Beware of being a mystery reader

I agreed to be a mystery reader in the class our daughter teaches. Talk about pressure. What did I expect? It was kindergarten.

She gives the kids a clue every day so they can try to figure out whose parent or grandparent is going to be the reader the last day of the week. One of the clues was that the mystery reader “has a grown child that looks a lot like the teacher.”

It was anticlimactic when I walked through the door. They gave up a weak round of applause and an anemic cheer. I had a hunch it could be a tough room; I had no idea how tough.

I read three books, making sweeping moves with the book making sure all the kids could see, all the while looking at the print upside down. By book two, I had motion sickness.

I did voices and animal noises. I contorted my face for expression and threw myself into the characters.

When I finished the best reading of my life, I closed the book. They just sat there staring. They were waiting for more. You’d think when you’re the teacher’s mother, they’d cut you some slack.

“So I’m your teacher’s mother. How about that?”

Somebody said, “Jack’s dad is a policeman.”

There was no way to trump that. I was fresh out of handcuffs. Too bad, too.

“I’ll teach you to play your nose!” I said.

I showed them how to press one nostril shut with an index finger and hum. We did a few rounds of Old MacDonald and they warmed up a bit. For about 60 seconds.

“When Mira’s mother came, she walked on her hands,” someone said.

The room exploded with excitement.

“Yeah! She wasn’t going to walk on her hands. She was just going to stand on her head, but we made a big circle and she walked on her hands. Can you walk on your hands? How about a flip? Can you do a flip?”

It would be nice if you knew in advance that your audience would be expecting circus tricks following the reading, but you play the hand you’re dealt.

“We heard you do another trick,” someone said.

I glared at my daughter. I have mentioned before that my only real talent is barking like a sea lion. I haven’t done it in years because it rips my throat and is not particularly dignified.

The kids pleaded and I refused. They pleaded more. I refused more.

I saw my daughter slip out her video camera. There was no way I was barking like a sea lion with a camera present.

She dropped her camera.

My throat was sore and my voice was hoarse for four days, but I left that classroom a rock star.

If you ever agree to be a mystery reader, request to be at the front of the lineup, not after somebody’s mother who can walk on her hands.

Wanting what you can’t have

The oven had a conniption fit and quit working four weeks ago. Charred, smoking calzone is not a pretty sight.

You know what happens when you don’t have a working oven? All you can think of are things to cook in the oven: lasagna, chicken pot pie, a roast and vegetables. Or maybe green rice, baked salmon or a chicken with 40 cloves of garlic.

It’s like I have never cooked a single thing on the stovetop in my entire life. Why, no, I’ve never made pork chops in a skillet, sautéed chicken breasts or whipped up a stir fry.

The oven; all I can think of is the oven. I only want what I can’t have. But I have reason to want what I can’t have. I always do.

My reason for fixating on the oven is that I know sick people who could use a pick me up. A coffee cake, brownies, homemade bread. Sick people, nothing; I could use a pick me up.

Do you know what determination is? It is when a woman without an oven finds frozen balls of cookie dough in her freezer and wonders if she can bake them in a waffle maker. Who’s to say you can’t? I’ll say you can’t. You can’t get cookies from a waffle maker. You can get a few browned cookie crumbs, but not cookies.

Of course, this fixation on the non-working oven isn’t as much about the oven as it is human nature and forbidden fruit.

It is the server bringing your food to the table and saying the dish is hot. “It’s very hot. Don’t touch the plate.” He turns away and you touch the plate. Ouch. It’s hot.

It is the sign that says wet paint. Really? How wet? Maybe the sign is old. Maybe the paint is dry. Why can’t I touch it? You look around to see if anyone is looking and slyly touch the wall. The paint is wet.

It is about the man next to me on the plane who has been told to turn off his cell phone. He bends his large frame forward and hides the phone between his legs, still texting. The flight attendant said that he can’t; he’ll prove that he can.

This innate streak of defiance courses through us all. Sometimes the singular focus on getting what we want is the impetus for mastery, achievement, discovery and success. I spoke with a young woman who held a graduate degree in engineering. When she was little, her father told her she’d never be any good at math. He said that she couldn’t; she spent the next 14 years proving that she could.

Other times, our wanting what we want has starkly different results. By hook and by crook, we go for what we want with no thought of others or the consequences. It is a short path to self-destruction.

The antidote is self-discipline, the willingness to delay my desires and redirect my focus. This, too, is the impetus to mastery, achievement, discovery and success.

Voltaire wrote, “Our labour preserves us from three great evils — weariness, vice, and want.”

I wonder if Voltaire had a working oven.

Dreaming of a good night’s sleep

Been sleeping like a baby lately — a baby that wakes up at midnight and doesn’t go back to sleep until 3.

Do you watch the clock, or not watch the clock? Recite passages from memory or say the alphabet backward?

It’s dark. I can barely make out the shape of the old secretary (a piece of furniture, not a woman) sitting in our bedroom. A side view of the piece resembles the profile of Abraham Lincoln. Wonder what Lincoln’s doing?

The furnace just kicked in again. Round nine.

This is how people get started listening to talk radio at night.

I wonder if I can name all the Supreme Court justices. Yep, I can name all 10. (That was a joke.)

How can he sleep like that? My pillow has gone flat.

Is that moonlight hitting the blinds? Wonder what phase the moon is in? Maybe I should look. No, I heard when you can’t sleep, it’s better to lie still, because a body at rest recharges more than a body in motion.

If I did check on the moon, I could get some ice cream while I’m up. I heard a spoonful of ice cream can help you sleep. I’m willing to try. I’ll probably get all the way downstairs to the freezer and find all we have are frozen chicken breasts. Those could help you sleep—if you smacked yourself on the head with them. I’m almost willing to try.

I should organize the linen closet tomorrow.

Was that a door? None of our neighbors are out this late. Could be the leaning tower of Tupperware on that closet shelf shifting again.

Maybe it was an intruder. If it is an intruder, he’s quiet now. Probably listening for footsteps. He’s not going to hear my footsteps, until I hear his footsteps. Two can play this game, buddy.

The last time I heard an intruder, it was the hot water heater. The time before that . . . well, there’s no point in dredging up the past. Who has time? Time, time, time.

If it really is an intruder, we should have an exit plan.

I’ll need the sheets. I can tie them together, tether one end to the legs of the wing back chair and we can lower ourselves out the window. I could be over reacting, but what if I’m not?

If I could just roll him over. I’ve seen nurses change sheets with patients still in the bed. Wish I’d paid closer attention. Ugh. There we go. I need to move his legs. How can legs . . . be . . . so . . . heavy?

Once I knot the sheets, they’ll lose length. I may need the window coverings as well.

Funny, I haven’t heard anything from the intruder. Hmmm.

Oh, great. Now the husband is stirring. If I hold still and freeze—which I already am without sheets and a blanket—maybe he won’t wake up.

“Why is it so cold?” he mutters, without opening his eyes.

“You probably heard me say I was going for ice cream. Go back to sleep.”

If there is an intruder, maybe he’d like some ice cream. The night is young. I hope he’ll stay and talk.

All a twitter over tweeting

The husband joined Twitter. I coached him. It was like standing behind someone who is deathly afraid of water and pushing them into the deep end of a swimming pool. He did not go willingly or cheerfully, but he went.

Twitter, for those of you new to that game, a game that is now seven years old, is one of those social media networks that cause you to spend even more time cultivating bad posture by crooking your neck and hunching your shoulders while glued to your smart phone.

Several weeks ago, I was waiting for my luggage in baggage claim at the airport, standing behind a group of about seven men. It looked like each and every man had his hands folded and head bowed in prayer. I shot a picture and sent it to the kids saying, “America returns to God!” I thought it was funny. Sometimes I laugh alone.

Anyway, once you are on Twitter, you “tweet,” via computer or cell phone. A tweet is a message of no more than 140 characters; vowels are optional. A tweet can be earth shattering or mind numbing.

Kim Kardashian recently tweeted: “I’m wearing flats.” Her tweet also linked to a site that featured her more developed thoughts on wearing flats: “Here I am heading to NYC and it’s my first time ever wearing flats! I told you I was giving them a try.” This was accompanied by 49 pictures of her outfit.

Kim Kardashian has 17 million followers on Twitter.

The husband joined Twitter because he is a member of the media and it is pretty much a requirement these days for media members to have a presence on Twitter. That said, he has no interest in tweeting about his shoes. (For the record, they’re brown and could use polish.)

When you join Twitter, you choose groups and people to follow to see what mind-numbing and brilliant things they are tweeting. I suggested groups the husband might enjoy following and he responded with keen disinterest. I suggested several more and he responded with a low growl. When I explained that following certain people or groups on Twitter can be informative and educational, he finally relinquished and agreed to follow the #CincinnatiReds.

He was now on Twitter and following one group, not exactly what you’d call a large social network. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You also follow people on Twitter. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to think of anybody he was interested in following, even though hundreds and thousands of names of people, some of whom he even knew, were scrolling by.

“Not him, not him, not her, not him,” he said over and over, followed by more growling.

I suggested a well-respected reporter. “You’re not going to be getting fluffy tweets from this one,” I said confidently. “Mark my words, her tweets will be substantive and informative. Trust me, you’ll be glad you followed her.”

I stood behind him as he clicked to follow the intelligent and well-respected reporter. We both looked at the screen as she sent a tweet: “I have the hiccups.”

I immediately fled the room to avoid his withering “I-told-you-so” look.

By the way, I am wearing running shoes. Pictures to follow.

Trash man bags enthusiasm

The happiest jobs right now, according to online jobs site Careerbliss.com, include real estate agent, senior quality assurance engineer, senior sales rep and construction superintendent. The unhappiest jobs include nurse, teacher, customer service rep and associate lawyer.

I’d like to see a poll on the jobs that make other people happy. If our grandkids were polled, and granted toddlers shouldn’t be talking to pollsters, their answers would be identical—trash collectors.

Adults like trash day, too. It’s always a small sense of victory to see the garbage disappear.

Whenever our grandkids in Chicago hear the rumble of the trash truck, they scramble for the big window overlooking the alley. From a third-floor view, they watch him back up the truck, roll the dumpsters on the lift, pull the lever that hoists them high and drop the goods. They scream and cheer like their team just made the Final Four. They pound on the window and yell, “Amigo! Amigo!”

When was the last time someone cheered and applauded you at your job?

Amigo acts like he’s all business, but he always looks up, smiles and waves as he jumps back in his truck.

It must run in the family. When our son was little, he lived for Thursday, which was trash day. All week he would ask, “Is it Thursday yet? Is it Thursday yet?”

What kid doesn’t love a truck that rumbles and roars and crushes things? Besides that, the trash collector gets to handle the stuff your mother says is off limits: broken appliances, cardboard boxes, beer bottles, old tools, used furniture and ride toys missing wheels.

These days, our trash day is Monday. If the grandkids are here, they run from window to window watching the activity as long as they can keep it in sight.

I chased after the trash collector myself a few weeks ago to give him some homemade cookies and let him know he is always a highlight for the kids.

You should be good to your trash collector. Why? Because it’s a tough job—and because he probably knows more about you than any other service professional.

He knows when you get a new television and a new computer. He knows when your dryer breaks and when you remodel a bathroom.

He knows if you recycle, how much milk you go through in a week and if you subscribe to a newspaper. He knows if you bag your lawn trimmings or mulch. He knows if you drink, what you drink, and how much you drink. He knows when you have a party and when the entire family comes home. He knows where you order pizza.

He knows what you drive and when you go on vacation. He can probably also tell if you’re neat and tidy or a slob by the way you bag your trash and set it out.

When you think about it, your trash collector knows so much about you it’s almost like identify theft without the stolen numbers.

Need another reason to be kind to the trash collector? We missed putting our trash out early enough a few weeks ago. He made a second pass by and picked it up.