby carrier, wondering what would happen if he just stopped breathing in the middle of the night, or failed to thrive, or to develop the muscle tone necessary to ever hold up his head, or the ability to reach out and grasp and learn. Or how terrible it would be if he came down with some horrible disease and we had to watch him suffer.

I took him to work with me, the first in our office to try out our new baby-friendly policy. I tried to breastfeed discretely in staff meetings at first, but after a while I didn’t care who saw my bare boob because I had carted in seven carloads of baby gear that morning like I did every morning and would lug it out that evening like I did every evening, with him in a carrier on my chest. I was perpetually exhausted and covered in spit up and not getting anything done and sometimes I wondered if my back would snap right in two.

Forget pregnancy, this was the hardest.

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Realistic Recipes for College Students

Midlife Sentence | Reality Based Recipes for College Students

It’s mid-summer and time to face facts: we have a kid bound for college in the fall, and I have some things to do to prepare.

He’s not going to be close, either. He won’t be coming home on weekends to eat home-cooked meals or do his laundry. In fact, he won’t be able to come home at all for more than a couple of weeks at Christmas.

He’ll be living in a dorm that isn’t unlike those here in the US, except he won’t have a cafeteria with a range of meal plans to choose from. He’ll have his own kitchenette to share with a few other roommates and have to be responsible for shopping for groceries and cooking his own meals. This has me a teensy bit worried, I’ll be honest.

He asked me the other day if I could jot down a few recipes for him, and for the first time I started wondering if we’ve adequately prepared this kid for adulting. How will he fare if they don’t have Hot Pockets in Austria? And what about his other favorite foods? I know from experience shipping a box of Cheetos overseas is far more expensive than the Cheetos are actually worth (granted, I’m not a Cheeto aficionado).

Don’t get on my case, you guys. I’ve spent a lifetime foisting as much healthy food on this kid as I could. But left to his own devices he swings toward Hot Pockets and Cheetos. And Taco Bell. He’s an adolescent male, there’s only so much I can do.

So, I’m trying to put together a set of reality-based recipes, knowing he’s not going to keep a lot of chopped produce on hand for quick salads, or broil up a sheet pan of marinated chicken and vegetables for a healthy dinner.

Here’s what I have so far:

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Something else I never thought I’d need to say

Midlife Sentence | Prom Date Decline

You know how parenting is mostly telling people stuff you would have thought was just common sense, and then repeating yourself until you think you sound crazy, right?

There’s the early parenthood version of this phenomenon, where you focus mostly on safety issues:

“No, we don’t put (toy/bodily appendage/instrument of destruction) (in your mouth/up your nose/on your brother/down the heat register).”

… or social mores:

“It’s not polite to (stare at/comment on/make an arghh sound like a pirate at)(random strangers/that guy at Applebee’s wearing an eye patch).”

Parents of older kids still get to hear themselves saying stuff they probably think shouldn’t have to be said. It’s just that there’s a little more nuance involved as kids age.

There’s stuff like:

“No, you can’t keep a pet (scorpion/lemur/tarantula), because it’s (dangerous/illegal/icky).”

… And:

“There is to be absolutely no (beer brewing/distilling/any project requiring a grow light in your closet) because it’s (smelly/dangerous/smelly and dangerous).”

Our kids are older now, and I guess I thought we were wrapping up the this-stuff-shouldn’t-have-to-be-said shtick, so I was a little astonished last week when I heard one thing in particular coming out of my mouth.

It’s coming up on prom season. I don’t think either of our boys is getting excited about prom any time soon, but our exchange student is definitely getting into the prom groove.

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know we regularly host foreign exchange students. Doing so gives us a fair amount of insight on the American high school experience as compared to the high school experience pretty much everywhere else. Because the American experience is what it is, we get a lot of opportunity to explain stuff that can be difficult to explain. Things like lockers, and marching bands, and school sports aren’t part of the high school experience anywhere but here.

And then there’s prom.

Back in my day, prom was a lot more straight forward … but probably still would have needed explanation, with all the tulle, taffeta and Aqua-Net, the matching of corsages to cummerbunds, photos and dinner, and maybe a disco ball and some spiked punch.

Although this was back in the olden days, I don’t remember anyone doing anything more elaborate to get a prom date than just asking – maybe having a friend ask for you if that sort of activity made you anxious. Either way, the ask wasn’t a thing.

Today the way you ask for a date seems to be about as important as the date itself. Scavenger hunts, flash mobs, cars stuffed with balloons, a pizza with a big question mark spelled out in pepperoni delivered by gorilla-suited singing telegram. I don’t know the stats, whether any of this effort increases the likelihood of a positive response, or just serves as good social media fodder.

But who am I to look askance at a pizza bearing gorilla?

Our whole conversation reminded me of a story from a few years ago:

One night, we had just put the boys to bed when we noticed something outside. People were darting from behind a tree to the street and back again in the dark, lining up candles in front of our neighbor’s house and trying to keep them all lit at once. Some guy waited by the door, whisper-yelling instructions and trying to be inconspicuous.

The candles kept blowing out. People ran back and forth relighting them. Sometimes the candle-lighters bumped into each other. A couple of times someone ran over the candles, and then everybody scurried to realign them and then light them again.

If the Three Stooges had helped each other get dates, it might have looked something like this.

Mike and I huddled on our porch in the dark, watching everything play out. Finally, all the candles were in place and lit and the guy by the door rang the doorbell and waited.

We all waited.

One candle blew out. Then another.

Our neighbor’s dad came out and took in the whole scene without saying anything. He went back in. There was another round of frantic candle relighting. Shadowy figures tripped over each other and cursed in the dark and shushed each other and then ran back behind a tree.

The intended finally came out. She was wearing a fluffy bathrobe and a towel on her head. I couldn’t see her expression in the dark. But there was no sound. There was no delighted squeal. There was no gasp of surprise.

There was silence.

Two flames disappeared. Then two more. No one ran out to relight the candles.

Mike and I backed into the house in the dark. Shadows slunk from behind trees and disappeared into parked cars. Our neighbor and her would-be prom date sat on her front porch while the rest of the candles blew out, one and two at a time.

“We don’t know what they talked about or what happened to that poor guy,” I said.

Whaaaat?” our exchange student stared at me.

What what?”

“Why couldn’t she just say yes?”

Ahem, well … Okay, so here’s where we get to the things that I’m kind of surprised I have to say.

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You know who also shows up early? People like Shawn

I had the weirdest experience recently. I finished a meeting and had to be across town for another meeting right on the heels of my first meeting, only the first meeting finished early, so I got to my second meeting early. I’m rarely early. Actually, I’d give it about a 50% chance I’ll even be more or less on time to anything.

I have plenty of redeeming qualities. I can stick to a tight budget. I am probably the World’s Best at Parallel Parking (seriously, I should have a mug made with that). I talk to dogs. I cover my face when I sneeze. I stay hydrated.

I am also chronically tardy. Sometimes it’s only seconds late, sometimes a teensy bit more.

But not this time. This time I was maybe 15 minutes early, which kinda felt like I could fit another whole meeting in there. I thought I could use that time to check email, or else say hi to another friend in that office.

I took my stuff to the conference room, where any plans I had were thwarted when I was waylaid by members of the group I was set to be meeting with – in the future, mind you – who were also early.

This is where it got weird. I had the chance to witness first-hand what early people do with all the time they have when they show up early. This was a rare and valuable opportunity to witness another species in its natural habitat.

Ultimately it was really disturbing.

I mean, you guys, this is what they do: they freaking talk about being early. They revel in it. It’s weird.

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Things might not go the way you plan, for your kids or their fish

Midlife Sentence | kids don't always turn out the way you think, neither do their fish

Colin passed us both in the kitchen this morning, on his way out the back door. He had wet hair, no shoes and was carrying a clear, plastic cup with something in it. We watched him grab a shovel out of the shed and start working at something in a corner of the yard, his back to us.

“What’s he doing?”

“Probably collecting something for his tanks. Rocks? I don’t know.” Mike went back to his computer.

Colin returned the shovel back to the shed and came back in.

“One of my fish died.”

“Oh honey. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, I could see it had dropsy last night. I knew it probably wouldn’t live.”

Dropsy, he explained, makes a fish’s scales stick out like a pine cone, instead of lay flat. It’s also an indicator of liver failure.

“I guess I never thought about fish having livers,” I said.

“I knew fish have eyebrows, but not livers,” Mike said.*

I didn’t know about the eyebrow thing, either. Clearly I haven’t been keeping up.

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A couple of soon-to-be empty nesters at a baby shower

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a baby shower before.”

This was Mike’s confession to me as we were walking up to the door to our friends’ home, Saturday afternoon.

Had I realized this earlier, I would have though of some way to punk him. Maybe made up some fake baby shower etiquette to share with him in the car. But, right then, on the spot like that, I couldn’t think of the right thing to say that would freak him out just enough for us to laugh about it later, but not enough for him to bolt. These things take some finesse and the look on his face had me worried.

So I just shrugged.

“There’ll probably be mimosas.”

The mom-to-be greeted us with a huge smile, wearing a flattering, floral print dress. Back when I was that far along with either of my pregnancies, you’d likely find me in a baggy pair of overalls that gave me the profile of Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazard. On alternate days I’d switch between one of the two knit tops that still fit. On dressier days, I might wear shoes. I could go on like that for a couple weeks.

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Perfection is rarely the objective around here

Midlife Sentence | Perfection

Before you get into this, I just need to let you know this post started out different than it ended up.

That actually happens more often than you might think.

This is how it should go: I come up with some theme and then write a catchy lead, which flows into a full story, and there’s maybe a twist in there – could be funny or touching or shocking, with or without foul language – and things tidily come around at the end, which points back to the lead, and everything’s all wrapped up tight, like a 30 minute episode of Friends that you’ll forget by next week.

Or tomorrow. I don’t know how exciting your life is. Maybe you forget by mid morning.

But that’s not what happened.

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Wake me when it’s time to be a grownup

Midlife Sentence | Wake Me When It's Time To Be A Grownup

I think it would really be nice to have some notice when a panic attack is due.

Like something on my calendar, so I’d know, for example, that at precisely 4am Mountain Time this coming Tuesday I would wake up wondering how much longer we were going to put off replacing the broken microwave, followed by my letting brain wander down various other rabbit holes that have to do with what is otherwise broken or incomplete in my life.

I might try to get to bed a little earlier if I knew I had that 4am thing looming. Maybe decide to actually get up then, instead of laying there, staring into space. I could do some laundry or something. You know, multitask.

A friend of mine wondered on social media recently whether she was of an age to start feeling like a “grown up,” and whether the fact she doesn’t most of the time has something to do with not having kids.

“Does having children make you feel more adult?” She asked.

I’m guessing my friend also had one of these unscheduled appointments, recently.

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