Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Don't actually touch me

I love you all as humans. Our fellowship and friendship, the whole idea that we are one sperm in a million that happened to come into being, and exist at this point in time on this planet together...it all gives me reason to love you. But, if you don't mind...please don't touch me with your body.

I'm cool to hug you if you're crying and stuff, in that "I'm-going-to-make-you-safe-from-everything-else" way, but really I'm not going to hear a thing that you blubber into my shoulder after that. If we make sustained eye-contact, or you touch my hand in that sympathy "I-understand" way, I won't hear a thing you say to reassure me. I might stop crying, but that's because I'm distracted by your body invading my bubble. REALLY.

I like people. I love people. I just don't want anyone close enough to smell what I had for lunch. You girls really need to bring it down a notch. (No offense, I know it's me and not you.) But fer realz, we don't need to hold each other if you live 10 minutes away and I'm going to probably see you in a week. Hugs are for people you've known for 20 years that you've not seen in 5 years. That's okay if you really miss one another....even then...

I guess some people are just more physical when it comes to their emotions. I'm trying to work with that. I'm more intellectual. A great intellectual conversation is better than physical contact to me. Hugs and hand-holding and kisses don't produce the same results as being inspired and driven by new ideas and shared interests.

People are great. And hugs are great. But don't hug me or touch me unless you really mean it and it means something at the moment, or you cheapen the gesture. Hold me if I'm dying or crying or something, but don't touch me with your body just because we're better friends than a handshake.

Also, don't sit so close to me that your thigh touches my thigh. It's seriously hard to listen to you when I'm concentrating on my butt-fluff not touching yours. If I don't have the room to scoot over and you keep talking, I'm probably going to say I need to use the bathroom even if I don't need to pee. There. I said it. ;)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Being "Poor"

About this time of year, back in 1998, I found myself living in an old house on Old St. Louis Road here in Jefferson City. The house, originally a chicken coupe, had been renovated to accommodate a small family back in perhaps the 1930s or 1940s, but no one remembers.
    The little house on the huge lot was where my father grew up, with uncomfortable darned socks, and patched blue jeans. Jeans were embarrassing to wear back then when people with money wore slacks and didn't have turned-out collars. He had a real pony and plastic army men and a BB gun and wooded acres behind the house to explore. After he left home in his Firebird and married my mother, I was born. The year was 1977, and my parents would drop me off at my grandmother's house, plaid bell-bottoms and all, so that Dad could go to work at the police station and mom could finish her RN degree at Lincoln University while she worked at St. Marys for $2.35 an hour.
I spent long happy days on Old St. Louis Road growing up. Grandma had a huge Concord grape vine,  cherry, peach and walnut trees, berry bushes, flowers, birds, watercolors, turtles, and every kind of vegetable in her garden anyone would want to eat.
     Grandma didn't have air conditioning or cable, so when it became too hot in the summer, she would fill up a spray bottle, and I would sit in front of the box fan in my underwear and one of Grandpa's big T-shirts. She would mist me as we watched "The Price is Right." We sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Jesus Loves Me" on the porch swing and snapped green beans in the evening. The mosquitoes were almost big enough to carry me away if they ever would have organized themselves. We dressed "doll-babies," walked to Daisy Delight for ice cream, and played wiffle ball. She would always save the cardboard that came under frozen pizzas for us to play Frisbee with, and she saved all her bread bags to braid into floor rugs or to put over my shoes if it rained. In the winter we drew pictures and read books in the kitchen by the old wood stove that heated the 5 livable rooms of the house. She taught me how to write my name in cursive when I was 3 years old. I didn't know we were poor. I was too young.
     I did know I was poor the year I turned 21. I had moved back into the old house while I worked as a delivery driver for Sub Shop and went to school full-time at Lincoln University. We had to move grandma to a nursing home because of her failing health, so, in time, I inherited the modest rent-free dwelling. It had been vacant long enough for all the potatoes to rot, and for a family of raccoons to move into the attic.
There were several special features that came with the house: independence, spiders, plenty of things in need of repair, mice, more spiders, and fond memories. I was thrilled to try to make my way in the world and welcomed the challenge of self-sufficiency. I slept on the fold-out "Devan" with a kitten that I adopted. I shared my nightly ramen noodles with Sketch the gray cat, and let him sleep with me until I ended up with fleas in the bed. I remember I was reading "Angela's Ashes" at the time. Thanks to Frank McCourt's book, I never felt sorry for myself. Not often anyway.
     The old bathtub came without a shower spout, so I found a hand-held attachment that went over the faucet like an external catheter. On one such sitting-to-spray-off occasion, as I was listening to the family of raccoons wrestling in the attic and eyeing a large wolf spider in the corner of the room, the water turned off. Hair fully lathered, no water. I sat there naked in the tub for awhile, trying to devise a solution, remembering that I had paid the bill, and that class started in an hour. I wasn't sure if I could bring myself to rinse my hair in the back of the toilet, but did I have any other options?
     Just in time, the sound of rushing water, barely audible, distracted me from my plan. I grabbed a robe and stuffed my soapy feet into my Keds and followed the noise around the house to the back. There, below the bathroom window, the main water pipe had burst and the pressure had blown a hole
clear through the newspaper-insulated, exterior wall. "So now what?" I pondered as I stared at the fire-hose gush spewing through the wall. The old adage, "Poor folks is got poor ways," came to my mind that day as I stood in my soaking-wet robe and squishy tennis shoes rinsing my hair in the sunny back yard. But I had realized something else about being poor as I waved to my puzzled neighbors from across the large yard.

There is a big difference between having next to no money and being poor.

That house has since been torn down. Apparently houses being partially held up by 1950's car jacks, which boast of black-garden-hose plumbing, aren't worth salvaging. It still makes me smile, however, that in a "worthless" old house, I learned something priceless. I learned about being resourceful, turning hardship into funny memories, being grateful, and the value of family and friends. We were rich back then with our fried baloney sandwiches and snow ice cream... we just didn't have a whole lot of money. We knew all our neighbors. Us kids ran around in unsupervised packs from sun up until the streetlights came on. People fed whatever kids happened to sit at their table in the summer as long as you asked permission and didn't expect anything fancy. If someone had something that your family didn't, it was always shared without hesitation. We didn't buy fancy Popsicles, we bought enough for the whole neighborhood.
     I remember how proud my dad was, when after years of push mowing my Grandma's acre of yard, she bought him a red, riding-lawnmower. I remember how proud I was of my dad for having the only one on our street at the time, and using it to mow not only her yard, but ours and three of the neighbor's on both sides. He used to mow that stretch of grass like a farmer on a combine. I'm so glad years later that now his younger neighbors mow his yard for him. That's how it should work. I think that's the kind of wealth people should work to accrue.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Circus

From the plaster corners of the house where the ceiling meets the wall seeps a tiny breeze of dry, chill air. I can feel it gently flowing down the walls and windows to pool like water around my bare feet. It oozes across the hardwood floors like a ghost. My monotonous paths across the floor are happily punctuated by the system of warm heat ducts that run just underneath. The linen closet where we keep the towels and try to hide the junk food is right over the gas furnace unit, and there is nothing better than warmed towels and the warmed potato chips hidden in them.

The children and I have unconsciously mapped out the arteries that run through the house, as these are the best places to play our board games or to change clothes. Tonight, however, the 3 year old is bidding time on the kitchen computer, building things and killing zombies in Minecraft after a vigorous game of "Throw the Ball Down the Stairs for Daddy to Catch and Return".

I'm cleaning the kitchen counter off while playing "Keep the Balloon off the Floor" with my oldest, trying to avoid the computer-playing preschooler in the center of the 12'x14' room. Daddy, on hand to help where ever needed, notices my distress while I'm cleaning.

"What's wrong?"
"There's a nasty spot here on the counter. It won't come off...I need a solvent, or baking soda. Do you have anything in the basement?"
"Is it sticky? Is it gooey? Is it greasy?"
"No, it's waxy."
"I have just the thing!" His eyes light up. "I'll go get my hand-plane."
"NO! I'll just get some baking soda or something out! You're going to take the veneer off the counter-top!"
I'm reminded of the time our first son had his first loose tooth, and he came up from the basement with pliers to help.

But alas, the husband who has a tendency to get monomaniacal about random interests has his mind set. He proceeds to run to the basement and come up to hand-plane the kitchen counter top. (He's starting to get into hand-planes, though he promised me he wasn't going to get "that" into them.) So far he's done bowling, Kirby vacuums, bicycles, tops, yo-yo's, aquariums, stunt kites, string-making, lathes, worm-farms, regular golf, disc golf, Plants vs. Zombies, Minecraft, fuel-efficient portable cooking devices...now it's hand-planes...of course.
I just kinda step back and stare at the wall while he hand-planes the kitchen counter clean.

"You just junked up my hand-planer," he says with a smile.
"It wasn't my idea! You do know we are the strangest family that exist in real life, right?"
"No way," he replies with a bigger grin.

And so it goes. Our circus of passions and hobbies seeping from every corner of the house like the cold air from the old plaster. Me with my passion for practical science regarding psychology, neuroscience, antique marbles, gardening and cooking, while trying to make a living as a painter -- and my husband tinkering with everything else while managing a cabinet shop to pay all the bills. We have two brilliant and unusual children and a dead pet cat buried in the backyard. It's a good life, but we wish the cat wasn't dead sometimes.

Anyway, I'm going to leave these reflections here for now as we're starting a game of Risk, and I need to get the baby into bed after a healthy session of killing zombies on the computer game. Take care, people. As always, thanks for reading The Brain Drain. ;)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thanks for understanding!

Dear people of the world:

I'm writing this letter to formally thank you for your patience and understanding. I will provide some examples of those who's thoughtfulness and incredible tolerance have made life much easier, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Most recently, I'd like to thank the very sweet women at Walmart's vision center. Your finding entertainment value and humor in my son licking the mirrors in your store lowered my stress level significantly. I hope that my other child breathing on the mirrors and writing smiling faces in the condensation cheers you while you clean them again. Also, I would like to congratulate you for keeping your vision center clean so that my young child doesn't end up in the hospital from licking something in Walmart. It looked immaculate when we first walked in...

I would like to praise my neighbors for allowing your children to play with mine. Thank you for looking the other way when my 3 year old drops trou and pees in our yard. Thank you for not calling the police when you hear bizarre yellings emitted from our open windows when I try to air out the house. When the light-up Spiderman shoes are drying out from puddle-jumping and they are the only ones he will put on, when I can't help that we don't have any chocolate cake, when I make the executive decision to disallow eating Nutella out of the container with a pair of scissors....thank you for understanding that this is all a work-in-progress.

Thank you to all of the little old men and women at the grocery store who answer to "Gam-ma" and "Papa". It's heartwarming when you take the time to flirt with my children, and when you gently touch my arm while reassuring me that your children "went through that stage, too". There's probably many people who would rather run over a screaming puddle of unmet demands with their shopping cart. I'd also like to congratulate you on your uncanny ability to peg these children as belonging to me when I'm doing my best to pretend they're someone else's. I find that both impressive and slightly irritating.

Thank you to the very sweet family that pulled over behind us to catch the weighted, mylar balloon that flew out of our car window. I'm sorry you assumed that the "Get Well Soon" on the balloon meant it would bring great cheer to a person in the hospital, and that you had performed a heroic deed. As it was, that balloon just happened to be the most appealing to the distinctive tastes of a young balloon connoisseur. It was heroic only to me, a perfectly well person. You may remember me as "that lady that who had managed to buckle Armageddon into a car seat and drive around town like that".

Thank you to our home-church pastor. Perhaps you were indulging me, but I'm glad you seemed to agree that sprinkling a little extra water on this one's head during his baptism wouldn't hurt anything.

Finally, thank you to all recent house-guests. Your comments that "the mess doesn't bother you" while you navigate your way over toys, books, games and laundry is very considerate. "It's not dirty it's just a little cluttered" is quite supportive. I hope to have you all over more often once I'm able to keep it more clean, and perhaps we can enjoy your company in brighter lighting.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Basics of Getting Dressed

A formal analysis of what I wear, by hierarchy:

My wedding (I just had my mom do most of it)
Prom (I again had my mom do most of it)
Church on Easter (I mostly got this one)
General weddings and funerals (I ask my mom)
Church in general (God doesn't care)
Award ceremonies (This can get tricky)
Luncheons that might have fancy little sandwiches or something I can't pronounce (No idea what I'm doing)
Shopping with my mom (She usually tells me I "look cute!" if I don't wear a ball cap)
Business meetings (I look like a dork)
School functions (I try. I really try)
Eating at a fancy restaurant where they have waitstaff (Something that matches, deodorant, maybe jewelry?)
Traveling (Ummm...shower, clean clothes, brush teeth)
Target (Jeans that fit well, T-shirt with no stains or holes)
Leaving the house in a car (Bra)
Walmart (Wipe the ketchup off the corners of my mouth)
Float trips (It doesn't matter what you wear after 3 days camping on a river)
Taking the trash out to the curb at the last minute (Pants?)
Saturday mornings

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Chilling out in the Summer

When you're a mother of small children, you go outside with them in the 90+ degree summer and get sweaty and stinky and dirty. If you're staying home for days on end to repeat the process, it's okay to just throw on a hat, some deodorant, and get sweatier, stinkier, and dirtier. It doesn't take long to acclimate under those constant conditions, and before long you're bringing sweatshirts for you and the kids to wear during long trips to the grocery store, and running around in the summer rain counts as showering.
But you get to the point where you could use your leg hair to chirp like a cricket, and you have to shave it so you can wear shorts in public. Your head hair actually HURTS from wearing a hat.
Then you have to leave the house, like, to take a kid to the doctor's office, or run to the store. You HAVE to take a shower. You are a nasty human specimen that should not be allowed even at Walmart. You look and smell like you just returned from a weekend float-trip and never managed to swim or flip your canoe, and then were kidnapped by a family of Bigfoots for a week. (Or would the plural be "Bigfeet"? Maybe it stays singular...a family of Bigfoot...). Sasquatches. Sasquatchi?
So you hop into the shower, knowing you're going to be in there for a bit to right all that's wrong. Perhaps you discover that the hot water heater didn't kick on and there is ABSOLUTELY no hot water. You shave your goosebumps off. You wash your hair twice and condition it, (you have to condition it because it's dry from coloring it and hours in the sun). Fortunately for you, the AC seems to have no problem kicking on while you're in there. You are woman, hear your teeth chatter while you roar, "I can't do a puzzle right now, I'm trying to take a shower!" Grabbing the clean towel hanging up, you realize it's still cold and damp from your husband's shower that morning. The rest are in the laundry, of course, or drying outside from playing in the inflatable baby pool.
To survive, you channel all the insane heat you've absorbed in the last week, and decide to take the kids to the pool that afternoon. Your feel your toenails turn purple under your chipped and faded polish. You hope to stop shivering by then, but figure a day at the pool in the sun should do it. After all, you've managed to shave your legs...it's a shame to waste all that effort on just the doctor's office. You may briefly fantasize about being able to sunbathe and read a book and not actually get in the water to hover within arms-length of them while they splash you and try their best to drown themselves.
You get back from the freezing doctor's office AC (where you sat with a wet head because you had to change a diaper at the last minute and find a randomly-placed shoe instead of using a nice, warm hairdryer) and it starts raining. Seriously. You just got the hormone-free, dye-free, preservative-free, organic, microwaved, canned Spaghettio-looking lunch eaten, and it's raining. And it's only 80 degrees. In case you weren't aware, skinny people can comfortably wear sweatshirts when it's 75. They don't want to go swimming on cloudy, rainy days when it's only 83.
There's a first time for everything, and I've had many bucket-list firsts in my lifetime, but this may be the first time I've ever showered and shaved only to bundle up and make chicken soup in the air conditioning. In June. Thank goodness I don't have to go to the grocery store to get anything!
In my next blog, I may discuss that milestone achievement when one's Norwegian/Irish heritage finally allows them a tan that is dark enough to blend with "nude-colored" undergarments. Thanks for the reads!
~ J.N.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Better Than Death

On my list of "Things To Do" is to make another list of things "Better Than Death". It seems appropriate at this time of year to reflect on things for which we are grateful, and at the risk of being morbid, sometimes gaining perspective can aid our appreciation for those little things in life. If those little things happen to not be so obvious, it's nice to be able to tell yourself, "Well...it could be worse. You could have died in the effort."

This morning I had the privilege of waking up to live another day. I'm blessed to have more than one pair of shoes, and so I threw on some homely but comfortable house-shoes so that all the crumbs from the food we've been blessed to eat wouldn't stick to the bottom of my feet that I'm blessed to have. I've been too blessed with a spirited 2 year-old to vacuum for a week. I'm grateful for having a vacuum and floors to walk on, and a house to live in that needs constant cleaning because we've been blessed with so much crap.

I'm so grateful we live in a country where I can take my children to the dentist every six months. I'm grateful for the dentist's strong arms, speed-of-light observations, and crowbar-like fingers. I'm so thankful that all his digits are still intact, and that they will allow us to continue to visit his practice. I hope he knows how blessed he is to have a staff that can smile and reassure apologetic parents, even while subtly holding their hands over their ears and yelling, "IT'S OKAY! WE DON'T MIND! WE SEE KIDS ALL DAY LONG!"

I'm grateful that my oldest son is such a perfect patient, and was able to engage the nurse in pleasant conversation while I chased my toddler down the hallway and out of other patient rooms. I'm sure she was grateful to discuss his dreams of growing up to be a Shepard and Author so he doesn't need to ever leave his house. I hope his talents regarding "belly rolling" along with examples, will leave her life more fulfilled.

I'm so thankful that they have secured the elementary school where he attends, and that they require children to be checked in and checked out by a parent. I'm thankful the school is on a hill in case of catastrophic flooding, and that I've been blessed with a second child to unload out of a car with suicide doors. I'm thankful to have knees to be smashed to bits by god-blessed gravity acting on one door or the other. I'm grateful for the changing seasons, the $%^* cold wind, and to have a #$%(^$@#$% car to drive even if the god-blessed $%^&*@ pieces keep falling off of it.

I'm feeling really #@$% blessed that everyone was patient when the toddler busted in through the school door after his brother and started screaming when I chased him down and pulled him back out. I'm so thankful that no one seemed to notice, including myself, that I was still wearing my house-shoes until it was all over and I was limping blessed toddler back to the car.

I will have to add "taking toddler to dentist" to my future list of "Things Better than Death". Suggestions welcome. I think this one would go a little below "child birth" and a little above "taking an angry Jack-Russell on a walk to collect a urine sample".