Monday, August 24, 2015

The Repaid Gift

I have a very hard time taking a vacation.  I know this goes back to my childhood where money was tight and taking six kids anywhere rarely happened.  My only memory of going on a trip was when we all piled into the station wagon to drive to LaCrosse, Wisconsin so Dad could see his old Navy buddy.  They were a family of six as well - all boys. For my sisters and me it was nine boys and a weekend of misery.

Mark was brought up going to Michigan for two weeks every summer for fishing and swimming.  He has very fond memories of those trips and is more than willing to get in the car or on a plane in the middle of summer.  It has been hard to mesh these two different ingrained experiences when it comes to getting away so it is a BIG deal when we go somewhere.

It was seven years ago that we threw caution to the wind and decided to go to Florida.  I got on a house rental site and picked a place in Seagrove.  We drove and stocked the kitchen with food upon our arrival so that we wouldn't be eating out all the time.  The house was perfect.  It had a huge kitchen that was a joy to cook in.  The wrap-around porch had an outdoor table and chairs and we ate all of our meals there. We walked to the beach every morning, would come home for lunch and then go back again later in the afternoon.  The kids would stop at the neighborhood pool on the way back and Mark and I would start dinner.  It was a perfect vacation for us.

While all of this was in the planning stages, I was working with someone who was going through a very bad breakup with a partner who was emotionally abusive.  I had a front row seat to witness what many women go through when they decide to walk away from someone like that and it rattled me to my core.  The absurdity of the common question of "why doesn't she just leave" became very clear to me.  It is never that easy.  Many times this woman and I worked together until close on Friday and so she would come home with me and have dinner with us.  Mark and I were very worried about her and protective of her fragile situation.

While I was excited and looking forward to our trip to Florida I was also feeling guilty about this wonderful opportunity in the midst of the suffering of someone I cared so much about.  Besides the constant emotional abuse she was under she was also in some dire financial straits.  Mark and I discussed it and decided to write her a check to help her out.  On the day before I left I wrote her a note telling her that despite what she was now hearing from someone who used to be an important part of her life, she was truly, deeply loved by all of us at the store.  That even on her worst days her light shined brightly.  I told no one at work and put the note and check in an envelope and clipped it to her time card.

My note made clear that the money was a gift and any intention she had of paying us back was never our intent.  I felt instant relief once I took care of that - as if it was finally okay for me to enjoy the beach with my family.

By the time we got back there was a letter in the mail from her thanking us and saying that she used the money to hire an attorney to see what her rights were.

My return to work was on a Saturday morning where she and I were opening the store.  I was running late and she was already there and counting the drawer when I arrived.  We both cried when we saw each other and when the owner arrived he asked what in the heck was going on. "We missed each other," I said.  "A lot."

We would work on and off again in other places as the years went by - always connected through the retail world of women's clothing.  Not a single time did we ever discuss what was attached to her time card that summer day.

One day she called me and asked me to help her with some furniture in her and her roommate's house.  "I want to pay you," she said.

"You know that I love doing this and I don't want you to pay me," I said.

"Then I'll pay you in wine," she said and the next night I went to her house.

I listened to them as they told me what was not working for them and we ended up doing a massive room move late into the night.  I suggested that they live with it for a few days to see if they liked the changes and that I would come back and help them rearrange it again if it wasn't what they wanted.

The next day I went to work.  A few hours into my shift I decided to get some coffee and went into the back room to get my wallet.  When I opened my purse there was a huge wad of cash.  Too many fifties to comprehend and my heart started pounding.

Honest to God I thought it was drug money that had been planted in my purse.  I didn't even want to touch it.

Where had this come from?

I went to the owner of the business I was working for and asked her if she had given me a bonus.

"A bonus?  Are you kidding?  Have you noticed how slow it's been?"

Right.  What was I thinking?  She was the one who had given me a $5.00 Applebee's gift card when I had my one year anniversary so it was definitely not her.

"There is hundreds of dollars in my purse and I don't know how it got there."

"Maybe it was from Mark," she said.

"We never have cash on us and if either one of us had this much we would say something.  It was just there when I opened my purse."

It was like an Agatha Christie mystery and we churned over the possibilities all afternoon.  Finally my boss asked, "Did you leave your purse somewhere that somebody could have put the money in without you knowing?"

"No.  I went to a friend's house last night to help her move some furniture.  It was by the fireplace all night and........  Yes.  Oh.  Yes.  Oh my gosh."

When I got home from work I called my benefactor.  "Were you the fairy godmother in my life last night?" I asked.

"I was.....just like you were to me a few years ago.  I added a little interest.  Now you and Mark need to do something fun with it."

It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise as the check we had written to her had long been forgotten.

This dear coworker and friend moved west awhile ago.  Every so often I'll think of of those troubled days that taught me so much about the hand that some women are dealt and the quick judgement we pass when we know so little. The same judgement I made before I was a witness to the damage.

I'd like to think that her new start brought her a good-looking cowboy that came with so much abundant love and kindness that it made her forget her past.

A cowboy that knew how to lasso the moon.

She would love that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Back Room

Since April I have been on nine interviews.  Nine times I've tried to sell my skill set with a wink and a smile and a toss of big words like accounting software, spreadsheets and aging reports......and yet I have not found the right fit.

Last week there was a job for the taking.  Good salary with awesome benefits and a decent amount of time off and I walked away.  Beggars can't be choosers and I seem awfully choosy these days. Coming off a bad breakup from the last place, I know that I am searching every closet and file cabinet to find the crazy that's been tucked away and hidden from company.  I also know that being on a hair trigger for office dysfunction is not healthy.  I am ever-so-slowly learning to filter that out and rely on my gut, but so far my gut is saying "run" or "you don't really want to do this all day, do you?"

In my excitement over all that this last job offered I gushed to Mark about the perks and benefits.  "A big office, Mark," I said. "all my own.  There was even a tree right outside the window with birds. Birds, Mark!!!  I could look at the birds while I worked!"  I noticed this nature moment when the MOUNDS of paper the current office holder was surrounded by started making me all twitchy and uptight and I stared out the window in self-defense.

On reflection there were other negatives.

#1.  It was farther from the house than I wanted to commute and the commute would be in the kind of traffic that usually makes the early morning news.

#2.  It was a small staff.  Four people total.  They ate lunch together every day.  They worked together and they ate lunch together.  Every day.

#3.  The office was deep in suburbia which meant that it was in a nondescript building in a nondescript area surrounded by nondescript strip malls.

#4.  There was no back room.

I got used to a back room from my retail days.  The place you could go to get away for five minutes. The sanctuary (albeit as hot a mess as any basement) where you could regroup and breathe when the latest edict came down from on high. Where your favorite coworker asks you to show her where the large gift boxes are so she can really say, "Can you believe that schedule?  Do they think I'm some kind of mule or what?  Every Saturday this month.  What's that about?"

Many a time I have been the ultimate back room girlfriend and confidant.  I'd gladly meet any coworker in the back and nod and listen in sympathy to the issue of the day.  I'd bitch about my own hours and willingly throw gasoline on theirs. If asked to take up the cause I'd say, "Well, yeah, if you bring it up I'll back you," because I didn't need so much to carry the torch as I needed to have a place to complain about the torch.

The back room is an essential part of every work place.  It cannot be replaced by emails, phone calls or texts.....for there is no trail to uncover to what is said in the back room.

When I told Mark I was going to walk away from this prospect he shook his head.

"I have to work in a bigger pool than that and I cannot spend every minute of the day with coworkers and then eat lunch with them on top of that.  I have to have a break.  At least lunch alone to read the news or to shop Loft's Friends and Family online sale to buy my way out of the misery of working in a job I shouldn't be doing."

I'm not sure he understood my reasoning.  I'm not sure I even do.

All I could think of at the time, though, was what if I got into a relationship with these people and all three of them thought Donald Trump would make a great president?   Without a back room to scurry off to my only option would be to crawl out the window of that paper-piled office and tell the birds to scoot over so I could join them out on a limb.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Meet the Author

On our travels last week we went to the New York Public Library.  It was quite grand and beautiful and oh so far from the maddening crowd.  It was the perfect oasis on a hot afternoon after miles of walking the city to see the sights.  On the way up the steps I glanced to my right and there was a card table with a Meet The Author sign taped to it.  I was fervently waved over but instead smiled and waved back and we went inside.

When we were leaving the library I said to Mark, "Let's go meet the author. I don't know why but I think we should go over there."  We approached the table and were greeted warmly by two men.

The author launched into his sales pitch.  I was expecting there to be a single book but instead there was a variety of neatly stacked books to chose from.

As I perused them I asked "Are you self-published?"

"Indeed I am.  Like all the great authors are - Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Rubyard Kipling, to name but a few."

"Well you're in good company," I said.  "Which one of these is your newest?"

"This one," he said picking up the one titled Zoe.  "It's the story of a teenager traveling the country and writing letters home to his Zoe.  Letters about life and love."

"Is that one your favorite child at the moment?"  I asked.

"Oh no, it would have to be this one," he said picking up the one titled Martha.  "The story of a dancer told in poetry."

"A dancer?  Really?  We came to New York to see our daughter in a performance tonight.  She's a dancer."

"I am of the opinion," he said, "that a dancer is the most disciplined of all the artists.  That in most cases they give up everything to dance, especially their youth and their bodies.  That the slightest of gestures, the delicate placement of their hands when every muscle in their body is under extreme stress is discipline that takes hours and hours of practice and is over in the fleeting minutes of a performance.  But you know all this right?"

I was taken aback.  Did I know that?  I don't know.  Maybe.

"I thought about this story for years but couldn't figure out how to write it.  Then I went to a live performance and it all came to me when the announcer came on stage before the show started.  Do you want to know what he said?"

We nodded.

"In humanity I see grace, beauty and dignity.  Here.  Let me show you."

"That was my inspiration for my story and I started writing."

Mark and I stood there spellbound.

He continued. "Then the curtain lifts with the rush of Niagra.  The music moves, filling the openness with consoling tones, a melody of the woods twirling ribbons of wind and gently, the dance begins."

"A perfect description," I said.  "That is what I feel when I watch our daughter dance."

I turned to the man who had been quietly sitting there this whole time and asked, "Are you his friend?"

"Every Saturday I come to the library and I kept seeing this man with his card table selling his books. The first time it was bitter cold and he was here for hours.  The next Saturday the same thing, and the next and the next. Finally I walked over to talk to him and I've been keeping him company ever since. That was two years ago."

He reached into his wallet and pulled out a tattered photo.  "See her?  That's my daughter.  She's four years old.  I take her to dance every week.  You and me are alike with our dancing girls. It's crazy, isn't it?"

We bought the book (as if there was ever any doubt) and bid farewell to this author and his companion.

"I don't know what to make of all that," Mark said as we walked down the steps,"except that I feel like crying."

Kindred spirits on the steps of the public library.

It was the most divine intervention.

***You can read more about Garrett Buhl Robinson here

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Easing My Grip

Maggie was recently talking about when she was in high school and wanted to work at the Rainforest Cafe but I said 'YOU CANNOT WORK THERE.  IT IS AT THE MALL."

I don't remember this conversation but it sounds like something I would say.  I hate most malls.  No window to the outside world, the Abercrombie smell from fives store away, the Dead Sea scrub stalkers, the flat-iron kiosk where they eye me so eagerly with their hair tools, and all that stuff.  I will think of any alternative to avoid the mall (including shipping charges) and so the thought of sending my kid there every day must have sent me over a maternal cliff.

She also said I told her she couldn't work at Culvers because the location was sketch and those places don't close until at least 10:00.  This also sounds like me except the location isn't sketch and I am up and down that street at least 2-3 times a week.

Oh the poor firstborn with the drone for a mother.

Will worked at a bagel shop all through high school and on college breaks.  This was acceptable until he had to work on Easter.  "EASTER?  YOU HAVE TO SELL BAGELS ON EASTER?  THAT IS RIDICULOUS AND TELL THEM I SAID SO." But that place usually closed by 4:00 and so that was okay because he wouldn't be coming home after dark and I wouldn't have to go on anti-anxiety meds.

Mal has worked for the last couple of years at a restaurant in the KC shopping and dining district. She often gets off work past midnight.

Oh the third child with the mother who has surrendered.

For two years Mal has talked about going to New York City for an intensive dance program.  She worked like crazy and saved all the money to pay for it herself.  I tended to think (or maybe hope) that my youngest one wouldn't really go to that big city for a whole summer, and so when she'd haul in another big check and I'd see her bank balance online I'd think, "Well good for her.  Look at all that money she's saving."  Then she applied, sent off a video of her dancing and got accepted.

I stuffed down every fear I had and breathed into paper bags.

We talked over and over about her going there by herself.  I tried to enlist her brother to accompany her but he started a new job and had no vacation time.  Mark had a grant deadline and couldn't take off work.  Taking me and my sense of direction would have been a hindrance instead of help.  She insisted she was perfectly capable of going alone.  I ordered a car to meet her at the gate and take her to her summer home and then put the fear of God into her about calling me when she got there.

Her summer dance program ended on Saturday and Mark and I went there to see her and the performance.  I needn't have worried so much.  She has been more than capable of managing the city, her classes, her money, her future career and the subway.

In our conversation about working and first jobs Maggie asked me why I was always so goofy about launching each of them off into the world.

"Oh dearie," I thought.  "Only a mother would understand the answer to that question"

In the blink of an eye all three of them have grown up and surpassed me in many ways when it comes to life experiences. The hard, day-after-day work of raising them is behind me.

My new job is to stay out of their way.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Call The City

My gardening friend had come over and we were surveying my flowers.  We chatted for awhile at the end of my plot about what was doing well and what wasn't, perennials versus annuals, and what would make good filler for the empty spots.  We were having a typical gardeners conversation when we heard some rustling by the liriope.  We stopped talking, turned in the direction of the sound and the biggest rat I'd ever seen ran out in front of us.  We screamed, we jumped, we peed ourselves a little.

When our hearts stopped thumping out of our chests we wondered how long that thing had been hiding three feet from us, where it came from, and most importantly were there more.

"You need to call the city and tell them you have a rat problem.  They need to know about this," another neighbor said when I told her what happened.  "They'll send somebody out to bait the sewers."

I wasn't sure if one rat was a problem for the city but it was for me and so I called.  The guy who answered the phone at the public works department asked for my address and when I told him he said, "Oh I know exactly where that is.  We made some people clean up their yard of wood and other debris nearby and it probably disturbed some of the rodents.  I don't think you're going to see anything else."

I described how big it was, how it ran right in front of us, how we dang near had a heart attack.  He  assured me that rats aren't really a problem around here.  I wasn't so sure since we live across from a creek but he insisted that this suburbia and rats don't interface.


That was many years ago and this summer after a long, absent spell we've had a squirrel plague.  "They're rats with bushy tails," Mark says as he embarks on a one-man crusade to rid his garden of them.  Every morning he stands at the back door and counts them at our neighbor's feeder.  Then he moves to the front door and counts more in our own yard.  He calls me over to the fence and points out something red high up in a tree.

"Do you see that, Kath?  Do you know what that is?  That's another one of those effing squirrels eating my tomatoes.  I think the son-of-a-bitch has an heirloom."

Since I don't like tomatoes this isn't my fight but every morning I hear the head count and the cussing.

Last weekend Mark decided to buy another trap.  One for the front yard and now one for the back.  We walked up to the hardware store and he came home and set it up with the bait inside.  Before long he had an occupant. 

And where does he take these yard rats after he traps them?  To the park near City Hall.

"The people running this town need to know we have a squirrel infestation," he says as he drops one after another off on their doorstep.

At least he wasn't trapping and drowning them like the old guy down the street did for years.  We always knew when he got another one because he and his wife would walk up to the shopping center after dinner with a plastic bag to toss it into the dumpster. 

No, this wasn't a death panel but a humane relocation program.

I've only half-listened to most of this squirrel problem until the day I came home and saw two half eaten tomatoes in the front yard.  It was like empty Budweiser cans tossed from the car of a bunch of rowdy teenagers on a Friday night and I wasn't having it. 

This war just got personal.

The next morning Mark went off to work.  As he does every morning these days the traps were set and ready.  That afternoon from an upstairs window I saw our cat crouched near the trap.  Ding ding ding!!!  We had a relocation winner!!!!  Then I saw two little girls stop their bikes and walk up to the trap.  I ran down the stairs and onto the porch.

Noting the concerned look on their faces I said, "It's okay you guys.  My husband takes them to the park so they have more room to run around.  You know, that big one by the pool?  Plus it's probably cooler over there for them.  Really, it's fine.  They're fine.  You're fine.  No worries.  Nothing to see here."

"Oh we thought it looked so sad and scared," one of them said.

"Nooooooooo.  Why would it be sad and scared?  It's going to a bigger yard.  It's going to the Mayor's yard!"

"Okay," they both said and hopped on their bikes and rode away.

But it was too late.  While I was running down the stairs they had opened the door and released the squirrel. 

I felt like making another call to the city.  We had some renegade PETA do-gooders trolling the hood and they had no idea what they were unleashing on this neighborhood.  They were freeing the ones who have a lot of problems.  They bring those problems here.  The ones who bring crime.  The ones who bring drugs.  The ones who steal tomatoes.

And some, I suppose, are good squirrels.


I asked the guy who's out there every day securing the vegetable border.  He says every single one of them is a rat.

Ready for transport to their new home

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Mending Season

                                           ~What breaks quickly generally mends slowly~

On the first day of the job I left this spring, I was escorted to the third floor where I would be working by my then supervisor.  Immediately upon arriving on the landing, it was as if every sense in my body was screaming GET OUT. By the time I got to my desk I felt like crying.

It was bizarre and scary and telling, and since I'm not some new-age, hippie chick that dances by the light of the moon every night I shut that business down pronto.

The first month, however, was such a struggle that when friends and family asked, "Don't you just love it?", I would offer a weak smile and say, "I can't say yet.  There's so much to learn and it's really different than anything I've done before."  What was unsaid is that from the beginning it was the most difficult work environment I'd ever been in.  If I were smart I would have turned around that first day and said, "Sorry, HR.  You're not going to believe this but The Universe just sent me quite the warning and I'm going to have to go."

Responsible people, though, don't get a job and then walk out on a feeling.  You stick it out and hope that the karma you're picking up on is dead wrong.

While there was a conflict that tipped the scale for me that week, I really hadn't planned on quitting on the day I gave my notice.  But I walked up to the third floor once again and wondered, "How many more days are you willing to be miserable?"  I clocked in, put my stuff away, got a cup of coffee and went into my new supervisor's office to give my notice.  We both cried because we had a mutual adoration society going and my leaving was going to break that up.

There were many people there that I adored and leaving those friendships was incredibly hard, but I felt that I was spiraling down so fast that it was scaring me.  There were attempts in the following week to talk me out of my decision but it was to no avail.  I did my best not to panic about losing a second paycheck around here but that was on the outside.  The inside was swirling and nauseous and checking multiple job sites over and over waiting to pounce on the right opportunity.

Six weeks later I broke my foot.

I went to two interviews after that wearing an orthopedic boot.  Was that why I didn't get the job? Did they think my broken foot would never mend and they'd be stuck with a hobbling employee that is always late because she has to go to the doctor again?  For the third interview I stuffed my swollen foot into a regular shoe and had my daughter drop me off outside the building so I wouldn't have to limp from a parking garage.  I didn't get that one either.

Three "thanks but no thanks" emails in less than a week could make even the most optimistic job seeker a little shaky in their confidence.  I started out shaky.

When I first quit my job, my neighbor who works for the school district said, "Oh good.  Don't get anything until August so we can hang out this summer."

"August?  Oh no, I'll have something before that," I said.  Or so I thought.

It seems like destiny to me that I broke my foot.  The thought of repairing my damaged emotions after two tough years was not what I was planning to do this summer.  I was looking to dive right back into the work pool but was instead forced to prop my foot up with an ice pack and deal with my feelings.  Some days that felt like being forced to sit in the cafeteria with the popular cheerleader in high school that was dating the boy who dumped me.

When another neighbor who is a nurse asked me how my foot was doing I told her that it hurt most of the time, that I couldn't seem to get anything done and that at some point during the day I would usually fall asleep. "Well, that's because you're in pain," she said, "and pain is exhausting."

It was as if my world cracked open and it was finally okay for me to take the time to take care of me.

Last week I saw my hairstylist and told her my summer saga of a broken bone, torn ligaments and dwindling job opportunities.  Then I showed her the picture my niece drew of the main character for the children's book we've been conspiring to do together for more than a year.

She stared at the drawing and said, "Oh, she's adorable.  Her hair!  I think I might already love her."  Then she looked at me and said, "You know that you're not getting the jobs because that isn't what you're supposed to be doing now?  That writing her story is the job you're supposed to have?"

I do know that. 

In my still, quiet summer I have discovered that landing the next job was never part of the plan.  It was learning how to listen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Matchmakers

Over the the past few years Maggie and I have taken it upon ourselves to look for suitable candidates to date our Will.  He never asked us to do this (and would roll his eyes when we brought it up) but we decided that since we've both had success in the Cute Husband Department we were the perfect choice to help him out.

Both of us narrowed in our man.

Last year when I was going to the dentist weekly for a rogue tooth, I got to know the dental assistant. Besides being good at his job he was very cute and very funny.  He could talk about anything, but what sealed the deal for me was his advice on hair products to control frizz during the humid summer months.  I had met a soul mate.

Besides that, he wore a scarf fashionably tied around his neck with his blue scrubs.  I'm going to repeat that.  He wore a scarf tied fashionably around his neck with his blue scrubs.

After Maggie started going to the same dentist, our conversations always turned to Dan.  How fun he was, how much we liked him, how perfect he would be for Will.

"We need to work on this," I said to Maggie, "and since I'm the one that's there all the time it's up to me.  I'll get the scoop on him, figure out how he and Will can meet and then let love do its magic." We discussed our strategy and how we could find out if he was attached.  "There's no way around it," I said.  "I'll just have to come out and ask."

So on one of my weekly visits I said to the dentist, "I need to talk to you about something.  Is Dan dating anyone because Maggie and I were talking and..........."

The dentist's face fell as she put her hand on my arm and whispered, "I'm so, so sorry. That's not going to work.  Dan is gay."

I burst out laughing.  "Oh geez, I knew that with the scarf and all but I didn't mean for Maggie. I meant for my son."

"DANNNNNNN!!!" She yelled.  "Get in here.  We've got an opportunity for you."

Dan came running in.  The other dental assistant came in.  The hygienist peeked around the corner. "Do your thing," the dentist said to me as the crowd gathered around my recliner.  I presented my case my son and frantically tried to pull up a picture on Facebook.  They all leaned in to get a good look.

"We don't always get good reception in here," the dentist said and disappoint hung as lifeless in the air as a shot of Novocain.

"I'll friend him," Dan said.  "Tell him who I am so he knows and then we'll see.  I can't believe I don't know him already.  I think I've dated every gay guy in Kansas City."

The fact that he got around a lot was a little concerning but I ignored that and called Maggie with the deets.  "It's in the works and before you know it Dan will be eating Sunday dinner with us. Maybe he can show us how he ties his scarf in that cool knot?!"

"I know, Mom.  Will's going to thank us for this one," Maggie said.

Before long they did end up meeting through a mutual friend.  In fact, Will met a bunch of new people all of a sudden but, alas, there was not even the slightest spark of a love connection.  "He's not my type," was all he said.

"Not your type?!!"  What do you mean?  He's cute, he's funny, he's fashionable," Maggie and I yelled. Will wouldn't budge.  He moved on rather quickly from this plan of ours but we were having trouble doing the same.

I hadn't seen Dan in over a year until I went in for a cleaning last month.  He poked his head in the room and said.  "Hey Kathleen, how's it going?  Haven't seen you in awhile.  Is Will doing okay?"

We got caught up on everything and I was a little sad it didn't work out with Will.  He would have been a fine addition to the family roster.

The original cute son-in-law started going to the same dentist recently.  "Did you meet Dan?  Isn't he so good-looking and fun?" Maggie asked.

"I can't believe you and your mom ever thought he was a good match for Will.  Two minutes in and I knew he wasn't the kind of guy Will would go for.  That was a bad idea you two had from the start."

"What???  Of course it could have worked."

"Nope.  Not Will's type.  You guys don't know what you're doing."

Will did meet someone recently, and what may be the biggest shock of all, Maggie and I had nothing to do with it. We don't know how he did it without our guidance but he did, and we all like this cute, nice guy who makes Will so happy.

But what are we to do with our time now that our matchmaking skills are not needed?

I'm so glad I asked.

We think it's time to teach the straight men around here how to accessorize.