Thursday, February 25, 2010

Childhood reflections

The rain pounds against the windows, the chill in the air hasn't subsided in quite a few days.  The outside elements have perhaps put a damper on lots of people's spirits.  I can't get into watching the Olympics, which is neither here not there. I don't watch American Idol. Conclusion: My current pop culture awareness is pretty low.

However, today came the news that an actor named Andrew Koenig from the 80's/90's hit show "Growing Pains" had taken his own life after a long battle with depression. This has bummed me out inexplicably. Koneig played "Boner", Mike's friend. The actor who portrayed Mike, heart-throb Kirk Cameron, made a plea to Koenig the other day: "Call me. Mike and Boner can get through anything".

The tragedy of losing this young actor is sad, but it's also a reminder that I am old. The shows I grew up watching (Growing Pains, Who's the Boss, Webster, Perfect Strangers, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Facts of Life, Different Strokes, and if I "really* think back, Eight is Enough and Little House on the Prairie) were integral parts of my growing up. I rode my bike in my neighborhood and sometimes made it up to Mountain Road. I played in the woods and made forts. I had a friend who lived on the end of Mountain Rd. towards Winn Street that I visited a lot.  My childhood was very simple, and very sheltered in a good way.  I was smart grade-wise, not very comfortable or smart socially (the brown skin and lack of coordination did not help), and for many years got along with pretty much everyone. I still remember completely freaking out when walking into Kim MacDonald's backyard and getting covered by caterpillars that were falling off their trees and running home screaming. But, we also had good times in the clubhouse in Mary Ellen's back yard, and exploring the woods.

Life seemed pretty darn simple. Now, the shows my kids watch are mostly reality-based (18 Kids and Counting, Deliver Me) or insipid Disney shows like "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody: On Deck".  The kids don't get the same kinds of opportunities for outside play. The world is not as safe as we thought it was 20 or 25 years ago and kids can't stay out till the streetlights come on. My kids love to hear stories about my childhood (which wasn't quite as idyllic as this post makes it sound).

I loved my TV shows, and on Friday nights, I would escape to watch my favorite shows, armed with a bowl of Heavenly Hash ice cream with a broken up Kit-Kat on top. (No, not very healthy, I know.)  Shows like Growing Pains, watching the banter between Mike and Boner, seeing important issues covered like drunk driving when Carol's boyfriend died, they all shaped who it was I became.  There were no iPods or handheld DS games. We were lucky if we had video console systems, and I remember being thrilled to go to Anjali's house to play Frogger on her Atari a zillion times. I remember watching "The Breakfast Club" and "Dirty Dancing" on our new VCR. Every Sunday, I would take my battery-powered radio up to the top of my back-yard, swing on the swing-set, and listen to Casey Kasem's "American Top 40".

The untimely death of Koenig (aka "Boner") makes me remember how important I considered that show, and all the pieces of pop culture, while growing up in a white-bread suburb like Burlington.  However, I still hold onto small pieces of it. On my iPod, I have Belinda Carlisle and Bon Jovi-- a hair band and a former Go-Go. What could be more 80's than that?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Small church, small world

Sometimes the world is small. Today it was smaller than I would have liked. Waiting for some takeout, truth be told goofing off on my Blackberry, I hear a familiar voice say, "Hi!".  I turn around and see a face from the past.  More specifically, an old friend from what used to be my small church.  This person and her husband (then boyfriend?) started coming around the time my ex did.  We were friendly enough, and socialized a little outside of church.  Our church itself has had drama worthy of a "Days of Our Lives" 3 week-marathon.

There has been the good (one member donating a kidney to another, for example). However, there has also been a lot of "bad". The most painful of the bad being a lot of unexpected deaths of wonderful people.  Our little congregation went through a whole pack of divorces around 2000, mostly with the older generation (well, older than me!).  With the 20 and 30 somethings, that trend continued....  There was a whole other onslaught of divorces as the new decade progressed.  There were other dramatic occurrences.  One woman, who never thought her adopted daughter was quite "good enough" apparently, got pregnant artificially at 45 and delivered beautiful babies extremely prematurely (as was the expectation).  For a woman who openly despised children with special needs, she now has a daughter with significant delays which I *hope* has taught her some tolerance.  One friend got pregnant by her husband's childhood best friend, divorced the husband, and married the friend... That one left most of us speechless, but I didn't judge. So far as I am aware, they live happily on a farm somewhere in NH.

Other marriages broke up later, mine included.  Telling her about my divorce wasn't fun, but it also was not earth-shatteringly painful.  It was nice to see such a familiar face, just chatting, until the dreaded question of "How are _ and _?" came up. God, I hate that question!   Everyone knew me as being best friends with _.  So, this person had asked the BIG question and I now had a choice to  a) answer it, b) ignore it, or c) change the subject. I chose "a", and honestly answered "I have no idea". The dreaded follow-up came: "How come? You guys were so close."   Hmmm... should have, could have made up an excuse---  and walked away.

But didn't-  and spilled the entire gory story. It took 20 minutes and my food got cold.  I got the most interesting response ever: "I'm not surprised. I'm sad, but not really surprised". Turns out this person's husband, a "techie-engineer-type" if I remember correctly, had seen one of these people with her new SO, and had thought she and her ex had been long-divorced.  This random person knew of this relationship long before I did. Wow.

Whatever... not my life, not my problem- at least not that situation.  As this old acquaintance and I talked, I realized that my former life-- that of wife, mother, house-dweller, church Deacon and nursery coordinator, PTO officer, driver to gyms and playground parent--  had not been *that* long ago.  It was an interesting experience to hear the perspective this other semi-random person had on my marriage, the marriage of our then-friends, our pastor, etc. We talked about my kids (who she knew 3 of), her kids (who I didn't know existed) and how they had become Methodists after trying out the UU's for a few years.

Small churches are just as gossipy as small towns, aren't they?  This is not good.  It might be nice to be an anonymous member of a congregation where there are 3,000 members.  In a small church, everyone knows everyone else's business. As people are only human, people can, and do, judge rather harshly. (For example, I am still getting sheepish apologies 3 years later from a few folks about the bumps in the road that began when all my family was trying to do was help fellow parishioners after one of their lives got unexpectedly complicated and stressful).

With my friend, after exchanging numbers and email addresses, I was reminded of how small the world can be. I was also reminded of how much I *really* miss my old life, circa 2003-ish.  As small as the world is, and not knowing *who* you will run into waiting for Mexican take-out, it's nice to know that random occurrences can bring back some good memories.  2010, with God's grace intervening perhaps, will be a time to make lots of good new memories for this highly imperfect Christian.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Finally... a real vacation

The kids and I packed *many* bags of stuff and loaded the mini-van with said bags, movies for the DVD player, snacks, assorted Build-a-Bears and other stuffed animals, the iPod, left the cats in the trusted and good care of our wonderful neighbors, and escaped to the Berkshires for the weekend.  Despite the fact I have lived in Eastern Massachusetts my entire life, I had never spent any real time in the Berkshires and I now know I was missing a lot.

Despite the challenges autism can present, my Boy ended up having a fantastic time and the Girls each had a friend to themselves for 3 days straight.  They were in Heaven.  I so enjoyed spending time with my friend. (Her husband mixed some great adult-drinks after the kids went to sleep every night. He also is an avid outdoorsy-person and tired the kids out playing in the snow). My girlfriend and I hung out, we talked, we outlet-shopped in Lee (loving my new pink Coach bag and keychain, which cost nothing after using my Christmas Visa gift card and my Verizon Fios Visa gift card), ate Mexican food in a hole in the wall place, and admired the signs for the Canyon Ranch and Tanglewood. We also saw breath-takingly gorgeous scenery. Specifically, on the drive home, we elected to take the "long" way, a bunch of country roads to Route 2. Well, when you are that far out West, Route 2 is a country road for a long ways, too :-)


Driving through these quaint small New England towns, seeing ice-covered rocks and currents in the winding rivers which followed the roads, admiring the snow-covered mountains,  the icicles which hung off the sides of the roads, the farms and the animals, going over the bridges, glimpsing at all the cute houses... it was lovely.  It felt like we were  in the middle of Colorado or the Northern White Mountains in NH-- very much in the "middle of nowhere".  I loved every second of it.  Had some weird flashbacks on Route 2 past 91, driving through towns which were eerily familiar, BUT the kids were actually enjoying the scenery.  I produced kids who can like long car trips. Wow.

We don't have the money to go on real vacations. Storyland for a day, or two, have been the biggest treats for my munchkins since 2005.  Besides gas and some groceries, I didn't really *have* to spend money on anything since we were staying with friends.  Their family vacation home was amazing, and had a hot tub to boot. The kids loved that, although you couldn't have paid me $1 million to put a swimsuit on and go in. Sometimes, it's just more relaxing than anything to hang out with friends.  Friendships between the kids were formed and solidified, my friend and mine's girl-bonding time was fun, and we even had a very sweet dog to keep us all company.

Relaxing and getting away from it *all* is a good thing. The only downside is that I couldn't bring my skis since my new Craigslist-procured Thule rack has no way to get attached to my new mini-van without the help of one or two tall adults with experience with this sort of thing.  There is a small place to go skiing there , which would have been fun to ski with at least two of the kids.  It is small, but has quite a few trails, and is relatively inexpensive.

Back to the daily grind... three team meetings with clients this week to prepare for and lots of loads of laundry to do. But, I have great memories from this vacation week (including being put in a VIP suite at Disney on Ice at the Boston Garden, which is about the only perk of autism I have found; a very brief glimpse into how the "other half" live). The most important memory is all the precious time with my family.  I am truly blessed.

Hope your week was as lovely as ours!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A new year's resolution

Thanks to my membership at the local gym, some great natural supplements, lots of water, and lots of work, I've managed, in this crazy month, to lose 15 pounds. Not only that, but since the car accident and not being able to do any long bike rides because of my back and not taking the time to hike, and other health stuff, my cardiac health suffered a lot. The first week on the elliptical (30-45 minutes), my heart rate was in the 170's--- not good at all. Now, it's consistently in the 140's, sometimes hitting 152 or 153.  I do the weight training machines and that in itself is empowering since everything is visual and it's all computerized so I can see the progress.

I have more energy than I have had in 3 years.  It's strange, I'm not tired in the afternoon anymore, and I've been going to sleep early and getting up early to hit the gym before sunrise. No coffee and no headaches- pretty amazing considering that I thought I'd go through major caffeine withdrawal.

A small victory was going to Kohls with the kids and buying smaller size athletic crop pants and realizing they already pretty much fit :-)  Between the girls being sick with fever and a GI bug, we had a blast doing a Jillian Michaels exercise program that is featured via On-Demand FIOS.  My yoga mat and DVD's didn't make it here post 3 moves, and I don't have home exercise stuff (weights, balls, etc.). Therefore, the selection on the Exercise Channel was limited. Emily, Sarah, and I trying to imitate Jillian Michaels was interesting, to say the least. Kick-boxing is, ummmm, not my thing. Em is great at it.

We bought a scale at Kohl's. While I am happy with my weight, I am freaking out about Sarah's. Julia, in her 4 abodes, has gained a zillion pounds in the past two years. Similarly, Sarah has gained 24 pounds and not very many inches in 14 months.  I have suggested to her dad that we might want to consult a nutritionist. She doesn't eat junk for me.Ok, occasionally there is ice cream, but we have gone to dried apricots and nuts and lots of organic Trader's Joe's snack items for everyday consumption. We've never had whole milk and have banned heavily processed foods. But, she doesn't get enough exercise, certainly not the days she's not with me (I am going to sign her up for swimming lessons).  I wish the days the kids weren't with me they'd be playing soccer, taking gymnastics, and doing other normal kid stuff. Kind of like before I ever got divorced, but I won't go there...

I am about to drink my zillionth glass of water for today and will probably not even make it through the Superbowl.  I will, however, be at the gym in the morning with my iPOD in-hand, a good attitude, and a healthier and stronger heart. That is something to be hugely proud of.