How to Make Friends Who Drive You Places

My son, Magne, is taking a driving course this summer. In his first day of class he became fast friends with Jared, a fellow-student who sat in the desk next to him and asked, “So, have you ever been in jail?” My son looked him in the eye, did a double-take to figure out if he was serious, and responded bewilderedly, “No…”

Somehow Jared lighted on the perfect question. Seriously, I think we should all start conversations this way. Consider what this sixteen-year-old already knows:

First, it is never acceptable to begin a conversation with, “Hello. I don’t know you, but I would like to. Tell me a little bit about yourself, beginning with your name.” No, the direct approach renders the speaker socially despised and vulnerable to swift rejection.

Second, household dependents, like children, don’t have the experience in life to ask the variety of introductory questions that most ask on meeting someone new, such as, “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?” Okay, so adults don’t really vary from the occupation question. And that leaves sixteen-year-olds at a disadvantage.

Not ideal friend potential for taking you to the mall.

Third, once the stranger responds with an answer, Jared has an inside track on this friend’s potential. Sixteen-year-olds who have been to jail are generally less likely to retain their driver’s licenses, meaning they are less likely to be the friend to call when you need a ride somewhere. (Let’s face it; a car doesn’t magically appear once you get a license.)

I doubt Magne thought about any of this at the time. He was just happy to find someone in class who was willing to break the ice. Jared’s approach was somewhat mystifying, but the end result was satisfactory for both boys. Magne now knows there’s a good chance Jared can drive him somewhere.

Happy at Hartfield

We almost moved this month. We found a house that is the mirror image of the house we’ve been renting. It was the one. Well, I thought it was the one. Turns out it was overpriced, according to the appraiser. We couldn’t pay more. The seller didn’t want less, so we had to walk away.

“…that so long as her father's happiness…required Hartfield to continue her home, it should be his likewise.”
“…that so long as her father’s happiness…required Hartfield to continue her home, it should be his likewise.”

I had these plans for “my house.” I was there during the inspection, quietly assessing and picturing our things in each room – which is a tad discombobulating when you’re used to the flipped version of a floor plan. I began to be attached. It was going to be our home, after all.

And now it’s not.

Oddly, I’m not disappointed. Like Emma, when she realizes Frank Churchill was only pretending to be interested in her, I feel like I should be upset. But I’m not. I feel relief. I guess the house wasn’t meant for us. We’re happy where we are. Are you happy where you are?

2017 Battle of Catan

Settlers of Catan. Ever heard of it? Realm is always wanting to play Settlers. He wants more board game extensions, but I don’t know why. If he can’t get players for the original game, why would he think more of the same is a good idea?

Last night – being the beginning of a new year and all – the family acknowledged Realm’s delight in collecting wheat, brick, and ore. We all sat down to a rousing game. Some of us were more rousing than others, specifically Magne who decided his resource cards were all made of gold and wouldn’t trade. There was Dawn, who held the monopoly on wood for much of the game. Did I say monopoly? Why yes, I did. At some point mid-Catan-torture, I turned to Realm and said, “This game is Monopoly! It’s just monopoly re-packaged!”

This is a significant discovery because early in our marriage we had to ban Monopoly for a healthy relationship… with each other, with other couples, with our parents and siblings. Realm is terrifically competitive when Atlantic Avenue is on the line. He gets mean and calculating. Generally, we want our friends and family to visit again, but he’s not thinking about that when he’s bankrupting them with a sparkle in his eye. He’s not thinking of the short responses he is going to receive from me while I simmer over his quiet chuckle when finagling me out of my best property.

Yes, I think Catan brings out the worst in us.  Magne goes into power-hungry mode, and Pearl starts trading using her Batman voice. Okay, Pearl uses her Batman voice for everything lately. “Pass me the salt,” comes out much more threatening, and “the peanut butter cookies were delicious” takes on a Beetlejuice quality. Her Batman voice did not intimidate anyone out of their sheep, though. Pearl lost, Dawn won, and Realm began a campaign of assuring me it was a great game that I played well but for the slight infraction of trading in four brick for a wood when I should’ve offered him three for a trade instead.

Well, my good deed of playing Settlers is done for the year.

Camp and Boys

I was fifteen years old the last time I was at summer camp… and a teensy-weensy bit suspended from going back the next year. When I was told I couldn’t go back to sleeping on a thin mattress in a cabin with no A/C and lots of creeping surprises—like ticks, spiders, roaches, and snakes—in the middle of the sweltering Florida summer, I was okay with that. Now I have my own kids, and they wanted to go to camp. I wanted to know about the camp I was sending them to. So, I asked to be a counselor, and I got my wish: one week of sleep-deprived, wilderness survival. Oh boy.

It wasn’t that bad—and I say that because it’s been two weeks since I got back from camp, and I’ve tried to block most of it out. Plus, my kids loved it. They didn’t seem to notice the filthy bathrooms and the chigger bites up their legs. There was a 75% off sale on candy bars on the last day, and what is there to complain about after that?

My daughter, Dawn, did have one complaint, though: her date for the bonfire.

Every camp session has an end-of-the-week couple event that sends the younger campers into a frenzy worrying about having to go with a boy or girl. The crisis is real; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Those kids are sweating it, and the fear smells really, really bad.

Dawn had no idea there was any such thing as going to a bonfire with a boy. Dawn is aware of boys; that’s about it. Dawn did not want to go with a boy anywhere. Dawn wanted nothing to do with a boy, and if a boy even brought up the bonfire subject she was going to scream and run.

“I am not going to the bonfire with a boy, Mom!” she averred on the first day.

“You don’t have to,” I told her.

“Are you sure? They made it sound like I have to!”

“They’re just doing that for fun.”

She calmed down. “Okay, because I don’t want to go with a boy.”

Then one of her cabin mates decided a little matchmaking was in order. It consisted of asking the boy sitting across from Dawn at lunch in the mess hall, “Do you have a date for the bonfire?” And telling him, “Then you and Dawn should go together.”

Dawn is not a violent child. Normally. In that instance she turned on her matchmaking friend, gave her the evil eye, and said between clinched teeth, “Stop it.”

Her cabin mate, a new friend, was unaware that this was Dawn’s violent side and all manner of plans were going through Dawn’s head for disposing of this new friend pronto.

The friend pressed the subject.

Dawn drew close, and in quiet, blood-curdling tones, repeated through her teeth, “Stop it!”

The friend didn’t get the hint, and Dawn left the table mid-meal.

Heated words were spoken in the cabin during rest hour. Dawn was incensed. Her ex-friend was offended. I felt very sorry for Dawn, but, well… C’est la camp! I won’t say I never tried to match my friends up. I won’t say they never hated me for it.

Then something really tragic happened. Dawn was asked to the bonfire by a boy! She said, “No.” And she felt bad.

“Mom, I feel awful for telling him I wouldn’t go with him. I didn’t even tell him why. I just said, ‘no,’ and walked away.”

“Then go back and tell him it’s because you just don’t want to go to the bonfire with a boy.”

“I just feel so bad,” she said. “He’s very unattractive, Mom.”

So, Dawn in all her gentleness went back to the ugly boy and told him she was sorry for having to tell him no. It wasn’t him; it was her.

He responded, “That’s okay. I was just asking random girls.”

When Dawn relayed this to me, I laughed. “See? You don’t need to feel bad!”

“But, Mom! Now I feel worse! All those girls have told him ‘no.’” She shook her head. “He’s so unattractive, but… he seems nice.”

I should’ve seen where this was going and warned the tender-hearted child, but I didn’t. The next conversation we had, she looked at me intently and told me, “I’m going with that boy to the bonfire.”

“You are?”

“Yes. I told him, ‘If you still want me to go with you, I will.’”

I didn’t try to persuade her out of it. I could see she was determined it was the right thing to do. After all, I knew she didn’t really like him, unlike her twin sister, Pearl, who had found a way to threaten the boy she liked into going with her to the bonfire. I had my hands full keeping my eye on Pearl.

So, the day of the bonfire arrived. The young campers’ moods were tense up to the hour of the bonfire. The momentous occasion came… and went. On the way back from the bonfire, Dawn found me. She was fuming.

“Mom! That boy was soooo dumb!”

I grinned. “What did he do?”

“Oh! He—everything! First of all, he made me sit on the end of the bench, and I only had half a seat. And second of all, he started to fall asleep on me.”

I laughed.

“Mom, he kept trying to shine his flashlight in my eyes. He wanted me to see how long I could stare at the light. Mom, he was so dumb he blinded himself with the flashlight.”

I died laughing.

She stopped walking and said, “It’s not funny.”

“I’m not laughing at you,” I said, trying to contain my laughter. “It may not be funny to you now, but it will be.”

She wasn’t convinced. “He was so dumb! I shouldn’t have gone with him.”

“I think you’ve learned a lesson here,” I told her. “A boy who is unattractive may not have any redeeming qualities. Don’t sacrifice yourself just because you feel sorry for someone.”

“He blinded himself with his own flashlight, Mom! Who does that?”

“Dumb boys?”

She groaned.

That night, the girls in the cabin recounted what happened around the bonfire, and Dawn told her story with all of the indignation and none of the disappointment. It was followed up with stories on stupid things boys do.

“Is it funny now?” I asked her amidst the laughter.

“Yeah.” She studied the underside of the top bunk and mused, “I just can’t believe anybody can be that dumb!”

Yes, there are dumb boys out there, Dawn. I hate to tell you, but there are lots of dumb boys. Some of them are unattractive. You can feel sorry for them, but don’t let pity or misplaced guilt influence you. Some of them are attractive. Don’t let their looks fool you; they are still dumb. It’s perfectly fine to say ‘no’ and walk away.

A Happy Little Thing

It’s the middle of the morning, and I’m sitting at my desk with a cozy cup of tea writing. Do you know how often that happens—writing in the mid-morning? It is a rare thing in this house. But it’s summer break! I look forward to the summer more than the kids do. Well…maybe it’s a tie.

I’ll return to scribbling now. I hope you’re having one of those rare-and-lovely-happening-type days, too.

Knowing Momma

I knew the moment my son was born. I had to have a c-section, so I was unable to see him being born, but I knew all the same. Everyone in the operating room was introduced to his healthy lungs immediately. He was a screamer.

“Would you like to see your son?” someone asked me, and then a screeching, mottled head was pressed against my shoulder, his bellowing mouth raised to the ceiling.

I said something to him, something generic like “Hey, baby boy.” All I could think was how much I wanted to hold him, this loud, red explosion in someone else’s arms. My words, whatever they were, didn’t matter to him, either. It was my voice that registered because he turned his head toward mine with a catch in his throat. He let go a soft sigh, blowing his new breath into my face. It was my turn to catch my breath. I will never forget it. His reaction was instantaneous. My minutes-old baby boy knew me. He didn’t know my name. He didn’t know how old I was, my social security number, my previous medical history, or my ethnic background. It was obvious he didn’t care, either. He knew I was his momma.

How did he know? I’m not asking for the obvious answer—that he knew my scent or my voice, etc. I’m asking where the instinct to collect this information originated. Why is a new human being capable of perceiving the being he/she came from, the one who provided and sustained his/her life for nine months? It’s an amazing instinct, like the natural desire I felt to calm and hold him.

Pandora Jewelry has tapped into this mother/child instinct, and other natural behaviors of children and mothers, with a video advertising their products. Fair warning: it will leave you pretty emotional. Now if viewers will transfer those good feelings over to the company, Pandora may gain some added clients for Mother’s Day!

 

Winter Weather Woes

I see green outside—green grass and green leaves on the bushes. The sun is shining, and there are birds perched on the long, bare tree branches. I don’t trust my eyes. I keep wondering if any minute now the sky will turn black with rainclouds that will bottom out in a drenching downpour. That happened two days ago. I’ve lived in North Alabama for about five years now. February and March are the bipolar months. You never know what you’re going to meet with day to day. One minute I’m contemplating opening up the windows because it’s so nice outside, and in fifteen minutes there’s a lake at my front door. In a couple of hours the temperature has dropped twenty degrees and is still falling rapidly. The next day Realm’s car is covered in ice. This place is crazy!

I feel so sorry for the folks up north, cooped up for days by heavy snowfall. At least, to some degree, they know what they’re in for each year, though. And they’re prepared!

Yeah, I’m that Florida girl with no concept of winter. Last week we had a few inches of snow. It seemed to come out of nowhere. The schools were closed. A friend asked me whether Alabama even had a snowplow for roads. Snowplow? What’s that? Okay, I’m not that bad. I lived in Kentucky for a handful of years. The winters there were…awful. The salt trucks came out after a snow, making the gray sludge beside the roads my constant memory of winter in Kentucky. That and the salt eating the underside of my car. Yick.

Why is winter so…so sad? In literature winter often represents death and loneliness. I’m not lonely, and I’m not dead. I do feel low when the cold sets in, though. It’s worse when I see the spring attempting its entrance; I become all hopeful that the winter days have passed. Then another bucket of snow falls on our heads, like March is saying, “Ha! Gotcha!” How do you handle the winter?