Last Thanksgiving is pretty much a blur. It was the capper to what had been a completely craptastical year. My dad had a stroke on the Monday before Thanksgiving and spent the following week in the hospital. We host a good-sized family Thanksgiving every year, and I was absent most of the week. Even when I was there.
I feel like this year’s Thanksgiving is my do over. I get a chance to enjoy the people, the food, the noise and the absolute delight my kids show at having their out of town family around them for several days. It’s awesome.
I find myself thinking back to last year a lot right now. There were many wonderful things during that awful week, things that I am truly thankful for. Not the least of which is that my dad is pretty much fully recovered.
I came home last Thanksgiving day after spending a couple of hours at the hospital with my dad. Our house was bursting at the seams – it was our largest holiday yet with 25 people expected for dinner. Everyone greeted me, hugged me and asked how my dad was. It was comforting and completely overwhelming at the same time.
In the midst of it, my nephew, Dave, asks, “Can I get you a beer, Aunt Laura?” I gratefully accepted and went about the business of trying to be the hostess with the mostess.
It was a small gesture, and he probably doesn’t even remember it. But it was very Dave.
He knew there wasn’t much he could do about all the crazy that was my life at that moment. But he could pop the top off of a beer and give me a little hug. He’s funny and wicked smart and an all-around great guy. He empties trash at our house without being asked, plays with the kids, moves furniture and asks what else he can do to help. I credit his mom a lot for helping shape him into the man he is. I also know that the kind of empathy he showed, looking at me in that moment and recognizing how overwhelmed I was, is not taught.
Thank you, Dave.
I was waiting in the hallway for a public restroom in a doctor’s office building to become available. A few feet away, I notice an elderly woman with a cane waiting for the elevator. Waiting. And waiting. At what point do I tell her that she needs to press a button to call the elevator? I think to myself.
Finally, she turns to me and says, “I don’t know how to work these. Are these things safe?”
Of course! I say. Do you want to go up or down? I ask.
“Well…up” she says, in a way that has the subtext of “you dummy”.
I press the up button, and the elevator comes right away.
Just press the number button of the floor you want to go to, I say, by way of goodbye.
As the door closed, I was left with many questions and more than a few internal comments:
How can a woman, clearly in her 80s, not understand what to do with an elevator? Seems an educated guess would have gotten her further than she was when I came to her aid.
How did she get to that point in the first place if not the elevator, since as I mentioned, she was elderly and walked with a cane?
Really? You don’t know how to work the elevator? Really?
Was she wearing leggings with a shirt that ended at her waist? Bold…
My last post was in November 2012, not because I haven’t wanted to, but more because around that time, life hopped on the crazy train. It took a really long time to get my head back around everything, and I think I’m finally there. I look forward to sharing my life again with you.
The girl is starting middle school shortly. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once. To me, she’s still the little ankle-biter who couldn’t pronounce dessert (“bezzert”) and who wouldn’t sleep with less than 3 pacifiers (one in her mouth and one in each hand) and needed 150 stuffed animals in her crib.
Now all 5 feet 1 ½ inches of her heads off to middle school, with the switching classes and the no more recess and…the lockers.
Lockers don’t appear to have changed much. They’re gray-ish, about yay-high, and about this wide. But what goes into the lockers has changed dramatically. You know what I kept in my locker? Books. And my coat, some notebooks, and maybe pictures of Michael J. Fox pulled out of Tiger Beat and taped inside. Or whatever.
When the girl started talking about getting things to decorate her locker, I basically ignored it. Don’t judge – it’s a tactic that works more often than you’d think. I started to suspect that it wouldn’t work this time after this conversation (names changed to protect the innocent):
Girl – “Mia’s mom took us to Target to look at the locker decorations.”
Me – Huh.
G – “She bought us matching locker chandeliers.” [As an aside, I knew what this meant because I had had the Target flyer shoved under my nose, but perhaps you haven’t been so lucky. Basically, it’s a teeny tiny, battery-powered chandelier that actually lights up and hangs from under the shelf by magnets. Cute, cute, cute, and absolutely ridiculous. I didn’t notice the price at the time, which becomes important very shortly.]
M – Wow, that was really nice of her.
G – “Yeah, you owe her $15.”
Really? Because the lockers are so cavernous that you won’t be able to find your book for your next class? Because it’s such a nice space that you’ll want to entertain, and can’t possibly keep the builder’s grade lights? Seriously. Because I’m a total sucker, though, she kept the chandelier. Luckily, it came with batteries so it was totally worth it.
Anyway, the locker chandelier conversation broke the seal, as it were, so that the other items the girl wanted didn’t seem so ridiculous. We picked up some locker shelves (that ended up being too small, so $9.52 ended up back in my pocket, yay me!), a mirror, a pen/lip gloss holder and some magnets, and then I drew the line. I suggested maybe her brother could draw her a picture to hang up (“ok, but just a small one, like on a post-it note”), and then perhaps she could “live” in her locker for a day or two before getting any crazier, er, locking herself into a decorating theme.
I think she finally understood the need to reign it all in because even she thought the locker carpet was excessive. Good girl.
On this Election Day, I would first like to say, make sure you voted. It’s your right and your duty.
Having said that, though, I’d like to turn everyone’s attention back to me. It’s what I’m most comfortable with.
I recently finished the 37th Marine Corps Marathon on October 28th. I’ve got a lot to say about it, lucky for you. I’m going to spread it out over a few posts, broken down into the before, the during, and the after.
The before, or the Prep, was long. It spanned 6 months and I logged over 500 miles during that time (yes, I kept track on a spread sheet). It was spread over 3 – 4 runs per week (mostly 3, truth be told) ranging from 2 miles at the shortest to just over 21 miles at the longest. I chose a long training plan to hopefully head off any injuries that might come from upping mileage too much too quickly.
What I learned during the training period reinforced what I already knew, on a much smaller scale. Running is so much more mental than physical. Those of you who don’t consider yourselves runners may disagree, but it’s true. Yes, you have to reach a certain fitness level. But if you can do 2 miles, you can do 3. If you can do 4 miles, you can do 5. If you can do 8, you can do 10 and so on. Pretty soon, you get to the point of saying; I can do 20 miles because I’ve done 18. Honestly, you just keep going. You keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get where you want to be.
Not that it was easy, by any means. And what I hadn’t really counted on was the mental fatigue. I was so over the whole thing about 6 weeks out from race day. I had had so many early Saturday morning long runs. In order to make various kid activities during the busy fall season, I would leave the house while it was still dark, and be coming back in the bright morning light. It was disorienting. But I still had a ways to go.
Once I had finished my last long run and was moving into the taper period, a different type of mental stress crept in. The taper is where you reduce your mileage for several weeks and let your body recover and heal for the race. How would I respect the taper? How would I suddenly drop my weekly mileage and still feel like I’m progressing toward my goal? I understood that it was the thing to do, but it’s hard after spending so much time increasing and increasing. I feared getting up to the starting line and not being fit enough.
On the other hand, what a relief it was to take a bit of a breather. You know, to only have to run 12 miles on a Saturday.
Two weeks before the race, my husband came down with some sort of ick. All I could think was, “If you give me the stomach flu 2 weeks before my marathon, I will kill you. Dead. And by the way, no jury in the world would convict me.” Thankfully (for him), it was just something he ate.
Then I counted down to the big day. I prepared. I worried. I rested. And I worried some more. Next came the During…
Last week, I went out late one evening to to buy a bow and arrow set for Teja’s Halloween costume. Our would-be Artemis (the Greek Goddess, not the fictional Irish mastermind) was still waiting for her godly bow via mail-order, and drastic measures were required.
I ended up at Toys R Us in Alhambra and after wandering among the broken boxes and rows and rows of seizure-inducing colors, found the only bow and arrow set in the store: a Disney Princess Brave Merida Bow & Arrow Set from the film Brave. It was a terrible, overpriced choice, but it was late and I wasn’t going to search any other place to find a substitute.
The bow itself really wasn’t really the problem. It’s a mostly useless, mauve piece of plastic tied with a limp string that will spend its short life terrorizing a handful of windows with one of its three suction-cup arrows, as long as the windows are less than three feet away and the bow is in a good mood.
The problem was I wasn’t really happy to make a pitch-hit purchase of a crappy bow and arrow set because the other crappy bow and arrow set I had ordered had decided to come ground mail instead of overnight. But there I was, at 7:30 on a Tuesday night in a Toys R Us.
However, what was amazing was when I got the receipt for my payment. I had bought one item for $24 and the cashier handed me a rolled stack of paper which looked roughly as long as the EEG of some sick, old person on a pacemaker.
This is what the receipt comprised top to bottom (by inches):
3 1/2 Inches: Survey Request FOR A CHANCE TO WIN $500!
Ok, maybe for some people this sounds like Nirvana, but the idea of allowing my kids to roam Toys R Us with a $500 gift certificate is enough to make me want to smother myself to death under a mountain of adorable, plush teddy bears.
5 Inches: Actual Receipt.
Yay, I knew it was in there somewhere!
Also, included in the receipt are handy links to product safety and recall info, how to become a Toys R Us “team member” (so you can job slightly more enjoyable than “cafeteria lunch-room monitor”), and the opportunity to have Toys R Us deals txt’d directly to your phone (“OMG my brain exploded! There is a sale on Wreck-it Ralph 8-bit Action Figures!”)
4 1/4 Inches: Gift Receipt.
Well, yeah, probably not a bad idea. It is a toy, and God knows I don’t really want to own a Disney Princess Brave Merida Bow & Arrow Set from Brave and so, yeah, well played, Toys R Us.
6 inches: COUPON: Save 20% on ONE regular-priced baby item
Yay, baby items! Granted it’s a toy store, but the gift I bought was for a child who is 8yrs old. Isn’t it a bit presumptive to assume I have a baby at home. Do you know something I don’t, Toys R Us?
6 inches: COUPON: SAVE $20 on ANY TWO Pampers (88-ct. or higher) or Huggies (100-ct. or higher) value boxes of diapers
Thank you, no. My household has been diaper-free for 6 years at this point, though possibly not for much longer if I don’t do my Kegel exercises everyday like my doctor told me I needed to.
6 inches: COUPON: SAVE $5 on ANY TWO powder formulas (22-oz or larger)
You can get protein shakes at Toys R Us? Awesome!
6 inches: COUPON: Save 20% on ONE regular-priced baby item
Um, I think we covered this before. But, if I’m getting TWO coupons for ONE regular-priced baby items, does that mean I get ONE regular-priced baby item for 40% off, or TWO regular-priced baby items for 20% off each? I mean, you never know when a color-coated selection of binkies will come in handy.
3 1/2 inches: PROMOTION: BUY 2 GET 3RD FREE ALL baby wash, lotion, shampoo, oil, powder and diaper rash items.
Well, you can never get enough “diaper rash items” in my book.
This is Part 2 of a my experiences with Poison Oak. Go here to read Part 1.
I sat on the examination table in the dermatologist office. The doctor stood over my lower right leg, which looked like it had been set on fire in the waiting room. My inside ankle up to mid-calf was puffy, deeply red and oozing.
- Ok, Scott, do you know if your leg came into contact with something?
- Yes, as I said before, I touched poison oak.
- Are you sure?
- [don't scratch, don't scratch] Um, yeah.
This wasn’t good. I was getting twitchy. It had two hours since my last Benedril and the itchiness was beginning to come back. Aside from the giant leg wound being explored by my dermatologist that didn’t itch, I had dozens of little poison oak outbreaks across my legs and arms that did. Two days before I was mostly concerned with the ooziness pouring onto the ground from my ankle. Now, I was like some addled addict popping antihistmines every few hours to keep the constant itching from driving me out of my mind. The doctor kept looking at my leg, though kept standing as if she thought that it might reach out and grab her.
- Well, it definitely looks like you touched something.
- [don't scratch, don't scratch] Uh…
I had finally taken the advice of my family and called my dermatologist the day before when I realized that my stoic resolve for dealing with my poison oak was beginning to crack. I was in a constant medication cycle of pain killers, salves, antihistamines and home remedies but the twitchiness was becoming unbearable. My three weeks of “oh-gee-look-I-have-poison-oak” had transitioned to “OH-MY-GOD-I-HAVE-BEES-BUZZING-IN-MY-BRAIN!”. I needed real drugs, a fix, SOMETHING, and I was becoming desperate. I hadn’t said anything like that when I pleaded with the receptionist to schedule me, however, I doubt I was really fooling anyone.
- Ok, I’m going to put you on two weeks of Prednisone. That should help.
- Really? When can I start?
- [excited, addled junkies hooping and hollering in my head] Ok.
It took a lot not to run to the pharmacy, but I got my meds. Later that day, the itchiness went away. Two days after that, the poison oak subsided and my leg began to look like I had taken a bad bicycle fall instead of looking like… well, what it had been. All this was wonderful, though it was marred by the 10lbs that I gained practically overnight.
I had read enough bodybuilding books and anti-steroids articles to know that weight gain was to be expected. I had been warned that the steroids might make me jumpy, give me insomnia and mess with my dreams. My friend Richard told me that I was probably going to be a jerk to everyone in my life for the next few weeks. Ah, yes, the winning combination of being hyperactive and semi-feral. It would be just like returning to middle school. Actually, I had half-expected to turn into a wolfman with an out-of-control sex drive and a bad attitude after the first pill, my inner Mr. Hyde being set loose on the world.
But, no, none of that happened.
I have to admit, life on steroids was cool. I was healing much faster than usual. I could breathe better. I felt more awake, more energetic. One morning, I realized something had changed. I turned to K who was getting ready for work.
- I actually have hair on my chest.
- Ah, you’re finally growing up.
This was more momentous than most people realize. The Moe men don’t have chest hair. We’re white, pasty and hairless, like new-born pandas. I thought for a moment. Perhaps the steroids would help me finally grow a real beard. Sadly, my Prednisone prescription wore off before I could start to look like Wolverine.
Well, there is always the next time.
On Labor Day weekend, K, the girls and I were invited to a friend’s cabin in Big Sur for what turned out to be a fantastic weekend of hiking, beaches, campfires, and general unplugged-ness. From the cabin we could see the ocean, the mountains, a small creek that was fed by the property’s spring and an amazing menagerie of animals that wandered through the wilderness. Unfortunately, sometime during the weekend, I “got” poison oak.
It wasn’t like we weren’t warned. We were warned repeatedly to be careful, to mind the kids, mind the animals, not to venture into the wilderness without wearing long pants, not to pick wild, waxy-looking flowers. Luckily, of the 6 adults, 6 kids and 1 dog that were on the trip, I was only person who touched it. Well, luckily for everyone else, I guess.
Of course, I didn’t know that I had been exposed to it. In some super-creepy-that-it-still-gives-me-the-willies way, I didn’t know until 4 days after I got back that sometime during the weekend I had a fling with an bush with a venereal disease. It started with a rash on my ankle, which initially didn’t seem like much.
- Oh, looks like I have poison oak…
A few days later, the rash started to grow red and blisterly. Then it spread.
- Uh, is poison oak supposed to do this?
Of course, I did what any normal person would do. I googled “poison oak rash” and subjected myself to color photos of disfigured people with giant full body rashes and the warning that rashes could last as long as 6 weeks.
A few days later, K walked into the bathroom while was brushing my teeth.
- Why do you have a paper towel wrapped around your ankle?
- The blisters are breaking on my leg and the rash is beginning to ooze. I’m trying to keep it off the floor.
- Ok, that’s just gross.
Then the oozing grew worse, which resorted to me wrapping my leg before going to work each morning. That turned out to be a mistake, as the rash grew infected and the “oozing rash” to become an “oozing, fiery red mass” covering my leg from heel to mid-calf. It’s not to say that all this didn’t have an upside. The girls would insist on showing off my leg to friends as if I was a leprosy victim at a carnival exhibit.
- Dad, Dad, Dad! Can you show Ellie your leg?
- Why not?
- It’ll give her nightmares.
- Ah, come on, she came all the way over to see it.
- Okay, fine.
- ….um …EEEEEWWWWW!
At night, under a haze of Advil and antihistamines and as I felt the warm festering of my leg as it lay on top of a pile of towels, I would try to remember where during our Big Sur trip I had gotten my gift of poison oak. Maybe it was when I had climbed from the path on a hillside to get a pine cone for K. Or it could have been the surfers who pushed past us on the narrow trail on the way down to the beach. Or was it that walk along the bluff near where are friends had gotten married? I didn’t remember it, but obviously during that weekend I had been dragged into a dark alley and mugged by a plant.
NEXT WEEK – POISON OAK 2 – LIFE ON STEROIDS
How many times have you thought, “wouldn’t it be great to [insert monumentally complicated project]. I think my life’s ambition would be fulfilled if I could do [monumentally complicated project]. Why can’t I find the time for this?”
I’ve noticed recently that I have a list of potential projects and ideas that I would like to develop that seems far longer than is possible to complete in a single, human lifetime: Book ideas, screenplays, new business ventures, an additional academic degree, speaking tour, a daily video-blog. Oh, and of course, I want to spend time with my kids, my wife, see friends, exercise, host dinner parties, attend functions, travel, stay out late and, occasionally, lay on the beach and do nothing.
At a certain point in recent years, I have filled my schedule and priorities to the point that I don’t really have open time anymore. I’m scheduled, calculated, prioritized and responsible for items that leave little extra room for much of anything. When I was younger, I had lots of time. I spent the time in a certain, anxious wandering. I watched TV, drank too often, and spent a lot of time in coffee shops. I created ridiculous public art projects that now make me cringe when looking back on it. I thought up impractical business projects that I strangely couldn’t find funding for. I was searching for a direction.
Eventually, I found one. I started my first, real business after grad school. I married my girlfriend, and we had our first daughter, and then a second. I created a second business, then a third. In a ridiculously short time, I went from the anxious feeling of “when will my life really get going” to the crazy, wonderful life I have now.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my crazy, wonderful life. But, now I realize that I can’t just add in another project or responsibility. Outside of something that might take a few hours on a randomly free Sunday, I really don’t have time for a new project or life pursuit, unless I re-prioritize. In order to do something new, I actively choose to stop doing something else.
And there is the rub. There isn’t a lot of wasted space in my calendar anymore, as I doubt there is with you. How much time do you sleep? How much time do you give yourself to relax? Is it more important to watch a movie with your family in the evening or try to write a movie script? Should you work on that project during the weekend or mow the lawn? I don’t really have “extra” time anymore. I don’t sit around twiddling my thumbs on Thursdays or spend every evening staring out the window.
There is one of those schmalzy quotes that I think about occasionally:
“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a child.”
- Forest Witcraft
Really? Is it that easy? I don’t think so. We all want to have a full life, and to make the right decisions for ourselves, our families and our careers. But, even taking the long view, it’s not always easy to know what is the better priority.
The boy takes karate and just recently passed his latest exam to get his orange belt. He was so excited. He’s been carrying around his new belt and sleeping with it.
This morning, he said to me, “I love you more than my orange belt.”
That’s love, friends.
When I was a kid, my father had a temper. For a lot of reasons that I really didn’t get a gist of until I was much older, he could grow angry at people, pets, objects and me. The reasons were never very important, as most reasons aren’t, but my father spent a lot of my youth being angry.
As I grew up, and especially when I got to high school, I developed my own temper. In some ways, I saw my temper as a shield to protect me. During my senior year, I argued with my father a lot, matching his anger with my own. However, my anger was also something that I turned on others: friends, family members, and the occasional acquaintance. Sometimes it was unintentional, a bad mood gone volcanic. More times than I would like to admit, it happened because that’s what I thought leadership and decisiveness was about. Didn’t Army officers yell a lot? Didn’t brave men get angry when bad things happen? Didn’t most heroes lose their tempers when something was important?
In college, after several months of seeing a therapist, I began to realize that I didn’t need my temper. I didn’t need to always to be angry to get by in the world and to stand my ground. I didn’t need to it be strong, to be brave or to be prove that I was important. I still got angry, but I was no longer a comment away from exploding, and my thoughts weren’t constantly drenched with the acid of discontent. I didn’t lash out like I used to, I didn’t need to say the comments that would destroy years of friendships and goodwill, or drive a wedge of hatred between normal people. Life became so much… easier.
As an adult, I don’t have much time for the perpetually angry. With they purple faces and bulging veins, they are a sad, lonely lot; constantly ashamed of their behavior, but most often too proud to change it. I am happy to say that sometime in the years after I graduated and left home (and maybe because of it), my father too figured out how to leave his temper behind. It’s nice to have that relationship now, our worlds largely free from fire and angry words. I can only hope that others find their peace at some point in the future.