Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What She Said

I had this wonderful grandmother, Dorothy, who instilled in me a great affection for having parties and reading old books.  The woman made an excellent martini, but was just as happy reading Caesar's "Gallic Wars," in Latin, for the heck of it. She was judicious in the amount of advice she gave, preferring instead to listen to whatever your problem happened to be.  When she did give advice, however, it was always useful.  When she was 95, she decided to let me in on an important truth.  She was so small, she only fit into child-sized clothes, and her hair clung to her head like a halo of white spun silk. She told me this:

"The women in our family are like sharks.  If we stop moving, we sink to the bottom and die."  

Then, she went for a walk.  

At the time, I just thought it was a funny anecdote, and I promptly forgot all about it for the next decade.  Just like they say, the chickens all eventually come home to roost, and the need for this tidbit of advice arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago.  Now I know why my grandmother never stopped moving, taking walks, doing morning exercises from her bed in the nursing home even.  When the Reeder women stop moving (her maiden name was Reeder), they go numb.  I know, because it happened to me.

A few weeks ago, I took myself and my knitting up to the mountains for a long weekend extravaganza of Olympics-watching, red wine drinking, and general slovenliness with two of my best gal pals.  Wild woman that I am, I was determined to finish up two baby blankets while there, and the complicated lace edging and corded bind-off each took hours to complete.  Add to that a cheerful wood stove and squalls of snow outside, and you get the picture: The perfect environment for lounging, yakking, and knitting.  All this I did with complete abandon.  

On our last night there, however, I noticed my right foot had gone numb and wouldn't wake up.  I didn't think anything about it.  By the next morning, my whole leg had gone tingly, and by the drive home, my right arm felt like it had amnesia.  Eventually, the right side of my face went numb.  A visit to the neurologist ensued, along with MRIs and blood tests.  Everything came up unremarkable, except for the final verdict.  I had made myself numb from knitting too long and sitting in one position.  "Don't do that," the neurologist with the office wallpapered with degrees instructed me.

Rather than heed her advice, of course, I had to test her theory all over again last week.  I spent an afternoon knitting the back to a cardigan and, sure enough, by bedtime my feet had all the sensitivity of two baseball bats.  I spent the night tossing and turning, jogging around in our dark house, and trying to shake the blood back into my fingers. The next morning, my husband was calling me "shark gal" and chuckling as I took the dog out for the 4th walk that day.  Walking and moving around really helped get rid of that "my foot fell asleep" feeling that had crept into all my limbs.  

Now, I am a believer, and I have committed myself to a life of moving and shaking.  I don't sit at a desk all day, so my new schedule of jumping up and walking around is easily done.  I just have remember to limit my knitting like someone in a 12-step program.  It's that or life with the bottom feeders.  

I guess that at a certain point in life, even mundane things like knitting can get a little dangerous, especially for us Reeder women.  At least we can make those good martinis and throw a party, in the event someone needs a quick pair of socks knitted up.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Psycho-Mall-Fear-Based-Blindness Response and Me

I recently made the trek out to one of our local malls to buy my sweetie some shirts for his birthday.  It wasn't even a big mall, but it featured a Macy's and a Nordstrom and a Sears appliance department.  Of course, I was only able to walk through a single floor of Macy's, where I had to practice Zen breathing techniques to make myself focus on making my way to the men's department.  Focusing on the complex system of men's shirt sizing -- 17 neck, 33 long -- helped me keep my feet planted and eliminated the need for me to dive under a counter, curl into a fetal position, and punch the phone numbers of my nearest and dearest until I could reach one of them and make my desperate plea:  "Come get me!  I can't see a thing!"  At least, it helped for a while. 

Maybe it's because I spent my formative years in a small town with a main street where the biggest store in town was Lachaw's hardware store where you bought nails by the pound.  Or maybe it's because I was so uncool in high school (and the mid-70s advent of the shopping mall) that I was too busy reading Tolstoy to impress myself to even think about cruising the mall.  Whatever it is that made me this way all I know is that when I step a toe into any part of a shopping mall, my breathing gets shallow, I forget why I am there, and a nervousness sets in that makes me start to talk to myself.  Stupidly, I think that if I just focus on shopping, I'll calm down.  This never works.  

Just like always, I find myself looking at the same pile of sweaters again or pacing through the handbag section in a fruitless quest to find the escalator.  (Why do they hide them?!)  And then, almost like a mist piped into a horror movie, I slowly cannot see a thing.  Sure there are stacks of half-price t-shirts and displays of next season's jackets (still too short) beside me.  I know that.  I just can't take it in.  Actually, I guess it's technically the opposite of blindness.  It's the inability to pick out and visibly explore a single item because there is just too much damn stuff all over the place.   

When I tell people that I pretty much just shop in local stores in my neighborhood, I let them laude me for supporting the small business owner.  I nod in that self-satisfied, yet humble way of the truly evolved.  But, deep down, I know I'm only a buy local do-gooder, because I have no choice in the matter.  I am physically and emotionally incapable of shopping in a mall.  Now, if I could only develop a phobia of buying stuff on iTunes, I might just have a shot at nirvana.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why We Are Haters

So, after 13 years of this, I've gotten to learn that my son, His Teen-ness, has some fascinating ideas.  He also has a penchant for stopping me in that constant forward motion of multi-tasking that moms of a certain age seem more addicted to than overpriced lattes, so he can tell me all about them.  There I am, trying to squeeze the grocery list on the back of an old PEPCO bill or filling in the microscopic boxes on a health claim or sorting through a mountain of old catalogs for recycling without throwing out a check, and I hear, "So, Mom...." This is when he prefers to lay his knowledge on me.  Not during some quiet moment around the table, but when I am busy, when he has to wrestle my attention to him and what he wants to say.  Sometimes he has to take the pen right out of my hand or whisk the computer mouse into his pocket.  "You have to listen right now," he says at times like these.  Open person that I am, I cross my arms over my chest, scowl, and assume that look that says, "This better be good, Teen-ness."

Last night, at bat was the small matter of the Holocaust, Pol Pot, Rwanda, and man's cruelty to man.  Although, I had been sure that my son had been spending the last couple of hours surfing You Tube for blooper videos, no, he had been solving humanity's most gruesome riddle -- Why do we exclude one group from another, and then systematically annihilate them?  And now he stood before me, ready to Explain It All To Me.  Naturally, I was skeptical.   

"So, you know how I've been asking all those questions lately about the Holocaust and then I read online about the Tutsis and the Hutus, and then there were all those pictures of skulls that I drew for awhile?" I nodded, remembering the last two months of morning drive conversation, during which he questioned me on everything from the nature of SS guards to why Belfast needed peace walls.  

"Okay, so I figured it out. It's about competition," he explains.  I start to get this funny feeling that this is going to a place none of my college anthropology classes ever got.  "See, people are naturally wired to compete for things -- money, a better house, ladies."  He scowls a bit at that last one.  "If you are competing, you have be really clear on who you are competing against, so you make groups.  Like, I mean, you can't play a basketball game if you don't know who the other team is, right?" I nod, and he continues.  "Maybe somebody looks a little different or their hair is weird or they don't talk so good, and the bully in the group -- there's always a bully, right? -- convinces everyone that this person or those people are the other people.  The bad group, right?"  

By about now, I am certain that every insipid "the world can be a cruel place" explanation I ever gave him is about to seem about as useful as a wet paper towel in a hurricane compared to what he is about to say.

"So, the one powerful group kills the weaker group to make sure they get all the good stuff, and then evolution kicks in.  You know, that Darwin, natural selection thing? All the powerful people get to have all their babies that survive, and then hating the "other people" gets into more and more people's genes, and hating weaker people gets all, like, inside us."  

"No wonder making peace is so hard, Mom. We have some really bad attitudes in our genes." His Teen-ness says, pouring himself a glass of orange juice and sets a plate in the microwave.  "This thing still not working?" he asks me, nodding towards the microwave.  Then he pads back to the den to check out South Park.

If Plato knew how much wisdom could get winged around in my house while my son reheats last night's pizza, he would have skipped all those trips to the agora.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Summer Vacation

This is the time of year when I plan our summer vacation.  So far, every plan I've been able to come up with has at least one inherently fatal flaw.

First amongst those is the annoying issue of cost.  Airplane ticket cost, to be exact.  I kept thinking that I kept selecting the first class bookings every time I went on Expedia, until I realized that the airlines seemed to have completely eliminated coach class tickets.  I'd even suffer another trans-Atlantic flight with my lungs pressed to my knees and rumors of coin-operated bathrooms for a coach ticket.  Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Then, there is timing.  Summer has never been a good time for our family to travel, mostly because my husband's business is elections, and elections happen in the fall, and that's about as much as I can say about that.

Lastly, there are hormones.  The young son I could drag along to any locale is now a teenager who responds to all travel suggestions with first "no" and then an elaborate explanation about how a summer trip with his family would separate him from this friend or that friend, which would result in his experiencing instant social death.

It occurs to me that in order to have a summer vacation, I might have to expand my definition of them -- or shoot for something smaller.  Maybe summer vacation will be some pleasant experience -- like going to a play or taking sailing lessons.  Or enrolling the teen in a typing class so I don't have to type up his papers next year?

Pleasant? Yes.  Slightly diabolical? Even better.  Makes me want to go make that iced tea right now.