A Home For Ridley

Sometimes I really hate being right.

A year and a half ago, a single parent family I love, bought a very expensive, hopelessly adorable, pure-bred Dalmation puppy.  Having seen the way her un-athletic, largely inactive teenagers had interacted with my own dogs, I knew that these humans would need some serious training along with the spotted bag of cute they had just brought into their home.

We went on dozens of walks together and I coached them in the differences between human and canine thought processes, and how to become a pack leader.  In a dogs mind…

* Whoever is in front, wins.

  • Whoever goes out the door first, wins.
  • Whoever has the spot on the furniture, wins.
  • Whoever eats first, wins.
  • Whoever has a paw, or better yet entire body on top, wins.
  • Whoever controls the energy of a situation, wins.
  • The winner is the pack leader.

I loaned them the entire box set of Ceasar Milan Dog Whisperer videos for several months.

Everything was ignored.  The DVD’s were returned unwatched.

But they “loved” him.

I watched the adorable puppy pictures on facebook as he got bigger.  I listened to their frustrations over how the dog dominated the house, yet they still refused to follow the basic tenants of “Excercise, Discipline, Affection”.  This very healthy, high octane puppy rarely got walks long enough to expend even a fraction of his energy.  They just let him run it out in the townhouse he was in all day leaping from the sofa, launching onto chairs, and skidding on rugs.

The year and a half of stifled energy, lack of leadership and frustration came out the other day in the only way it could.

He bit someone.  It was bad.  It was reported.  The mom was fined heftily.  They were lucky they didn’t take him away and put him down.

She called me the other day to tell me they were looking for another home for him, and that if they didn’t find one, he would be picked up by Dalmation rescue in the next week or two.  “He just needs a bigger yard.”  she said.

No, he doesn’t. A bigger yard is just a bigger prison if he never get’s out of it.

He, like all dogs, needs exercise, disciple, and affection.  He needs leadership. He needs to run, swim, sniff different places, different stuff and other dogs butts.  A dogs brain is programmed to walk eight hours a day.  Even an hour long walk is a fraction of what they are genetically inclined to do.  He needs to know that in any given situation, no matter what, his pack leader is in control, and he doesn’t need to use his teeth to “protect” the weaker members of “his” pack.  That’s not his job.  It never should have been.

But he was never taught that.  He was taught that he was cute.  He was taught that if he leaned into something, he got his way. He was taught to take the reigns and he took them.

My friends family made the sad, classic and all-too-common mistake of just giving affection affection affection.  (Food, water, and shelter should be a given…)

Where is all that affection now?

Where is all the “love” they have for this dog, now that he has a history of violence and they are done with him?

This gorgeous, intelligent, pedigreed dog would be so blessed by a new home with a distance runner, or someone willing to teach him to run alongside a bike, play fetch, or do tricks… anything to help him expend his energy and expand into all of his glorious, neglected potential.

It will take a pack leader with a lot of patience,  a lot of energy, and a family willing to get on the same page with his training.  It won’t be easy, but most things that are truly worthwhile never are.  But that family will be blessed for the time and energy it takes, with a sweet, loving, eternally grateful soul, and a happily wagging spotted butt.

Please share this.  His time is short.

Election 2016

Political Stance 2016
You may have noticed I’ve been abstaining from political rhetoric, because I so dislike the tone of ranting… I think it hurts all of us, so please keep that in mind when making comments. I have a lot of opinions, and a multitude of friends whose opinions are different than mine. One of my favorite political buttons that I have been sporting lately reads “Vote or you get the government you deserve.” I love that it’s not polarizing. This is not a time for extremes.

I love people who are Democrats. I love people who are Republicans. I love blacks, whites, and every color in between. I love people who are Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Deists, Atheists, and Agnostics. I love people. I love dogs. I love dolphins and whales, reptiles with scales, and lions, tigers and bears.

Love. Let’s do that.

Republicans kicked us off in the first convention in staggering ways. And while I will refrain somewhat on my opinions of the star of The Apprentice, I gotta say, his kids did a great job. A lot of what I heard was resonating. We gotta fix what’s broken. We need to go into training. Get strong. Everyfriggin’ one of us. We have to do the hard thing for our families, and for our country. I just really really REALLY don’t think he’s the one… and certainly not the ONLY one, for the job.

The light is on. The B.S. that has been governing our political system is under scrutiny from every source and every American worth their salt and water. The apathy, mind, and media manipulation have got to stop.

I think that requires LOVE. And love can be tough. I’m totally channeling my 60’s self in saying this, but it’s reinforcing when I think of what was accomplished in the 60’s. Civil Rights… for blacks and women.

Not that our Democratic candidate is perfection, I know… everyone knows about all of the scandals… but she stood by her man when things got tough. When things got tough for our republican candidate, he declared bankruptcy, and stiffed people he owed. Several times… (eight, I think?…)

I don’t trust him. I’m not totally sold on her. If there was ever a time for a third party candidate, this is it, but a viable one isn’t available. A vote for one of them is not going to work for the country but if it soothes your conscience… and you’re ok with turning the country over to whomever… fine, at least you voted. If we disagree, I’ll still love you. If agreeing with each other was a qualifier for a successful relationship, no-one would ever get married or be true friends… ever. We will always disagree. We’re individuals. We are human. We are flawed.

And we need to love each other through all of it, somehow.

I think that’s what that guy Christ was trying to tell all the Pharisees, Saducees, Gentiles, Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, Kings, Queens, Lords, Ladies, Repbulicans, Democrats and everyfrigginbody ever. I feel Him saying “Let’s pull together already. Love love love love love love love. Love each other. Yes, THIS much. (put your arms out to your sides as far as you can…) Yes. THAT much. I did. Try it. It works… I’m tellin’ ya.”

But despite the rhetoric of our republican pundit, this whack political question isn’t up to one person. I agree with the Democrat. We need to pull together.

With our eyes wide friggin’ open.

Given my options, I’m giving Hillary my vote because I think she’s better for our country than the misogynist, vitriol spewing, petty, money, ego, fear driven little man who, not entirely on his own, has encouraged the turning of this country into a schoolyard brawl for his own purposes. I won’t vote for fear. And I won’t throw my vote away to ease my own conscience.

Whomever wins will need unbiased objective watching. Our president, and our government should not be ruling a mob of lazy, uninvolved lemmings, but a smart, savvy, educated mass of people who care about their future, the future of their children, grandchildren, community, country, and heaven forbid PLANET. We can’t fix what’s broken by destroying more of what gives us life.

Let’s clean up the mess.

My eyes are open.

I’m with her.

There, I said it.

Mermaid Rock Chapter 1

Chapter 1- “The Calm Before”

Geeze it’s hot.  

Tara dug her feet deeper into the sand finding the cool underneath.  The sun had moved and she could feel the newly exposed skin burning uncomfortably.  She pulled her legs back into the shade of her umbrella and squinted out through her sunglasses at the water.  Cool called to her.

That sand is gonna be friggin hot.  

She huffed and assessed the pros and cons.  Con one… the sand was friggin hot.  Pro one… so was she.  Con two… that sand.  Pro two…. her relocation might inspire the attention of the cute guy.  She loved this new suit and matching cover-up and admired herself through her shades.  Athletic bikini.  One of the best inventions ever.  She could play volleyball and and do split rockets in this baby.

She reached for her water and the solid block of ice it had been a few hours ago had surpassed lukewarm and was nudging gross.  She drank some anyway and looked over her glasses at the oh-my-God-so-cute guy at eight o’clock.  The water.  The sand.

“What a delicious day…” Her mom purred next to her, stretching like a well fed cat.   Alana hummed a tuneless song as she worked on a castle, for her purple haired mermaid, dribbling wet sand onto melting towers. Mom, rolled over, assessing her work, her eyes crinkling at the corners, and said, “The parapet is looking good.  Are you going to dig a moat around it?”    Alana looked at Mom, and paused her song, “Moat?”

Mom propped onto her elbows.  “A sort of defense, to protect a castle. You dig a trench around it and fill it with water… sometimes they would put scary animals like crocodiles in it to keep the bad guys away.”

Alanas blue eyes were wide for two seconds before they narrowed, “I knew that.”

“Water Dragons…”  Mom growled and clawed her hands with a sneer, but Alana was already humming again as she started scooping a circle around her Dali-esque structure.  Lucy pawed at the sand beside her.

MOM’s the water dragon.  

Tara yawned and rolled her head to stretch her aching muscles.  Coach Killer they should call her.  She must be trying to kill her.   All those laps of doubles, unders, butterfly, V-sits… Geeze,… was she psycho?    Her arms were killing her.  In between her ribs were killing her.  Who even knew there were muscles there?

She bowed her arms forward into a graceful O, curled her toes into a point and stretched forward, grabbing ahold of them, groaning.  She flexed her feet, and slipped her oily fingers between her toes and pulled forward more, her hamstrings protesting, her hair falling into a tent  around her face, shielding her from the sun suddenly shining hotly on the back of her head.  She rested her cheek on her shins and was face to face with Mom.  Tara groaned again.

“Breathe out…”  Mom crooned.  Tara groaned again with a dramatic flair, sinking further into the stretch.

“Gooooood….” Mom’s eyes crinkled again.

Tara sighed.  It helped.  She hated that it helped.

“I’m on vacation… can I just…”

“I’m shutting up…”

Mom watched Alana’s mermaid dig the moat.

“So are you going to the dance with Ahmed?”

Here it comes.  “I don’t know.”

“What do you think of him?”

Maybe Mom would think her cheeks were just sunburned.

“I don’t know…” she tossed back, casually.

Mom picked up her book and pretended to look at it.   Rilke. A flutter of wings and a squawk.  A couple of seagulls were looking with interest at the PBJ crusts by Tara’s chair.

“Well he’s certainly been attentive on the phone.  Where’s he from?”

Tara felt like she was back in school… the kids making fun of his name, and worse.  It wasn’t fair.

“Where all the wars are…”

Mom’s brow furrowed.  “Well that could be a bunch of places.  You don’t know?”

“I don’t know…” Tara heaved a sigh, like only a teenager can. Mom turned, her gaze landing on the tip of Emily’s long braid being pulled by the waves curling around her buried wrists, and wondered that her tomboyish child hadn’t insist that she cut it off yet.  She was glad of the girlieness it lent her.  The rash guard she wore, she understood, but she couldn’t understand her insistence on wearing the long boyish swim trunks as the aquatic equivalent of the rest of Emily’s closet.  T-shirts and baggy sweatpants. The few dresses that had been foisted upon her slammed nicely to the rear, their pretty colors only seeing the light of day when pulled out on special occasions, and only with a lot of protest and pouting.  Em’s fingers wriggled into the pocketed mounds of sand as the water pulled back again.  We are oceans away from each other… Oceans away…battles with my beloved’s girls… battles…war… Mom turned her attention back to her eldest and asked,

“What does his father do again?”

Tara slapped her magazine shut and leveled her mom with a look over her sunglasses. “MAAAAHHHMMM…”

“I’m stopping, I’m stopping already…” and she raised her hands in resignation and let her thoughts fall on the answers of the water.

Were there any?  This was something she did share with her girls.  This love of water.  She had taught them to respect it.  People who ended up in her waters heard similar speeches.  From the disabled, to Olympian, she parceled out her lessons in levels of droplets to deluges.

“Water has so many powers.  Most of our planet, and most of our bodies. are water … It is the source of life.  It has the power to refresh, the power to soothe an anxious mind, the power to heal.”

I need healing. 

Mom breathed it in.  Tara groaned.

“Yawn… it’ll oxygenate your blood.”  Mom suggested.

“I don’t have to yawn.”

Mom looked mischievous “just talking about it… think about it… Yaaaaawwwn…. say the word…”

“Mom…”

“Yawn…”  And sure enough, Mom’s green eyes started to water, the muscles of her throat tightened, “Yaaaaaaaawwn…”  and she did.

“Just because you yawn doesn’t mean that I’m going to Mom.”

Mom yawned again with a “Maaaaaaaawwwwmm…” and wiped the water from her eyes.

Tara rolled hers. “Maaaaawwmm!” but she felt the betrayal of her soft pallette dropping and knew.  She tried to keep her mouth shut but the tighteneing muscles of her own face finally won.

$#*+ she’s always friggin’ right!  as she sighed a huge relaxing yawn… right as the cute guy looked over.

Alana’s moat had grown exponentially thanks to Lucy, who was now butt up, sand flying, tail wagging, and pivoting in a circle. AS Tara’s lips were stretched,  jaw dropped, her tonsils exposed… the slow motion moment of Lucy’s ass aimed a maelstrom of sand under the umbrellas.

“LUCY!”  Mom screamed as Tara gagged and tried to shield herself with her magazine. A shower of sand fell onto their blonde heads and Mom charged out from under the umbrella.  Lucy’s butt waved at them and continued it’s barrage.  Tara spat and grabbed for her water bottle, and rinsed her mouth out, water sloshing everywhere.  Alana screeched as Mom caught Lucy’s collar, stopping to look, ears perked, over her shoulder before being distracted by a seagull, her squirrels of the sea.

Emily had never laughed so hard in her life. Her eyes glowed, and her diaphragm bounced a note of joy in an expanding radius that made everyone turn to watch.

Including cute boy.

Tara coughed, furious.  “Shut up Em, it’s not funny!”  Emily added to the offense with the addition of a finger pointing at the gagging Tara as she guffawed.  As if there wasn’t enough obnoxiousness to her braying laugh… Such a brat.   Tara was tempted to offer her a different finger, but was too busy gagging.

At this, Emily decided to add a bit of her own flair to the developing scene by grabbing her belly, doubling over and amping up the laughter to villainous hilarity.  Lucy’s butt pivoted in its oblivious arc, sending a shower of sand down on Emily, as her head tossed back into a diabolical howl.  Everyone laughed, except for Emily, who splashed her face with water and spat.   Tara wiped at her sticky lipgloss and shot a quick look to dreamy guy and caught a glimpse of that blinding smile, turning away from her direction and back to his buddy.  He gestured towards them, said something and they both laughed.  Tara turned her back to them mortified and took the bottle of water Mom was pressing into her hands.

Moms’ cell phone rang, “It’s Daddy.”  She put him on speakerphone.

“Hi Love.”

Instant chaos.

Dads voice blared over the screaming of an infant and an apparently furious yelling woman in the background as Tara and Emily recovered.

“Honey, I know we’re trying to be eco-friendly with the diaper thing, but I can’t do a darn thing with the cloth things, and… it’s just a mess, your sister is screaming on the phone with a client…and he’s crying… the baby is crying, I mean…not the client.  Although I certainly would be… Oh no… NO!  JASON… YOU DIDN’T.  Can you get up… Oh gross… geeze… Jason man, you’re killing me…”

Mom made a face as she heard him gag.

“Please come up to the house… Jason, dude… what did you do?”

Click.  Tone.  The four of them stared at the phone.

Emily splashed some sand from her eye.  “Dad got peed on again didn’t he?”

Tara and Mom looked at each other, suspecting worse.

Tara and Alana started giggling.  Mom got up from her towel, shaking her head and did that giggle that reminded Tara of her best friend, Grace.  Mom started packing the beach bag  “Ok girls…”

There was a cacophony of “NOOOOOOO” and  “Just a little longer…”  and “Pleeeeeease Mommy”’s.

Alana said, “Can’t Tara watch us?”

Even Emily, “Yeah, Tara can watch us.”

Tara sat up, suddenly all help and responsibility.  “I’ll totally watch them Mom.  Please?”

Mom arched an eyebrow like only mom’s can do, she could do that one eybrow Spock thing that Tara had inherited, and looked over the top of her sunglasses at Tara.

“You’re in charge.”

There was a general “Whoo Hoo!” and Lucy wagged harder as Mom started giving instructions.

“Em… you listen to your sister, and don’t swim out too far.  Tara, do not let them go out too far… and everyone needs, all of you need more sunscreen. Put more on Alana too, even though it’s gloppy.”  she tweaked her nose.  Alana’s lip stuck out a quarter inch.

“I’ll be back in half an hour.”  She kissed the pouting architect “I’ll be right back, Boo…”

Alana turned, “Moat, moat, moat… ”  Her purple haired mermaid growled at the imagined nightmare dripping before her.  Moms eyes did the crinckly thing.

With a “Lucy, stay… watch my girls.  I’ll be right back.”  she padded across the sand to the little beach house to her… something soaked men.

Tara applied gloppy white snot to Alana, wondering at the change in her little body.

She’s getting so big…

“Listen to Tara!”  Over her shoulder, hiking the dunes.

“I got it Mom!”  Tara responsibly schmeared Alana, and thought for a fraction of a second, that her mom really was as pretty as everyone said she was.  You wouldn’t see her face with the sun behind her, but she looked strong.  She really was strong…

Alana squished out of her hands.  Mom walked up the boardwalk.

“Emily come put on some sunscreen.”

Emily muttered. “You’re not the boss of me.”

“Mom said I was in charge…”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

“Fine.  Burn.”  Their eyes did.   “See if I care.”

Tara tossed the sunscreen aside and returned to magazine advice about boys, fuming, and resisting the urge to look at the cute one so as to perpetuate the cool thing… well not so cool after all the gagging and the drama, but there had been a moment of cool thing going on. She wasn’t about to go down to the water now.

Emily.  So annoying.  

She could look forward to laughing at her sister as she peeled and recoiled from the aloe green snot Mom would slop all over her.

Let her peel.  

Alana’s mermaid dove into the empty moat with a  “sploosh… ssshhhhh… glooooooopy monsters…” A bathing suited Barbie was added to the moat as Alana growled again.  “Arrrrrrrg” as Barbie screamed and went flying cresting over Alana’s head, landing on her feet, her head cocked curiously towards the water.

Emily was next to notice the cresting fins of dolphins off the coast.   Her jaw dropped.  She gasped as one leapt high above the water, and called as if he were speaking just to her, squeaking

“I heard your laugh! What was so funny?”  

And Emily heard him.  “This is mine…” she thought.

She wanted to have an experience that was hers and only hers.  She cast a quick look over her shoulder to her preoccupied sisters, Tara was sucked into her stupid magazine and she kept looking at the stupid boys when a volleyball was produced and tossed from friend to cute guy, to friend to cute guy to friend…  Tara was pretending not to watch and trying to get their attention at the same time.  Weird.  Alana was geeking with her Barbies.  She was so cute.

“What was so funny?”  the dolphin laughed.

Emily swam out farther… it’ll be like Dolphin Tale.

Lucy had been eyeing a sea gull… Mom called them sea squirrels…

Up… that was a good movie… the talking dog was spot on.  “Squirrel!”

Lucy started to whimper, and move towards the waves anxiously, Tara told her to hush without looking away from the tan muscles and floppy hair… the volleyball game had her undivided attention.  As the boys began to chuck it at each others heads, catching it with some impressive athletics and a lot of gleaming fun teeth, Lucy continued to whimper and bark towards the water.

Alana, who had found her moat was lacking a key element, tucked her mermaid in the sand, and to took her bucket to the edge of the water to remedy the situation… her steps slowing when she too, heard the call of the dolphins and saw her sister swimming out to them.

What were you laughing at? 

“Loooook” she cooed inaudibly, scurrying across the sand, her index finger leading her, pointing to them for Tara, whose fingers twirled mindlessly in her hair.

Emily had stampeded through the breakers, but slowed as she neared the dolphins, laughing, and glowing.  Alana padded into the saltiness to catch up with her.  Emily was suddenly surrounded with them, and her shoulders eased as one nuzzled under her armpit and laughed with her.   Magic.

Alana pointed “Look Tawa…”

The water sang.

Cute guy’s friend feigned a hands to  face “Oops so sorry, can’t believe I did that”  apology as the ball rolled past cute guy to Tara.  Tara palmed it like a water-polo ball and tossed it back to cute guy that was…

O.M.G…. trotting over in slow motion.  

her sunglasses lowered, but not towards Alana, was more interested in the dolphins laughing with her sister.  She waded in, turning her jumping heart to the dolphins.

We will be friends…won’t we? she thought to the dolphins…and they heard her, and one turned to meet her with a

Yes...   and she believed them.

“Whoa!  That’s quite an arm… what do you play?”

“Kinda.  I’m not very good though…”

His blue eyes saw her.  “You look like you could handle it pretty well… what are you a dancer or something?”

“I can handle things…”  Some of the flirtiness that she had intended rang bitter.  She’d been handling four hour practices, six days a week, in all weather, for years now.  She’d been handling her younger sisters for years, and now the baby brother. She’d changed diapers, coached the novice girls, and been a good student.  MOM… that was a whole other thing.   She could handle things.

“So are you?” he persisted.

“Kinda.”  This conversation had a tendency to go weird sometimes.  Respect or ridicule… she’d received both on this subject.

To tell or not to tell… that is the question…

“Mysterious… okaaaayyy… am I supposed to guess?”

Why not?

“I’m a synchronized swimmer.”

“Bullshit…”

“Seriously.”

“Like that stuff where you go upside down in the water with your legs all like crazy?” He flailed his arms in an attempt to demonstrate.

Tara nodded.

 

“…and you have to wear those things on your nose?” he pinched his nose and made a face.

“Yup.”  Here it comes. Which will it be?  

“Man that looks so hard.  How do you hold your breath that long?”  He didn’t wait for an answer because he humphed a laugh and perked his eyes to her.  “Hey have you ever seen…”

She anticipated the Martin Short and Christopher Guest imitations would commence momentarily. The infamous SNL skit…

The first time she had seen it, she had been a little… ok not a little a lot… ok completely self righteously defensive.  Synchronized swimming was a real sport.  Anyone who has ever even attempted a ballet leg could attest to that.  And here these guys were making it look ridiculous.  It had taken her a couple of years to develop a sense of humor about it.

Synchro.  It was kinda silly… ok really friggin funny, sometimes.  Mom had had to have some serious talks with overzealous parents to remind them, “It’s just synchronized swimming… we wear jello in our hair, point our toes, and stick ‘em out of the water.  Let them enjoy it!”   Martin Short and those guys were so genius so nailed it.

Cute guy delivered the prophesied imitation.  “I’m not a strong swimmer…”

Tara corrected him as Christopher Guest, “No, no, no, you’re not angry  you’re just pointing at him, ‘Hey you… I know you… I know you…”  Cute guy joined in. They were pointing at each other, and laughing, when he paused, and the moment slowed to a breathless heartbeat as he said, “I know you…”

It was like in Avatar… that “I see you” but “see” was seeing on a deeper, more into your soul you kind of thing.  Tara’s stomach did a fluttery thing.

The cute friend trotted over.

“Dude… stop bogarting the ball… who’s this?”

“I don’t know… who, pray tell, is this?” blue eyes found green again.  “Tara.” Her hand went out.  He took it.  “Tara… cool.”  He didn’t release her hand, but started pulling her towards the nets.  “Come play… c’mon..”

“I really shouldn’t.”  she cast a longing look up to the beach house for any sign of reprieve.  No Mom.

Come on…” he tossed his hair out of his eyes, “come play with us… let’s see what you got.”  Cheesy.  Blue met green, her heart beat stupidly anyway.

“I’ve got to watch my stupid sisters.”  She looked back to Alana and she wasn’t there.  “My sisters…” her eyes darted towards the water, finally lifting to the horror of  her sisters surrounded by fins.

“Oh my God…

 Like lightning, she was on her feet, pounding the sand, oblivious to the heat, and screamed.  “ALANA!  EM!  Get back in here right NOW!”

“Chillax already!  They’re friendly!”  Emily shouted back.

“They’re wild!  This isn’t Sea World!” she yelled splashing in, feeling for the right place to dive.

“Come see, Taywa!” Alana encouraged her.

They did seem friendly, and her sisters were glowing. The dolphins were like one of the family tickle fights.  But dolphins could defend against sharks.  They could do damage.  They were wild.  They were all over her sisters.  And she was in charge.

“Come ON!  You guys shouldn’t be out so far!  they can be… Get over here Em!”

“Make me!” Emily spit water at her sister as another dolphin cozied under her arm.

I’ll make her.  

A wave presented itself and Tara dove into the cooling warm water.  The rush of water was peppered with the pops and squeals of the dolphins, and was that a giggle from Alana?  They sounded so alike.  She surfaced, and found them closer, but moving quickly out.

This isn’t a game of tag!  

Tara heard them laughing. She crawled head up, towards them, her eyes squinting as the light bounced on the water.  She could pick out Alana’s little toes pointing out of the water, and going crookedly down in a split spin, and the flash of her smile when she surfaced so, so, so scarily far away.

She’s dancing with them… they’re moving so fast…

She pulled harder, but the dolphins were faster than Tara was.  Then she saw it… a river-like shimmer just to the right of them.  They were heading right towards it.

It felt like she still hand sand inner throat.  A wave splashed into her mouth.  “EM!  Look over there!  EMILYYYYYYyyyy!”

Emily saw her sister approaching and wished that Tara would just shut up.  The sun was too perfect.  The dolphins were too perfect.  Emily spun Alana around in a move she remembered from the Stronger routine and they laughed as they shimmied down.

Tara can’t take this away.

She couldn’t keep up anyway.  The dolphins were so powerful, and so friendly.  Surely they would bring them back.  Emily deliberately turned her back as Tara’s head disappeared behind a wave.  The river shimmer was sparkling as if electricity was coursing through it.  Tara had never seen anything like it.  The light… it was everywhere…

This was more than just sun.

Something is really weird here… this is weird.  

Emily’s head reappeared just a few feet from the current.  Alana tackled her with a squeal and they both went under, toes pointed.  They were five feet from the current.

But it was like Tara was swimming through glue.  She couldn’t get to them.  The sky was an explosion of light and color.  Her legs eggbeatered underneath her as she put her hands to her mouth.  “EM look OUT!” but they were too far, the ocean too loud, their ears too full of water, and hearts too full of rebellion and joy to hear her.  Tara took a look towards shore, and saw the two guys watching, while Lucy barked in the surf in front them.  Cute guy had started to wade out.

“GET MY MOM!!!”  She yelled and pointed towards the house up the dune.

She felt the water go colder and got smacked in the face with another wave.  She wiped her eyes.  Cute guy had his hand to his ear and hollered inaudibly shaking his head.  She yelled again, and the guys turned to each other to interpret as Tara turned back to her sisters.  They were inches away from whatever that was…  Her eyes must be playing tricks on her now because there were suddenly spots of lights illuminating the air and below the surface of the water in that current.  Tara screamed to them.

“Remember what Mom said about the RIPTIDE!”

But it was too late.  Emily giggled and splashed away from an advancing Alana who jumped into her arms.  Dolphins leapt around them, their bodies arching and glittering in the magic of water when around them when it caught them, and the ride suddenly turned scary.

“ALANAAAAAAAAAaaaa!!! EM!!!”  Tara started swimming faster than she ever had in her life.  Their heads were getting smaller and smaller as they were sucked out.  She looked to the beach again, and cute guy was struggling past the breakers.   His friend started running up the dune towards her house.   Lucy continued to bark, spinning circles the submerged sand as her focus shifted between the girls and the house, the waves buffeting her back.

Alana and Em were almost completely out of sight.  Tara put her face in the water and pulled harder towards them, breathing on threes, diving under waves, and listening for her sisters.  But there was nothing but the water.  The whole pod was gone.  Her brain started rapid firing through the things Mom had said about riptides, how to survive them, and prayed that her sisters had paid attention too. She was getting closer to it.  If Mom didn’t come to the beach in the next couple of minutes, that she was going to be swept into the only solution she could think of to catch them.  She herself was one of the strongest swimmers she knew.  She could bring them back.  She would bring them back.

I will bring them back.

The warm water cooled a couple of degrees on her skin, and she felt a tug on the flimsy cover-up she was still wearing.  It was close.  She looked to the beach-house and called for Mom one more time, but her voice was lost in the musical roll of the waves.  Mom wasn’t there.  All hope of rescue from another source, were gone.

I will bring them back.  OMG.  Oh My God.  Oh God.  What do I do? What should I do? 

Tara had seen the miracle of what lifeguards can do when they saved Alana during that class… that class when she lost her kickboard and ended up being used as one by another little girl in the glass.  She’d gone down.  Little Alana… down on the bottom… the seconds… slow motion.

So scary… thought we lost her…  I’ve lost her… and Em… No… No… No…

Amid the clamor, arose the distant memory of a show she’d seen on one of those TV survival things her dad watched on National Geographic or Discovery or whatever.  Some scientist had said something about going with the current, don’t try to swim to the land, try to go parallel to it… but this one was going straight out.  She wished Dad was here with her now.  Her throat tightened more.  But he wasn’t here. And her sisters were somewhere ahead of her, or God forbid, somewhere below.

No time for emotion.

The current was faster than she ever could be.  It was calling to her. She held her breath and dove in, muscles long and streamlined, and felt the water chill churning around her, felt it’s humming through her veins, and let go.  Her right arm pushed the water under her in one last powerful thrust, and her flesh tingled with a kind of electricity that was more than goosebumps.  Her ears filled with a humming, haunting, otherworldly sound, and she was suddenly surrounded by the lights dancing in the air and water around her.

What is this?  These lights?  Alana, Em…God help me find them.  

Her head cranked hard to the right, her nostrils filled with salt water, rushed down the back of her throat, and WHOOSH…

She was gone.

Introduction to Winning Presentations

 Introduction to Winning Presentations

I have spent many years teaching people of all ages, abilities, and disabilities, how to swim.  The first thing I teach them is, not kicking, or arm strokes, or blowing bubbles out of their noses… bubbles come second… I teach them how to go to the safest place to be in the water… I teach them to float on their backs.  Many of them are so terrified of sinking that their bodies become rigid bricks and they find themselves flailing, choking, and sinking, never knowing that they were the ones making it happen, not the water.  I approach them with a quiet energy and say “Cha-Cha-Cha… Chin Back- Chest Up- Chill Out.”  I put what I call my mermaid music on my Neptune SwimP3 under the water, and eventually the bricks in their bodies soften into malleable clay and suddenly they find that when they relax, chin back, chest up and chilled out, they can float, fly and even dance through water.  Cha-Cha- Cha.

I have found that this chant transfers well to land.  When going into unfamiliar waters, like an interview, class, or board room full of CEO’s, an adjustment of the chin can help you breathe.  Lungs full of air and a proud chest can help you float through challenges.  Chilling out, softens the bricks into malleable, movable muscles.  Cha-cha cha.

Between 8 and 18% of people suffer from Aquaphobia. Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking.  According to the VCU syllabus for Winning Presentations,  “65% of people fear speaking in public speaking enough to avoid it, 25% have no problems with it and only 10% have real phobias about it.”

What is it exactly that people fear most about speaking in public? That their audience won’t like them, and even more than that, they fear that they’ll forget what to say. Because of this, people unconsciously spend most of their time working on slides… their cue card crutches,  and wait until just before the presentation to practice their delivery, if they practice out loud and on their feet at all.

That problem has magnified because of the invention of software programs like Power Point that make it easy to create slides. If you are like most people, you have fallen under the spell of the power point pixie dust that sets you up to believe that if you make a good slide show, you’ll be able to turn your back-side to your audience, read the slides to them, and be considered a good presenter.

Regardless of your backside,  who you are and what you do… be you a student, job applicant, employee, or employer… your success depends upon how well you communicate with others. Communication is key, and it requires that you develop the skills to run a class, a meeting, pitch an idea, and motivate anyone and everyone to invest their time energy and money into your idea.

Winning Presentations dispels the “conventional myths” that shape our attitudes about speaking in public and add to our anxiety. There is no imagining of the audience in their underwear in here… (the audience gets to keep their clothes and integrity).  Students will learn acting techniques, exercises, and games that will help them transform their fear, into excitement.  They will learn how to avoid being a side show to their slide show.  I have seen even the shyest of students learn how to take the podium, take the mike, take the space, and make their ideas heard in a dynamic, creative, engaging way.

I was one of those terrified shy kids myself.  The first time I ever stood on a stage I burst into tears.  I understand fear.  I outgrew and outworked it. Taking drama in high school taught me to, as the great acting coach Stanislavsky preached, “Act as if” I wasn’t shy.  I learned to assume the attributes of people that I considered to be “normal”, and even powerful.  I get to create who I am.  I have spent decades on stage, in front of cameras, and classrooms in a vast range of roles since then.  A friend recently called me a “career communicator”, and teaching others how to do what I have done, has been empowering and life changing.

It is never too late, or too soon, to learn to speak with authority, gravity, humor, and grace.  Allow me to help your students  present with preparedness and panache.  Moving forward without fear may just change their lives too.  They may just turn it into a dance.

Cha- Cha-Cha.

Aquatic Abuse Issues

Three minutes from the end of practice, one of my wee ones was a searching for a lost nose clip.   Two girls posed, waiting for their cue and for the water to clear of the child.  The clock stampeded towards 11am. We lose the lanes at 11.

She surfaced, goggled and gap-toothed smiling “I found it!”  holding it triumphantly aloft.

“Up up up… places!”  I helped her out of the water and hurried her out of the way of as she clambered onto the deck, nose-clip gripped in her “fin”.  The water was clear.

“WHISTLE!”  The girls struck their opening pose,  I hit play and music pumped into the water and air.  Two synchronized swimmers dove in.

People had been collecting poolside.  Some clapped and talked to their friends in the hot tub smiling in admiration.  I frequently get questions or comments from the regulars as to how well the girls have pulled together…  Some tell stories of how they did synchro when they were younger or talk of Esther Williams.  Some stroll by with interest as they carry their kick boards to the crowded open lane.

Some pace, complaining loudly to the lifeguards who inform them that the team is allowed until 11am, to use three lanes.

A few days ago, one older man watched the clock like a vulture.  Perhaps I should have been watching the clock instead of the children so closely.  It was now officially a minute or two past 11.  He got into the water and stroked angrily forward as the girls levitated above the water in ways that leave most people agog at what the human body is capable of.  This man wanted to swim.  Now.  The girls piked simultaneously and pointed their toes into splits pointed directly at the one I will call Angry Man although I really want to call him another A word.

The rest of this happened in slow motion.

The girls were following the direction of a flawed coach who told them to swim a one and a half minute routine just one more time before hitting the showers.  By now their splits had the girls upside down with their backs to Angry Man.  They could not see him.

He could see them, though. He was wearing goggles.  He kept swimming toward them.  I thought He knows they are there… he saw them before he started.  He’s doing freestyle.  He can see them, maybe he’ll go around them….  He wouldn’t dare…

But he would.  He did.  It was too late for me to yell a warning to them, and they wouldn’t have heard if I had because they were under water with their ears full of music.  He plowed into them. It was deliberate.

One of the girls surfaced and stopped, startled.  Angry Man continued as if nothing had happened.  She collected herself and they finished the last thirty seconds of their duet managing to dodge the man, and met me on deck a minute later for notes.  Her eyes were wide, and she was holding her arm protectively.

“Are you ok?” was the first thing I asked her.

She was quiet.  Then she looked to the lane shyly.  “That man, he grabbed me and shoved me.” She clawed her hand in imitation of the move he had used on her.  It was ugly.   I hadn’t seen what had happened under the water, just the collision above.  I looked at her arm and saw red skin.

Then I saw red.

Seething, and wanting to confront the man, I restrained myself for the moment and did what I felt right.  I went to the aquatics director.  She was in the middle of a private lesson in the warm water pool. I told her what had happened and pointed him out.  She groaned.  Apparently Angry Man is a regular at the pool, and has been disruptive and difficult in the past.  She checked the swimmer, and she was fine, but shaken.  No permanent damage, no broken skin, but what happened has happened before. It happened again yesterday in a shocking way from a staff member, and is likely to happen again.  This is a phenomenon that I have witnessed in pools across the country.

The lifeguards get the bulk of the complaining.  I understand that they are getting an earful of venom from members spouting about how they pay for a membership to swim, and they shouldn’t have to share a lane with other swimmers.  But our young swimmers are members too, as are their parents.  Not only that, they pay extra to be a part of the synchro program. They are not only current members but they are the next generation and are likely to be members for decades perhaps. So the argument of Angry Man and his ilk doesn’t… pardon the pun… hold water.

I wasn’t an eye witness to the incident with the frustrated lifeguard dragging the lane line on top of another of my girls, clocking her on the head.  I was furious to hear of it from the mothers who did.  Our lifeguards are supposed to be protecting all of the people in the pool… Yes… even the young ones.  Cranky though they may be at the vitriolic spewings of entitled members, they shouldn’t be taking it upon themselves to physically punish the synchro swimmers for the mistakes of their coach.

That mans rage, and that lifeguards frustration should have been aimed at me.  I’m a big girl.  I’m the coach and I’m the one responsible.  I can take it.  My practices sometimes run long.  I’m passionate about what I do and so are the girls and sometimes in the moment, I lose track of time, or try to squeeze just one more drop out of it.  I need to end practices with more punctuality, no matter how much the girls or I want one more run of a routine, even if the meet is this weekend.  Angry Man or Frustrated Lifeguard can come talk to or even yell at me.  They  can go to the aquatics director or managers and complain as much as they like.  They could even get me fired.  I would rather lose my job than see even one of my girls get hurt, let alone two in two weeks.

This problem needs to be addressed. We are part of an athletic club and our pool  is also the home of water aerobics, swim teams, classes and private lessons that take space.  If anyone gets mad at the water aerobics classes, I’ve not heard of it.  I don’t hear of members infuriated because there is a yoga class going on in Studio B and isn’t available for private use.  If a personal trainer is working with a client on a piece of equipment, do the other members physically assault them for taking too long?

I’m not sure what was going on in the head of Angry Man, or any of the multitudinous angry people that I have seen behave this way.  I have occasionally seen it as I taught regular swim lessons with happily kicking and splashing children and we have been yelled at by angry members in the water who don’t want to get wet.  (I know.  Hairdo or no… if you don’t want to get wet, don’t get in the water.)  These are the type of people I  imagine going to a dog park wearing expensive white pants and getting pissed when a friendly dog gets them dirty.  They look for and create excuses to vent. To lash out.  Sad.

I go into practices trying to be as respectful of everyones work out as I can, and still serve my team.  Synchro usually requires four or five lanes, however we are frequently squished into just one.  Oddly, I have had angry swimmers look at a four lane pool with one or two regular lap swimmers in each lane, and then deliberately choose to get into the one lane with three synchro girls dancing in it to prove… what exactly…?  What is it that makes someone attempt to destroy the practice of hard working people obviously training for a competition or show, who are already cramped?  Why not choose the lane with the one or two normal lap swimmers going back and forth?  It has happened to me in masters practices as well.  What makes someone opt for the lane with a group going upside down and spinning when they themselves want to go back and forth like the other traditional swimmers sharing only a lane or two away?    Anyone?  Anyone?

I understand that the water is a safe haven for a lot of people… maybe they’ve had a bad day, or a disappointing life and they just want to get in to do laps and zone out. I so get that.  Maybe they’ve been told they need to swim for therapy and this is the only time they can come.  Finding a pool full of children dancing to music pumping under the water, can be disappointing.  I get that, too.  It’s why public pools have “Adult Swim”  and “Family Time”.

But being frustrated and disappointed does not justify assault or battery of a child.  And that is what happened to two of my swimmers in two weeks.  Battery.

My team is allowed three lanes for an hour and a half on Saturday mornings.  I try to be sensitive to  lap swimmers and if my numbers are small, I’ll only take two of our three allotted lanes until their warm ups are done and we take the third.  Our growing team is looking for an assistant coach, but for now I have parent volunteers who miss out on their own work-out time to help keep the girls respectful of other swimmers.  One of the key advantages to this is that when curious onlookers, or potentially angry people ask questions or complain, the parents can talk about the sport, our program, and what synchro has done for their child and family.

I would like to suggest we get the lifeguards and staff on board with some synchro social outreach.  When confronted with an angry member, let’s have staff respond with reports of how the girls have improved.  Let the entitled ones know that they have a meet or show coming up, or that the team won several gold, silver and bronze medals last year.  At the very least, remind them that although they are children, they and their parents are dues paying members too.  It’s like any other specialty class.

And it is unlike any other class.  I want our members to find synchro so fascinating that they spread the word about it, enroll their own children, bring their friends, or get in the water to try it themselves.  I would love to begin a masters program or Sychro Fit classes for anyone who wants to heal or get stronger in the water.  I’d like to organize a Splash Mob with the aquatics staff, parents, and employees to surprise our members at the water park this summer.

But most of all… most importantly… I want my swimmers safe.

It seems to me that it would be common sense not to hurt a child, but apparently there are differing opinions among our members and sadly even pool staff.  I can do my part, by ending practice in a more timely way, and easing some of the frustration.  But that isn’t enough.  I’d like to bring this to the attention of the general membership of my club, synchro coaches, teams, parents, and the community of traditional swimmers that share the water with a synchro team anywhere.  I don’t want to create problems, I want to solve a big one.

Because hurting kids for being athletes is not ok.  Not in my water…

Ever.

 

Mom the Manners Master

MOM THE MANNERS MASTER

Mom was good at orchestrating things.  She could pull miracles together like an artist… a wizard even. She effortlessly put together Thanksgiving/ Christmas, and corporate dinners where everything got to the table at the perfect temperature with the homemade cranberry sauce chilled, the soup, and gravy warm, the wine glasses filled and the turkey cooked to perfection mere seconds after the guests had time to unwind with a genius creative cocktail.   The effortless aspect was a part of the wizzardry.

She masterminded fundraisers that left folks agog at the centerpieces, the food was spectacular, and because of a seemingly spontaneous comment or question, conversations flowed organically.  She had a way of negotiating her way around a room, being a smart, funny, six foot, classy light of a woman.  She could make everyone she encountered feel special and heard, and her laugh put even the shyest of people at a happy ease.  She was a manners master.  As a debutant and daughter of a Navy Captain, she had to perfect her societal protocol at a young age, and it served her well.  In her life and later career, she met presidents, (JFK apparently had FBI proposition her at one point… she politely refused…) interviewed their wives, (she and Nancy Reagan really hit it off…) and her protocol was spot on.  She was known in international circles as a smart savvy powerful woman.  I knew her as Mom, the inventor of “Manners Day.”

I so clearly remember wrestling in doorways with my little brother Bill, as he would muscle past me, all buck teeth and crew-cut- cute, hollering “BOYS FIRST!”  This did not somehow work for Mom, or me for that matter.  Cute..for now….even kind of funny with all the elbows all over the place, and the gruntings, and yeah… we were totally giggling.  Cute now… but when that pup grows up… not so much.  So in suburban VA, Mom invented “Manners Day”.

Manners Day actual started off as “Manners Mondays”.  We said “Yes Sir”, “No Ma’am” “Please” and “Thank you”. Of course there was no swearing.  After I went to college my language loosened a bit and when I accidentally let an obscenity slip, Dad always shook his head and said, “There’s nuthin’ worse than a pretty girl cussin’.”  Mom would occasionally drop the f-bomb, but it was always followed by the phrase “a duck” so it softened the impact a bit. And the slip happened so rarely that if she did use that rhyme, you knew she was reeeeaaaaally pissed.  In my thirties I became a Sunday School teacher for two to five year olds, and nothing will clean up your language faster than stubbing your toe in front of a room full of wide eyed children.  I found that Mom and Dad were, yet afriggin’casafrassin’, right again.

For our table manners tutorials, Mom would deck out the table like something out of Downton Alley.  Besides wearing something civilized… (ie: no black t-shirts with decomposing corpses or band logos on them…)  Bill pulled out my chair. I crossed my legs at the ankles, kept my knees together, and we put our napkins in our laps.  We passed dishes around the table clockwise so that nobody had to do that awkward eight handed thingy that happens so often at holidays with one relative precariously balancing Grandma’s china gravy boat on it’s dish in attempt to get it to Grandma, the but the turkey dish is passing in front of their face like the Millennium Falcon as Aunt Pooky asks for the butter.

And we never, ever, ever put our elbows on the table.  It didn’t take long for us to discover that Dad’s fingers were powerfully strong and lightning quick.  After years of bow hunting as a teenager he could be very sneaky with them.  He’d see an elbow on the table, pause to see if we would remember our manners on our own, and if that realization was late in coming, his fingers would strike out like a snake, his middle finger aimed in the crosshairs of his mind directly at our funny bones. BAP our elbows would be knocked back two feet.  We’d cuss, (inwardly and silently of course) rub our elbows, sit up straighter and continue our “Square Meal”.

The term “Square Meal” comes from Grandaddy, the Captain.  A distinguished Navy career, his commanding attitude, and choice of a blue blooded wife, left no doubt as to where Mom learned her skills.  Grandaddy’s men, children, and grandchildren were expected to be able to sit at tables with those negotiating the nuances of the Panama Canal, Gitmo, and Kennedy’s inaugural ball.  The bar was set high.  This meant that you didn’t bring your head down to your food, slouching like a starved animal shoveling in the kill, half masticated meat dangling from the mouth, and snarling, “Don’t steal my fries!”  Instead they, and we, were trained to use our silverware from the outside in, cut our meat without sawing the table in two or sloshing the water glasses, calmly get a small portion onto the proper utensil, and bring it, fork handle horizontal, tongs up,  vertically in front of us until it was head level.  Then the fork was brought into the mouth, thus creating a ninety degree angle. We then put our utensil out, down, and chewed, mouths closed, while listening attentively to whoever was talking, completing the second ninety degree angle. Square Meals.

Against every instinct in our bodies, we learned not to hoard the coveted things like Mom’s homemade biscuits, dwindling butter, the dark meat of the turkey, or chocolate ice cream for ourselves.   Whenever we got into coveting food like a diminishing water supply on a lifeboat, Mom would remind us of a roommate of hers.  This familialy infamous oaf had once served herself at a function by receiving the dish of asparagus that was being passed, and proceeded to chop the tender heads off of all of them, and passed along the tougher stalks for everyone else at the table to share while she enjoyed the buttery tender good stuff.  It made enough of an impression on Mom that she was telling us the story, her face reddening, temples pulsing, her more deadly wizarding powers bubbling just beneath the surface, decades later.

I was reminded of this story when I was hosting a party in graduate school and had purchased a couple of ounces of paté.  Not everyone is a fan of goose liver, but a schmear on a cracker is divine for some, and I’d invested more than my budget could allow to provide a little something decadent to my guests.  An engaging group was sitting around enjoying the nuances of it, and….I don’t know who the guy was, a friend of a guest, God bless his heart, but a blundering  guy… heard them talking about the paté’s awesomeness.  He picked up the remaining ounce (ie: ten servings) and ingested it in one bite, grimacing as he swallowed.  “Ew…that’s disgusting…”  My guests were slack-jawed.  I exercised some aching muscles on keeping my mouth shut, my own wizarding death powers percolating. I found it as difficult to be gracious as he found to swallow.  Battles and the times for them must be chosen carefully. I was probably the only one thinking of asparagus at the time, but I have attempted since then to be particularly conscientious of peoples potentially limited resources.  That includes limited education on manners. Mom and Dad made sure that Bill and I would not bungle ourselves into any such breach.  Not on their watch.

As with anything between siblings, Manners Day became a weapon. We’d flap  cloth napkins annoyingly in each others faces and hiss “Pfffsssssssssssssst”  at each other as if aghast at the other being so rude as to leave their napkin on the table instead of placing it in their lap!  It became a running bit among the family for years after our training had stopped and there were times when he entire kitchen table looked like a jewish wedding with all of the flapping hankies.

And on Manners Day I loooooooooved that when no matter what argument we may be having, I won a little bit every time Bill the Brat had to open the door for me.  I would sweep past him like the bloody queen, shoulders down, neck long, chin high, beaming while he glowered.  He’d occasionally throw in an exaggerated Shakespearian bow and “Milady…”.  I loved that.  However, on days that weren’t Manners Day my brother began to needle me with rudeness when Mom wasn’t around.  I’d roll my eyes as he’d stampede ahead, slamming the door in my face and I wrestled to open my own doors to find him gloating on the other side.

Biiiilll…

He’d launch into “It’s not Manners Day!” before I could finish my whine.

Bill was about eleven years old when Mom rounded the corner and overheard this mantra, and quickly deduced what had been happening.

“Bill. Door.  Manners Day.”

“Mom EVERYDAY is Manners Day….” he groaned as he held open the door for her.

Exactly.”  She breezed past him.  Grinning to herself, He finally gets it.

I thought That’s how it’s done.

My brother and I actually had a really cool moment years later.  He was beginning to date, and had been seeing a long haired pretty girl in the cast of one of my shows.  He was helping me into a coat one Christmas, and as I shrugged into it he patted my back affectionately.  Aww.  I turned to him, “Hey Brat…” I leaned in like I was gonna sell him a watch…this was good stuff… “Next time you help Jessica with her coat, pull her hair out of the back of it… she’ll love it.”   I had dated someone recently that had surprised me with this additional thoughtful gesture, and it had earned that young man a kiss.  It apparently worked for my brother  too… he thanked me… a couple of times over the years.

It has been frustrating to some degree to have such high standards in my own dating life.  Many a gorgeous, brilliant man has dropped a ball that they never knew was in play.  They never knew that the charm of their six pack abs, smile or conversation was marred by witnessing their mouth full of food.  They didn’t hear me telepathically telling them to open the door.  It didn’t occur to them to keep me safe and treat me like the lady I was trained to be.

I’m currently dating  someone… not a CEO or a country clubber, but a blue collar guy, tattooed and straight talking.  He has such commendable manners that it has drawn comments from friends, family and even from random mothers of young children in parking lots.  He opens the car door for me, and once when he took my hand as I stepped in,  I overheard a woman addressing her two boys, “See how he opened the door for her?  That’s how you treat a lady.”  It was like witnessing a mini- manners day, and I found myself smiling and tearing up a bit as she approached him and thanked him for his example.  On our first date, my eyebrow had raised a bit when he do-si-do’ed me to the inside of the sidewalk, and I flashed back to nine years old.   Dad scootched me to his other side when a car was approaching in a deliberate, but seemingly completely random move.  Confused, I asked why he always did that with Mom and I, and he explained, “I’m protecting you from traffic, or anyone that might be coming towards us.  It’s what a gentleman does.”

It’s self sacrifice.  It’s a conscious “I’ll take the hit for you.”  I think I realized at that moment that Dad would die to protect me.  I was humbled.  It is the ultimate gift of service.  And I took it for granted.

And when I think of self sacrifice… one name pops into my head more than any other.

Ultimately good manners is trying to be as classy as Christ. His top charges to us are at the core of good manners.  He told us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Be a servant to them.  So when someone is needing an ear, listen to them.  Hear them, when they need to be heard.  Instead of contriving ways to avoid the pain in the butt job  that no-one else wants, ask how you can help.  When you are working with a team, volunteer to do the job no-one else wants.  Organize the paperwork.  Do the filing.  Change the diaper. Take out the trash.  If you didn’t cook, then do the dishes.  When resources are limited, give anyway.  Protect each other.  Be graceful in how you deal with things that bug you… things like slammed doors, sore elbows, and flapping napkins.  Forgive the indiscretions of those taking the best of the asparagus, the last of the paté, and of those driving nails into your hands and feet.

That’s how it’s done.

That’s how you have good manners.

Love each other like He did.

And I thought Mom was a tough act to follow…

Transforming TRI

The wind pelted the rain into us as the producer pointed towards the choppy waters of the Potomac River.  “Our actors will jump in here, swim a couple of strokes out, then loop back around and come out the ramp on the other side.  Wendy will be doing the whole course which goes several hundred yards out past the bridge, then back around to finish the mile.”  I clutched my coat around me, looking down the banks towards the bridge.  September, and I was already shivering.  

 “There will be cameras on the banks of the river, a camera shooting down from the bridge, there’ll be cameras in kayaks, and a swimmer in the water with a Go-pro.”  

 My hand went up.  “The character I’m doubling… her clavicle was broken…  Will I have to swim this entire mile lopsided?”  I was only slightly reassured.  “Once you get past the bridge by a couple hundred yards, you can just swim normally.”  

Past the bridge.  Half a mile.  Upstream.  Open water. Cold.  

 The distance marking buoys were being placed by men in a dirty little power boat.  200, 400, 1200, the numbers kept growing bigger, and my mouth growing drier at the thought of what I had to do tomorrow.  People train for triathlons for months.  Years.  I had been given 24 hours.  I’d be swimming a mile.  I’ve done it before, but not in open water, up stream.  Not without a wetsuit because the cameras needed to pick up the mottled bruise on my left clavicle.  Not without building up to that kind of distance.  Synchro requires doing a variety of movements using different muscles every few seconds.  Doing the same movement repeatedly and extendedly is entirely different.  And I wasn’t doing nationals this year… my time at the pool had been more coaching than swimming… I’m not in shape. But I’d been cast in a movie.  I was the best swimmer they had.  The job fell to me.  I had to bring it.  

 I didn’t sleep the night before. My alarm went off at 2am for a winding drive to the parking lot where the film crew was setting up a few miles from the race.  I sat in the make up chair at 3am while a grotesque, angry bruise was painted onto my shoulder.  My age “28” was sharpied on the back of my calf (a high point… Yeah, we were shooting from a distance, but I can still play 28, people). An early fall chill nipped the air.  We made our way past the thousands of athletes and supporters of the Nations Triathlon.  An announcement rang over the loud speakers.  “Wet suits are permissible in this race!”  That meant that the water was colder than it had been the day before.  Fart.  I couldn’t wear one because it wasn’t in the costuming cards.  I had to show off my artfully bruised collarbone.  I buried my nose into my parka for every last vestige of warmth I could gather into my body.  

They marked a number on my arm.  They put a band with a chip around my ankle to tally times… left ankle so that it wouldn’t interfere with the chains of the bike I wouldn’t be riding, thank God.  Port-o-potty with the masses.  No trailers.  No base camp.  No support besides my rock star boyfriend who drove, God bless him, carried gear, chairs, and prayed with me before I was escorted past the unending wave of athletic humanity to the water’s edge, where I had to leave him to go to the dock.   

 The producer waited with me.  The grimy froth of trash and debris lapping around the corners of the dock had been skimmed off the day before.  I wouldn’t have to dodge plastic bottles.  I had that going for me.  The wave we were looking for was women in their twenties in pink caps.  I was to swim out to the 1400 mark, wave my arms to the camera operators to help them find me in the mass of pink-capped humanity, do several strokes of my lopsided freestyle, then switch to breast stroke to “take in the architecture of the bridge… she has never seen the view from this perspective.” However, when the busy guy orchestrating the swimming portion of the actual race discovered that the agreed- upon signal to the camera folks was waving my arms, he informed us that it was forbidden because it would cue the lifeguards to drag me out. 

 I offered a solution.  Fortunately, I don’t have to use my arms in water to stand out.  I explained that I can do things in the water with my legs that in no way resemble drowning.  I think it’s safe to say that this had not occurred to them, so I felt a little proud that synchro could save the day.  The swoopy doubles hybrid from the Gypsy routine that I’ve been working on became the cue and the Potomac got what was perhaps its first taste of synchro.  Point the lens this way, y’all. 

Cue’s decided, we hunkered down to wait.  Friggin’ cold.  I was a total wuss.  The other competitors didn’t even have the luxury of a parka, because there’s nowhere to put it before they got in.  They had to stand in long stretches of cattle cues wearing nothing but bathing suits and the bodies next to them.  The first wave of competitors finally arrived at the gates; these were the Olympian God types, the first finishers, the ones likely to be on the podium at the end.  The type I would eventually be playing when I was no longer body-doubling the “injured” lead.  Hard core folks were given the first wave.  They were muscled, lean, and efficient looking.  Most of them wore wet suits.  I shivered.  They lined up.  The horn blew, and they were off.  

 I wasn’t sure how long it actually took a tried and true bad@$$ to finish an open water mile.  I didn’t have a watch or my phone but started looking for finishers in what – in my warped sense of surreal time – I guessed to be twenty minutes. I didn’t see them.  My searching intensified.  Nothing.  I started getting anxious.  If even the hard core, well trained athletes are taking this long, how am I going to make it?  I knew I could swim for an hour; dude, I’m in the water several hours a day, several days a week. But with synchro, you work different muscles every second.  It’s veeeeeeeery different from the grueling repetitive motion of a single stroke.  My right arm went protectively to my left shoulder.  

 Then I saw it.  A blaze of color across the sky of breaking dawn… a rainbow. Hope! Seriously, it was like it had been scripted into the movie.  I nudged the producer next to me.  “Look!” He acted like he was busy and had other things to do, and he was, and he did, but the director inside me found me bossing my boss, saying, “Make sure they get it!”  He glazed at me as if I was indeed the bossiest person he’d ever met, but he followed the line of my finger and was on the walkie-talkie a moment later.  “Yeah, did you see the rainbow?  Did you get it?” Another one appeared just above it a tiny arc.  It felt like they were there for me, for this film, for all of us who were launching into this adventure, because God is just that friggin’ awesome.  A bit of my heart quietened.  

 A couple of the Olympian rock stars sprinted out of the water to get to their bikes.  Wet suit covered, six packed marble. My competitive edge was triggered.  I was aching to know times.  How long would I be in there?  How would I compare?  I’m supposed to be one of them…  

 

A wave of pink caps arrived, but they had much higher numbers written on the backs of their legs.  I loved that there was a school of women in their fifties and sixties, of all colors, shapes and sizes, ready to launch.  They didn’t have marbleized six pack abs, but hey were smiling, geeking out with each other, fidgeting with their gear… getting their game on.  They gave me courage.  I can do this.  

The production team and I waited until the wave of twenties landed.  I handed my Angelfish parka to an assistant and became one of the adventuring masses.  I slipped into the cue.  The cameras were rolling.  I was on.  I slipped my feet into the water, expecting the numbing chill to go up to my knees, and smiled happily at the women next to me as my shins were enclosed in water.  “Not that bad!”  They smiled back a similar relief; the water wasn’t so chilly after all. The horn blew.  I was in.  I was off.  

 

I was blind.  

 

This water was cloudy as mud. At the bottom of my stroke my hand disappeared.  I couldn’t see from the middle of my forearm down.   I cleared my goggles and wondered what kind of nastiness my eyes might become infected with if I didn’t keep them free of water.   I couldn’t see the feet I knew were kicking just inches from my face.  Cameras are rolling.  This isn’t about you.  Don’t extend the left arm…  reign it in…only a half mile to go crooked and you can open up.  “Oops, sorry,” I apologized to the woman next to me whom I’d accidentally clocked.  Another one appeared in my armpit.  The woman in front of me switched unexpectedly to breast stroke and I nearly got a powerful heel upside the head.  I hadn’t prepared for this but was thankful for my synchro training which has helped me learn to take an accidental punch.   The Washington Monument was under my right armpit, and a woman was under my left.  

 

I looked at the buoys as laps.  200. 400.  600. I can do this.  When I got to the 1200, nearing the George Washington Bridge, I got nervous.  What if they can’t find me?  I was supposed to give them the cue at 1400 but decided to give them a prequel just in case they needed to track me sooner.  I rolled onto my back, did the gypsy swoopy doubles thingy, and wondered: These people behind me who have no idea a movie is being shot must have no friggin’ clue what I’m doing right now. 

Side note… the TRI script includes a few lines about the talking to yourself that happens in an event like this.  Those voices came. Some of them were me, and some of them were the imagined voices of the other people in the water with me.   What the heck is she doing?!!!  What’s with the legs?  Who does she think she is?  I’m trying to swim here!  Outta my way!  People had been training for this for months and years; I didn’t want to be in anyone’s way but, frankly, I found the voices entertaining, something to keep me company, and keep me engaged without the dancing, the music and the friendship or visibility I usually have in the water.  

I was still pretty far from the bridge and had no way of knowing whether I’d been spotted.  I would do the swoop again at 1400.  A little further, and I grew nervous.  Will they find me?  1400.  Swoopy!  Three times for luck!  I moved on, figuring that if the cameras hadn’t found me, then they were blind as I was.  I got into character, pulled a couple more lopsided freestyle strokes, and shifted gears.  

 The character I was doubling had never done a TRI before.  I hadn’t either, so no acting there needed.  I heard the director in my mind.  “She’s never seen anything like this before.”  I breast stroked towards the bridge, taking it in. The water smelled cleaner than it was.  There were carvings in the bridge, curling designs gracing its arches, lions snarling from the center of its pillars.  I soaked it in.  A quick glance showed me the camera.  Don’t look in the lens.  I hope they have me.   

Once I was fully under the bridge, the sound changed.  Echoes of splashing water and humans’ breathing.  It was surreal.  I was off camera, and I knew that once I was emerging from the other side, they would have me in their sights for maybe eight more minutes, depending on how fast I swam.  But this moment was mine.  Life takes you to such amazing places, doesn’t it?  This moment, under this bridge, with all these people in water… it’s like a bubble in time.  This memory won’t be confused with anything else, ever.  This one gets filed special.    

I emerged from the other side, breast stroking past the 1600, and restarted freestyle.  Kayaks with volunteers and floatation devices were close by in case anyone got into trouble.  Left shoulder was hurting.  Rotator cuff.   I felt like a wuss.  My physical therapist Godmothers voice came for a visit… “you shouldn’t be swimming right now.” Just twenty minutes in and l was already tiring.  My defeated voice came.  You could just stop.  The rest of the race is not on film.  They can’t expect you to do this. You haven’t trained for it, you just found out YESTERDAY!  Your shoulder, the one with the rotator cuff issues, hurts, doesn’t it?   You can get out just by waving your arms.  My stronger voice interrupted.  

Hell no.  

I rounded the bend lopsided.  Just a few more minutes and I can open up.  I’ll be in this water, and past that marker I can be me.  I swim this rest of this as me.  I’m gonna finish this as me.  

I was going back under the bridge again.  Clear of the cameras, I opened up. Aaaahhhh!  It felt so much better!  It brought a surge of energy.  This was mine.  I found comfort in the repetitiveness of the breathing, one two three, breathe, one two three, breathe, one two three. I was getting thirsty.  I normally swim with a water bottle parked at the end of the pool.  The water smells cleaner than it looks… Ew.  No friggin’ way.  Not THAT thirsty, thank God.  The voice in my head started designing a camel pack for long distance swimming.  I was half way.  

 The kayaks started to become party perches.  People were stopping to rest, or work out a leg cramp while floating on lifeguard buoys.  I saw smiles.  I paused, egg-beating, and thanked an older gentleman kayaker for being out here with us.  He thanked me for thanking him and complimented my smile.  “Dad paid a lot for it. Thank him!” and I pointed towards the sky.  He laughed.  “I’ve got a couple of daughters. Paid for a couple smiles myself.” I waved as I pulled away from him.  

I was no longer an actor, I was an athlete.  The cameras were off.  I was doing this extraordinary thing, clicking shoulder and all.  It struck me as funny that the “broken clavicle” I’d been favoring was the same shoulder as my bad rotator cuff. I pushed, listening to what my body could take, finding that it could take more than I thought it could the day before while I stood in the pelting rain on the bank.  I saw that spot now, and saw the ghost of my yesterday self from a very different perspective.  

I can do all things.  I can do all things…breathe… I can do all things… breathe… I can do all things… breathe…  through Christ who gives me strength… breathe.  The Bible quote replaced my one-two-three.  

Tiring more, I began to think in terms of shortening the remaining distance by staying closer to the buoys, but the outskirts were less crowded.  There was evidence at this point, that many more swimmers were hitting a wall.  Strokes were getting sloppy… lots of breast stroke and breathing.    I pulled out to the side, rolled onto my back and shifted into elementary backstroke.  I teach this to the folks learning swimming as “Chicken, Airplane, Soldier.”  I flashed back to the warm water pool with a legion of little ones on the stairs.  I become a drill sergeant.  “AttenTION!”  The kids stand at their best wiggling, giggling, goggled representation of attention on the stairs.  “Chicken!”  They put their hands at their waists.  “Airplane!”  Their arms shoot out to their sides like they’re flying.  “Soldier-like-you’re-proud-of-yourself!”  Their arms swoosh to their sides, their chests up, chins high.  “Again, chicken, airplane, soldier like you’re proud of yourself… chicken, airplane, soldier like you’re proud of yourself…”  I run the words of “soldier like you’re proud of yourself” together rhythmically so that they’ll keep their chin’s back, their chests up, and have the time to ride the momentum from the push they get.  Efficiency, confidence; yes they can do all things… 

 In the Potomac, breathing on my back, I started giggling, recalling the little ones who can’t seem to execute the moves without saying it aloud, propelling themselves like robotic squids across the surface of the water, repeating the words and the moves I taught them.  My heart kathunked.  I love it.  I love them.  My water bugs.  A tear dropped into my goggles.  

I was finding the heart of the race.  

 Nap time was over.  It’s only been about 25 minutes since you got in.  What kind of time can you get?  There was that chip on my leg.  The finish line was in sight, maybe a third of mile away.  I looked at the course.  The Washington Bridge was behind me, the Washington Monument to my left.  I will forever see it framed in the curve of my wet arm.  Get it done, breathe.  Get it done, breathe. Get it done, breathe.  You can do this.  You can do this.  You can do this.  You can do all things. 

 I rounded the last buoy, almost sorry it was almost over.  The conversation had been a good one. I saw the ramp.  As I approached, I wondered how deep it was, and what was the incline?  Would I be grazing my knees on it?  Blood schmood; I’ve been dinged up before.  I was noodled.  My muscles were squishy and my brain was ablaze with a new fire.  I found my footing and was up the ramp without bruise or bleeding.  I had done it.  It wasn’t the critical voice in my head that said it. It was the other one.  

You did it.  

 Only one producer was left on the launching pad, holding a towel and my Angelfish parka.  I later looked at the video that my beau took, and saw that I was doing a loose hipped saché onto the dock, as others were jogging past me to get, not a towel, not a parka, not rest, not comfort, but a grueling bike ride, and half marathon run.  They blazed past me.  

They’re only a third of the way done.

They are capable of more. 

You are capable of more.  

 I felt something in me metabolically shift over the course of this swim. The conversations I had were as life changing as “Will you marry me?”  But the me… was God.  

I was enfolded in a towel, tattooed arms, and the superhero cape of my Angelfish parka.   I walked dazed past the family and friends of a competitor still in the cattle cue of swimmers waiting to get in.  They found her with joy, signs, and clamoring cheers.  One looked like she might be Mom.  One looked like he might be Dad.  Some might be siblings or friends, but this singular competitor viewed through my transformed eyes, was just bombarded with raucous goofy support, and it made me miss my family.  I missed my mom.  I missed my dad.  Yeah, I knew that they were “up there” and always with me, but c’mon…  It’s different than having someone holding goofy signs and screaming “Whoo HOO!” 

I looked with teary gratitude at the man holding my Coach Wendy bag, and the folding chairs, the one who had been waiting anxiously for me to get out of the water and to know that I was Ok since he’d held my hands in prayer before letting them go into the unknown.  The one who now was on a mission get me warm, dry, and fed with something more than the paltry brown bag with the pathetic lonely slice of turkey “sandwich” that Craft services had assembled.  We inhaled the meager rations gratefully.  I randomly teared up for the rest of the day.  

The imagery, voices and metaphors of the day are not lost on me.  I am launching into a large, uncomfortable, scary part of my life. Transformation does that.  I suspect there is victory at the end.  I am strong enough to take it, because I’ve got that other voice countering the negative one.  I’ve been blessed with a physical vehicle that allows me to do extraordinary things.  And I’ve got that double rainbow arching over me.  Mom. Dad.  I’m surrounded by people who love me, and respect me, and sometimes get up at 2am and carry chairs and pray with me before I do insane things.  Yes I am terrified, but I am uplifted, and I can do all things.  

The gym where I work has a sign outside.  This week it read: “The only difference between ‘try’ and ‘triumph’, is a little ‘umph’.”  I have TRI’d.  I’m bringing “umph”.  

 Triumph is just around the next buoy.  

 It’s already here…

Birthday’s and Budweiser’s

Dad’s Birthday 2015

“Yard Bird” is the name of the sculpture on the back porch.  His back is a shovel, his wings are garden rakes, his legs are the front fork of a bicycle, and the cocksure feathers on his head were, I believe, some kind of hand rake.  He’s purple and yellow, has a long beak/nose, and with his lug nut eyeballs/glasses, he looks, weirdly, like Dad.  Yard Bird was bestowed to him on his birthday many many years ago, and when Mom gave it to him, they both howled.  He wasn’t a sentimental guy, and he wasn’t materialistic in the least, but certain things were dear to him.  One day, while digging one of the ponds in the back yard, his trusty shovel split and cracked beyond repair.  My fiancé was with him at the time, and Paul reported in hushed tones later, that he had glimpsed tears in Dad’s eyes as he held the broken pieces.  “I’ve had this shovel for twenty years…”  he choked out.  The handle had been replaced before, the screws tightened, but this damage… this… the crack along the thinning blade… was irreparable.

Together we buried it under the pond that became it’s memorial.  The following birthday, Yard Bird was later placed ceremoniously beside it to watch over the goldfish, and provide shade for Jabba the frog.  There was a moment of silence. I believe he may be the only man to have given a funeral to a shovel.

As with many days, this day in 2015, his birthday began with me on his back porch, listening to life, breathing clean, with his dog under my feet.  The binoculars I gave him on another birthday still live on the table here, through which he would track the comings and goings of the birds and the rotund squirrels that gorged themselves at the feeders he always kept full.  A typical phone call from the west coast was comfortingly predictable…

“Hey, Dad… how are you doing?”

“Welp, I got one eye on a book and one eye on a ballgame, and Wen, I had the fattest blue jay out here this morning, and oh, there’s that cardinal isn’t he pretty… later on I’m gonna put a pork chop on the grill.”

This brilliant leader who encouraged men and women towards their greatest potential, in business, and in war, never lost sight of the beauty of the natural world.  He wanted his hands in the earth.  He made my brother and I get our hands in it, too… and I remember complaining with him about the heat, complaining about our backs hurting with all the stooping over from pulling weeds.  Complaining about my shoulders hurting from redistributing gravel in the driveway.  Complaining about the allergens, and the spiders, and the ew-father-God-what-the-heck-is that?!!  But most of all I was hemoraging over the fact that at thirteen I was already waaaaaayyy smarter than my parents… what did they know anyway?.. and what am I some kind of slave?!!

Teens are so friggin’ entitled… I’m horrified at myself…

But those were the days I learned the satisfaction of a job well done.  I learned what it was to feel strong.  To sweat.  He was like Mr. Miagi… but less patient.  (I think I complained more than Ralph Maccio…)  Dad loved Mowing the lawn because it smelled good, and you could look back instantaneously and see that you had accomplished something that made things better.  Instant gratification.  Strong, healthy, instant gratification.

Because of him, I learned to breathe, keep my eye on the basket, and how to do that wrist thing before taking a free throw.  My preteen self may have been “smarter” than Dad, but who knew that I could get a rush when the wedge was in exactly the right place, I could place my feet properly, keep my eye on what I wanted, swing my sledgehammer high,  and let gravity do the work,  the wood would split perfectly.  Just like Dad’s.  Then to later remember that feeling months later when building a fire… the smell of the trees, the smell of the earth and the fumes from Dad’s chainsaw… the cool of the air, and having to take my coat off anyway because I was sweating.  We’d go an hour barely talking, just working side by side, to fill the pick-up with the fuel for a winter of fireplace magic.  He’d let me have some of his beer, because there were no water bottles then, but there were plenty of beer cans, and I’d remember, as I tee-peed the wood the way the indians did, the way Dad taught me…. I split this wood… that day in the woods with Dad.  

That was a good day.  

Those kinds of moments helped negotiate the waters of pre-teen entitlement that I’m still scarily struggling with.  I need to remember more often the gifts that Fathers give. While they may be hard, and they may not be what we want right now, there’s something good on the other side of it.  “All things work together for good… in some whack way…” I think that’s how it goes… Bible again.  I gotta memorize where stuff is…

Dad had the drawl of a southern gentleman, and if you want an idea of what he sounded like, there’s something of Morgan Freeman that always reminds me of him.  People are sometimes a little alarmed when I tell them that Morgan Freeman reminds me of my dad, but skin tone aside… their bone structure, mannerisms, phrasing and tone are similar.  Morgan plays strong, intelligent, to-the-point roles, like Nelson Mandela, the coach in Million Dollar Baby, and my favorite, and most evocative of Dad, The Magic Of Belle Isle. He was a man of few words.  He didn’t talk much, but  when he did, people listened.

While he may have reminded me of Morgan Freeman, I always thought Dad looked like Clark Gable.  Tall, mustached, blue eyed, a decathlete.  He always said he was never great at any one thing, but he was really good at a lot of things.  He was a super-hero.  Able to bench press kids, hurdle fences, and pull the string of the fifty pound gorgeous polished wood bow that lives with the quiver of arrows, shamefully dusty, behind Mom’s statue of Diana in my back bedroom.  Like many blessed kids, I thought that my Dad could do anything.

I’m thankful today, his day, for the lessons he taught me.  Love, long division, and discipline.  He taught me to read when he tucked me into the corner of his arm and read Horton Hears A Who, National Geographic, and Santa Mouse.  He taught me love of the outdoors, respect for nature, a good sweat, and the joy of dirt under my nails.  While Mom was artistic and verbose… Dad taught me  economy of finances and language.  Speak softly… carry the big stick… or whatever tool you can use to get the job done.  And do it right the first time, or you’re just gonna have to do it again.

His words of wisdom  were framed by that bushy mustache he had.  I’ve never been able to date someone with one because it was just too weird.  It was one of those Burt Reynolds, Tom Selleck kind of mustaches, that made tickle fights and butterfly kisses impossibly unfair.  When Mom passed, I took up the mantle of “Dad’s Barber” because, thankfully, he never really gave a crap what he looked like.  I can’t profess to be consistently good at it, but I’d get into the character of a hairdresser that knew what she was doing, imitate some of the moves I’ve witnessed, and sometimes his head came out  miraculously not horrible.   Sometimes he ended up looking like Yard Bird, but after Mom and the disastrous second wife were gone, no-one outside of the folks at the quickie mart down the street really ever saw him.  He let the hair get as long as a mullet, and woof… his unshaven crazy face…

As it got harder for him to stand at a sink, his face would sometimes go weeks without shaving, and he’d have so much grey scruff that, I’d convert the front porch to a barbers station, arm myself with the clippers, and go to town.  We made it fun.  I’d carve out a Robin Hood, jaw defining, masterpiece out of his stubble.  I’d turn him into a goatee’d hipster and laugh.  I even gave him a soul patch once… “GET RID OF IT!”  He’d giggle as I contorted my face into what I wanted his to do to stretch the skin properly for the clippers to work. The man had bushes of hair in his ears, long unruly eyebrows, and would even get strays growing not only out of his nostrils, but out of the bridge of his nose!  A half hour, and a warm wet towel later, he’d depart the porch looking again like the dapper guy he was.

He was a sharp dresser, but that was only because of Mom.  She had to dress him to prevent disastrous combinations that left him befuddled when a certain outfit didn’t work because, although he insisted “Everything’s blue…”  he never had quite the eye that she did.  He wasn’t color blind, but he never really saw nuances of color in clothes…and he never saw color in people.

Mom was raised in an extraordinarily bigoted home.  I remember being so confused when we went to her parents seeming mansion with the gorgeous everythings, magnolia trees, china, country clubs etc… and I would be stunned when Grandaddy was cruel to beloved Mabel, his maid, who always hummed as she worked.  I would follow her around, fascinated, and she encouraged me to sing.  Later, when I learned what racism was, I wondered if Grandaddy was in the KKK.  I still wonder.  When I got into theatre and was first exposed to Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, a layer of my mothers upbringing was brought into sharper focus in the character of Big Daddy. It was all about the money, the power, and all about the stuff.  The lessons Grandaddy taught her, carried over, and when she first married my dad, she had actually said that she while she would be polite, she would not entertain colored people in her home.  My mom.  My family.  Wow.

But Dad not only educated my brother and I, he taught Mom.  One of his closest co-workers, Mary,  became an intimate friend of the family that began to crack open the bullshit of Mom’s upbringing.  Smart, funny, down to earth, Mary respected and loved my dad, loved my mom, loved us, until Mom had nothing to do but unreservedly put aside the polite stuff, and fully love her back.  Mary came the day Dad died, having planned a visit with him, but he didn’t hold on quite long enough.  She was here in the den the night the 1940s suit and hat wearing gangster looking cremation society guys wheeled him out.  They looked like cartoons as they wheeled him away… it was almost funny.  Almost.

The pastor whose dark hand held Moms as he helped her home to God finally broke that last link of racism, and purged our family of it’s toxicity forever.  My brother and I are stronger for it.  Thank you Dad, for that.  The whole country could really benefit from you still being in it now.

But he’s not.  Physically, at least.  I feel him in the hug of my heart, and the light that shines behind my eyes when I think of him.  He’s here in the smell of grilling steak, cut grass, and Prince Albert pipe tobacco.  He’s in the birds in the yard, the hearts of his friends, and the crack of a can of Budweiser.

So today, I’m going to buy a six pack.  I’m getting out the weed-eater, and with my house full of impending family, we’re going to putter around the yard he loved, work up a good sweat, get some dirt under our nails, dodge spiders, get the clippers and give my geriatric lab a puppy cut on the porch.

I think he would have liked today…

I think he will.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Lucy, Dad, and the Frog

My geriatric lab, Lucy, and I made our way to the door as soon as she farted.  I’ve had to decrease my response time when she does that because, as Dad always said, “Never trust a fart after fifty.”  She’s now 14+, and in dog years that means that from the first fart and flapping of the ears, I have to have the exodus down to 1:45 seconds or there will be a clean up shortly thereafter.

So the fart woke me from a dead sleep and I was vertical in 30 seconds.  I pulled an apron on over my pjs, (they protect clothes, cover braless boobs and have pockets for cell phones and cheesy treats) and struggled to get my sh*t kickin’ boots on while keeping my teetering dog vertical and moving forward.  I mastered this technique with Dad.  When working with or helping someone, you have to rapidly adjust to their and your body’s developing  limitations, growing strengths, and their consequences.  Like Dad, Lucy will now sit down when and where she never had any intention of sitting down.  Her back legs just don’t work that well anymore.  For Dad I had to drag chairs to places where there never was a chair, and sometimes scootch it just under Dads descending butt just in the nick of time.  For her, I try to make sure she isn’t landing in something that she just… landed.  Lucy gets a similar look on her face…. “well, I guess I’m sitting down now.”  There were times that Dad ended up on the floor, that neither of us intended, and I’d just get down there with him and keep him company until we figured a way off of it.  So  this morning we turned it into a good moment.  I just sat down with her, in the driveway, without judgement, and looked at and listened to the world that is our yard.

Just yesterday, we adventured out of it.  I hoisted the dogs into the car, and drove them over the electric fence.  I knew that the walk would be short, and that Lady who usually gets a bit of a run, would have to reign it in and go slowly, but I wanted Lucy to have an adventure too. Lucy blew my mind when, as we walked along our dirt road, she broke into a full-on gallop!  I saw a flash of the powerful girl who ran beside my bike , and would race to the front of my tire, and I couldn’t go fast enough for her.  There was a glimpse of the girl who would turn herself inside out for a frisbee.  I saw the athlete in Lucy come out again and stretch her legs.  Holding the leash, I had to jog to keep up with her, especially with the camera bouncing in my hand because her surge was nothing short of miraculous… it had to be documented.  I could feel her joy coming off of her in waves… running beside her sister Dee.  So even though I knew she’d be hurting later, I let her open up.

I wonder this morning, as I see her limping, if I made the right decision…but I’m a quality over quantity person. She’s 98+ in human years.  I think the joy and the smile in her eyes and the wag in her ass was worth it.

Because I work as a synchronized swimming coach, I think about alignment, flexibility, and how to accomplish seemingly extraordinary things like split rockets and throwing swimmers off the tops of aquatic pyramids.  Because I’m in my 40’s, I think about safety, and how can I do this without hurting anyone involved.  The same thought process comes into play when applied to my helping someone up without injuring them or myself.   When Dad could no longer do a modified push-up to allow me to lift him and get a chair,  (he was a big, strapping guy) I had to call neighbors.   It would sometimes take two or three people to get him from point A to B.  Lucy isn’t nearly as tall… but she’s no toy poodle.  Lucy is a sixty pound workout that requires some thought to pick up and carry if I don’t want a wonky back.

Consequently, as my dogs mobility declines,  I’m finding my behavior is morphing into that caregiver mode again. I’m watching Lucy’s eyes for “the talk”.  The talk when you just tell each other the truth.  “This just isn’t fun anymore.  I hurt.  I wanna go home.”  and the responding  “I’m here for you.  I’ll do what I can.  I love you so much.”

I’m flashing back to those talks I’ve had in the past.  Mom. Dad.  When he asked me, through a haze of morphine, I wouldn’t get him the gun though.  “Not like that. We’re not going there.”  He found God through the pain a couple of months later, and went home to Him smiling.

Lucy already knows God.  I’m waiting for the time she tells me she’s ready for her greatest adventure, and if I can ease it, I will.  For now she’s still enjoying the little adventures.  As she tottered around the yard this morning, she paused, ears alert, as she spied some movement in the flowers.  I saw it too, and we both froze. I try to pay attention to what they pay attention to.  When the frog hopped again, and I was able to see him clearly, my eyes got misty.

The Carter Family totem is a frog.  An odd choice for a noble family crest perhaps, but it works for us.  Mom was water.  Dad was land.  The resulting progeny is amphibian.  But the symbol was derived from the pond that Dad had proudly dug in our back yard.  Mom always joked that he wouldn’t be happy until he’d dug a moat around the durn place.  but one of our two ponds was appropriated by an enormous frog who came to be known affectionately as Jabba.  Dad would tell stories of the behemoth frog at the office, barbecues, and bridge tables, and from then on, whenever someone had to give Dad, the man who had everything he wanted, a gift…. it was frequently some artistic derivation of a frog.  Our house is peppered with the statues, paintings, and cross-stitch, “Frogs are smart, they eat the things that bug them.” that resulted.  Frogs make me smile.  (I should have listened to my gut and broken up with the guy who filled in the pond in his yard “because the frogs were so annoying” much sooner.)  In the back yard this morning, as she was reminding me so profoundly of Dad, Lucy and I saw a small brown, Spotted Dad Butt disappearing into the bushes.   My throat closed a bit, and I smiled.

I read somewhere that the definition of “sublime” was laughing and crying at the same time.  The pain is deep, but the laughter that transcends it, brings moments that send us galloping off with the joy of being alive, and nothing can take that away.   I’m guessing my Lu will be galloping home soon.  Knowing her, she’ll probably be farting… and Dad will be laughing her into his arms.

Life is sublime.