Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

I visited my mother's resting place this morning on the way to work. I use the euphemism 'resting place' because her bones lay in mausoleum. Her choice, by the way. She didn't like the idea of cremation, but liked the idea of worms less. She called it a 'filing cabinet.' So, not really a grave in the traditional six-feet-under kind of way.

Anyway, it didn't seem right to celebrate this holiday season without being in her company. Some of you may think that I am always in her company, that her essence, her soul, her spirit, is forever tethered to me. But me? While I believe in a spiritual afterlife, I really hope that she's enjoying her eternal glory and not worrying about my mopey ass.

I pulled into Parkwood Cemetery a few minutes before nine. As I rolled past 'Heroes' Garden,' I saw one other person on the grounds. He was walking a dog. Which annoyed me. I mean, dude, who lets his dog whiz on a tombstone?  Maybe he didn't plan to "let" that happen, but I don't see how a dog could pass by that many obelisks without lifting a leg.


I drove down Gethsemane Lane to the mausoleums at the back of the property. Today is cold, like you'd expect in December, but not freezing.  Mom's spot, which will one day be my parents' spot, is in the bottom row. I squatted and brushed away the few leaves that had collected in front, wishing that I'd brought something that I could prop against the granite slab. Some marker of my presence. But, the problem with spontaneity is that it goes hand-in-hand with a lack of preparedness.

Instead, I pulled off my gloves and pressed my palm flat to her name, feeling the chiseled indentations.

"I miss you, Mom," I whispered. That's about all I ever say. What else is there to say?  That's what it boils down to:  I miss her.  Deeply.

After a few minutes, I saw a worm squinching past, unable to invade the building. It made me smile, because Mom's plan was kind of working out with respect to the filing cabinet.

"Merry Christmas, Mom."

I stood, dusted my hands together, and drove off.  At the final turn, the one that would lead me from the cemetery, I caught sight of the man and his dog. He stood in front of a small tombstone, with his head bowed. His dog stood guard next to him, still as a statue, and definitely not whizzing on the graves.


During my mid-morning coffee break on Friday, December 14, 2012, I was perusing a gossip site. Yes. Gossip. It’s my one, completely shallow pastime. While friends of mine read newspapers and academic journals, I try to keep up with Taylor Swift’s latest romance. I am sincerely worried that I am going to forget milestones in my children’s lives because the brain cells that would have been used to store those memories are busy retaining the names of Angelina Jolie’s kids.


I was reading a gossip site and stumbled on a comment that said, “This is completely off-topic, but there’s been a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.”

An elementary school? What?

I jumped over to The details at 10:30 a.m. were murky. The shooting was confirmed, as was the school’s state of lock down. There was a rumor that the principal had been killed, and possibly two others.

Immediately, I made wild assumptions nurtured by a healthy diet of true-crime television shows. Basically, I guessed that the principal had an angry husband or boyfriend who took that passion to her workplace, killed her, possibly a co-worker, and then himself. That’s how these things go, right?

I wish that I’d been right.

An hour later, after somewhat regular page refreshes, I saw that the victim count had risen significantly. And that some of the victims were likely children.

That thought hadn’t even entered my mind. I needed to know more, so I just kept searching, searching, searching for information among various news sources. And then, in the early afternoon, on the Hartford Courant’s main page, there it was:

26 Killed, 20 of Them Children

I nearly vomited. I haven't felt that kind physical response to emotion since mid-December, 2010, when it hit me like a freight train that my mother’s death would occur at any hour, any minute. This felt the same. After seeing that so many had died, so many of them children, I closed my office door and sat on the floor, hugging my knees to my chest.

Overly dramatic? I’m not that guy, I swear. I don’t make a meal out of minor inconveniences, railing at the heavens because of a parking ticket.  I feel things deeply, yes, but can usually rationalize my way out of those feelings. Displace them, because they aren’t mine to feel, and it’s indulgent to claim them as if it happened to me.  Why should I feel this devastated, this heartbroken?  I’ve never been to Newtown. I have no connection to it. I didn’t know those teachers, those children.

Except I do know them. I’m in that world now.  Two of my three kids are in elementary school. The Boy is eight and in third grade. The Girl is six and in Kindergarten. I collapsed because I could all too easily picture them, their beautiful, innocent, terrified faces, if they were in the same situation. I know the routine of school, how easy it is for people to get buzzed in (or, as we later found out, shoot his way in), and how little could be done to stop a broken-brained gunman from storming hallways papered with crayon drawings.

There’s a fresh wave of grief every time I read about it. I can’t not read about it, though. To avoid the news in an attempt to avoid the unpleasantness of sorrow is … well, it’s disrespectful. I have to know these things, painful and awful as they might be, because without knowing these things, I will be absent the tools I need to form opinions, make decisions, make plans, and vote when the time comes.

So, I'll expose myself to it, and mourn not only the lives lost, but the innocence as well. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch...Unless It's Online?

So, the world turned upside-down for a bazillion hipsters with Instagram's announcement that it is changing its terms of service and that it can sell your pictures without compensating you.

First: 99.9% of you? Relax. Nobody wants to buy a blurry picture of your homemade pork sandwich.

Second: Instagram is not the only photo-sharing game in town. Feel free to seek out others.

Third: Um, you know that you're not required to document your life online, right? So, if you find that all of the free photo-sharing services have unpalatable service agreements, you could -- this might sound crazy -- just not post your photos on the Interwebs. Or (and this one's even more shocking) you could pay for your photo-hosting, and not worry about service agreements that leverage your content.

Here's the thing: Facebook, Google, Pandora, Instagram do not do what they do out of the goodness of their hearts. The are in it to MAKE MONEY. They can do that by either charging for their services OR by giving the service away, but selling advertising space to third-party advertisers who want to get their products in front of a billion Internet eyes.

Most Internet companies go the free route. Some of them offer a subscription version so that you can trim the advertising noise out of the product, but not many do that.  I get that what Instagram's doing is different -- they are selling user content -- but YOU are getting something from THEM.  This is a mutually beneficial arrangement. You don't have to buy servers, develop the application, and pay techies to keep everything humming. 

The arm-waving that goes on with this stuff is fascinating to me. Most of us seem to think that 'online' should be synonymous with 'free.' It's not just about service providers, either. Content providers feel it too. There's a blog that I read that killed its RSS feed, and Holy Moses, the drama among some of the readers when the feed died.

But, killing it made perfect sense to me: readers could get the content from the feed, and never visit the blog. If readers don't visit the blog, the blog owner doesn't get the clicks. If the blog owner doesn't get the clicks, then they earn less revenue.

So, the point is: if you are using a service online, you either have to pay for it outright, or give the service provider permission to make money off of your usage in some way.  If you don't like the way they are making their money, DON'T USE IT.  If Blogger sent me a notice that they were going to take what I've written here in the past seven years and re-sell it without giving me credit, I'd probably shutter the blog. But I wouldn't think that it was some kind of Dark Overlord situation either.  Sheesh.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chez McDonald's

In the latest round of work vs. motherhood, work kicked motherhood's ass.  Both my kids have field trips this week, and I can't go on either of them. Boo.

Why? Why would I want to surround myself with dozens of children instead of just the three I've got?

Because I am trying to work through my own childhood issues, obviously. My parents chaperoned exactly zero of my childhood field trips. None. And I went on at least a two dozen of them.

I"m okay with it now. Perspective has been gained. See, when I was a kid, I thought they had a masochistic work ethic, and that's why they didn't go on field trips with me or my siblings. Now I realize its because, well, hey, you don't work, you don't get paid.  You don't get paid, one of your kids might go hungry.

In the face of that kind of consequence, I'd make the same choice.

But I am lucky to have a job that is usually flexible enough to let me go on these jaunts with the kids.  I've been to the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Baltimore Zoo, and Clark's Elioak Farm.  This week, though, I just couldn't do it.  Big meetings prevailed. Not only that, but I had an office Christmas party yesterday night, which meant I was effectively ditching the kids twice in one day.

My son was okay with this. The girl? Not so much. To make my guilty conscience shut up, I offered to take them out to breakfast as a pre-field trip treat. They were allowed to choose the restaurant. Gourmands that they are, they chose McDonald's.

While they dined on pancakes and I enjoyed some oatmeal, we got to chatting about other breakfast foods they love as much as pancakes. The verdict? Doughnuts. From there, we somehow arrived at them saying they would like to have doughnuts in France. I don't know why they picked France. They've never been to France. They've barely been west of the Mississippi.

"If you wanted to order a doughnut in France," I said, spooning up my breakfast, "You'd say, 'Puis-j'avais un beignet?'"

"Puis-j'avais un... boo-day," my daughter pseudo-repeated.

"No," I snickered. "Do not go to France to order a doughnut and say that. It sounds too much like 'bidet.' That is a very, very different thing. A bidet is a toilet that shoots water at your bottom to clean it off."

"What?" my son join the conversation. Heretofore, he'd mostly been interested in silently dipping his pancakes into a bucket of syrup. His eyebrows were raised so high I couldn't see them under his mop of bangs.

"A beignet," I over-enunciated, "is a doughnut. A bidet shoots water at your bottom."

My daughter collapsed into a fit of giggles.

"BIDET!" she yelled, like she'd learned a new curse word.

Then my son collapsed into a fit of giggles.

"Why would anyone want that?" he asked.

"Take that, tiny toilet!" My daughter was quoting 'Despicable Me.' Which, really, has nothing at all to do with bidets.  I think it was the only toilet-related pop culture quote in her mental filing cabinet, so she went for it.

After a minute they'd collected themselves enough to finish their breakfasts. I cleared our trays while they bundled back up into their winter coats. We tumbled out of the restaurant and into the brisk morning air, giggling about doughnuts and toilets. I dropped them off at school, full, happy, and loved.

And that's where this blog post would have ended, if I hadn't repeated the morning chatter to my husband after I got home from the office dinner.

"Suddenly," he said, "our dinner conversation makes a lot more sense."

"What did you talk about?" I asked, stretching out on the sofa.

"Out of nowhere, the kids said they wanted a bidet for Christmas."

"Well," I said, "at least we know that they own the word."

Score for learning new vocabulary, I guess!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Okay, Skinny Girls. Spill.

I am officially the thinnest I have ever been. Actually, I was the thinnest I have ever been about ten pounds ago, but that's neither here nor there. Since I stopped eating like a teenage linebacker, and started working out three to seven times a week, I have lost:
  • 43 pounds,
  • 8 dress/pants sizes,
  • 4 inches off my bra band size, and four cup sizes (yay! my bra cup size could now be found on an exceptionally dull student's report card!),
  • and a half a ring size.
I feel like the innermost version of a Mary matryoshka doll. This is a reality to which I am still becoming accustomed.  Not that I'm Twiggy. Never could  be. Seriously, I could lose another twenty pounds and not achieve that kind of big-eyed, attenuated figure. Which was never my goal, and that's kind of good, because it would be impossible.  See, I am descended from peasant stock. No matter what I weigh, this here's a body meant for manual labor (read: muscles) and babies (ever seen a fertility goddess statue? I could've posed for one back in May). Point is, I'm not fixated on looking pin-thin.

About a decade ago (are you still reading this?) I mentioned goals. GOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLLLLS! My goals never revolved around a specific loss of pounds or jeans size. Nope. When I committed to losing weight, my goals were to:
  • hit a healthy BMI, 
  • not wheeze like an asthmatic when I run three miles, 
  • and comfortably wear pajama pants, instead of having them bite me in the midsection like an angry Komodo dragon.
I have achieved these goals three. Which means that I've officially downshifted into a maintenance phase.  Maintenance means that I am eating a little more liberally, and working out about three times per week. Also? Part of the maintenance phase is attempting to tighten up my loose belly skin.  I should nickname my midsection to make it more palatable. Ooh, I know! Balloony! Why Balloony? Think "The Red Balloon" at the end, when Pascal and the red balloon are attacked by bullies.

If you've never seen 'The Red Balloon,' you should know that I'm not a crazy person. In the story, a boy and his best friend, an actual balloon, were attacked by mean bullies.Yes, this film is a Thing that Exists. Thank you, France.

Okay, anyway. Here's the thing.  I don't consider myself among the ranks of 'skinny girls.' Maybe I am a skinny girl? Is size 2 officially skinny? Because I always thought you had to shop in the Juniors section for that. Though, that's weird too, right? If you're a grown woman shopping in the Juniors section, there are way too many cartoon characters. They should probably make a Juniors section for adults, and call it 'Trying too Hard.'

Wow, that was judgy, wasn't it?

With this shifting body type, there are Things. Things I have noticed, and I don't know if I'm just a weirdo, or if this is a thin thing.  So, here goes:
  • Do you have to be careful of your tailbones?  A year ago, I never even THOUGHT about my tailbone. Now, I'm like, "Slow down, cowgirl. Shift to the side a bit when you sit up in the tub, or else your tailbone will uncomfortably mash into the fiberglass." I've considered that I have no ass. My mother had no ass, and since I inherited her body, this is likely an asslessness situation exacerbated by weight loss.
  • Do you get cold fairly easily? My husband and I went to the movies, and I seriously had to pack a shawl. A SHAWL! Like an old woman. I wasn't shy about it, though. I totally wrapped it around myself, and then sort of wished that I had a blanket as well.
  • Do you feel/see your heartbeat in your abdomen? I'll be honest. I've Googled this one. This is either a common thing among thin people, or I have an aortic aneurysm. Fingers crossed for the former!
I'm sure there are more things that will come. Like, do your knee-high boots kind of...gape? I don't know. These are weird things to be worried about. But, as I settle into this new shape of mine, there will be questions, because I can't discern if this is the new normal, or if I'm about to have some kind of major medical issue.

If you made it all the way through this, please know that I absolutely, one thousand-mathematically-impossible-percent know that this is a humblebraggy First World Problem. Ooh, middle-class white woman finally kicked an extra forty pounds (caused by a cocktail of affluence and laziness!) to the curb! Instead of a medical necessity, let's call it a journey!

That said, I would really enjoy opinions on this whole tailbone thing.