Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bridge Years

The day that would have been my mother's 93rd birthday passed in January. The second anniversary of her death fell in February. She is still the first thing to slip into my consciousness at waking and the last to cross the backs of my eyelids, with the good and the bad and the slights and the love, just before I sleep. 

I have two kids in their upper teens, and lately I'm comparing my mother's situation when I was a young adult to the ones I face with my children. 
As I write this, my daughter is taking a "bridge year," a break between high school and college. She has been diagnosed with anxiety, although for most people with anxiety, a diagnosis is just a formality. Next year, if she's ready, she'll start at community college then head to Michigan State. That's the loose plan anyway, and it's given us a lot of time together. When we laugh, we are so like my mother and I were all those years ago.

Though I lived on campus when I was in college, I was home much of the time. During my freshman year, I made friends and loved dorm life. Still, I expected my parents to pick me up on Friday afternoons and take me home for the weekend - almost every weekend. On Sunday nights as though for the last time, I'd hug and kiss them and shout goodbyes and they'd be gone - until they came back five days later. And if they felt even the slightest discontent at making three-hour round trips every weekend, it never showed. All I saw were two happy, tired people asking how my week had been, and I, a merry egotist, would spend the next two days telling them. 

Like my daughter, I have anxiety and that, coupled with introversion, drove me home to the familiar, the predictable, the routine - and my mother. I would have missed her even if I weren't an anxious introvert because my mother was truly wonderful. She was kind, her laugh bubbled like a brook, and for years I had curled up with her at night, laughing and talking, until my exhausted father came to say I really should be in my own bed.    

As to bridge years, I took one, too - between earning a Bachelor's degree and earning an income. My parents approved, provided I used that year to develop my writing skills, skills I'd just recently discovered. But I wanted to write and remember sitting at our dining table, portable Brother typewriter before me, plagiarizing the pips out of a book on Laurel and Hardy. The plagiarizing wasn't intentional, and I'm sure the writing contained some embryo of an original thought, and besides, that manuscript was never read by anyone but me. Not all the way through, anyway. If they ever peeked over my shoulder, my parents must have slipped away afterward to weep.  

All work and no play makes Laurel a dull boy.

All work and no play, makes Hardy a dull boy.

All work and no play makes Laurel a dull boy.

All work and no play makes Hardy a dull boy. 

I didn't really write all work and no play, not even once, and I did land a full-time job as an employment agent when I was 23. I went to an agency for help finding a job and got hired on the spot. And that job proved to be a keystone in my career, so the bridge in my bridge year didn't collapse after all, except that I didn't need writing skills until much later. 

The other night I dreamed that I was an adult living with my parents when it occurs to me that I really should get a job. My mother asks if that means I'll be getting my own place, too. I tell her that I'll live at home while I train for the ideal job, and even after, since it will take time to save a down payment on a house. Upon learning that I plan to move out eventually, my mother sounds lighter than she has in years, chatting on the phone and sharing the news with friends. Later in the dream, I'm telling my father that he is absolutely correct to throw out all the knick-knacks and curio shelves before he paints and redecorates the house, and then I question his choice of house paint. 

Tell me please that I wasn't that big a jerk in real life. 

My mother and I were close for the rest of her life, and are even now, in our way. As she lay dying, I drove from Michigan to Maryland to surprise her. When I walked into her room, it was late, the lights dim, and two aides were struggling to make her more comfortable. They weren't struggling because she was hard to please; my mother was unfailingly appreciative and expressed her gratitude generously. But there wasn't a part of her body that wasn't breaking or broken. She was so ill and trying so hard to communicate her needs, that she didn't see me slip in. I sat by the window and when one of the aides looked up, I signaled her to keep quiet. When they left, my mother lay there, eyes closed. 

"Hi, Mom," I said in my best hushed but happy tones. It seemed that even a voice, too loud or harsh, might tear the tender body in the bed. She opened her eyes, looked toward me and started to cry. I cried too. Then I cried harder when, she said, "Oh, Mom. Mom." 

I gathered her in my arms and kissed the top of her head.

"It's Teece," I murmured against her hair. "I love you. I'm here now. I'm here."

"Oh, I'm so glad," she sobbed, and I wondered if she minded that my tears had wet her scalp.  You wonder a lot of odd things when you hold a dying parent. I doubt she minded, though. Little things never bothered her. It took something as big as death to trip her up. For a while, I regretted telling her it was me when she thought I was her mother, but I think for her, by then I was both. Besides, this was her bridge year; who am I to say she didn't see her mother?    

Now that I've thrashed all this around in my head a few thousand times, I've vowed that the next time someone tells me about their kid who's studying abroad, maybe working on a second Master's, I will proudly share that mine might be living with me for years. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018


It was when I was about 10 years-old that it first occurred to me that I didn't like my legs. It happened as I was shooting them a sideways glance in a department store mirror and was horror-struck thinking that I had no kneecaps. 
Legs in the Skirt, copyright Teece Aronin. Available on
products at
In that place where my knees were supposed to bow gracefully outward, they didn't; like my knee yeast never rose. I pointed this out to my mother who replied with that time-honored retort of mothers everywhere: "You're fine."

Of course that experience in the department store wasn't enough to deter me from saying you're fine like a mother when I grew up and had to deal with any child whose worries bored me. I'm not proud of that, but it's true. Karma bit me for it when I said, "You're fine" to my son minutes before he threw up all over his suit, his shoes, and the interior of my 
new car on the way to my aunt's funeral.

But that day in the department store did inspire me to buy my swimsuits online as soon as the technology became available.

The other thing is that I have big legs and "cankles," thick ankles that blend into my calves and shins. My biggest complaint about my cankles is that they make it hard to buy comfortable ankle socks. I'll bet there are enough women with cankles that if someone were to design the cankle sock, that person would make a fortune. I think the biggest argument for cankle socks is that they would be big enough to never get lost in the dryer. 

I haven't worn a dress, pantyhose, and heels at the same time in ages, but I remember that those three items, worn together, did great things for my legs. I still had big legs, but they were big, SEXY legs. Even the cankles stopped being cankles and were transformed into something like great cleavage, but in my shoes.  

My mother's legs were a lot like mine, and my father was crazy about her legs all their lives together. He loved to tell the story about the day he was following her up a steep stairway on his way to meet my grandmother and aunts for the first time. He said my mother kept nervously glancing down at him and clutching the hem of her skirt tight around her legs. He found her bashfulness endearing. 

A couple of years ago, I dated a man who reassuringly said to me, "Your legs are perfectly fine."  

"True," I said, "They move, and they manage to support my weight."

 And I wonder why I'm single. 

He rolled his eyes. "You have what I think of as rich legs, and they're beautiful." 

I wonder if men, overall, need to be convinced of their attractiveness as much as women seem to - again, overall. Oh, come on - who am I kidding? So I'm going to rewrite that old song, When a Man Loves a Woman to sing to myself as needed. I'm calling it, When a Woman Loves Herself and Her Cankles.  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Laura Done Died

For years I've had a love affair going with old-time radio. Shows like Suspense, The Jack Benny Program, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, Your's Truly, Johnny Dollar - they all transport me to a place where my imagination does the work - if you could call it work. 
Image copyright, Teece Aronin

And because radio ruled for decades, my mind dances to places where Art Deco might have been new-ish, as could Colonial furniture, or Mid-century modern, and atomic design motifs. I love it all, and somehow, those decades seem safer - until you factor in for things like the Great Depression, Jim Crow, World War II, and the Cold War. Damn reality.  

I wish my kids could slip away into these shows like I can; I listen to them in my car on Sirius XM, where a host named Greg Bell airs them in what feels to me like something close to Heaven 24/7. My kids are politely tolerant of the Way Back Machine I'm running out of our dashboard, and they typically plug into their phones when I'm listening to these shows. 

Last Saturday my son was at a sleepover, leaving my daughter and me to what we call our "girls' nights." These girls' nights aren't what you might imagine. They're usually us ordering pizza and binge-watching shows like Buzzfeed Unsolved, Will & Grace, and the show we're currently crazy about, the "re-imagined" One Day at a Time. 

But sometimes on girls nights, we like to take drives in the country. We sing along with the radio at the tops of our lungs or I listen to my vintage radio shows while she plugs in to something newer. We still talk off and on, but the backdrops are these two different worlds into which we've chosen to escape while I drive. 

So after Syd and I dropped Jon at the sleepover, we set off for the open road. There was a big moon, a clear sky, and unusually warm temperatures for late January. All these elements combined to give me a kind of contentment I don't usually feel. I was all wrapped up in an episode of Inner Sanctum hosted by the cheeky Raymond Edward Johnson, and Syd was plugged in nice and snug, listening to music and texting. About halfway through the episode, she piped up and commented on the fate of one of the characters: "Laura done died," she quipped.

My heart soared. Could it be my darling daughter was, dare I say, listening to my radio show? Note that I say "my radio show" as though I were Jack Webb. I decided to encourage her and played along.

"Don't be too sure of that. These shows have a way of misdirecting you. You might get a surprise!"

In the end, even Raymond was surprised; surprised and disappointed by what proved to be a total lack of murders and how there wasn't "a drop of blood spilled all evening." Had this opportunity to engage my daughter in a sliver of my world just fizzled? After all, she had grown up under the shadow of the Twilight series and others of its ilk. This show - the ending anyway - might have been a letdown. After a few minutes, I asked her. 

"Syd, did you get into that story at all?"

"Sorry, Mom, not really. Except for that one little part, I didn't even hear it. My friend, Juliana introduced me to someone she thought I'd like, and that person ended up liking me, but I didn't feel the same way. It was a whole big mess. I was trying to get out of it without hurting anybody’s feelings. Now I’m totally drained."

And not even by a vampire. I stared at her, my mouth open.

"All this happened just now? You got fixed up with someone, went on a blind date, got to know this person enough to know it wasn’t a fit, and then broke it off - all on the phone and all inside an hour?

"Yeah. I guess I kind of had my own drama going on."

We drove home and binge-watched Netflix. Syd still occasionally fiddled with her phone - probably nailing down a four-year degree, getting married, and having my first grandchild - all at the same time.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

How to Sleep with a Dog

If you have a dog, you know that, like humans, dogs sleep, and that they prefer to sleep with a partner. This is where you, the dog owner, or parent of a fur-baby (depending on your level of attachment), come in. 
Image copyright, Teece Aronin
If you are a dog owner who allows your dog to sleep in your bed, you sleep with your dog. If you are a parent of a fur-baby who sleeps in your bed, you co-sleep with your fur-baby

No matter how you share your bed with your dog, the dog thinks he is sharing his bed with you. In addition, the dog probably sleeps much better than you. Remember: the phrase is "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," not "bright-eyed and bushy-bottomed." 

The fastest route to better sleep with Fido starts with leveling the playing field so that he does not play the alpha in the bedroom. Your dog will respect you for it, and you will both sleep better as a result. To avoid the awkward his/her/he/she, we will assume that your dog is male.

Step One: When your dog springs onto the bed at night, you spring onto the bed. This will startle your dog, and he will automatically surrender much of the alpha status he has enjoyed until now. 

Step Two: Once your dog recovers from the shock of Step One, he will likely begin walking in a circle on top of the bed clothes. This is known as "rounding" and is an instinctual ritual dating back to your dog's wolf ancestors. Dogs round to tamp down sticks and leaves and make a more comfortable bed. Similarly, dogs often scratch and dig at times like this. 

When your dog begins to round, you begin to round, all the while explaining to your dog how ridiculous rounding is when there are no sticks or leaves in your bed. If there are sticks or leaves in your bed, assist your dog in the rounding process. This will get the job done faster so that you and your dog can fly off to the Land of Nod that much sooner.

Step Three: Anticipate your dog's impending plop to the mattress, then plop first. This tactic allows you first choice of valuable prime mattress real estate, and surprises your dog into relinquishing more alpha status. Once you have both plopped, be the first to snort, preferably in your dog's face. Some dogs prefer to burrow under the bed clothes before plopping and snorting. If this sounds like your dog, once again, beating him at his own game is key. Just don't forget to snort. 

Step Four: Roll closer and closer to your dog until your bodies slightly overlap, yours on top. Next, inexorably work your way tighter and tighter against your dog. Your dog's body will at first be unyielding, but be patient, as this is normal. Eventually he will give just a bit, and you will be on top in more ways than one. 

Over the course of the night, continue inching towards him as he slowly moves away from you. When you have your dog at the edge of the mattress, roll one last time. Your dog will drop gracefully from the mattress, landing safely on the nice, soft dog bed you secretly purchased earlier in the week and placed on the floor for just this moment. However, if your dog is a Great Dane or St. Bernard, the fall might not be as graceful, and damaged flooring could result. With overweight large-breed dogs, damage has been known to extend as far as splintered floor joists. In addition, the resulting thud can be unnerving but, provided the dog bed is nicely cushioned, your dog will not be injured during his fall. 

And there you have it. It is best to perform this process on the weekend, or some other night when you can nap the next day. 

Do everything just right, and your dog will need a nap too. 

Congratulations, Alpha.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Clawdia and Bill

Once there was a cat named Clawdia. Note the spelling of her name. I named her Clawdia, spelled in this way, because of the needle-like claws God must have installed to compensate her for being such a little thing. When I first saw her, this tiny short-haired tortoiseshell, she was small enough to fit comfortably in my two cupped palms. Even fully grown, she wasn't exactly a big cat. 
Image copyright, Teece Aronin
I met Clawdia for the first time when my then-husband, Michael brought her home from work. Someone had picked her up off the street where she'd been fending for herself. Her rescuer commented that she'd been observed at various times on both sides of a busy highway and had learned to navigate it by using a cross way that ran underneath. What a smart little thing, we all decided.  

Clawdia was a one-woman cat. She chose me as her human, and everyone else could pound salt. But it took her a while to warm up to me. She started by lying near my feet, then on top of my feet, then by letting me hold her on my lap if I sat on the floor. One fine day, she let me rock her in the chair. 

Over time, this cat and I developed a real relationship, but it was not without the occasional lovers' quarrel. Michael and I had a futon with wide, flat wooden arms on which we would lay coasters and rest our drinks. Clawdia sat on the floor at my feet one day alternating her steady gaze between me and the glass of iced tea beside me. Then, with obvious malice aforethought, she shot out one flash of her lightening fast paw and knocked the glass over right onto my nice, white futon.

She also loved to mess with my sleep. She would wait until I had just settled under the covers and was about to drift off before springing onto my chest. One night I was in no mood for this and tossed her back into the other room, shut the bedroom door and got back into bed. Just as I was about to drift off again, she body-slammed the door, hurled herself through the dark bedroom air and pulled a perfect four-point on my chest.

"Dammit, Clawdia!" I cursed, tossing her out again. I must not have shut the door tightly, I thought, but I wouldn't make that mistake again. Five minutes later, there we were again, nose to cold, wet nose.

"Alright," I said, "that does it." I tossed Clawdia out again, but this time I jammed a chair under the doorknob, settled my head against the pillow and waited, smiling. Within five minutes, I heard the soft parump, parump, parump of those tiny paws followed by a satisfying little thump as she connected with the now unyielding door. I grinned an evil grin and we all went to sleep. 

When my daughter, Sydney was born, Clawdia wasn't thrilled, but she did like some of the perks that came with the baby, such as all the gift boxes she seemed to think were new beds sent specially to her and the high chair where she would sit, gazing out over its tray as though waiting for her breakfast.

When Michael and I bought our first house, we left Clawdia with my parents on moving day. She wasn't crazy about strangers and the entire experience would be terrifying to her. At the end of the day, Michael and I were exhausted and decided to leave Clawdia with my folks until the next morning. But then my mother called. Clawdia had been under the bed all day and wouldn't come out even to drink. I told my mother I'd be right there. I walked into their place, and as soon as she heard my voice, Clawdia ran to me, and when I sat down, she leaped into my arms. I held her, feeling oddly proud to be the only person she really trusted. 

A year later we became the proud parents of another cat. We were in Delaware for a graduation, and when we arrived at the motel where the family had reserved several rooms, we found my sister-in-law feeding a black and white kitten. He was what is known as a tuxedo cat because his markings made him look like he was wearing a little tux. My sister-in-law was as sold on this cat as if he'd just coughed her up a sterling silver fur-ball.

"This is a good cat, you guys; I'm telling you, I know. You should take him home."

And so it was. Ten minutes later he was in our room, sacked out on our bed, and looking at us as if to say, "So, where are you guys gonna sleep?"

We were hesitant about taking this cat because of Clawdia who was slow to forgive us even for Sydney. Yet we often worried that she was lonely and wondered if she would benefit from the companionship of another cat. So it was decided that Clawdia would have a friend. She was spayed, he would be neutered, and there they'd be, like the Frankenstein monster and his bride, a better couple thanks to a little scientific intervention. Then again, if you remember The Bride of Frankenstein, at the end of the movie, she hissed at him and he blew up their castle. 

Still, I was optimistic that once Bill (so named for all the vet new vet bills he was about to cost us) was fixed, he would settle down and be grateful for his new home and gal-pal, Clawdia. But soon, even though Bill's family jewels had been reduced to cubic zirconia, he continued sneaking out at every opportunity. 

Clawdia and Bill never really bonded the way I'd hoped they would, but I don't remember them fighting much either, so, fortunately, no castles were destroyed. 

I don't know how either of them died, but I'm sure both are dead by now. Clawdia, was an indoor cat, but enjoyed being let out for about five minutes every evening. All she'd ever do during these outings was roll on the cool, rough sidewalk in our front yard. One night, when I opened the door to let her back in, she was gone. Despite tearfully canvassing the neighborhood for days with her picture on a flier, I never saw her again. She was such a scaredy-cat with everyone outside the family, that I can't believe she would have gone with anyone willingly, nor can I picture her letting anyone get close enough to nab her. On top of that, I can't imagine her straying from the sidewalk.

We lost Bill several years later while living in an apartment until we could move into our next house. Bill hated being cooped up, but we didn't dare let him out in an unfamiliar neighborhood so close to a busy street. One day, while I was out-of-state with the kids, Michael opened the patio door, and before he could stop him, Bill shot out like a rocket. We think the combination of the kids and me leaving, combined with being cooped up in a strange, new place was more than he could stand. Or maybe I flatter myself; maybe he ran out and became disoriented. When I got back, I drove all over the area, talking to people. I even set a humane trap in the yard of a woman who was sure she'd seen him there. 

There are millions of people in the world whose hearts have been broken by a cat - or in my case, cats. How such aloof beings can have their ways with us to such an extent, is beyond me. Maybe it's as my brother once said of cats, that at times it's good to love something that doesn't love you back. 

In Clawdia's case, I'm sure she loved me. As to Bill, if there's a Rainbow Bridge, I guess I'll find out then. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Feeding the Christmas Beast

I've had an epiphany: Christmas is a bit too commercialized, and some of us spend a bit too much.
Christmas Beast, copyright, Teece Aronin
Every January I start budgeting to feed the Christmas beast, the tinseled, bulbed behemoth already lurking at the end of the year. Christmas, for a lot of us, has become akin to a fluffy white snowball rolling toward us down a mountain, getting bigger and bigger and badder and badder, until it rolls right over us and stops. Then we're expected to dig ourselves out and start pushing it back up the mountain again.  

But the good news? Every Christmas you have the next 364 days to do it - if you start right away. It's like a pinball game automatically resetting and demanding $700 from you for the privilege of losing again.

Then there's online shopping which is great in a lot of ways, but not so great in others. For instance, it's still surprisingly hard work. Nothing tightens up those shoulder muscles like opening an email from Amazon alerting you to the fact that your order of 47 items was cancelled because your "payment method" has expired, and you try to straighten things out on a glitchy cell phone while waiting in line at UPS and pushing two 40-pound boxes along with your feet. 

I don't think this is how Christ would want us to celebrate his birth.

Another thing I doubt is that he'd want us giving children hundreds of dollars worth of presents they'll be too polite to say they hate, but you can tell they do anyway. This sad circumstance sets us up to discover vast Christmas gift graveyards that sprawl under kids' beds and bone piles of unwanted toys that lie heaped in their closets. What a waste. 

As my kids got older (my son is 17 and my daughter 19), it all changed, but not for the better. Instead of telling me what they wanted, or handing me a list, they would text me links to things, mostly tech products with purposes I didn't understand, things that Oppenheimer would've asked his mother for if he'd been a Millennial. And I don't blame my kids; it was a natural outgrowth of what we'd come to as they got older and more tech-savvy and I shopped more often online. Having them do that actually made my shopping a lot easier. Easier, but somehow colder.  

Today I'm pledging to kill the Christmas beast by refusing to feed it. I'm not alone, by the way. Lots of people are cutting way back on the amounts of gifts they buy - even for their kids. And some people have stopped buying their kids any gifts. If an article I read recently is true, Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are two of them. Many parents now opt for gifts requiring more time and imagination than money, like  buying a kid art supplies and then committing an afternoon to making art with said kid. 

Also according to that article, some kids, and even some adults, have gotten pretty testy during the adjustment/withdrawal phase, but a lot of families feel their lives are on a healthier track now that they're doing things differently.

When I told my son what I was thinking, he said he could really get behind it. When I mentioned it to my daughter, she said, "I think that's a good idea, but can I think about it?"

I said, "Nope, you're already handling it a lot better than some people, so I'm taking your answer as a yes."

Besides, it's not as though I plan to go all Kutcher-Kunis on them. What I'm thinking is $100 each in presents plus treats and surprises spread throughout the year, like an afternoon playing my son's computer games with him then dinner at his favorite restaurant.

The idea is to give more from your heart than from your wallet and to give your kid a memory because those can't get lost under a bed.

Then again, if you saw my kids' rooms . . .

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Giving Christmas the Old Heave-Ho-Ho-Ho

Those of us who celebrate Christmas are coming down to the final turn with just eight days left until the big day. Or the big show. Or the “really big shoe” as Ed Sullivan used to say. More appropos might be “the really big stocking.” At this point, however, many of us are ready to give Christmas “the really big boot.”

Until December 26, a lot of us will be losing it a little, and some of us have been losing it for quite a while already. About a week ago I looked down at my hands and realized that when I removed my nail polish the night before, I had overlooked my right thumb. Its nail coated in chipped “Santa Suit Red,” the thumb gazed balefully at me, pleading, “Don’t leave me this way.”

I wondered: Do other women fail to take the polish off some of their nails? The next morning, a coworker flashed the backs of her hands at me. Seven nails had the polish removed and three did not. Most definitely an observer of Christmas, I thought.

On Christmas Eve, years ago, one of my gal pals was coping with her first Christmas as the single mother of a toddler. Blowing her bangs out of her eyes, nose dusted with flour, she was baking cookies, wrapping gifts, screwing toy ovens together and bathing her child - all simultaneously thanks to the six temporary arms single mothers grow during the holidays. When a friend phoned to invite her to a Christmas Eve church service, my friend exclaimed, “I just don’t have time for Jesus tonight!” If Mary had said that on the first Christmas Eve, Christmas, as we know it, would have even more baked goods in it.

Maybe it’s because my children are older now, but I am much calmer these days at Christmastime. Gone is the pressure from telling a four-year-old that I was sorry, but the present he wanted was too expensive, only to have him say, “Don’t worry, Mama - Santa can get it for me.” Long past is the night I rocked my daughter in my arms, both of us in tears because I failed to understand that she didn't "really want the truth about Santa."

Today, my children are nearly grown, so if they suggest I make cheesecake this year, they won't be too disappointed when I lovingly point them to the kitchen, and if I do happen to be a little frazzled, text them the link to a fudge recipe.