Dad’s Second Day or “An Aviation Tour of the Pacific Northwest”

The second day of my dad’s visit, my family was up by 7:30. Matt took Rose to swimming and the gym and I worked a bit on the blog. My dad slept until 11 a.m. That’s 2 p.m. Eastern time, which made me wonder how much he sleeps at home. I thought old people woke up early. My dad often brags that he’s “up” until 2 a.m., but we all know he sleeps in his dining room chair 90 percent of the day.

The sleeping thing really scares me because he still drives. First, his head permanently hangs from osteoporosis so it’s hard for him to see the road through hooded eyes. Second, he’s narcoleptic and I’m afraid he’ll fall asleep at the wheel and kill someone. He had an accident a few years ago on the interstate. He “slipped on some ice” and ran off the road. I’m willing to bet the road was completely dry that day.

We’d planned the Boeing plant tour for that day. Early in his career, my father built jet engines and he’s always been interested in airplanes. I was worried we’d have to talk a lot beforehand, but my dad fell asleep sitting on the couch. Before he slept he asked, “How many times does she sleep during the day?” of my son. I am his only child and he’s got two grandchildren. You’d think he could keep their genders straight.

Matt and Rose got home an hour later. My father still slept. I worked on the blog some more.

After Japanese Steak House leftovers for lunch, Dad and I headed off to Boeing. The storm lashed the road as we approached and we mistakenly stopped at the Historic Flight museum on the way. Turns out we were looking for the Future of Flight museum. The old planes at Historic Flight fascinated my dad and he asked to stop there on the way home. We got to the right place, got our tickets and headed off. The tour was very cool, even though I had to steer my dad toward the tour guide a few times so they didn’t leave without us. It was amazing looking at these enormous planes in all phases of construction.

After the 90-minute tour, we waded through the gift shop and headed out. I was really tired and I’d hoped he’d forget about the other museum, but as soon as we got into the car, he mentioned it. We went, and he examined every inch of every plane and every plaque and asked the staff about each plaqueless plane. I stayed with him for half of it, then plopped myself down on a bench and waited. He finished, we left and headed to Frost Doughnuts to pick up the next day’s breakfast.

Matt and I love to introduce visitors to the gourmet donut shop. People are always impressed by the maple-bacon bars. On the way, my dad said he had to buy some Seattle coffee for a friend back home. He kept pointing out coffee shops, but the wind and rain dampened my desire to make another stop. Either the donut shop sold coffee, I told him, or we’ll go to the market across the street. We got the donuts, then his coffee, and some creamer at the market, because our milk wasn’t good enough for his coffee, and headed home. Famished, I scarfed a sour-cherry-almond doughnut on the way. I expected him to make some fat comment but to my surprise, he refrained.

He did tell me that he and his nephew had visited a cousin of his recently, and his nephew was asking the cousin about their childhoods. He waved his hands around, “He was asking about us being poor when we were kids, and he shouldn’t have done that. Helen was telling him about it too, but he shouldn’t have asked.”

“Why not?” I said.

“Because you don’t ask about things like that,” he said.

“But you were poor. Your dad worked as a waiter at the Waldorf-Astoria.”

“The fact remains, you shouldn’t talk about things like that. We weren’t poor. We had food. We ate!”

“But you got free milk at school,” I said.

“That was for the skinny kids, not because we were poor!”

“It was SEVENTY years ago. Why should that bother you now?”

“I didn’t like him talking about it.”

“You’re not poor now.”

“He shouldn’t have said it. You don’t talk about things like that,” he said.

Matt had been trying to cook a leg of lamb, Greek-style, on the rotisserie, all afternoon. The burner kept blowing out in the storm and he thought he’d run out of gas. He’d called me to pick up propane but my phone didn’t ring and he left me a frantic message. By the time we got home, he’d gone out and returned with a new propane tank. Christian was five months old already and it was the first time he’d been out by himself with both kids. He was mad that he had to do it, but I was impressed with his accomplishment.

“It’s not cooking,” he told me at 5:30.

“Well, leave it on a little longer and see what happens,” I said. At 6:00, my father had eaten two donuts and the lamb was raw on the inside. Matt took it off the rotisserie and grilled it to cook it through. I thought my dad would appreciate lamb, because they don’t make lamb TV dinners, but he said nothing, just hunched over his plate and plowed through it. I’d made my grandfather’s restaurant recipe for potatoes and I started to tell him about them.

“Oh, I get good potatoes in my [frozen] dinners,” he said.

“Dad, these are Rizzoli potatoes, like mom used to make.” I’d thought he’d appreciate them, but he didn’t even recognize them.

“Ohh,” he said, taking the bowl and dropping a pile onto his plate. “Very good, Maria. Everything is very good,” he said.

After dinner, we switched on the TV. It had to be deafening for my dad to hear it. The night before, he’d turned the volume up to 26. We usually watch it at 10. We were watching “Bang for Your Buck” – one of my favorites on HGTV. The show assesses renovations according to resale value. Each couple watches the designer and real estate agent assess their work. One couple was two guys.

“They got a couple a queers on this?” my dad said.

“Yep.”

“Huh,” he grumbled, “They must be going for a different market.” I didn’t take the bait. I wish I had. I’d love to see what he came up with.

He asked me to show him how to use a computer. I’d told him to bring his, but he hadn’t, so we used mine. He wanted the internet, so I had him click through to it, and then he wanted to see video of actor Charlie Callas, who’d just died. Callas grew up on the same block as my father, as he reminded me, and he was Greek. I pulled up the video and my dad watched. The screen kept going black and we explained to him that the computer thought he wasn’t using it because he hadn’t moved anything. “Get it back,” he said. I showed him how I swiped the touch pad. A minute later, the screen turned black again.

I said, “So what do we do when the screen goes black?”

“Get it back,” he said. I did. It happened again.

“How do you get it back?” I said.

“Get it back.” Sigh. He wanted to see every Charlie Callas video available and I had to sit there and restore his screen with each passing minute. He never showed any interest in doing it himself or any other aspect of the computer and by the time we were through, he’d fallen asleep twice and I wanted to go to bed.

I did go to bed, and that’s my second day story. I’ll wrap up the visit next week. Stay tuned!


Dad’s Visit or “Salmon in the Freezer”

My dad visited us for the first time last month. I’d dreaded the visit, but to preserve my own sanity, decided to treat it as a character study for my memoir. That in mind, I wish he’d stayed longer. There’s no way I could make this stuff up.

It started at the airport. Well, it started before the airport, on the phone, when Dad told me, “I’m not gonna let them X-ray me at security. I don’t want all that radiation.” He’s 81. What’s gonna happen? Somehow he got through security because he called me from the airport.

“Ok, I’m here,” he said.

“Ok why didn’t you call Matt? He’s picking you up. He’s waiting in the parking lot right now. I gave you the number.” I said.

“Is that the 703 number?” I’d given him one number.

“Yes. Never mind. I’ll call him. Where are you?” I said.

“Baggage claim.”

“Which airline did you fly again?”

“JetBlue.”

“Ok go outside and stand under the JetBlue sign. Matt will pick you up there.”

I called Matt and told him where my father would be. Two minutes later, he called back, “I’m at the JetBlue sign and there’s nobody there. Are you sure that’s what you told him?”

“That’s what I told him,” I said.

“Well, call him back and find out where he is.”

“You’re there. You call him. I gave you his number.”

Two minutes later, Matt called back. “The number goes right to voice mail. He turned it off.”

“Oh, Lord, well, I told him to stand under the sign,” I said.

Grunt. “I guess I’ll just circle around one more flippin’ time.”

“Ok Sweetie!”

So Matt circled a couple more times, then saw my dad just coming out the door. He stopped and, clad in his office shirt, tie and dress coat, approached my dad.

“Oh no thanks, somebody’s picking me up.” my dad said.

“Yeah, it’s me,” he said. After Matt shed his sunglasses and chatted a few minutes, Dad remembered him. Convinced, he got in the car. During the hour-long ride, Matt tried to point out Mount Rainier.

“Today’s the clearest day you’re here,” he said. “Look behind you, that’s Mount Rainier.”

My father looked to his right. “There? I see the mountains.”

“No, behind you, Mount Rainier. It’s a volcano.”

“You have volcanoes here?” my dad said, still looking at the Cascades.

They got to the house, Dad gave me a cursory hug, then we chatted in the living room for a bit. We had some leftover Super-Bowl sausage for dinner. I know how much my father eats, so I piled the platter high. I served him.

“Put this in the microwave, wouldja? It’s cold,” My dad said.

I did. He was right. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm enough either. I returned the plate to his place and he hunched four inches over the plate, cutting and scooping sausage for five minutes. When his plate was clean, he looked up at the ceiling, which is pretty hard to do when you’ve got the posture of a question mark. Straining to see the ceiling is preferable to him, though. I can count on my fingers the number of times he’s met my or anyone’s eye.

Although we had agreed not to bait my dad, Matt brought up the subject of unions – probably because his opinion is more in line with the right than the left. Then I made the mistake of saying that the only people who still need unions are teachers.

“Oh, teachers have it so easy,” he said with a dismissive wave. “They make plenty and they only work half the year. They print their salaries in the Pennysaver every year. Some of them make fifty thousand. They don’t need a union.”

Then Matt told him that teachers in Northern Virginia start at twenty thousand a year.

“See, they make plenty!” my dad said.

“A house in Northern Virginia costs five hundred thousand,” Matt said.

“Aw, that’s because of the politicians there!” my dad said.

Matt tried to get him to understand the connection — that a teacher there could never afford to buy a house — but Dad just talked about the politicians, who apparently make too much money too — except the conservatives because they save the taxpayers money.

After dinner, he said, “Do you have coffee or tea?”

“We have both. Which would you like?”

“Whatever’s easier. Tea’s easier.”

“Well tea takes longer to steep and coffee’s no trouble.” I made coffee. When I served it, I offered him enough cookies to last our family a week. There were four cookies left after he finished.

After dinner, we chatted in the living room. My dad told a story about his travel agent. His description: “She was dark, but she wasn’t black or anything like that.”

The next day I took him to the Ballard Locks between the lakes, the ship canal and the Puget Sound, figuring an engineer would like that sort of thing. Before we left the house, I asked him if he had his camera. “I didn’t bring it,” he said. He didn’t seem too impressed with the locks or the salmon ladder. After the locks, we went to lunch at Ray’s Boathouse, one of Seattle’s best seafood restaurants, in its inexpensive café, of course. My father studied the menu.

“Chowder and fish and chips are the big thing in Seattle. We also have great Dungeness crab and the salmon here is some of the best in the world. You like salmon. You should get it.”

“Eh, I’ve got some salmon in the freezer at home. I’ll have the chicken.”

“Ok, well, I’m going to get the mussels appetizer. They’re Penn Cove mussels from Whidbey Island, in the Sound. Those are a big thing here too. Do you want some?”

“Oh no, it says curry sauce. That’s spicy. You eat them.”

When my mussels came, I ate my fill and asked my dad if he wanted some. He refused. I pushed the plate away.

“You’re not gonna eat that?” Dad said, pointing to the mussels.

“No, I’m done,” I said.

“Oh,” he pulled the plate toward him, hunched over and speed-ate the rest.

When we finished, we picked up Rose from preschool and Christian was hungry so I had my dad read Rose a pre-nap book while I fed Christian. I was tempted to make him read “The Lorax” but I held off on the left-wing stuff.

For the rest of the afternoon, Dad fell asleep sitting on the couch, head hung. I had hoped that when she awoke, Rose would run up to him and scream “WAKE UP!” like she does to me, but no such luck. Matt got home and we headed out to the Japanese steak house for dinner. On our way out the door, my dad said, “We’re going out? Why don’t you just order a pizza?” We assured him that he’d like this place and besides, we can’t get good pizza here so we don’t order much.

Although the fire on the grill scared Rose, my dad seemed to like the steakhouse and tried to pay the bill but quickly surrendered it to Matt upon the offer. Matt told me later, “He’d have a heart attack if he saw that bill.”

My father and I usually can’t go 20 minutes without fighting, but the first day was a success. We didn’t fight and I think Dad had a good time. He enjoyed Ray’s chicken, anyway. There’s too much to keep going, so I’ll continue the visit story next week, when you’ll hear my dad say, “They got two queers on this?”

To be continued…


Work-at-Home-Mom? Guilty!

Am I a bad mom? I feel like one. Christian and I have reached an impasse. He’s five months old, and caring for him while working at home isn’t working anymore. Well, I’m not working anymore. When he was younger, I could feed him, burp him, he’d fall asleep and I’d work. As he grew, I’d feed him, burp him, set him down to play and then he’d fall asleep. Now I feed him and burp him, set him down to play but when he’s done, he demands mom time and then he needs to be rocked to sleep. Then he naps. For 15 minutes at a time. Normally I love caring for him, but when I’m supposed to be working, all I can think about is the work I’m not getting done. I miss the days when he’d sleep for half an hour, because I could work uninterrupted, but that’s over now.

Now that Christian’s care has reached critical mass, I’m considering getting additional babysitting for him. Right now he and Rose go to the sitter’s one day a week. Rose goes to preschool the rest of the week and Christian stays with me. I to send him to the sitter’s more often but I feel guilty. I worked at home with Rose much longer – until she was eight months old. But back then, I had a boring job that I could do one-handed and I welcomed all the baby care breaks. Now that I love my job, I want to work all the time and I resent baby breaks, and that resentment just breeds more guilt.

I wanted a second child so badly. I should be celebrating all the one-on-one time with him, right? I mean, if I was any kind of a mother, I’d live for feedings and playtimes and diapers, right? So what’s wrong with me that I can’t be that kind of a mom?

I mentioned my dilemma to a more experienced mom (of three) and she said, “You can’t be a good mother unless you take care of yourself. If working is what makes you happy, you need to do it for yourself or you won’t be able to take care of your kids.”

She’s right. I recently wrote an article called “When Good Parents Snap,” and in my research I learned that the most important thing parents can do for their families is to care for themselves. It works like this: Let’s say Rose flushes one of my necklaces down the toilet. I’ll definitely be mad, but my reaction depends on my emotional state. If I’m feeling dissatisfied with my life because I’ve neglected my soul, I’m going to scream at her and impose a punishment. If I’m feeling calm and grounded, with a healthy soul, I’m going to be able to weigh the offense with a clearer head and I’ll give Rose a time out and maybe confiscate a toy, but I won’t freak out. Rose has a fighting chance if I’m feeling good, but she doesn’t if I’m feeling bad.

I know that if I don’t sleep, I can’t be a good mom. If I don’t eat, I can’t be a good mom. So why is it so hard for me to accept that if I don’t feed my soul –the very thing that makes me human — I can’t be a good mom?

It took me a long time to learn self-care and the only reason I do it now is that, through all kinds of therapy, I got permission and directions. There are a lot of things I do to take care of myself now. I get enough sleep – well, as much as I can with an infant. I read while working out — the best kind of multitasking. I watch “The Golden Girls” to make sure I laugh. And I indulge my two loves — writing and cooking –on a regular basis.

When I had a regular job, I thought I might enjoy being a stay-at-home mom. I thought I’d just take care of the kids and write some magazine articles. I thought I’d finally attend the mom meetups and befriend more stay-at-home moms. But the reality of it is different. I’m not a stay-at-home-mom, and God willing, I will never be one. If all I did was take care of the kids and the house, I’d go crazy. I love the kids but I am not cut out for full-time child care. When that’s all I do, I get so bored. That makes me feel guilty too. Shouldn’t being a mom be enough for me?

I admire stay-at-home-moms because if I spent that much time with my children, I’d snap three or four times a day, minimum. I need to do more. Now that I love my job, I have to work to keep myself sane and satisfied with who I am. So if I need more babysitting for Christian, I’m going to get it. I will choose quality mothering over quantity. I will model living my dream for my kids, and I will choose acceptance over guilt. I’m doing it for them, yes, but most importantly, I’m doing it for me.


Learned Helpfulness

I never thought a simultaneous strep throat and sinus infection could be a good thing. I was wrong. Last Monday, after a hectic weekend tour of Seattle’s avionic attractions with my dad, I awoke to excruciating throat pain and, not to get too graphic, signs of infection in my Kleenex. I called the doctor and I saw her that morning. She broke the bad news and prescribed some antibiotics and a sinus irrigation regimen — which feels about as fun as it sounds — and sent me home.

I returned home to Matt and the kids, which, for once, was a peaceful, pleasant scene. Matt assured me that I could take a nap – he had things under control. We’ll see how long that lasts, I thought as I made my way back to the bedroom.

I slept until lunchtime and when I came out to the living room, Rose was restless and ornery, and Matt’s voice was starting to tighten, but they were still ok. “Did you get enough rest?” Matt asked.

“Yes, I did, thanks for taking the kids,” I said.

The events at my house on Monday may seem incredibly mundane to some, but for us, it was a huge breakthrough. Normally when I’m sick and Matt stays home he does it under duress and never stops reminding me that he’s unhappy. He grumbles; he yells; he warns me to sleep quickly – he can’t guarantee a child-free naps. When I wake up, he thinks of some work thing that’s needed yesterday so that I must take the kids for at least an hour, enabling him to focus for the first five minutes on the alleged fire and on Facebook for the remaining 55.

This week, when I first woke up sick, Matt offered to stay home without protest. He took care of the kids for me and aside from complaining that we need a backup babysitter, which we do, he was perfectly pleasant. He was competent with the kids as well. Sometimes he does the typical male half-ass to get out of doing a job. In this case, he escalates disagreements with Rose until she’s hysterical and won’t listen to anything so that I will relieve him of his babysitting duties.

This week was a far cry from the last time I needed Matt to care for me. At that time, I was nine months pregnant, had developed sciatica and couldn’t walk but I was still on the hook as hostess to his mom, who also couldn’t walk, and our spoiled, lazy, 13-year-old nephew. It was obvious the kid had brain to butt valet service from his family since he was born. Seriously, he didn’t even know to clear his dinner plate from the table. That visit drove me to a hospital bed. Twice. (See “The Girl Who Cried ‘Help’” )

The day that the sciatica started, I couldn’t walk and all I wanted to do was lie down. Matt spent the day assembling our new bed, “So you can lie down,” he said. It was a good idea in theory but until the late afternoon when he finished, I could not lie down out of sight or without descending two staircases and I still had to wait on my in-laws. After that incident, and the two trips to the hospital, I told him that he didn’t take care of me the way I needed. I always took care of him when he was sick, I said, but when I needed care, I was on my own. And every time I got sick, he’d turn up with some ailment two days later so I’d have to care for him.

He said I never asked for help so he never knew what I needed. I admit, I do not whine like a man when I have a cold, but I could name several times when I asked him to take Rose so I could nap and five minutes later I heard “Mommy?” right next to my prostrate head.

I’d had at least one cold before this one where I got to nap, but nobody asked what I needed; nobody made me an Airborne shot; nobody offered to get me water and I had to pick up my own prescription. This time was different. This time Matt asked right away what I needed and provided it. This time Matt got my Airborne and my soup and my prescription.

Matt talks a lot in our house about how Rose “never learns.” Until now, as I listened to those tirades, I’d tally all the things that Matt “never learns” in my head. I got so bored hearing it, I had to entertain myself somehow. When Rose finally demonstrates that she has, in fact, learned, Matt doesn’t notice. I have to point it out. But this time Matt’s the one who’s learned.

What makes this incident absolutely heroic is that this time, Matt was sick before I was. He’d had a head cold flying back from a business trip and it had pushed water behind his eardrum. The pain never let up and he could hardly hear for two weeks before I got sick. And then, inevitably, he got a head cold two days after I got sick. When he develops an illness while I’m still sick, I usually resent caring for him because he hasn’t cared for me. But this time was different. We traded off babysitting duties and made each other Airborne and got each other water and soup and unlike most sick days, we did not bite each other’s heads off.

Normally, at this point in the story, I’d talk about the catalyst to this amazing transformation. I have no such point here. I think that by telling him what I needed and allowing him time to learn to care for me, we reached our understanding. We both realized that caring for each other is the key. It precludes fights and complaints and extended illnesses, and the more we do it, the more routine it will get. I’m getting over my illness and I’m really happy about how this week turned out. Matt taught me that no matter how futile it seemed, my faith in him shouldn’t waver. And it won’t. Next cold, I’m going to teach him not to whine.


Mr. Right Unwrapped

I used to hate Valentine’s Day. I spent seven years between marriages as a single girl and I hated it. All I wanted was to fall in love. I dated from time to time, but I’m not one of those women who needed to have a boyfriend, so if the guy wasn’t right, I didn’t keep him on the payroll. There were times I was desperate for a date – it was the companionship, not the sex – and I did initiate one relationship just to avoid showing up to social events alone. Everybody knew he was just a stopgap partner. We called him “short-term parking.”

It was really hard to go through all those years essentially alone and wondering what was wrong with me. Why I couldn’t meet the right guy? And then I met Matt and we fell in love and that was that. He’d broken up with his first wife seven months before we met. So in my “everything happens for a reason” mindset, I believed I had to be available when he came along.

I feel for my single friends, but there’s a limit to my sympathy. I have several women friends who are in their late 30s or early 40s and still single. And all they want to do is meet Mr. Right. And they don’t know why it’s taking so long.

I do. The truth is that they’re not doing it right. They’re overlooking the men who would be good partners because they’re focusing on the superficial. One of them likes the guys who hang out in the free weight room at the gym and go clubbing at night – not exactly husband and father material. Another friend is tall and she has a height requirement for her men. I wanted to fix her up with a wonderful guy, and I bet they would have liked each other, but she rejected him upon learning he was two inches shorter than her. Another friend likes country boys – to her credit, she does date outside the genre, but a boy has to be country for serious consideration. Plus, she’s looking in D.C. – it’s not exactly Nashville. She also excludes divorced men from her roster. She doesn’t understand that if a guy hasn’t been married by the time he’s 40, it’s a good bet that something’s wrong with him.

I wish all of these girlfriends well, and I actively pray that they’ll find someone, but I think they have to focus on finding the right person, rather than the right type. My husband says they’re too picky, and I see what he means by that, but if choosing a life partner isn’t something to be picky about, then what is? I applaud their pickiness when they reject someone who isn’t right, because despite their age, they won’t settle. No one should settle. Settling breeds divorce. But passing over possible partners for superficial reasons is what keeps them single.

Although they’ve had lots of practice dating, they still don’t realize what they’re looking for. They should be saying, “I want a new best friend who listens to 20 percent of what I say, that I can count on to get things done 10 percent of the time, with whom I can argue 10 percent of the time, and will spend the remaining 60 percent of the time asking for sex.” That’s a husband, girls. In ten years, you’re going to care more about how often he takes out the garbage than how muscular or how tall or how country he is.

If my friends in the audience still want to find a man, I’ll share this story. I don’t know if I did anything magical to find Matt, but I did follow a friend’s advice. She told me to write down all the qualities I wanted in a man, and tuck that piece of paper in my Bible. I did. I came across the paper the first year we were married and Matt had all the qualities I’d listed. Maybe there was some magic in that slip of paper. I’m sure God brought us together. I don’t know if the paper in my Bible helped, but it certainly seems that way. It didn’t hurt. And for my single friends rejecting guys out of hand, divine intervention may be the only way they’ll find exactly what they’re looking for. The practice is not limited to Bibles. Any sacred tome will do.

Maybe by writing those qualities down, I was able to overlook the superficial qualities we see in people we date, and focus on the important stuff: the personality and compatibility and the laughter that ensued. And I’m not saying there was anything superficially wrong with Matt – he was hot from the start and he still is – but he wasn’t my typical type. I liked Italian-looking guys – dark hair, brown or green eyes, olive skin – and Matt’s got light skin with medium brown hair and hazel eyes. He’s the reason Rose looks like the white version of me. But Matt is the perfect guy for me. We connect on so many levels, we respect each other and we make each other laugh. That’s what’s important.

That’s what it all comes down to: the important stuff. So if you’re reading this and you’re still single, do the good guys a favor and reevaluate your selection criteria. The big things are that you laugh at the same things, you have the same tolerance for tidiness, and you don’t run out of things to say to each other. Because when you find the One, you’ll want to grow old with him, and height shrinks, muscles sag, and country can turn redneck right before your eyes.