Month: November 2013

The Bitter Pill of Aging

Two dollars and forty-nine cents. That’s all my most recent depression cost me. Lately, I’ve been down. The reason? I’m starting to feel old–I mean FEEL it.

Ever since I turned forty, my stance has been, “I love getting older. It gives me more of a perspective. More wisdom.” But now that I’m forty-four, I’m not so sure.

I dodged feeling sad last year when my eye sight changed. Maybe because they now call them “progressives” instead of “bifocals“, and technology has erased any trace of a line within the lens, my shift in eye sight seemed like just the latest change to my prescription.

And despite the fact that my now-favorite co-worker Bev called me a baby on my recent birthday, I feel I can’t hide from this aging thing any longer.

And that’s why I ended up buying this:

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I only take one prescribed pill a day, but I also take some vitamins and supplements, like fish oil to fight high cholesterol. And sometimes I’d forget to take my medicine, and a few times I took it twice. Other times, I would mess up and mistake a vitamin for my prescription… I was careless and clueless.  I’ve needed this for about five years now. I knew it would help me avoid any mix-ups. But I put it off. Getting a pill dispenser meant I was old. O-L-D!

Yet, the reminders just kept coming.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some younger teachers at work, both in their twenties, and I started to say, “Just wait until your middle-aged like me.” And I had a mini-panic attack. As the words were about to roll off of my tongue, I realized that I had never actually called myself “middle-aged”. My lips became stuck and I  actually stuttered when I started to say mmmmmiddle-aged. Awkward.

Another day, while food shopping, I had to crouch down to get a box of crackers on the bottom shelf. My left knee locked and pain seemed to cement my leg in this position. I could not stand up. I could not straighten my leg. “This is it,” I thought, “I will now have to live in aisle five for the rest of my life.” Luckily, the hurt subsided. But since then, I avoid any crouching tiger positions–although there’s no avoiding aisle five.

Then, I decided to grow a beard for Movember to promote men’s prostate health–and it came in mostly white! One of my students even called me Santa Claus. “I think you mean Santa’s younger, skinnier brother,” I replied.  I wanted to shave it off right away. Damn you beard-for-a-good-cause.

And last week, I had my first migraine. I used to be one of those people who could say, “I don’t get migraines.” Oh, yeah, old man, well now you do. A friend told me that her doctor said that migraines can come on during shifts in one’s life cycle. “And, you know, maybe you’re getting them now because…” Pause. “Because I’m mmmmmiddle-age!” I yell back at her. “Well, maybe,” she says softly.

Then there are the boys. My sons are getting so big. Too big. I know they’ll be taller than me by middle school, and lately they walk around the house like they are auditioning for the role of sullen teenager on next year’s answer to Modern Family. They are content to play on their own. They watch TV and wrestle. I’m more of the guy who brings them Chex Mix or announces when dinner will be. My babies are now young boys–nine and seven.

Recently, several friends have announced that they are expecting. Great news. Yet, soon after learning it, I found myself sad. I’m done having babies. I no longer spend time in the rocker dozing with a drooling child snug in my neck. Everyone uses a toilet successfully (for the most part). Nothing in my house says “Fisher Price“. I am barely able to carry the boys in my arms–not that either of them begs to be lifted. It’s going too fast!!

I knew it was bad, when last week I actually toyed with the idea of having another child. I have adamantly held firm to the idea that two kids is plenty for me. Being one of seven, I like the balance and order that two children (seemingly) affords. Pam and I have always talked about adoption, though, even before we had the boys.  All week, I daydreamed about having a baby in the house. I mused about having a girl this time, and furnishing the now-guest-bedroom with borrowed items from friends and neighbors.

But then I did the numbers. Our youngest is seven, we’re forty-four, I haven’t had to get up at 2 a.m. for a feeding in 5 years. And I would be sixty-two at little Charlotte‘s senior year Back to School night. I’m already tired–now Lottie was beginning to exhaust me.  In the end, reality won over fantasy. Yet, one thing became clear. One of the reasons I’ve been feeling old lately is because it seems as if my kids don’t need me like they used to. They are more independent and I’m a little lonely. Sure, I’m their chauffeur, their human calculator at homework time, and number one fan at Saturday soccer, but it’s not the same as cradling someone you love in your arms, or holding someone’s hand just because, or singing them to sleep.

The other night, when I was being drill sergeant in the bathroom about brushing teeth, the boys and I were thinking of words that rhyme with “brush”. I said, “hush”. Then, I began to sing Hush little baby don’t say a word, papa’s gonna buy you a mocking bird...  Hayden looked at me wonderingly. “I used to sing that song to you when you were a baby,” I said. He nodded, toothpaste foaming in his mouth. A few moments later, when his older brother had left the bathroom, he tugged my arm and whispered, “Could you sing that song to me tonight in my bed?” “I sure can,” I whispered back.

And that’s exactly what I did. I curled in next to him and sang him that song, then a few others from my repertoire from his younger days: “Molly Malone“, “Feed the Birds“, and “Shenandoah”. I think he was asleep after two songs, but I didn’t care. I wanted to linger. Then, I crept out of his room and down the stairs. In the kitchen, I went to the cabinet and opened the W on my pillbox. More certain about things than I’d been in weeks.

I “moustache” you to look at this cake.

It is my son Owen’s birthday today. He turns nine. It is going too fast, this whole childhood thing. But we had a great day. He wanted a moustache theme–so we obliged. He and all his friends were wearing fake moustaches. It was a riot.

Here’s his cake:

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Here’s Owen:

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And, in case you don’t remember what it’s like to be nine, here’s a look into the mind of my newly turned nine year-old. It’s the view right outside the bedroom door in his mansion: (If you click on the picture, it enlarges) ( See “Key” below)

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Can you spot the:
zip line
snow hill
snowboard lift
spinney chair
slide
rope
snack bar
couch
trophies
money
hot tub
moustache case
go cart
snow boards
safe
limo
bathroom
pet fish

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” —John Lennon, Imagine

“I’m pregnant and I know it!”

The movie Pitch Perfect, which spawned the “Cups” phenomenon, is hysterical. Yet, I don’t think it’s something that my kids should watch.MV5BMTcyMTMzNzE5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzg5NjM5Nw@@._V1_ But they did, at a family party this summer with their cousins. No big deal. They watched it again with the babysitter a few weeks ago. She asked if they were allowed, and they said sure, they had already seen it. Since then, they are obsessed with it. They love Fat Amy, and they come home from school and put on song clips from YouTube. As far as I’m concerned, what’s done is done.  Now, the three of us can be found in various states of a cappella singing parts of the “Since You’ve Been Gone” audition scene. Hayden loves to mimic Amy fixing her boobs before she belts out her line. I can’t help but laugh.

It’s a weird world to navigate. The whole concept of sex, and curse words, and innuendo. Truthfully, I’m more offended by some of the exploitation on The Disney Channel than the stuff found in movies like Pitch Perfect. But it’s made for some interesting conversation. Like: “Guys, you can’t pretend to have boobs and adjust them”; or “No, you can’t watch the scene where they sing songs about sex”; or “Now, just cause they say these words in a movie, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to say them.” The funny thing is, I’m an English teacher. I love words. I do not want to back down from a conversation about words. And I don’t.

Yesterday, we were watching a clip from the movie, and Amy says the word “bitch”. I say, “You know we can’t say that word, right?” Owen says, “pitch”?  “No, the B word.” “What’s the B word?” asks Hayden. “It rhymes with pitch,” I say. “Bitch!” Owen says excitedly. “Yeah, but spell it, don’t say it,” I instruct. “B-I-T-C-H,” he replies. “You don’t have to spell it (correctly, I might add) now,” I say. They giggle.

As a child, I was terrified of being heard saying a curse word. I would not ask my parents what a word meant, and thought every bad word I uttered was one step closer to H-E-double hockey sticks. But it’s cool being on this side of things. Knowing that I am the gatekeeper for knowledge when it comes to curse words, and sex, and life. I am not foolish enough to think that they won’t find some (hopefully not most) of their education in the schoolyard, on the bus, or the internet, but I do plan on being a voice in the fray. Now, I marvel at their naiveté. I smile at their innocence. And I cringe a little at how to approach their inquiries.

Take today. We are in the woods walking the dogs, and Hayden starts quoting lines from Pitch Perfect. “Dad, I love the part when Fat Amy says [pause]. Now, I’m going to say ‘beach’ even though it’s the other B word, okay?” “Okay,” I say. He delivers the line. Owen pipes in, “What does the B word even mean?” “It’s so stupid,” I say. “It means ‘a female dog‘.” We all look at our little black Lab, Rosie, and laugh. “Language is strange, guys. The world decides that certain words are wrong or bad, and it’s important to know that if you say them, you will get in trouble, or people will look down on you. If you called someone a female dog, they would look at you and think you were weird. But if you call someone a bitch you’d get punished. Most curses are words that we have other words for. Ask me some?” They oblige.

“The s-h- word means poop, right?” Owen asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “You can say poop and no one cares, but if you say S-H-I-T you’re in trouble.”

“But crap means poop, too.” Hayden says, trying to reassure himself.

“Yep. And we don’t say that.” I love that they think crap is a curse word. The other day, my friend dropped his son off to play with the boys. As he was leaving, Hayden came out to the driveway and said, “Mr. Bill, Thomas just said the C word.” We both looked at each other wide-eyed. “What’s the C word, Hayden?” he asked. “C-R-A-P,” he spells. Relieved, I say, “Tell him not to say it–you don’t need to run and tell us.” Phew–I was not ready for that conversation.

The boys are now excited about our discussion. Owen says, “Well, what about F-U-C-K?” I’m sad that he’s heard this word–even if he’s just heard it spelled, which I doubt–but I do have to admit it is very cute when he spells it. Oh, boy, I think. I’m searching for words. “It means sex,” I say. (I decide to save the conversation about Fornication Under Control of the King or For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge for another walk.) “You mean pregnant?” Owen asks. “Yeah,” I say slowly, contemplating how far I want to go, and also unsure how he connected the two. “So, Mommy was sexed?” Hayden asks. “Um-hmm,” I say, stifling my laughter. “Mommy was sexed!” Owen says. They crack up laughing. I try to keep the educational tenor of the conversation. “And I don’t really like that so many songs mention sex, and you guys go around singing the word sexy. Like from that song, ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’.” They are jumping with excitement. This topic has made them more playful than our puppies a few yards ahead. Hayden revs up to do one of his dance moves. He leaps in the air, lands with arms outstretched, then he belts out, in tune, “I’m pregnant and I know it.”

That’s enough sex talk for one day.

“Trick-or-treat, smell my feet, my son’s gonna need therapy!”

Halloween season is finally over! If you are of a certain age, you remember when Halloween lasted a day. Just one day. Now it seems like everywhere you turn there’s a hayride to climb or a pumpkin to carve. When we were young, there weren’t aisles and aisles of candy and costumes and decorations in every store on every other corner. I swear, Target‘s Halloween section was as big as the entire A&P of my youth.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween, and we had fun this year, but I am pumpkined out.

The weekend before trick-or-treating we took the boys on a moonlight hayride at a local farm. There were rolling fields and 300 year-old oak trees, and a beautiful creek–Prophecy Creek. The hayride led us to a roaring bonfire, where we drank hot chocolate and cider, painted pumpkins, and listened to a storyteller regale the crowd with stories that were just this side of spooky. It was a crisp night, and the clear sky dazzled with stars. It was a perfect way to get us into the Halloween spirit. But, of course, we couldn’t leave well enough alone.

There is a house right up the road from us that has a huge old barn on its property. For the past three years, they have created a “haunted” barn and people have raved about it. I couldn’t get a read on if it was too scary/gory/hellish from people’s comments, and the kids at the boys’ school were talking it up this year. As with many things, the people who were willing to be spooked surprised me. Like the little girl in Owen’s class who went through the barn last year, in second grade, while her two brothers, one several years older, backed out. I don’t say “chickened out” because I am a recovering chicken, and frightening images can do a number on someone–I know they did a number on me. (Note: I still can’t even watch the preview for the Carrie remake as I am still scarred from the original).

We drive by this barn multiple times a day, and this year we toyed with the idea of going. Owen, our older son, seemed game from the start, his brother Hayden seemed less so. Perhaps emboldened from our time spent out in the night, we decided we would try the scary barn after the hayride. We met some friends there –a father and son. The son had attempted to go through the barn two previous years. This was the year he would make it.

In the end, Owen backed out (could have inherited my chicken gene), so Pam stayed with him while Hayden and I went in with the other father and son. BIG MISTAKE. WE’RE TALKING PSYCHOLOGICALLY SCARRING. It’s a barn. I thought we would just walk from one end to the other and see various scenes partitioned off. No! This thing had scaffolding, winding staircases, three floors of bizarre terror, hidden doors, narrow paths, and black curtains that clung to our bodies. I felt like I was in every teen slasher movie from the eighties with a dash of Apocalypse Now thrown in for further damage–and all the while I had my seven-year-old buried in the pit of my arm. I tried to shield him from so many things–but he saw more than enough. Here’s a bright idea: perhaps I should have gone through on my own first to judge the fear factor. Had that epiphany two days after the fact. Sometimes, I am amazed at my thick head. “Oh, right, I’m the adult in charge!”

Hayden was very brave. He even guided us through one of the rooms when I was confused. And he held it together until the very end, when we spied the exit and he ran toward it and cried. Hard. Like he was auditioning for the role of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz : “I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do…”

Before we even got home, I gave Hayden five bucks for making it all the way through, for there was no turning back once we were in there. Then at home I gave him cookies AND ice cream–trying to wash away his fear-soaked tears with some sugar. And I stayed with him in his bed that night, upon his request. Surprisingly, he slept soundly through the night. The next day he was even bragging a little about it to our neighbors, but I could see he was still freaked out by what he saw. By the end of the weekend it seemed like a distant memory, much to my relief.

The next day, he came running up the driveway from the bus, waving a notebook in his hands. It was his journal from school. “I snuck it home ’cause I wasn’t finished writing my story.”  “Oh, what is your story about?” I asked. “It’s called ‘The Barn of Terror’!” he proclaimed with the pride of a survivor. That made it official. The night of frights left an indelible mark. I felt like a bad parent. I know that many bizarre sights await my sons, I just wished I hadn’t been responsible for my youngest one’s worst scare in his life. Here, you read it and tell me if the scars will linger, as I fear they will.

Now, without further adieu, I give you Hayden’s story: (Note his use of eery onomatopoeia–DON DON DON!!!!)

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Chapter 1 The Terrifying Barn

I was at Prophecy Creek then I went to the DON DON DON terrifying barn.

I waited in line with my friend Thomas then it was my turn DON DON DON.

I went in and there was blood dripping down the wall. My dad didn’t see it.

There were fake skeletons hiding behind

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a fake potion. Oh, and we had a line it went

my dad, me, Thomas, and his dad. We saw a person chained

to something with fake blood on him and he was

yelling, “Help me!” I was like “Get me out of here!”

There was a goblin shaking jail bars that scared the

heck out of me. I almost fainted!It was so scary that

when I came out I started to cry.

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Chapter 2 Can’t Sleep

I said, “There is no favorite part for me.”

I got $5 for doing it, then I had $16.

My dad said, “You can have whatever you want.”

It ends there. He ran out of steam, I guess. It’s been a week

and he appears to be unscathed from the whole thing.

I just wonder what he will be like next year, when the sign appears outside the barn. Perhaps he and Owen will walk up to it in a few years with their friends. They’ll probably go repeatedly like the kids next door do. Whatever happens, I know one thing for sure. There’s no way in hell I’m going back in. Once is enough for me.