My first sports injury

I grabbed the handle of the paddleboard and tugged.

Oh. Heavier than I thought. This is the point where I would be hollering for one of the boys, but I was at the cottage alone and determined. Somehow, I hauled it up three steps and started off down the hill to the lake.

I had an idyllic paddle around the whole lake that evening. It was the last time I would not be in excruciating pain for nearly a week. I waited 36 hours to get medical help because how on earth do you tell anyone you’ve turned your butt inside out lifting a paddleboard? The last hemorrhoid I’d had was in labour, where you at least get a consolation prize to go along with the homemade ice pack they’ve smacked up your wazoo.

I crept into the ER in Parry Sound, where a young man anchored the desk.

“Yes?”

“I have a hemorrhoid as big as a planet.”

He hesitated, and said he’d be right back. I never saw him again. Instead a woman took my info as I perched on the chair like a barnacle allergic to boats.

She told me it was going to be a wait.

“It’s the rain,” she explained. “All the tourists come in when it rains.”

Of course they do. A splinter can wait three days in the sunshine, while a hemorrhoid is literally on the dark side of the moon.

A doctor finally took a peek and a poke as I gasped profanities; the attending nurse didn’t try to hide the stunned look on her face as she rushed to get an IV and Dilaudid, which is morphine in a prom dress.

As I got that floating feeling, I suddenly opened my eyes.

“Wait. I have to drive back to the cottage,” I told her.

“You drove here?” she asked me, incredulously.

The doctor was still staring at my butt.

“I’m gonna need the surgeon,” he muttered.

I texted my sister, Gillian. “I’m in the ER with a hemorrhoid as big as my head. Waiting on surgeon. Owowowowow.”

“WTF? Do you want me to come up?”

“Nah, I should be OK, I’m just worried about the cats.”

Two cats sleeping blissfully were my biggest worry as I was being prepped for surgery.

“We can be up in three hours.”

“Crap. They won’t let me drive.”

“Not too surprising, Rainey. We can come up.”

“Lemme try one more thing. I know a guy in Parry Sound.”

“Not surprised.”

“Not like that, a reader. I only have his email though … I’m still trying to find if they can do this awake so I can drive.”

I wanted wide-awake surgery on my inside- out butt. Ah, morphine.

“Awake? Yuck. Ouch.”

“Yeah, even the surgeon just flinched. I’m getting dopey.”

“Will leave shortly.”

“Gawd I love you. I’m sorry.”

“No probs. Bringing Manuel so we’ll drive your car back.”

“That’s awesome. I will pay you all the moneys.”

“Shut up. You are high.”

“My bum hurts Gilly.”

“Sorry Rainey.”

“I’m hungry but I’m scared to poop.”

“Good to know.”

Along with the painkillers, the doctor had prescribed something to keep things moving along called lactulose, which I called flatulose.

I’m lactose intolerant, which I’d forgotten to mention, so I was basically guzzling something that turned me into a bloated fart machine.

Gilly tried to feed me but I know enough science to understand what goes in must come out so I had an apple. Three days, three apples. I would swing from a charm bracelet before I would poop.

For anyone wondering, I AM the kind of person who would call a reader from an ER in a small town and ask for a ride home.

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Two murder suspects, one victim

When I was growing up we had an amazing cat: Nooly.

At home he was just a normal awesome cat, but at the cottage he was Supercat. The forest was his jungle though he came in for regular meals. He’d line up his kill outside the back step. His record one morning was 13 mice, neatly arranged like hors d’oeuvre.

My father was quite proud; my mother was horrified. We used to giggle that Mom was so silly about a cat doing what a cat does. Plus, there is no good way to kill a mouse — none. A cat is about the fairest fight a mouse is going to get.

Last week I’d taken two cats to the cottage — the good two, not the Terrible Two: the kittens who remained home with Ari and Taryn, who stared at them like they were holding a losing lottery ticket. I tricked Pea into her cage while JoJo strolled into hers; JoJo knows the cottage means respite from the kittens. This is the same cat who once dislocated The Poor Sod’s shoulder, getting her into her cage.

JoJo settled in instantly while Pea yelped her way around the place. I laugh that I think I’ve come up north on my own when I’ve brought along a howling little noise machine. I let her carry on, reasoning she would settle down by evening. She did not settle down by evening.

I’m used to my 5:45 a.m. wake-up call from Pea. She wants her breakfast, and she sets off a chain reaction in the other cats. I’ve learned to deal with it by getting up, feeding them, and then going back to bed.

At the cottage the other night, she kept on yelling long into the night. I closed my bedroom door, and JoJo helpfully shouldered it open. JoJo was always my late (and much missed) Maggie’s muscle, and it appears she remains so for Pea.

On and on it went, past midnight, past 1 a.m., past 2. Then I heard a different noise, one of rustling and banging. And it was both cats, not just Pea. As a rule, I never turn on lights at night; there is a nightlight in the bathroom that casts enough of a glow to make your way around without waking you all the way up. For some reason, I snapped on my bedside light, no doubt wondering if I was about to wrestle a bear or a raccoon that one of the cats had let in through the screen doors.

I walked out to the kitchen in time to see JoJo leaping off the island. A bag of cat treats remained behind, desperate tooth marks on the bag. She’s not as crafty as the kittens, who can rip apart a treat bag in 10 seconds. Pea continued her high-pitched yelling, like she’d been offered a plea deal for snitching on JoJo.

I stashed the bag away, shook my head sadly at JoJo (who knows better) and told Pea to shut up already. I trundled back to the bedroom and stopped cold. Beside the bed was a mouse, in no way molested but definitely dead.

An offering from my fur-coated murderers, who now stood in the doorway bursting with pride. JoJo had simply been trying to reward herself for a job well done.

I did the mouse removal, silently thanking whatever urge had made me turn on the lamp. I also considered how much worse this situation could have been.

I could have had all four cats with me.

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Mom’s hit and run diner

I’ve discovered the best way to see more of my first-born: have him move out.

Before Christopher and Pammy moved out last fall, Christer and I were more or less just two ships that passed in the night. We kept opposite schedules, and because we essentially irritate the crap out of each other, we tended to cut a wide berth. I love him, and I’m sure he loves me, but our personalities are too close for comfort. I was eager to allow two clichés to battle it out: will it be out of sight, out of mind, or would absence make the heart grow fonder?

They only live a few blocks away, and their dog, Alfie, spends some time here. Pammy drops him off and I babysit; we believe Alfie thinks he is going to summer camp, because we stay out back all day and he plays with Shelby, our other dog. They have a paddle pool, they run through the bushes, sun themselves when they’re tired and get snacks if they behave. Summer camp.

Christer dropped Alfie off the other day on his way to work, and I told him to stay for dinner when he returned. “It’ll only be 3, but thanks. I’ll just get Alfie,” he told me.

At 3, his stomach had obviously had a change of heart. “What time are we eating?” he asked. I told him to come back at 6. When Pammy is working late, Christer will often call or appear on the doorstep at dinnertime. He’ll ask what plans we have for food. I usually look at him blankly, because I frequently have no plans for food. I see a small light go out in his eyes when this happens. Sometimes I send him home with leftovers. Sometimes I send him home with money. Mostly I send him home with an empty stomach and a broken heart.

We used to come home for Sunday dinner, as many of us as could make it depending on where we were living and working. Mom and Dad loved it; Mom would cook all day and Dad would take most of the credit, and they’d gather their growing brood. Mom would hand out care packages of whatever had been on sale that week and Dad would hand out newspaper clippings and random offerings from the garden — you’d get a liquor store bag with 2 tomatoes, an onion, a pepper and some garlic in it. You were expected to return the bag.

I do a much truncated version of that, and try to have all the kids here once a month or so for a planned dinner. I see why my parents loved it, but it’s a helluva lot of work for someone who finds no sense of peace or accomplishment in making a meal. I think they appreciate the effort, and I enjoy seeing the four of them evoking memories I’ve held for years.

Christopher came back at 6 the other night, Alfie rocketing through the doorway excited at this double-barrelled day with Mama Lorraine. Dinner was ready, though Ari had disappeared upstairs. Christer and I talked as he ate in the kitchen. At 6:08, he gave me a hug, and said, “let’s not pretend this is anything but exactly what it is.” He went to the back door to call Alfie, who had barely had time to run through my garden knocking tomatoes off their stalks.

I looked at him and scowled. “You just gave your mother a food booty call,” I told him.

“And we’re also never going to use that term again,” he replied.

And left.

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My most intimate relationship is with the Internet

I have been told I’m not allowed to click on anything.

Ari, 21, has made it abundantly clear he is sick of bailing me out of my trigger finger; I may not look at these adorable cats, I may not see this amazing deal, and I most certainly may not wonder what Marcia Brady looks like after all these years.

The stupid thing is, I’ve spent the past 15 years trying to teach my sons the difference between a good source on the Internet and a bad one, and yet there I go down clickbait rabbit holes. Yes mom, if all the other kids jumped off a cliff, it appears I would go, too.

You’ve noticed your Internet pages and various feeds are locked in with algorithms that make them nearly impossible to ignore. You can put up ad blockers, but that is the modern equivalent of tearing the ads out of a newspaper before you read it; if those ads weren’t there, the paper wouldn’t be there …. oh wait. Never mind. Instead of ad blockers I subscribe to the major dailies and magazines that I read; I realize there are many people who believe if it flies through the air it should be free, but I am not one of them.

And so on other sites, I get helpful reminders that I need to buy more boots. The stupid thing? They keep suggesting boots and shoes I already bought. I guess they want to be super sure I’ll like them. The irritating thing? They show me the sale price. They suck the joy out of my new shoes. Instead of thinking I’m strutting around in 150-buck shoes that make me feel like a goddess, I am now scuffing around in $55 shoes. I hate you, Internet.

Of course, if I happened to buy them at the sale price, I believe I am strutting around in $150 shoes again.

Their advertising backfires sometimes. My sister and her husband both use the same computer, and every Christmas gift she was looking at for him kept popping up when he was on. Bad Internet, bad.

Ari asked me why there is a Visa card on my bedside table and I looked at him like he was nuts. Doesn’t he know how many shiny things go on sale late in the evening? When I complained to a friend that buying over the Internet is too easy, she helpfully suggested that I used her address in the autofill portion of the order form. We’re the same size; she likes my taste.

If you think about it, our computers know us more intimately than any human or journal. It’s terrifying that every mood or curiosity is captured, and the narrative we construct for others bears very little resemblance to who we actually are.

I’ve joked that my browser history is allowed to be as eye-popping and weird as it is because I’m a writer, but if you looked at it you wouldn’t know whether to get a shrink for me or a restraining order against me.

Murders have been solved through browser histories. And while thousands of marriages have blown apart over what’s in there, I think instead of a first date you should just take a boo at each other’s drop down menu.

Mine currently contains Martha Stewart, Innsbruck weather, Sommerfeld shotgun, how fast do airbags explode, Nine Inch Nails, Pokemon Go, Civil War, Bentley SUV, unicorn floaty toy, Yul Brynner, are forget-me-nots perennials, Lamborghini, hickory sticks, Hammer pants (I was proving something to the kids; don’t ask) and Jeep Wagoneer.

Thankfully it’s boot season soon.

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Never say ‘What else could go wrong?’

Ari, Emerson, Vishu, Swapnil, Cort, Adam and three Christophers, one all the way from Texas. That is how many boys were at my cottage last weekend. Oh, and Taryn, because I needed to tip the estrogen levels just a little. But still. Nine boys.

Young men, really. I still think of them as kids, but they’re all aged 21 to 24 and hardly youngsters. On Friday night they were playing cards, awaiting the arrival of the last three revellers, including my oldest son. The discussion was centring on themes, as each year something emerges to make it most memorable. Several years ago, Ben choked on a baby carrot and the ensuing trip to the ER produced a Motherlode column his grandparents had framed.

I was keeping an eye on a toilet that was acting up, trying to judge if I had that cottage nightmare on my hands: a plumbing crisis on a Friday night in July.

Around 10 p.m., my Christopher appeared at the back door.

“There’s a tree down over the driveway,” he announced to a roomful of testosterone laden boys experiencing varying degrees of drunkenness.

This, of course, can only mean one thing: field trip. Outside they traipsed into the mosquito-rich forest.

Sure enough, a massive tree was blocking a huge portion of the base of the driveway.

Cort’s little VW sat forlornly on the other side, bugs dancing merrily in the headlights. I stared at it dumbly; we’d been in and out all day and the thought that anyone could have been hit by that tree was terrifying.

While I tried to form a plan for the tree as well as the toilet, I suddenly realized that someone had popped open the shed.

I was instantly surrounded by some Lord of the Flies re-enactment, all of them clutching something from my late father’s medieval tool kit. Crosscut saws, hand saws, axes, hatchets and a machete. I prayed my brother-in-law had hidden the chainsaw well.

At one point, Christopher said he thought maybe the whole tree thing was an elaborate trick. That I would drop a massive tree over my driveway at night as a joke. I looked at him like he had three heads.

As Adam walked past, I grabbed a hatchet from his hand. He looked sad. I ignored him.

As I got the most dangerous tools into the most sober hands (the new arrivals), I announced that the toilet was broken and the price of using it was bringing a bucket of water with you.

Contemplating a toilet-free existence, Taryn and I exchanged haunted glances as the boys continued devising a plan to clear the huge branches while smashing at mosquitoes and laughing about having steel toed flip-flops. The difference between the sexes at its most basic level was crystallized for me in that moment.

Back inside, the tree got larger and the cliffs they’d been jumping from earlier that day got higher. Each evening, I feed them Platter. It’s become a proper noun over the years, and every night is different. Tonight was a ton of veggies, crackers, cheese, pâté, hummus, tzatziki, barbecued chicken and kielbasa.

Adam instantly seized a baby carrot and held it up to me.

“You won’t let me have a hatchet, but you’ll let me have a carrot?” he asked, incredulously.

The Summer of Ben and the Carrot had rendered baby carrots lethal weapons.

At 11 p.m., a friend sent me a text, saying she was having a bad night and asking how it was going.

“I have nine boys, a tree across the driveway and a broken toilet.”

The reply was succinct: “You win.”

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The foundations of cottage lore

I think of the cottage as my second home, and in many ways it is. It has become kind of suspended in time, and when we walk in each year, we pick up where we left off. The months it spends in the cold and the dark keep it preternaturally young. Or maybe old. I’m not sure which.

Nostalgia lends a certain generosity to the viewing lens; we finally replaced couches that had been here twenty years. They were that red and green Santa Fe pattern that was all the rage probably, well, thirty years ago. I remember buying them; you could get a whole room of furniture – couch, chair, love seat, coffee table, end tables, lamps – for five hundred bucks. It looked it; those deals are the equivalent of a supersized meal deal, with quantity failing to take the place of any quality, but the abundance makes your heart jump at the thought of filling a whole room – checking so many things off a list – in one swoop. Sold.

Ari is taking a critical eye to the place this year, or more exactly, an owner’s eye. He’s lent a hand on a new deck, and wants in on the discussions on maintenance and upkeep. I like this; it’s the only way this place made it to the second generation, and very few make it to a third. My father’s dream was passed to his daughters, as was his goal that this place should unite, not divide. As much as we cherish the vacation time and understand how lucky we are, we also know we are keepers of so much more.

While Roz and Gillian and I often overlap for a day or two, we’re mostly up on our own time. As a result, we each hesitate when it comes to ditching anything. Generations of kids have created a lot of handiwork and collected a lot of games. Nobody knows what someone else’s treasure is so we carefully keep things on the shelves. Board games that only one of us knows the rules to anymore, others missing the money (“just take it out of Monopoly”), a dozen decks that almost have 52 cards in them, pompoms, googly eyes, popsicles sticks, glue guns and a plastic cup labelled RIP full of dead batteries.

Ari held up a bunch of popsicle stick creations. Gilly had carefully set them aside, a veritable flotilla of totally un-lake-worthy ships that had been born one rainy afternoon years ago. “I made this crap. Can I throw it out?” he asked. I laughed. I’m sure Gilly had been unsure if they were keepers or not. “Ditch them,” I told him. He held up something else, but I shook my head. If my kid didn’t make it, I wasn’t making the call.

He knows I won’t part with the coffee table he teethed on; he believes it to be of historical significance himself. I explained that you can’t toss cottage art made by others, because it is the foundation of cottage lore, and without the stories you don’t have the history, and without the history you just have a rental. I sometimes dream of a space you’d find in a magazine, a rustic oasis whose rough edges are only those that have been engineered to be there. And then I look around this place and know it won’t happen, and I wouldn’t let it.

“What about this?” Ari asked, holding up another artifact.

“Stop it. One day it’ll be your kids who made this stuff and you’ll understand.”

From the other room, I heard Taryn sigh, and giggle. Ari smiled.

Pretty crazy when you can see the next generation.

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Wearing pants is for amateurs

There’s a lot of things you can do without wearing pants.

For years, the boys knew that if I could hear them in the kitchen late at night I would inevitably holler down, “Leave me enough milk for tea!” Everybody knows that I can’t wake up and start the world spinning on its axis each morning unless I have my tea.

I’m old school, like my mom. Tetley it is, and copious amounts to stoke my writer brain until noon.

As the kids aged into that 24-hour eating loop, I had no idea what would be left by morning. Too many days I’d come down to an empty milk bag in the fridge and just like that, my day would be destroyed.

Things have gotten worse, however. Now, I never shop. I used to do that once a week thing but I’m down to just Ari and Taryn living here and between their jobs and school, I have no idea if or when anyone will be home. My cooking skills are getting decidedly rusty (Ari just started laughing) and my meal planning skills have left the building. I hand them my card and they do most of the shopping and cooking, which is heaven. I eat leftovers and cereal. And we run out of milk.

Like most women, when at home I hate wearing pants. Sweatpants aren’t bad, though calling them that is really a reach in giving something a name. My mother used to buy our clothing so we’d have a little room to grow; I still use the same theory with sweatpants. You could staple two dozen bagels to my butt and I’d have room in my sweatpants. Which, of course, means I can’t be seen out in public in them and I try not to wear them at all. I just wear big T-shirts to sleep in, which naturally transition to daywear because when it comes to fashion, I am a Swiss army knife.

I called Sarah across the street and told her I needed milk. Sure, she replied. I darted across sans pants because if you move fast enough, like The Flash, nobody will really know what they just saw and dismiss it as an aberration.

I depend on my neighbours to doubt their eyesight on a regular basis. You know when you’re supposed to assemble that emergency kit for your car, with chocolate, water, jumper cables and a candle? Mine has pants in it.

I made that donated milk last two days. Still hadn’t got to the store. I have one friend who has admitted to putting a shot of Bailey’s in her morning coffee when she runs out of milk. Another has used ice cream. Necessity is obviously the mother of invention. Because I had neither Bailey’s nor ice cream, I finally went to my Last Desperate Measure: McDonald’s.

Raced out to my car (The Flash, part two), and at the “drive thru” I ordered breakfast and asked for a milk. There was a pause on the other end of the speaker and Intercom Lady said, “A milk?” I didn’t blame her; I’ve pulled this ploy later in the day and ordered a Happy Meal for a child who didn’t exist.

Back home, Ari spied the little milk carton and raised an eyebrow.

“Run out of milk again? No pants?”

He may think he’s funny, but I got the last laugh. I have enough milk for three days now, and I still haven’t put on pants.

She who pants last, laughs loudest.

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My KitKat is graduating from high school? Already?

My niece graduated from high school last week. So did a lot of kids, but only one is my niece and there is only one Katya.

I’m proud of her. She’s one of those straight A students who has checked off all the boxes, landed her dream placement in a great engineering program and is ready to take on the world. It’s hard not to feel misty and proud even if I’m just the aunt who has provided more bad influence than anything constructive.

She’s kind and sweet and has a line of snark running through her that came from her mama. When we’re all together — the three sisters and our only girl child now joining in — and the conversation gets peppery, I can see her dad shake his head almost imperceptibly and wonder what he did to deserve this.

“Well, you married a Sommerfeld,” I want to tell him. Lucky guy.

I’ve written a lot about being this age, about the bonds of family feeling more like binds and then wishing later I’d paid more attention, appreciated more things.

I don’t know if Kat is far enough ahead to be looking back just yet, but a couple of weeks ago I caught her ushering a turtle across the cottage driveway, her car with the hazard lights on to keep both her and the turtle safe. Her grandpa would have done the same thing, and it made me think of him as I watched her. Those bonds, and those binds, seem to time travel; she never met him.

My mom was a spectacular baker. Katya is a better one. Everything she bakes looks and tastes like it should be in a magazine. By age 14, she was getting orders from people. If you want to understand about a surplus of talent, consider that this baker plans on becoming an engineer.

When Mom was sick and measuring out her time in days, it was Katya, not yet 2, who could keep her entertained. I’m not sure who was babysitting whom, but I do know that when my boys were too fast or too much or just too boy, it was Kat who somehow sensed, in her wise little baby brain, that this woman needed a baby in her lap and not a race course through her living room.

That tiny girl was no pushover, however. From the time she could walk, when she’d had enough of guests, she would bring them their shoes. It was hilarious to watch (and a little embarrassing to receive), but the girl knew her own mind, even then.

At Mom’s eulogy, we noted that Katya never brought Grandma her shoes.

At her graduation party, Kat’s dad, with my sister Gilly at his side, gave a lovely speech for their firstborn. He choked up a bit and it was sweet and it also made me realize this girl can never get married; I don’t think her father could stand it. We toasted this smart, lovely girl, and I was whipped back to that time when we are breakable but unbroken, vulnerable yet brave.

We use graduations as an ending, but they’re not. They’re the beginning. You graduate to the starting gate and when you lift your eyes, the boundaries fall away. You find out fast if rules comforted you or challenged you, if walls were keeping you in or keeping something out. My KitKat will discover all this and more, and she’ll no doubt put her own turtle-ushering, shoe-delivering stamp on it.

And Kat, if you’re reading, that family who makes you so crazy will be behind you every step of the way. Count on it.

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Dinner is ready when the dogs stop licking the deck

I sat working in the kitchen while Taryn made dinner. She was singing lightly to herself, nearly under her breath, as she chopped and stirred. I listened for a few minutes, smiling. My mother always sang while she cooked or baked, or even mopped the floor. When she didn’t know the words, she just hummed. But always, the soundtrack to my childhood was my mother finding enough joy in the small things to sing. It was a lovely moment, and I wish my Mom could have met her grandson’s girlfriend.

Since Christopher and Pammy moved out, I’ve tried to pull off a version of Sunday dinner; we all came home every Sunday for dinner every week we could, and it was great. The difference of course, is that my mom sang while she made that dinner and I mostly swear. Last night was no different.

Because of the kittens, we have to lock up any food. I threw chicken, still half frozen, into a plastic bag to marinate. I tucked it into the oven, because the dog food Taryn was thawing for Shelby was in the microwave. There was a container of something in the toaster oven already. I set about chopping up vegetables to roast, and made a big foil pouch of hobo potatoes. With a call into Pammy to figure out what time dinner should be, I tossed the potatoes on the barbecue. I waited fifteen minutes, then set the oven to 400 for the veggies.

Yup. Ten minutes later, I heard a weird sizzling sound. “Nooooooooooooooooo! Noooooooooooooo! Nooooooo!” I hollered. Really hollered. Taryn and Ari came falling down the stairs as I pulled a disintegrating plastic bag from the oven. Ari started laughing. I grabbed a cookie sheet and tried to rescue the marinating chicken breasts before they plunged to the floor.

“I think they’ll be okay,” said Taryn, peering as the thick bag slid off. “It’s not like I eat them, but I’m sure they’re okay.” Our resident vegetarian was prepared to risk the rest of us. I tossed the pan of vegetables into the oven, and stared at the sorry mess of chicken. Nothing looked melty, so I made a corporate decision. Dinner was on.

Barbecuing hobo potatoes – potatoes, onions and butter in a big homemade foil pouch – requires two big flippers and a little skill. Well, a lot of skill. The kids eat as many as I can possibly make, so it’s heavy. I’d already flipped it twice and things were going well. I came out to make room for the chicken and flipped them again. And watched everything spill out all over the grill. By now I was nearly crying. Taryn looked at me a little frightened; kitchen disasters are nothing new around here, but this was becoming a comedy of errors.

“I give up! Order pizza! I quit!” I yelled, slopping everything onto a pan. I stuffed them into the oven with the veggies and poured a glass of wine. Taryn poked her head in the back door. “I just flipped the chicken. One fell on the deck, but don’t worry, Shelby didn’t get it.” I sighed. Pammy and Christer arrived with Alfie, who scooted out back no doubt looking for fallen chicken.

“Dinner is in ten,” I said waving my hand at the stove. The clock was on. That meant the oven wasn’t. I’d turned it off half an hour before. The vegetables were just sitting being warm. I turned on the oven, glanced out back at two dogs licking the deck, and poured more wine.

You want to know I don’t sing like my mother? This is why.

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Pay it forward and feed your kids’ friends

Because of geography, our rec room is often the central meeting place for the boys and their friends. They use it as a base to go out from, or more often than not, they just crash here for the evening.

The cast rotates through like some off Broadway road show, but for the most part, these kids have been coming here since they were in elementary school.

The conversations are awesome, to be honest. They know I can hear them but they also know I value their honesty. It’s like I’m sitting in the back row of that theatre, deep in the shadows like a proverbial fly on the wall. I’ve watched them grow up and grow apart and come back together; I’ve watched them move away for school or for work or for good, and stay in touch as they weave back and forth in each other’s lives. I’ve heard them be scared and arrogant and upset and triumphant.

The only time I pop out of my room is to tell Ari to get some food. “Take my card,” I tell him. “Get a bunch of pizza or whatever you guys want.”

I do it every time, and every time they all tell me “thank-you Lorraine” or “Ari’s Mom” (I still get called this; cracks me up), but we’re old enough to get our own and I tell them I know they are but get the pizzas.

When I was 16, I dated a lad for most of a year and we regularly gathered — friends, siblings — in his parents’ home for hockey and poker. It was the year Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers joined the NHL and Saturday nights were a foregone conclusion as long as the season lasted.

This column isn’t about hockey, however, or the piles of dimes and nickels we used to place bets. It’s not even about his mom telling us to shove over a bit so she could play a few hands, usually winning but never keeping the money.

Instead, it’s about how his father would come into the room at some point, stuff some cash into his son’s hand and tell him to go get some pizzas. We all had part-time jobs but like every other group, there were differing levels of budgetary wiggle room. We were teenagers; of course we were hungry. But most of us also made less than five bucks an hour.

In that exchange between father and son, I learned things I’d never forget. It is frequently in the smaller gestures that you learn the biggest lesson. Footing the bill for all of us removed the uncomfortable conversation of who had enough funds to participate. There was never a question. If a little sister didn’t work or if someone was working full-time that summer, it didn’t matter.

It was kind. It was thoughtful. It was remembering that eating doesn’t stop at dinner when you’re 16. It was grown-ups welcoming us into their home, and telling us they liked having us there. Food is love, says a good friend of mine, and she’s right. My mom could feed an army on no notice, and over the years I finally appreciated just how much work that was.

And so I give Ari or Taryn the look, and they dutifully sort out enough pizzas to feed anyone and everyone. The kids still protest, but not much. They know I’m doing it because I love them all, and love that they still gather after all these years.

And every single time, I thank Gunter Kajah for teaching me that.

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