Leaping tall buildings, listening through walls

The husband thinks he is married to Superwoman. The man doesn’t expect me to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but he does think that I can hear through walls, closed doors, Superhero Logoaround corners and up a flight of stairs.

You might think my lack of superpowers would impede our communication, but it really doesn’t.

He will be working from home in the kitchen and I will be working from home in the family room and he will say, “Muum bruff, buddlah budda mm bruff.”

“Pardon?” I ask in a raised voice, still glued to my chair.

“Carton?” he answers back in a raised voice, still glued to his chair.

“That carton of ice cream is gone!” I shout through the wall and around the corner. (Sometimes I twist my mouth when trying to talk to him through walls, thinking it will somehow help the sound wind around the corner.)

Granted, it is only 8:40 a.m. and he probably isn’t looking for a carton of ice cream. It is entirely possible that I may have misunderstood him. It is even possible that I may not have had a clue as to what he said and just took a guess, but the walk from where he is to where I am is the same distance as the walk from where I am to where he is.

He knows he didn’t hear what I said, and that I didn’t hear what he said, but he’s not coming in to ask so I just stay put and add “carton of ice cream” to the grocery list.

A minute or so later he appears and says, “I didn’t say carton, I said ‘pardon.'”

“But I had just said ‘pardon’ to you,” I say.

“No, you said carton,” he says.

“No, I said ‘pardon,’” I say.

“This is going nowhere,” he says.

“And fast,” I say. “Would you like some ice cream?”

When we aren’t talking through walls, he likes to test my supernatural abilities by playing One Flight Up. He waits until I am past the bottom stretch of stairs, and on the next to last stair and starts a conversation from down in the kitchen.

If I am wearing shoes that click, I just keep clicking because I figure he has to hear me on the hardwood floor going upstairs. If I’m not wearing clickers, I usually just shout downstairs, “Oh, I didn’t know about that.”

It’s true. I didn’t know about that and I still don’t know about that. It’s usually a safe response, as the husband works for the media and is constantly relaying stories of crime, death and mayhem, much of which I don’t know about and don’t want to know about.

Medical people tell medical stories, mechanical people tell mechanical stories, news people tell news stories. Sometimes I wish one of us was an impressionistic painter. Our conversations would be more pleasant. And colorful.

Moments ago I heard my stomach rumble so I asked, through the wall, still glued to my chair, “Should I make us something for lunch?”

“No thanks, I don’t need anything to munch,” he shouts back. “I’ll just wait for lunch.”

Putting Sweetie down for a nap

Our oldest granddaughter is here, the one who recently turned four and has bruises up and down both legs because, as she says, “I play hard.” Play hard is an understatement. stuffed bearsWhat she should really say is, “I play professionally.” She plays like someone with a six-figure contract in the NFL. The girl has one speed and it is overdrive.

She came for a short summer stay along with two sets of lists. One is her list of things she’d like to do, a list with which we are entirely amenable: Go to Daddy’s old school and playground; eat ice cream or make it from scratch (a brilliant child!), bake cookies for Daddy (an easily influenced child), Skype with Mommy and Daddy, play in the sprinkler and eat chocolate.

We are particularly agreeable to the last one.

On a separate sheet of paper is a list of instructions from her parents. This list we have some mild objections to, particularly the request for a daily quiet time. They might as well have asked us to stop a runaway train or a speeding bullet. The child moves fast, so fast that sometimes we can’t even see her. She’s a blast of wind blowing through the room and a blur of color speeding by.

A four-year-old does not like quiet time.

Whenever I see a mother at the store with a four-year-old squirming in the checkout lane and the mother snaps at the child, “What’s the matter with you?” I want to say to the mother, “Nothing is the matter with the child; the child is four.”

In any case, we are approaching the designated daily quiet time for this four-year-old child who goes 100 mph. The husband suggests that instead of just sending her off to lie down with a few books, it may be better if one of us would lie down and read with her.

Being that I have already read every children’s book in the house numerous times, he volunteers to be the reader. I agree cautiously, fully aware that this is one of those situations that could go either way. There could be tears, crying, vehement protests and begging to go home to Chicago because she knows she may be tricked into that dreadful state known as sleep—or she could go along peacefully, enjoy some story time, get a good rest and then resume activity at an increased speed of 200 mph.

Ten minutes after they disappear with an armload of books, a set of footsteps comes thundering down the stairs.

“Not so loud,” I say. “We don’t need a lot of racket during quiet time. So, how did it go?”

“Fine.”

“What books did you read?”

“Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog.”

“Asleep or still awake?” I ask.

“Asleep. Very, very tired. Head on the pillow, asleep with the buffalo and the bear and the coyote.”

“Well, that went better than we expected, now didn’t it?” I say.

“I closed the door, but not all the way.”

“Wonderful,” I say. “And did you say anything as you slipped out?”

“Yes,” I said, ‘Good night, Grandpa.’”

Marriage takes a walk in the woods

Not long after all the kids had left home, there was an evening when the husband and I were coming home from dinner, he was unlocking the door and I was standing close and we kissed. We both chuckled because it was like being 17 and on a first date. But it wasn’t a first date, it was just a couple who hadn’t had an extended pause together in a very long time.

Jordan PondThe silence of an empty house takes you back to when you first met and all the things that have happened between then and now. You realized you never looked this far into the future. You never really imagined what it would be like when it was just the two of you again.

Who was he anyway? An even better question, who was I?

“We’ve turned into the Bickersons,” a friend lamented after her last one left home. Five years later they were divorced.

Much of a mother’s work vanishes with the kids. A big part of her is packed into cardboard boxes and tossed in the back of a car. And now it’s just you and Mr. Conversationalist over there who hasn’t spoken a word in 50 minutes. Had we ever thought this far ahead, as to what life would be like once it was the two of us again?

Did we know we’d be so all-consumed by jobs, work and everyday demands, that the tender bond that first united us could grow a brittle crust?

We were hiking around Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park on a short getaway as I was thinking precisely such grumpy thoughts. We had the trail and the pond to ourselves. The husband was alternately lagging behind and dashing ahead, framing photos, making pictures. It was Spring and small green shoots were pushing up through the remains of winter. Hibernation season was over and life was awakening.

The trail that circled Jordan Pond alternately broke into the sunshine and wound through the dark covering of the forest. It was a long, quiet, desolate hike.

A rutting sound bounced off the hillside. I grabbed a long stick. It was a pitiful excuse for a weapon, but at least I might be able to poke the beast’s eye with it, or at least tickle a funny bone. The husband caught up with me and heard the sound, too. Something large was on the hillside.

“Do you plan to fight a bear with that stick?” the husband asked, smirking.

“If I have to,” I said indignantly. “What do you propose? If something comes charging out of the woods, what is your plan?”

“You take off running.”

“Why would I take off running?” I ask.

“You’d run for help.”

“And what would you do?”

“I’d stay with the bear so you had time to get away.”

An accumulation of tiny resentments and petty grudges brought about by the busyness of family life suddenly melted away. Life is different now, but I am still loved by the one I chose to love all those years ago.

Family culture created by default or design

A friend and I discovered that we shared a connection with a particular young family. “They’re lovely,” I said.

Finger paintingIt nagged at me later that I had tagged such a remarkable family with such a bland description. Lovely could be a straw hat with artificial flowers worn to the Kentucky Derby. Lovely wasn’t an apt description, but it was the only thing I could think of at the time. I thought about it later because my best thoughts are always my after-the-moment-has-passed thoughts. The best word to describe them would have been “intentional.”

They are married, have three small children and a vision for life. They have a sense of purpose about work, home, family and each ordinary day. They live within modest means, yet practice generosity. She routinely turns out epicurean wonders like shaved asparagus pizza for others who can use a little help. She, along with little eyes watching and little hands helping, craft beautiful meals.

They are intentional about how they spend time as a family, discriminating about what their children take in, opting for books, crafts and outings over television and media. Their faith isn’t relegated to Sunday mornings, but shapes their day-to-day living. They value face-to-face conversations more than electronic messages with emoticons and no vowels.

An article in Forbes discussed what separates great leaders from average leaders. “Great leaders create culture by design, while average leaders allow culture to evolve by default,” wrote Mike Myatt.

It is actually strong leadership at work in this little family. What sets them apart is that they are not evolving by default, passively letting life happen to them, but actively pursuing life and attempting to shape it as they go.

It is far easier to be a family by default. Families that evolve by default require a lot less work and thought. The adults do their thing, the kids do their thing, and they meet over take-out or fast food a couple of nights a week and wonder why nobody seems to connect.

When you create a family by design, you make the choices instead of letting others make the choices for you. You decide. You decide to introduce children to great works of art, to allow them to paint, make music, make a mess, play uninterrupted, putter alongside you in the kitchen, the garden, the workshop and the garage, discovering how tools work and pieces fit.

That sort of family is sometimes out of step with culture. It is a family that moves slower, ambles off the beaten path and goes against the grain. That sort of family life takes thinking ahead, creating opportunities, checking benchmarks and being deliberate about choices.

There’s not much middle ground when it comes to growing a family. It really is family by default, or family by design.

Get this look, or not

There’s a feature that often accompanies pictures of celebrities on websites called “Get this look.” The pop-up directs you to sales points for the fashions and accessories similar to what the celebs are wearing so that you, too, can look like a celebrity, which we know is always better than looking like yourself.

I just saw a picture of Miley Cyrus dashing off to a recording studio in low-slung white leggings and a white-cropped T-shirt exposing her belly. The girl is so lean as to be dehydrated. Clearly, she does crunches in her sleep and avoids carbs like incoming missiles. The “Get this look” feature displays sunglasses similar to the pair Miley is wearing for only $18.

Sure, I could cough up 18 smackers. I could get the sunglasses. But I would not look like Miley Cyrus. If at any time I thought a pair of sunglasses might make me look like Miley Cyrus, someone should put me away. Immediately. Yesterday.

And if you buy the sunglasses, you probably won’t have the look either. Was that harsh? I’m so sorry.

But let me tell you this, in some cases, I’m not so sure you want the look.

It’s a good thing news outlets label the celebrities as celebrities, because some of them are dressed so casually that it’s difficult to tell if they are rich and famous or destitute and seeking shelter. A number of rich and famous young women seem to have anger issues with their shirts. It looks like they took a man’s T-shirt, cut it off with scissors in a fit of fury, and then stretched the bottom so violently that it is wavy and exceptionally ill fitting.

If you truly wanted to “Get this look,” you would have to rage in your man’s dresser drawer. Or go dumpster diving.

I actually like the “Get this look” feature. I only wish those words could hover over those we meet in real time. This would eliminate those awkward moments of complimenting someone on something they are wearing, hoping they might mention where it came from and if it was on sale.

Then again, I would not particularly want it to hover over the husband. It would point to articles of his clothing and say, “Get this look: Available only from the back of the closet.” Or, “Get this look: His wife said that if he wore that shirt again, it would be over her dead body. He’s still wearing it and she’s still alive.”

Actually, I wouldn’t want it hovering over me, either. It would point to me and say, “Get this look: Workout pants, out-of-style, out-of-stock. She wears them to make it look like she works out, but she rarely does.”

Our daughter emailed us an illustration from a children’s book of a Grandma who looks considerably advanced in age, with her hair in rollers, and a Grandpa of a similar age slouched on a sofa in a cardigan. She said her girls saw it and yelled, “Grandma! Grandpa!” and then kissed the picture.

We’ve got the look all right. And the kisses.