What I Learned From the Other Team

by Beth Diane Bradley

Snips and snails and puppy dog tails – or sugar and spice. There was a recent conversation around the office water cooler about the pros and cons of sons or daughters. The consensus was that, if given a choice, more women would choose girls, more men would choose boys, and most wanted to know the gender before birth.

Apparently, I love adventure and the thrill of the unknown, because when I was pregnant, I was game for whatever nature had in mind.

Although the ideal option may be one of each, I have two sons, and found raising them to be a lot of fun. And even when their fun got out of hand, it was hard not to smile at where their curiosity lead them – once the smoke cleared, or the water was mopped up — and they were safely grounded in their rooms.

I used to tease my sister about making it look easy to raise boys — because my nephews were the quiet, intellectual type. Her oldest son once asked for a globe for Christmas, whereas my kids were more likely to ask for things that explode. And I was always grateful Santa never delivered the goods. My sister blames my sons’ extremely active nature on their dad’s red hair — but I doubt research would support that theory.

I learned a lot from the experience of raising two people who were not “just like me.” It may have even given me some extra perspective in my relationships with the other men in my life. However, I know mothers and daughters do enjoy a lot of shared experiences. And there were times when I had to try a little harder to bond with my boys, but I was up for the challenge – most of the time.

When the kids were little, we enjoyed playing make believe games with their stuffed animals.  But unfortunately, our puppy had a habit of chewing the ears and tails off of them. So I started making new ones out of felt, and sewed them back on. They loved it, and no longer complained when their puppy misbehaved. Thankfully, my lack of talent at creating well-crafted body parts was forgiven.

I gave my sons dolls to play with to help develop their future parenting skills, but after watching them drag the dolls around the house, naked and covered with grime — I decided it might be awhile before their nurturing sides would emerge.

Although many girls are athletic, I was not one of them.  In fact, my lack of coordination and interest left me nothing but negative feelings about all things related to sports. And when I did attend a game, it was not unusual for me to accidentally cheer for the wrong team.

So I came to understand the value of sports through my boys. My son, Andy, was a quarterback, and I remember the coach explaining it was a leadership position.  And at his high school graduation ceremony, my son, Dylan, was recognized for the determination he developed while on the basketball team. I’ve also heard many adults say participating in sports taught them how to be “team players” in their work life.

When Andy was 9 years old, he asked me to play baseball with him because he had exhausted all of his other options for playmates.  He tried to teach me how to hold the bat just right, and then threw the ball, expecting a fairly positive response. After I missed it several times, he decided I might be afraid of the ball.  I laughed pretty hard, and said I could have told him that before we began.

I used to think having sons would relieve me of any hair styling duties, because I never learned to do things like braid or create “up dos.”  But when they were in high school, it became popular for boys to dye their hair.  Andy came home one day and asked me to help him dye his brown hair blonde. I read the box carefully, and proceeded to turn his hair into a blotchy disaster.

And all I have to say is … better his than mine.

 

 

Musing About A Meal With Marley

by Beth Diane Bradley

Many years ago, I remember practicing a song on the piano I’d been working on for quite awhile. My youngest son, Andy, who was 4-years-old, listened intently for a moment, and then said sweetly, “Mommy, I think you need a new piano.”

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Even though that goal may not be achievable for most of us, we still practice our craft, with the hope of a new personal best. And based on my son’s reaction, I wasn’t quite there yet. I’m not surprised my young critic grew up to be a musician. And no one would be surprised I am one of his biggest fans.

According to current research, learning to play a musical instrument as a child has many benefits, including improved math skills. I realize it’s a brain thing, but I’d rather not associate music with unpleasant thoughts of long division and fractions. Please say it isn’t so.

I took piano lessons for two years in grade school, and then quit – regretting it eventually, like most music drop outs. I’m not sure if I can blame my sub-standard math skills on quitting piano lessons, but it can’t hurt to try.

On a more pleasant note, many research studies have proven music has a positive effect on brain waves, heart rate, blood pressure, and more – making it therapeutic in treating many medical conditions such as pain management, attention deficit disorder and depression. My dad experienced a brain injury in his later years, and found tremendous joy listening to his favorite big band recordings.

Even though I’ve long forgotten how to play the piano, I continue to have a deep appreciation of music performed by others. I find cranking up the tunes can take the drudgery out of household chores or driving to Timbuktu. But it’s best if I match the type of music to the activity.

For example, I’ve noticed I have to watch my speed when listening to my favorite blues CDs. Because even though the blues was once dubbed “the devil’s music,” I doubt a traffic cop would accept “the devil made me do it” as my excuse for speeding.

In contrast, I’ve found classical music is perfect for quiet times at home, but too meditative for the road, unless my destination is a monastery. As for the best music for cleaning the house, I’ll let the dust collect while I think about that awhile longer.

I also enjoy matching the music genre to the recipe while I cook. One of these days, I plan on listening to Reggae while making Jamaican Jerk Chicken. I don’t know if I will ever learn to play the piano again, but maybe the next meal I prepare will be my new personal best.

Turn Write …. At The Stop Sign

by Beth Diane Bradley

My son, Dylan, was in a school play in the 6th grade, and I still remember a conversation I had with one of the other moms.  She told me her son wasn’t chosen for an acting part.  His only job was to open the curtain, so she didn’t plan on going to the play.

I told her I thought he had a pretty important role, because if the curtain wasn’t opened, no one would be able to see the play.  She thought that was a strange thing to say, but I really meant it.

Being the one who opens the curtain so others can see is a powerful metaphor to me.  There have been times in my life when I have been asked to open the curtain, and times when someone has opened it for me.

Recently, it’s been the later, and I am ever so grateful.  Middle age is often a time for reflection, and ultimately for change.  Life events like divorce, an empty nest or the passing of parents can take their toll.  A few years ago, I experienced all three — and then my beloved dog died.  It was definitely time for me to clean my spiritual “house” and find a new direction in life.

When I was in high school, I loved the theatre, but I couldn’t figure out where I fit in — other than as a member of the audience.  I was too shy to even consider trying out for a part, and my main task on the tech crew was sitting on the boards while some boys sawed them in half.  I still don’t aspire to be an actor, but my bucket list for my “third act” now includes writing a play.

The metaphor also works in regard to education.  A good teacher can “open the curtain” for a student and reveal a whole new world. Dylan didn’t get an acting role in the play either, but found his niche on the tech crew, which sparked an interest in technology.  He later met a teacher who helped him develop his passion into a career in network administration.

For him, the road to destiny was a direct route.  In my case, I ran into some road construction requiring a necessary but annoying detour. It’s natural to complain about those detours — we all do it — but as they say, sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination that matters most.

 

 

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

by Beth Diane Bradley

When people ask Dolly Parton how long it takes to do her hair, she tells them: “I don’t know, I’m never there.”

Some days when I’m fixing my hair, I think about how styling tools and products have improved over the years. When I was young, I was allergic to every hair spray on the market. I remember having to switch seats with someone at a concert, to avoid a woman wearing half a can of toxic fumes.

The standard styling tools back then included bobby pins, a jar of pink goo that left a sticky residue, rollers wrapped in barbed wire – and helmet-shaped hair dryers that caused hearing loss and claustrophobia. Nothing ever worked for my fine-textured hair, so it was either flat as a pancake, or full of static, depending on the season. But the advent of blow dryers, curling irons, mousse–and hair sprays that don’t cause asthma–were a huge improvement.

These days, hair has become big business. High priced salons have nearly replaced the beauty and barber shops of the past. And it might be worth the cost, if they’d stop by my house every morning and make me beautiful.

So why is hair so important? I realize someone who considers their glorious locks to be their best feature would never ask that question.

It does keep your head warm in the winter and free of sunburn in the summer. Then again, so do hats, and they don’t need to be curled, straightened or blown dry – unless of course it’s monsoon season.

I have to accept the fact that nature gave me unruly hair — and no talent at styling it. And I imagine a wig might be hot, itchy and unreliable on a windy day. So I prefer to go with a low maintenance hair style, and save my time for something more important.

Of course, the ultimate low maintenance hair style is the shaved head – which can also make quite a statement. A co-worker of mine shaved her head to raise money for cancer research, and a local actor recently did the same to play the part of a woman undergoing cancer treatment.

Although that sounds quite liberating, I’ll probably hang on to my shampoo for now, and leave the head shaving to those with a more noble cause. Since I will always struggle with my hair, I’d better find another claim to fame. However, I suppose I can’t rely on my IQ, until my blonde hair is completely gray. So until then, I’ll just have to assume that blondes really do have more fun.

 

Backing Up Is Hard To Do

by Beth Diane Bradley

I was tired, distracted, and in a hurry … I got in the car, backed up too quickly and … crunch. I’m no good in reverse, which is evident every time I back out of my long, skinny drive way. That sinking feeling you get when you hear that crunch is never fun. But eventually I quit feeling sorry for myself and was just grateful no one was hurt, the car was still drivable, and other than having to eat the $500 deductible, it really wasn’t so bad. After all, I’m sure the insurance company needed the money way more than I did.

When it was time to get my car fixed, the rental I was given had a backup camera. I was impressed by the yellow outline that shows you where you will end up, if you follow your chosen course – however, it did remind me of the yellow tape drawn around the body at a crime scene. So I was nervous at first, like maybe it would be safer if I could figure out how to drive outside the lines.

A few years ago, I got into an accident I didn’t cause. I was sitting at a railroad crossing, shortly after the cross arm dropped. A large pickup was behind my Toyota, and the driver must have assumed I was going to try and beat the train. He pushed me through the cross arm, onto the tracks, while the train was heading toward me. Thankfully, I backed up like a pro that time, and lived to tell about it.

Most seasoned drivers enjoy sharing their minor accident stories, many of which are native to our northern climate – like the fender bender on ice, which if caught in time, can be dismissed, if your car is old enough to wear the damage with pride — or the ditch dive, which is often done without a partner. Then there’s always the hunting trip without a license — which at least includes dinner. But if we go too long without a weather-related collision, we can usually be heard boasting about our finely honed winter driving skills, while watching the national news.

Many things about driving have changed over the years. People my age like to reminisce about our childhood road trips when we were allowed to roll around in the back of the woody station wagon at speeds that were eventually deemed unsafe. When I was in junior high, I remember trying to get my parents to wear seat belts. And by the time I had kids, infant and child car seats had become the norm.

But getting your first driver’s license has always been a rite of passage in our driving-obsessed culture, not to mention buying your first car. Unfortunately, the first accident often happens soon after that. Mine was just like the one I had last month –I was backing out a driveway. I guess some of us just never learn.

 

 

Mother Said, “It’s Greek to Me”

by Beth Diane Bradley

It happens all the time.  I’m in the middle of a conversation, and out of my mouth pops some old fashioned phrase my mother used to say. She would be in her 90’s if she were still living, so these phrases don’t get out much anymore.

One of my favorites is “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” And according to World Wide Words.org, it has been in use since the early 1900’s, and most likely originated from Vaudeville.

“A man comes in late at night to a lodging house, sits on his bed, takes one shoe off and drops it on the floor. Remembering everyone around him is trying to sleep, he takes the other one off much more carefully and quietly puts in on the floor. He then finishes undressing and gets into bed. Just as he is drifting off to sleep, a shout comes from the man in the room below: ‘Well, drop the other one then! I can’t sleep, until you drop the other shoe!”

The fact the dropper’s sleep was also disturbed brings to mind the phrase “there’s no rest for the wicked.”  Yes, mom said that one too.  It’s from the bible, the book of Isaiah.

And the droppee became anxious anticipating something that never happened. Kind of a “worry wart” wasn’t he?

According to Word-Detective.com, “worry wart” became a household standard when it was used as the name of a character in “Out Our Way,” a newspaper comic strip drawn by James R. Williams from 1922 to 1957. Oddly enough, Williams’ “Worry Wart” was a young boy who caused worry in others, rather than being plagued by worry himself.

Although the phrase “worry wort” was also frequently used by my parent’s generation, the concept of a young boy causing worry in others rather than worrying himself reminds me of my own experience as a mom.

There were a few incidents when my kids were teenagers that caused me to worry they were dead in a ditch somewhere.  One time my son was actually sleeping in his own bed at the time he was allegedly missing. You could say he was snug as a bug in a rug!

The Phrase Finder (phrases.org.uk) says “The first known example of that phrase in print is found in the account of David Garrick’s writings about Shakespeare. If she [a rich widow] has the mopus’s [coins or money], I’ll have her, as snug as a bug in a rug.”I would have never guessed that came from Shakespeare.  It sounds more like a quote from Kermit the Frog.

And speaking of animals, there’s another phrase that makes me cringe every time I hear it: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” What a horrible thing to say!  The Phrase Finder said our cat murderer is the American humorist Seba Smith, who referenced it in a short story written in 1840 called The Money Diggers, “There are more ways than one to skin a cat,” so are there more ways than one of digging for money.” Not funny, Mr. Smith! It’s just as bad as killing two birds with one stone. According to Wiki-answers.com, there are two sources for that saying.  In Chinese, it literally means “one stone two birds.”

In the Greek Mythology tale of Daedalus and Icarus, Daedalus is held captive by King Minos on Crete in a high tower. All he is able to see are high walls around him and large birds overhead awaiting their demise.

Daedalus devises a plan to throw stones at the birds in the hope of fashioning artificial wings to enable the pair to fly home. He made his stone ricochet off one bird, to strike another, thus killing two birds with one stone. This confirms what I always assume about old sayings. Most of them seem to come from Shakespeare, the Bible, or mythology.

I think these gems should be preserved for future generations, Maybe one of the Rolling Stones could write a song about an exhausted shoeless boy with no worries chasing a skinless cat who just ate two dead birds. Unless of course the cat got his tongue!

What Sonny Shared

by Beth Diane Bradley

I turned 57 in August, and was born in 1957.  I looked it up, and sure enough, that phenomenon is called the Beddian Birthday — after a New York firefighter named Bobby Beddia, who told mathematician  Rhonda Roland Shearer  he felt lucky to be living his birth year – It was his 53rd birthday and he was born in 1953. Tragically, he died later that day in the line of duty.  Shearer went on to research the mathematical theory behind this birthday, which not everyone will experience.

I agree with the late Mr. Beddia, this is a birthday of significance — although every birthday we have is special, compared to the alternative. But when it comes to the part about getting older, sometimes you have to try a little harder to see the up side.

When I look in the mirror, I see my mother or my aunt, or my older sister, but I can’t seem to find my younger self any more.  I don’t need to list the things that change over time – all we have to do is look to the advertisers hawking products that promise us a more youthful exterior, at least until the bottle is empty.

And apparently we are supposed to start buying those products before signs of aging actually occur, because the most popular age group advertisers want to reach is 25 to 54.  They must assume we all drop dead at 55.  At least it’s nice of them to want us to look good until our demise.

This societal pressure to remain forever young on the outside challenges us to think about all the good things about being over the proverbial hill. The most obvious virtue being the vast wisdom one collects over the decades.

I can’t say I personally experienced the 50’s, since I was three when they expired. But during the 60’s, I learned that peace, love and rock and roll were totally groovey.  I really wanted to go to Woodstock, but unfortunately it was past my bedtime.

In  the 80’s, I returned to college after taking a three year break  to contemplate my navel, as they called it back in the day .  I changed my major 5 times and finally graduated at 25, which earned me a lifetime membership in the late bloomer club.

I also got married and became a mother as the decade unfolded, and I started to realize I could learn a lot of things from my kids.  For example, I recall asking my 5-year-old son if he could show me how to use a mouse, since he used one to play computer games at his pre-school.  And if my kids ever want to know what it was like to type college term papers on a manual typewriter, all they have to do is ask.

I spent the next twenty years raising my sons, which gave me a nice combination of gray hairs, worry lines and plenty of free advice to share with anyone who will listen.  And when no one does, I’ve learned to be okay with that too, because we all have to learn things our own way.  That guarantees there will be a new generation of old sages to replace us.  And the beat goes on…

 

2014 Brought Me No “Grapes of Wrath”

by Beth Diane Bradley

I got out of bed this morning and threw on my old wool sweater with a hole in the elbow, before sitting down to cuddle with my dogs.  But then it occurred to me, I think it’s time to toss that sweater, it’s outworn its usefulness, and I have another to take its place. In fact, I’m making that my new tradition on New Year’s Day.  To symbolize the need to say good bye to old things, some of which might be holding me in the past, and be open to the promise of the new year.

I feel compelled to write a blog post every year on New Year’s Day, trying not to be too repetitive as I expound over why I love this holiday so much — and sharing what made the past year special for me.  But the biggest challenge for me as a writer – and recovering perfectionist — is my compulsion to post it on New Year’s Day, in its raw, first draft form – knowing if I let myself read it again, I will be horrified at the mistakes and want to edit the #$%* out of it for  at least a couple more days.

So let’s just get that out there – my New Year’s posts will always be like the chubby New Years baby in the top hat – who probably needs her diaper changed. But I feel the urgency to post today, because it’s my blog and it’s ok to do that – it doesn’t have to be perfect, or please anyone but me.  And tomorrow is just too late for a New Year’s junkie like me.

I find New Year’s Day to be profoundly spiritual, and delightfully flexible – requiring no decorating, baking, cards, shopping or expense – unless you choose to do those things. Not to say I don’t enjoy the trappings of Christmas — I love Christmas, but now it’s time to reflect, and relax in the afterglow.  But I’m guessing New Years lovers are a small club for sure, as it’s always in the shadow of the other holidays.

The past year was very good to me, but the most significant gift was my relationship that started up (again) in August.  Mark and I were together a few years ago, and this time around — I asked him out.  I could jokingly say I’m a glutton for punishment — and I know he loves to say that “Beth saw the error in her ways,” since I chose to call things off the first time around.

Anyway, we are like a batch of fine wine.  We opened the first bottle too soon.  Now it’s ready, and I hope there are many more bottles of this exquisite wine to enjoy.  When I find something I love, I stick with it.  And that would be obvious, if you saw that old sweater (circa 1994?) I tossed this morning.

Cheers!  My friends …. I wish you wonderful things in the coming year!

Beth

 

 

 

Fashionista Imperfecta

 by Beth Diane Bradley

Mark Twain said:  “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

That’s why I’m almost late for work most mornings. It’s my job to influence people, and therefore I must not be naked. But sometimes my attempts to be a fashionista fall flat – or down, despite my greatest efforts.

Take last Wednesday.  I threw together a new combination – a scarf I just bought on sale, last year’s clearance rack cardigan, and some black pants that fit fine the last time I wore them. When I got to the building where I work, I had two wardrobe malfunctions before I even made it to my office – a loose button caused my pants to practically fall off, and my new scarf got caught in the zipper of my coat.

I agree with Mark Twain. When you dress well, you feel more confident and things just go better — at least it helps when your pants stay up. But since shoes squeak, stockings run, and coffee spills, I find it quite challenging to look like a polished professional for an entire work day.

So I prefer to take a more philosophical approach to fashion, and just let go of all that pressure once and for all.

In many cultures, artists will intentionally make a mistake to symbolize that only God creates perfection.  The Japanese call it “Wabi-Sabi,” which is defined as “the art of finding beauty in imperfection.”

It feels good to put this issue into a cultural context, and know that any fashion mishaps that come my way have a deeper global significance. I’m not sure what we call it in North Dakota, but I know my less than perfect fashion statement definitely fits the bill.

The other side of this issue is the embarrassing clothing catastrophe that goes unnoticed by the wearer of the wayward garment.  When do you tell the person, and when do you ignore it?  My rule of thumb is based on how well I know them.  My motto has always been that friends alert friends when they have toilet paper stuck to their shoe during a cocktail party.  And strangers look the other way.  The same goes for open flies, broccoli in your teeth, etc.

If only we practiced Wabi-Sabi, friends could give each other high-fives after spilling salsa on their clothes, to show their appreciation of the artistic and spiritual value of the stained shirt.

While that could cause some backlash from the dry cleaning industry, I think it would be a healthy step forward for the rest of us.

The stain could lend itself to a number of useful applications — such as a Rorschach test, in case you are in need of a quick psychological evaluation by your friends. Or for those seeking to know their future, it could be read like tea leaves or cloud formations.

However, it may be awhile before our society evolves to that level of spiritual growth. Until then, we’ll have to continue using napkins, and follow more conventional paths to enlightenment.

 

 

Out of the Mouths of Bears

by Beth Diane Bradley

I had a dream years ago that I lived in a huge house with many bed rooms.  And there was a crying baby in each room.  I ran from room to room, feeding one baby after the other, and then I forgot which ones had not been fed, because they all kept crying.  I think I had the dream because I wanted to start a family, and I was apprehensive about my ability to care for a baby.

Since then, I have raised two children to adulthood, and I don’t recall ever forgetting to feed them.  They seem to have a built in alarm system when they are hungry, no matter how old they are.

Last summer, I was invited to a party at a house with an address that was familiar to me.  As I parked my car, I realized my hunch was correct.  It was the home where my babies were born nearly 25 years ago.  I didn’t know the owners, but I had to tell them my story and ask for a tour.

Obviously, after all those years, there were a lot of changes made to the house. But the most important room to me was the nursery.  I visualized the crib and the “big-boy bed” side by side, with the rocking chair in the corner.  I especially loved to rock my babies, so I stood there basking in that memory as long as I could.

The room is now occupied by a miniature schnauzer named Stan, and he is apparently not a fan of “Winnie The Poo,” as the nursery décor I had chosen was gone.

When I think about their childhood, I wonder if I forgot to teach my kids something important — like not preparing raw meat and fresh produce on the same cutting board.  And I can’t help chastising myself for not making them floss their teeth as often as they should.

Parents often say there is no job bigger or more daunting than raising a child. Being president of the United States might be the exception.  However, that job doesn’t last 18 years.  Even so, I think Congress should go to time out until they learn to play nice.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned to look back on my parenting performance as being the best I could do, at the time.  A wise soul once told me … if you enjoy being around your kids, you are doing a good job.

And considering how much I look forward to spending time with my adult sons, I would have to say I agree. In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, “Some people care too much.  I think it’s called love.

I bet even Stan would wag his tail about that.