Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rabbit Ears

When I grew up in the sixties and seventies, we had seven television channels, and switching around in them was a breeze. Today, some TVs are "smart." My TV said right on the box that it was smart, but I attribute this to the fact that smart TVs are often arrogant and boastful. Being complicated, difficult and frustrating doesn't make you smart. 
Bunny Ears, copyright Teece Aronin. 
Available at the phylliswalter store at

At any given moment, my kids and I might be watching Hulu, Netflicks, or YouTube, or using our "streaming stick" to stream shows from other places. Sometimes we need our gamepad to get to what we want to watch. When I was young, the most technically advanced procedure we might have to perform on a TV was adjusting the rabbit ears on top. 

I need my kids in order to watch television because I'm so dumbfounded by all the equipment needed to watch one stupid TV show. In my defense, even my son referred to one of our recent TV tech add-ons as "that cable thing we just got." 

Last night both kids were going to be away so Syd got me all set up to watch HGTV. She was going out the door when I asked how to change channels. Syd said, "I'm sorry, Mom, but I think we'll have to wait until I have more time." 

Then she left me all alone with the TV and all the "stuff" that goes with it. 

The first thing I noticed is that the audio and the video were out of sync and the audio was ahead. My son tells me this is because we have a cheap internet service provider. Eventually the show I was watching shut down altogether and a message appeared on the screen saying: "Due to inactivity, playback was stopped to save bandwidth."

I sat bolt upright, with my bag of chips and yelled, "Whadda ya mean inactive?"

After Syd got home, we wanted to switch to Hulu for Parks and Recreation, and it was another big process just to do that. I watched wistfully as her little fingers danced around all the stuff and like a miracle, Parks and Recreation came on.

"Syd, do you think you can teach me how to watch TV without help?"

"Oh, sure, Mom," she said. But she said it like I'd just asked if I could ever learn to build my own spaceship, and she didn't have the heart to tell me it was hopeless. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Defending Your Young While in Restaurants

When my daughter, Sydney was about a year old, my then-husband and I lived in Maryland. One summer day, he and I showed an out-of-town friend around Annapolis. We capped the day off with dinner at a restaurant where there was a beautiful view of the water and of the grand, white yachts clumped around the docks like unexpected snowbanks. 
Steamed Mama by Teece Aronin. Available at the 
phylliswalter store at

While we adults chatted, Sydney sat at the end of our table, babbling away and laughing at those things only babies can see. Three wealthy-looking couples in their seventies came in and sat at the table next to ours, all obviously drunk. My guess is they'd been drinking on a boat all day and were at the restaurant to scarf down escargot and steaks and drink some more. 

All six roared with laughter, the men pounding the table, slopping their martinis, cursing, and bellowing at their own jokes. Picture three foul-mouthed Thurston Howells the III and three tipsy Loveys just in from their three-hour tour. Then picture them behaving in a way that would have had the censors' heads exploding all over CBS. 

One of the men yelled for a waiter and demanded to know why those people with the baby had been allowed in. He jerked his thumb at Sydney and complained that we should be moved because that baby was making "so much goddamned noise."

True, who doesn't hate a laughing baby?

I turned toward them slowly, like the killer in a slasher movie. 

Slasher movie mother, using her indoor voice: "What did you say?"
Gilligan's Island vote-off: "You heard me!"
Slasher movie mother, still using her indoor voice: "Let me put it to you this way: We've been sitting over here putting up with a lot of immature noise coming from your table, too. At least the baby's acting her age."    

Years later I walked into a restaurant with Sydney and her brother, Jon. Jon was about 11. There was a crane machine just to the left of the vestibule with a rolled-up mat near it. The mat lay in such a way that you couldn't see it until you were on top of it. Jon was focused on the crane and fell over the mat. The manager said something helpful like, "Watch it there, buddy!" He pointed us to a booth where the kids sat down. Then they watched, horrified, as their mother strolled toward the manager like a gunslinger about to make a mess all over the saloon.  

Gunslinger mother: "That mat has no business lying rolled up over there, especially right by that crane."
Ditwad manager, polishing glasses behind the counter: "Yeah, I prolly should get someone over there to move it."
Gunslinger mother: "And I think you should apologize." 
Ditwad manager, still polishing glasses behind the counter: "I'm sorry your kid fell."
Gunslinger mother: "I don't mean apologize to me; I mean apologize to my son. You walk over to that booth now - and apologize - to my son."

To his credit, the manager lost the ditwad adjective when he walked to our table, sincerely apologized to Jon, and came back at the end of our meal to offer him a free dessert. 

When a killer in a slasher movie, or a gunslinger, or a good mother walks into a restaurant with their kids, it's better not to mess with them. A good father can mop the floor up with you too.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How the Trump White House is Like a Children's Song

This was an interesting week for anyone tracking developments out of the White House. 

Ten in the Bed copyright, Teece Aronin
In one of the wildest upsets since Dorothy's house flattened the Wicked Witch of the East, the White House flattened Anthony Scaramucci, its communications director. And he was still as shiny and new as his aviator sunglasses. 

His hiring, just 10 days prior, sparked the resignation of Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who left mumbling something about too many cooks in the kitchen. Spicer didn't get that quite right; it was too many kooks in the White House - or as Trump calls it, the dump. Spicer is either kicking himself now or rolling over in bed at the luxury resort he has probably dreamed about since last January.  

Scaramucci, aka the Mooch, aka the Scar, aka Scary Mucci - but that's in my house - proceeded to threaten people's jobs, tweet and swoon over the view from Air Force One, grant a telephone interview to The New Yorker so vulgar that making sense of the edited quotes was nearly impossible without the use of male, anatomically correct poseable figures. 

When Scaramucchi's fed up wife, who had just filed for divorce, gave birth to their baby, Scaramucci wasn't there. He had scuttled both her and his child to the back burner so he could be with his other soon to-be-estranged love, Donald Trump. The two were in Glen Jean, West Virginia for Trump's disastrous speech before the Boy Scouts. Hind sight is 20-20. 

Reince Preibus, busy hanging on to his job by his fingernails, was sacked by Trump as White House chief-of-staff thanks to Scaramucchi. Priebus was replaced by General John Kelly. Kelly, no idiot, advised Trump to fire Scaramucci, which Trump did. Sadly for Scaramucci, Trump actually listened to someone for once. 

My puppeteer friend, Rob pointed out that there is a character named Scaramouche often seen in Punch and Judy shows. He is usually a thief and is often beheaded by Punch with a slapstick. I'm speechless from all the art imitating life going on in there. And here's an art imitates life prediction: a Netflicks TEN part docudrama starring Rob Lowe. 

I can also picture Scaramucci turning up as a talking head on MSNBC, Fox, or CNN; he wouldn't care which way the network leans politically since he disliked Trump before he liked him before he presumably started disliking him again. Or maybe he'll pitch a show of his own to Sirius.

Remember Mark Fuhrman, the detective suspected of planting evidence implicating O.J. Simpson? Fuhrman, the known racist who perjured himself on the stand? He ended up with his own talk show and has been a frequent contributor to shows on Fox News. Fuhrman gets paid for this while people with journalism degrees can't find jobs.

Of course, social media had a field day over Scaramucci. Someone on Face Book wrote a meme comparing him to a fruit fly for getting hired, becoming a father, getting divorced, then getting fired within ten days. 

All this hiring, firing and resigning reminds me of a children's song I loved when I was little:

There were 10 in the bed and the little one said, "Roll over, roll over!" So they all rolled over and one fell out. After nine verses, the little one sighs, "Alone at last."

This time life imitated art when John Kelly told everybody to roll over and Scaramucci fell out. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

I'm Menopausal, and This is My Friend, Obese

I like WebMD - usually. I write a health and wellness newsletter, and its upbeat, prevention-focused newsletters perk me up when I hit my morning email, even though they arrive by the bedpan-full. 

Menopausal and Obese, copyright, Teece Aronin. 
The articles are informative and life-affirming, like how to get fit playing with your dog; how to compare Paleo, Mediterranean, and DASH; how to cook with spices; how eating your main course off a salad plate makes you feel full faster. 

WebMD also addresses mental health topics with a balance of optimism and realism, and its photographs are vivid, colorful and otherwise eye-catching. 

But WebMD lost its Wellness Motivator of the Year Award when I came across this recent headline in its newsletter:

Exercises that Address Menopausal Weight Gain: About 30% of Women Ages 50-59 Are Obese. Learn How to Keep from Joining Them . . .

Really now. 

I've already established that I'm an avid WebMD reader. What I haven't mentioned is that I fit the demographic of "women ages 50-59," am menopausal, and, while I strive for a sort of va-va-voom quality, I am obese - at least temporarily. 

And true to the demographics, at least 30% of my gal-pals are too. Shouldn't WebMD presume that women like me are readers of its newsletter? I'm thinking it would have been better, dare I say nicer, to say something like this:

Exercises that Control Menopausal Weight Gain

And then just shut up. 

The WebMD  newsletter could have dropped a few pounds just by cutting that subtitle and that would have set a good example for what it seems to consider the 50-plus fatties. 

While its prevention-oriented articles are great in a lot of cases, WebMD is not Prevention magazine; Prevention magazine is Prevention magazine and can get away with that kind of article with a lot more justification, based on the name of the publication. Still, the subtitle is atrocious, and I would hope Prevention would have come up with something else, just as I think WebMD would have - ordinarily. 

Maybe if I write a letter to WebMD, they'll be impressed enough by my keen editorial eye to hire me. Then their articles would kick off more like this:

About 30% of Women Ages 50-59 Are Obese. If this Sounds Like You, Here Are Exercises that Can Help . . .

WebMD . . . shape up!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Everything You Need to Know about OCD and Scrabble

One evening, years ago, my friend Lucy's phone rang, and the name showing in the phone's little window was "Ma."     
Photo: Teece Aronin

When Lucy answered the phone, she heard distant conversation and could tell that people were playing cards - three-handed gin. Lucy knew the voices well; they belonged to her mother, Darlene, her aunt, Zelda, and her sister, Jo-Jo. 

Her mother's bag had apparently butt-dialed Lucy. Assuming that were true, the women were probably at Jo-Jo's or Aunt Zelda's. If they were at Jo-Jo's, they were gathered around Jo-Jo's glass-top wrought iron dining table, always splattered with wet rings because Jo-Jo didn't know what a coaster was. 

If they were at Aunt Zelda's, they were sitting at the 1940's era enamel kitchen table that had been Lucy's grandmother's. The table had caused a huge fight between Darlene and Zelda when Darlene accused Zelda of practically snatching it out from under the bowl of oatmeal that was on it when their mother fell during breakfast and never got up. Darlene had said the oatmeal wasn't even cold yet.     


More ghostly chatter.  


Lucy yelled only a few more times before the conversation sucked her into its weird spell. 

Darlene: Her therapist told her it was free-floating anx-XI-ety. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Imagine having your anxiety hovering around over your head all the time - like a big, black cloud.

Aunt Zelda: For God's sake, Darlene; that's not what it means. It just means that you're anxious for no real reason. Your adrenaline cells have their foot on the gas pedal and the pedal's jammed. Don't you ever watch Dr. Phil?

Darlene: No, Zelda, I don't. I didn't have the good fortune of marrying a barber and therefore I have to work during the day.

Aunt Zelda: Jackie is a much in demand hair stylist, and besides, there's always TiVo. 

Aunt Zelda had a way of sounding sage, droning, and boasting at the same time. 

Jo-Jo (referring to her husband): I think Charlie has anxiety. I don't know if it's free-floating or on the ground, but he definitely seems anxious. Sometimes it drives me up the wall. He has issues up the win-wang."

Darlene: Don't you mean yin-yang?

Jo-Jo: Win-wang, yin-yang, where ever they are, they're there.

Darlene: You know, there's all kinds of anxiety. There's the free-floating kind, and there's panic attacks, and there's ODC . . .

Aunt Zelda: Good God, Darlene; it's not ODC, it's OCD - obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can make you do things and think things you don't want to. The obsessive part is thoughts you can't stop thinking and the compulsive part is things you can't stop doing. Some people have one or the other and some have both. I read about it in WebMD.

Jo-Jo: I think I have OCD. I can't stop thinking I want to divorce Charlie, and I can't stop myself from screaming at him.

Aunt Zelda: I knew a girl in high school who when she got her driver's license, she found she had a compulsion for driving into potholes. I mean no one knew she had OCD. But she just couldn't stop herself whenever there was a pothole coming. She'd even veer into them. I always emptied my bladder ahead of time if she was going to be driving.

Darlene: I might've known her. Who was she?

Aunt Zelda: I'm not telling, but she's a therapist now, which just goes to show you can conquer your demons. 

Darlene: Come on, Zelda; what's her name?

Aunt Zelda: I said I'm not telling.

Darlene: Oh, screw you, Zelda.

Jo-Jo: You know, I hate it when the two of you talk to each other this way.

Aunt Zelda: Shut the fuck up, Jo-Jo.

Jo-Jo: Goddammit, Aunt Zelda. I hate it when you swear.

Aunt Zelda: Oh, I'm sorry. Jo-Jo, shut the frig up. How's that?

Jo-Jo: Better.

Aunt Zelda: Gin!

Darlene: Zelda, you asshole!

Jo-Jo: Ma! What did I just say?

Darlene: "You said that
 to your aunt."

Jo-Jo: I think next time we should play Scrabble.

Aunt Zelda: I once played Scrabble with a man who was a master at the game. When he played the word BEARS for 72 points, I said that's amazing! And you know what he said? He said: "It's not the bears, it's where you put the bears."

Darlene: You know, that applies to a lot of things in life.

Aunt Zelda: That it does, little sis; that it does.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Whine, Wine, Paint, and Tulips

I'm going to one of those wine and paint parties with my friend, Penny. Penny's the one who was on hold waiting to straighten out an overage on a bill and decided to make breakfast while she waited. Then she got sidetracked by her dog who, like a lot of us, she talks to as if it were a person. When she realized she'd just left the billing people a voice mail saying, in a sultry voice, "Does Mama smell like bacon? Y  E  S, MAma smells like BAcon," she hung up.

Graphic by Teece Aronin

More recently, Penny fell asleep with her phone open to Three days later, a corn hole game arrived, a large, expensive corn hole game. Penny's two boys were thrilled that their mother had bought them such a cool gift when it wasn't either of their birthdays so Penny didn't have the heart to return it. 

The latest on Penny and her amazing shopping phone is that she fell asleep cruising Groupon and rolled over on her phone enough times to buy "multiple" (she won't specify the exact number) "multiple" Groupon packages for a "wine and paint night with friends." 

If you're unfamiliar with the concept, these are evenings spent making your own painting based on an already existing work by a "real" artist. You do this with other people, usually in local bars or sometimes, shockingly, at art studios. And you do it while drinking.  

Penny called me yesterday after we'd just seen each other at our neighbor, LouAnn's salad-in-a-jar event, and we tried to figure out which of the paint nights she bought worked for both our schedules. But here's the thing: It's not just finding a night that works, it's finding a night where you like the painting you'll be copying. None of the dates that almost, sort of, kind of worked for both of us would leave us with paintings either of us would want to hang once we got home. Then Penny said they did have a really cute painting of tulips.

"Oh, I love tulips," I sighed.

"Yeah, me too, but it's scheduled for a night after all my Groupons expire. I'll find out who to call, and maybe they'll let us switch."

So Penny and I are hoping they'll let us come in, drink, and paint but only if it's tulips. This has me wondering what kind of paintings people come up with when they've been drinking. Never have I seen a posting on Face Book from someone raving, "Check out the painting I did at last night's wine and paint night! And get this: a gallery wants to show more of my work! Heather Witherspeer, we are definitely doing this again!"

I'm thinking I'll order a white wine so that if I'm tipsy and accidentally rinse my paintbrush in it, I'll know right away. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Memory Like an Elephant

Some of us are prone to losing things. In my case, the things tend to be my phone, my keys, my car, my credit card. I don't know if what they say about elephants having great memories is true, but if it is, I want a memory like an elephant. 

"Trunkey" from the Detroit Zoo could be inserted into "talking 
storybooks" that would then tell you about the animals. Maybe
it's because elephants never forget, but Trunkey has managed
to keep tabs on me since I very small. Graphic: Teece Aronin.
I once wrote an entire blog post about losing my keys. My favorite part of writing that essay was recounting what actually came out of my mouth one of those times I was searching for them. I was going out for the evening with my old boyfriend, Prickly Pete when I realized my keys were missing. Frantically I dispatched the kids, whose complete buy-in to the cause was gained by shutting off the TV. As I opened and shut drawers, cupboards, closets and jewelry boxes, Prickly stood there, perplexed.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “Why don’t you just keep them in your purse?”

“What, are you nuts?” I hissed, “Then I’d never be able to find them!”

You know you’re getting desperate for material when you start quoting your own blog posts, especially the ones that make you look like a ridiculous screw-up.  

But I make a good point (twice): Losing things, even things that should be perfectly easy to track, happens; it happens to all of us - especially when we’re distracted or under stress.

There aren’t many stressors worse than divorce, and years ago, while in the middle of one, I lost a cell phone inside my car. It would ring out from some dark, unreachable, invisible recess, and not even my kids, elfin enough to be jammed between the seats, could see it, much less recover it.

Then there are the things you’d think are too big to misplace, for instance, the car you lose your cell phone in.

One day, gal-pal, Tina and I went shopping. Carrying our bags to the car, we realized that we had no idea where we’d parked because we weren't paying attention. As we made our way up and down aisle after aisle, row after row, I noticed we were being followed by a car. Every time we turned up another row of cars, he followed us. If we slowed down, he slowed down. When I stopped to tie my shoe, he stopped too. 

“Don’t look now,” I muttered from the side of my mouth, “but I think that car is following us.”

“You’re kidding!” Tina gasped.

“No, I’m not kidding. Just play it cool and don’t get close to it.”

The car pulled up even closer, and the passenger side window went down. Tina and I froze. A middle-aged man leaned toward us, and we held our breath.

“Excuse me, ladies. I was hoping to get your parking space, but you have no idea where your car is, do you?”

“No, sorry,” we confessed, and he drove away. The smart thing for him to do would have been to drive us around the parking lot until we found my car, and then take the space. Men just don't think sometimes. 

The other day, I lost a credit card – in the middle of the Lansing Convention Center. I was there for a conference with my boss and some coworkers. At the end of the day, hundreds of attendees were reconvened in the main ballroom. One of the event organizers stood at the podium, his image simulcast onto two huge screens on either side of the room.

“We have a lost credit card,” he announced. “Is there a Patricia Aronin in the room?”

“Oh, my word!” I yelped, jumping to my feet. “That’s me!” 

I started toward the front of the auditorium and several people shouted, “No! Behind you!” I turned around to see a woman walking toward me, reaching out to hand me back my card.

I sat down in the nearest empty seat, and heard a soft ping inside my purse. It was a text from my boss:


“I'm glad that tattoo artist was honest,” I texted back.

“Must notoriety follow you all of your days?” he asked.

Oh, I hope so.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Mercurochrome and the Mothers of Spring

All hail the Mothers of Spring! They are that fast, fierce, elite team of first responders always on the scene when their kids bash themselves up. The Mothers of Spring aren't real in the sense that they are a formally organized group; I more or less made that up. But they're very real in every other way, especially to any child who ever cried out for his while sorely in need of something akin to an Army medic.
Graphic by Teece Aronin

The Mothers of Spring are so called due to their ability to spring into action at a moment's notice, and also because, where I'm from, they're at their best during the spring season. You see, in my neck of the woods - the United States Midwest - Mothers of Spring shine brightest on the glorious days of April when it's warm in the sun and chilly in the shade, when children and their toes, get so carried away by the beauty of it all, and too dazzled by the light to look where they're going, and collide with something hard, like a section of buckled sidewalk. The Mothers of Spring deftly bandage up their wounded warriors, first applying enough antiseptic to sterilize Lenny Bruce's toothbrush. And yes, Bruce did kiss his mother with that mouth.

Down through the annals of time the Mothers of Spring dabbed every boo-boo deemed in their unchallengeable judgment as appropriate for it, with Mercurochrome. Mercurochrome was a reddish-orange colored tincture that once dried, became the reddish-orange skin stains kids wore as badges of honor. The cooler or more scrappy the kid, the more Mercurochrome stains he or she sported, or, conversely, the klutzier the kid was perceived as being. Baby Boomers know what I'm talking about. 

As it turned out, the Federal Drug Administration did prove capable of challenging the authority of the Mothers of Spring, Mercurachrome Division. In 1998, the FDA found that Mercurochrome was "not generally recognized as safe and effective." It wasn't flat-out banned, but it did get a whole lot harder to find. The comely flower-wreathed heads of the Mothers of Spring, especially those who were also Traditionalists or Baby Boomers, snapped up as one at this news, and many of the mommies yelled, "What the f*€#?"

It turns out that Mercurachrome didn't get that first syllable, "merc," from nowhere. It got it because Mercurochrome contains mercury, an ingredient no self-respecting fish would get caught dead with. While Mercurochrome didn't seem particularly hazardous when used as directed, it probably wasn't doing kids a whole lot of good. 

In an episode of I Hate Chris, the sitcom based on the childhood recollections of comedian Chris Rock, someone yells, "Chris got hit by a car!" and Chris' mother shouts, "I'll get the Robitussin!"

Robitussin is another must-have in the medicine cabinet of every good Mother of Spring.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


This is the weekend everyone in my neck of the world springs ahead, meaning we turn our clocks ahead one hour to usher in Daylight Saving Time.
Daylight Saving Time,
copyright, Teece Aronin.

So many things about this ritual confuse me, starting with the name; is it Daylight Savings or Daylight Saving? I've thought about this quite a bit. For years I thought it was Savings, but often see it indicated as Saving. Why this distinction bothers me I have no idea. If I dedicated as much thought to other aspects of time, I could discuss Einstein's theories more impressively at cocktail parties and maybe even get places when I'm supposed to - the latter being the bigger achievement despite not having a science-minded bone in my body and never getting invited to cocktail parties.

I'm also confused by whether I'm really saving anything valuable since I've just lost an hour of sleep and will be exhausted all week. Every winter I get all psyched up in anticipation of Daylight Saving(s?) Time only to get there and find myself haunting my house like a doped-up ghost until my circadian clock catches up. 

And what exactly happens anyway? How did I just gain an hour of daylight and lose an hour of sleep? I mean I get it - sort of - but it still seems counter-intuitive - or counter-clockwise - or counter-something. 

Then of course, the first day of spring arrives at roughly the same time we spring ahead. This is an event I've overblown in importance for years. Ever since I learned that spring commences at a specific time of day, say 12:57 p.m., I've gotten all excited about it every year and find myself staring at the clock or my watch a few minutes ahead so that I'll be aware the very moment it begins, kind of like New Year's Eve without a lot of hoopla. 

Years ago on the first day of spring I was babysitting for a four-year-old. I told him that spring would arrive later that day and that we could go outside a minute before and do a 60-second countdown to welcome in the new season. I was careful to explain that we wouldn't actually see spring arrive, but still, it would be coming at the same time we were outside counting. We walked out of the house, and the conversation went like this: 

Me: Okay, here we are, out on the front porch. Spring will be here in exactly one minute. Are you ready to do the countdown with me?

Jamie: Yup!

Me: Okay, repeat after me: Sixty!

Jamie: Sixty!

Me: Fifty-nine!

Jamie: Fifty-nine!

Me: Fifty-eight!

Jamie: Fifty-eight!

Down and down we counted until . . .

Me: Three!

Jamie: Three!

Me: Two!

Jamie: Two!

Me: One!

Jamie: One!

Me: Happy Spring!

Jamie: Happy Spring! . . . Now what?

Me: Now what what?

Jamie: Now what happens?

Me: Well, nothing happens.

Jamie: But where's the spring?

Me: It's here, right here, all around us.

Jamie: But nothing happened.

Me: Well, we didn't see anything happen. But something did happen.

Jamie: What?

Me: Spring.

Jamie: Where?

Me: Here. Everywhere. All around us.

Jamie: Oh, man, dat was a bummer. I goin' back in da house. 

So here we are again, having just gained light and lost sleep. It's too confusing for me to ever fully grasp, so this will be the year I just roll with it. By the way, I looked it up, and according to the website,, it's Daylight Saving Time.

So now, I've lost an hour's sleep, and I've also lost my S. On the bright side, I have an extra hour of daylight with which to go find them. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sammy Davis, Jr. Went Swimming with My Mother (No He Didn't)

It was a mistake any white four-year-old could make - in 1962.
Graphic, copyright Teece Aronin

When I was four, my mother told me a story about a civil rights activist she admired. He was a contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King and his name was James Farmer. Knowing what I know about him now, he was one of the bravest people who ever lived because he was one of the volunteers who rode buses throughout the South testing how successfully and safely blacks could enjoy their newly established equal legal status. 

This was a time when Jim Crow, separate but equal laws were still in force in a de facto way, meaning that forcing blacks to the back of the bus was supposed to be illegal but was still a stubbornly lingering practice. What Farmer did was extremely dangerous and blacks were frequently beaten and lynched for this kind of "brazen" behavior. 

When my mother was a girl, Farmer visited the church camp she was attending, spoke with the children, and swam with them in the lake. I was impressed by this and bragged to my Sunday school class that my mother had gone swimming with Sammy Davis, Jr. I loved Sammy Davis, Jr. I also lived in an all-white neighborhood since neighborhoods, even in the North where I was from, still tended to be segregated. The black men in my life were either Sammy Davis, Jr. or Nat King Cole. I loved him, too.

When my Sunday school teacher fawned over my mother, telling her what I'd shared with the class and swooning over how thrilling it must have been to go swimming with Sammy Davis, Junior, my mother, who never swore - even in her mind - had a WTH moment. Immediately she whisked me aside and abruptly demanded to know what that was all about.

Once I'd explained, and she saw how guileless I was about it, she laughed.

Then she had to explain things to my Sunday school teacher who probably thought James Farmer was a singer too.

But my Sunday school teacher wouldn't have had my excuse.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Remarkably Cute

As a culture, we seem to find children appealing from birth through about age nine. Then their enchanting qualities seem to fly with them into a Bermuda Triangle for children. There is very little word coming from parents about the kids, very little word coming from the kids themselves, and very few of us asking their parents about them during this time.  
Image: Teece Aronin

This is typically true until they start actually achieving something beyond the usual infant-toddler milestones. This happens at around age 17 when they emerge from the Triangle with a free ride to Stanford, inclusion as an alternate on the US Olympic Swim Team, or some other accomplishment guaranteed to save their parents thousands or land them on television for reasons having nothing to do with drug busts or car thefts.   

Nine-and-a-half seems to be the cutoff for cuteness unless you have to be around the child, in which case you probably continue to find him cute, just not cute enough to comment on to anyone outside the family. Then of course, once he becomes a full-blown teen, he's not cute at all until the accomplishments phase kicks in at which time he is once again golden. 

Grandparents on the other hand, talk about grandchildren prior to the wee ones' conceptions. I doubt that even their own deaths shut up proud grandparents for long. I'm imagining my mother in Heaven, chatting up the other angels over cards, and regaling them with stories about her grandson starting driver's ed, and her granddaughter's riding lessons.  

"She's learning - I forget what they call it - English style; that's it - you know, where they ride the horse and only have the reins to hang on with? I don't know how she does it, but she has me on extra angel duty, let me tell you. If she fell it would be the second death of me. And of course, once Jon starts driving, I'll be watching one or the other of them all the time."

I'm not sure why children seem less "remarkable" - literally - once they approach their tween years. It might have something to do with adolescents becoming sullen and anesthetized delinquents - temporarily. 

But whatever it is, we parents see them safely into the Triangle, cross our fingers and hope like hell, then greet them when they come out the other side.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


I have a history of eating dog treats, and I never seemed to find them; they seemed to find me. 
Image: Teece Aronin

When I was two, our next-door neighbor plunked me down in the grass of her back yard, face-to-face with her cocker spaniel, Reggie. Then she shook some colorful and crunchy-looking dog treats into my tiny, cupped palms. 

"Reggie loves treats," she said, and walked away. 

I looked at Reggie. Reggie looked at me. I took one of the treats between my finger and thumb and held it in front of Reggie's black-lipped, drool-y muzzle, at which point, he tilted his head, leaned in, and gently took it. Cheerfully he crunched it up, then looked expectantly at me.

He must be waiting for me to take my turn, I decided, so I put one of the treats in my mouth and chewed. The dog looked crestfallen. 

Then, I gave a treat to him; the dog cheered up. Then I took my next turn; the dog looked devastated. 

And so it was that Reggie learned to share. And a little child shall lead them. 

One Friday night a few months ago, my daughter's best friend spent the night. Both girls are "dog people," and since I ate enough dog treats with Reggie that day to become part dog, my daughter might have earned her dog person status partly through genetics. 

It was early Saturday morning when I stumbled into the dimly lit kitchen, yawning and rumpled. Both girls were asleep in the living room. On the counter were these cute little ginger snappish-looking things, and without thinking, I popped one into my mouth. It turned out to have come from a box of treats my daughter's friend had brought over for our dog. 

"Rule Number One:" lectured a friend," If it's in your kitchen but you did not buy it, do NOT put it in your mouth."

Actually, it didn't taste that bad, and it brought back happy memories of when I was plopped down in the grass and told that Reggie loved treats.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

It's Just That This is How it Feels

I'm trying to maintain a more serene mindset and a healthier outlook, and I'm finding it helps me get through unpleasant but normal things when I accept that these things are just the way they are and though uncomfortable, they're being the way they should be, and that I am too.  
The other day, two snowflakes landed on my  
shoelaces in that very same parking
lot where just last month I pictured death 
stalking me in the cold. Photo: Teece Aronin.
Let me give you an example: I get out of my car at work and have a long walk ahead before reaching the building. It's cold, and I hate being cold, but when I remind myself that the cold is normal, and that this just happens to be how cold feels when it's doing it's thing, it's not as miserable anymore. 

I know what some of you are thinking; it was just last month, in this very blog, that I described myself shuffling across a parking lot in bitter cold, swearing the entire way and imagining Death shuffling behind me, unable to catch me only because he was just as cold. 

Well, I've grown since then, so let me have this! 

But seriously, stop and think. Would a Midwestern winter day with 70 degree temps be normal? No. It was the cold that was normal, just winter being winter. And given that I'm lucky enough to have a coat and gloves and a nice, warm building on the other side of the lot, I really should stop complaining. Winter is behaving as it will, and I knew the deal when I moved back to Michigan five years ago. 

Maybe this is a better example, or at least makes me look less mentally unstable: When my daughter was having surgery and dreaded the IV, I told her there's a difference between something hurting you and something harming you. The IV, I explained, would hurt, but it wouldn't harm her. The pain was part of a process intended to keep her safe.  

And lo and behold, I just now asked my daughter if what I'd said had helped her that day and as it turns out, it did. And I told her the truth was good no matter what because it would either prove my point here, or could be turned into a joke for the blog. It was a win for me either way, so I really wanted her to be honest. 

But I like this win better than the win I would have turned into a joke. It means I'd said something that helped by daughter through a tough situation, and maybe it will help you, or your child, or even me someday. 

Ripples, people, ripples.