Wonder if the Pink Panther ever got this itchy

I have given actual thought to what I would use a time machine for. Assuming I could redirect a path I’d chosen, what would it be? There have been bad fashion choices, some questionable purchases, maybe the degree program I chose, definitely a man or three. But to truly do the classic time warp question justice, I think the event can’t just be embarrassing or frustrating or the result of some Monday morning quarterbacking. It has to be truly, epically regrettable.

Fibreglass insulation.

Twenty-five years ago someone decided to insulate beneath the floor of the cottage. The basement was a recent addition, and someone had decided more was more. Up it went; I barely paid attention. A couple of people raised an eyebrow over the years, but it finally took our current contractor, the much put-upon Rod, to look at me point blank and say, “whoever put that up was an idiot. That’s why it’s so wet under here. Get rid of it.” Rod gets paid by the hour, not the word and certainly not for subtle nuance.

I told Roz and Gilly, my sisters, it was my problem. It had happened on my watch, and I’d pull it out. They did that thing where you look in the distance and whistle and asked if I needed any garbage bags.

Last week I stood in Home Depot puzzling over goggles and masks. I bought a zip-up jump suit and gloves, marvelling how they knew everyone in the world were either a Large or Xtra Large. I dug up my little LED headlamp thingee, hands down the best flashlight when you need to keep your hands free. I presumed I would need to keep my hands free.

You know why you need to keep your hands free while you’re pulling fibreglass insulation from over your head? So you can try to stop all the poop and the dead animals that made that poop from showering down on you. We have a mouse deterrent system called Ousta Mouse. I found the outsta mouse summer house.

I worked all morning hauling that nasty insulation down. Within five minutes I couldn’t see, because I was dripping sweat and my glasses were fogging up behind my goggles. I had wisely not put contacts in, but I looked like a giant marshmallow with black rubber gloves up to my elbows and a baseball cap jauntily perched on my head to hold the hood, the goggles, the lamp and the mask in place. I was terrified that casual kayakers might see me and wave, or someone might come up the driveway, lost.

Careful not to bring any of those fibres inside, I stripped to my unders outside and hit the shower, again keeping an eye out for kayakers and lost people. Pammy texted and asked if I got a selfie of my outfit; I told her I’d looked like a near-sighted teenage mutant ninja turtle. She admonished me for missing the opportunity to capture it.

My phone blurped, and Roz asked if I’d done it yet.

“I found the outsed mouses,” I told her.


“I was dripping sweat, I have a pounding headache and I’m flushing my eyes with saline every ten minutes,” I continued. I wanted all the points I had coming.

“I really I wish I were there to help,” she said.

“There’s no point in two people being under there,” I sighed, dramatically.

“No, I just mean to hand you a cold beverage.”

Forget fibreglass insulation. My parents needed that time machine about five years before I was born.

Posted in motherlode | 1 Comment

First, do no harm. Why political candidates need a Hippocratic Oath

Who goes into politics?

I mean that in all seriousness. I started to get into this discussion with an acquaintance – again – and backed out of it – again. I’m just too cynical.

I’ve always been a proponent of “think global, act local” but at no time in history has that idea been more useless. The local is the global; I can’t pretend the things I don’t see don’t matter any more than I can pretend they don’t exist. People we elect are making decisions about this city, this province, this country and this planet and I can’t begin to pretend bitching about my garbage being picked up late is the most pressing issue in the world.

The current headlines are ridiculous and embarrassing; candidates bounced in the run-up to the federal election for getting caught peeing into a stranger’s coffee cup and another for posting videos pretending to be mentally challenged and faking orgasms to strangers over the phone. The first is vile while the second left me dumbfounded. Doesn’t uploading videos of yourself indicate you have at least some understanding of how the Internet works?

These two happen to be Conservative wannabes but the history is there in all parties, and reasons range from 9/11 conspiracy theorists to drunk drivers to skinny dippers to drug users to idiots who wade into the Middle East conflict with their mouths in gear before their brains. Funny, though, how it’s usually the right wing tough-on-crime crew who are repeatedly caught with their stick in their hand.

It may seem remarkably easy to get dumped from a ticket, but my concern is how easy it seems to get on it in the first place.

I can actually see why the current ruling federal Reform, er, Conservative Party, would have trouble recruiting. Showing up to orientation and being given your muzzle should give any decent person pause.

I understand how some things could slip through the screening process, as I’m sure candidates are probably not asked if they’ve ever peed into a mug in a stranger’s home and then dumped it in the sink. Or faked orgasms to people they’ve randomly dialed. The thing is, every party really only needs one question: will you be able to serve your constituents – all of them, not just the ones who voted for you – with all of your intelligence and most of your dignity? This should weed out the creationists and mug-pee-ers quick enough.

There is not a person alive who doesn’t have a secret. Or 10. There is not a person alive who should presume there is no evidence of those secrets. And sadly it always seems to be the least tolerant party – those in the weeds on the right – who demand the highest presumed standards of their kinfolk. If you’re going to represent a party that flogs the rest of us with its family values (code for straight, married and mom at home with the kids), best be not sleeping with the babysitter or keeping your same sex lover in your office closet.

I don’t point and laugh at flawed people who want to get elected; I point and laugh at people who think they have no flaws.

I believe there was a time when people considered elected officials public servants; I believe there was a time when people thought they could make a difference; now I just think too many want a microphone and a pension. Checking your conscience at the door and fearfully voting a party line? Forget who is twisted enough to accept the job description; who is dumb enough to vote for them?

Posted in motherlode | 6 Comments

And a small dog shall lead the way

It has been a summer of chaos around here, with best laid plans being nudged this way and that, and the fall doesn’t promise to deliver much serenity.

Kids who thought they’d be out (and taking a dog with them) will remain due to financial changes. I’m OK with that; there is little I won’t do to keep a kid in school, even one not my own.

There is always room for one more, as Mom used to say, though I don’t think she meant one who shed like crazy.

I’ve worked throughout the summer, occasionally escaping to the cottage where the Wi-Fi is iffy but the calm is guaranteed. I’m hard pressed to make changes to my work process, two new dogs apparently unable to change this old one.

Well, until now.Alfie

Alfie is Pammy’s dog, a little eight-pound bag of teeth and mercurial moods. He was a rescue and we know nothing of his first year, only that it must have contained some people who never should have owned a dog.

With patience and training, Alfie is getting there. He has come to understand that I am the gatekeeper, literally. I am the one who is home nearly all of the time and his freedom to roam depends on me.

If Pammy and Christopher are working, he’s safest in their room for a few hours. Monitoring a skittery dog and four cats who taunt him can be exhausting.

I’ve done little to hide the effort it has taken to get through the past few months. Mood swings sound like they should be fun but they’re right up there with emotional roller-coaster. Welcome to the Mental Amusement Park. My typical response is to lock down into the familiar and ride it out.

Alfie has forced me to change all that.

I started sitting on my deck with my laptop just to separate Alfie from the cats. He loves to lie in the sun and occasionally assert his dominance over a butterfly or two.

I reasoned I could do some research at least, maybe some editing, or just stare at Timothy Olyphant’s butt in Justified.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to work, but those other things are all important, too.

I had roofers who asked Pammy how Alfie got his name. She shrugged and just said she liked it.

I smiled a little, because in my mind he’s named after Dad — my dad Alfred who was never called Alfie (though apparently when he landed in Ontario in the 1950s, his nickname was Fritzie; if you lived in Kitchener and knew a Fritzie, please let me know) — because I see a little mutt who was kicked around when he was young, bites when he’s scared, would rather be out back than anywhere else and is desperate to be loved. I see Dad.

We sit out back, Alfie and I. He pees on hostas Dad planted and suns himself on a deck Dad built and sighs dramatically if I don’t scratch his ears enough.

I’ve slowly started to realize that working out here is peaceful and good. I thought I was doing it for Alfie, but Alfie has done this for me. He has tugged me from my comfort zone and reminded me I’m only as smart as what I’m willing to learn.

I’m not a dog person, and nobody disagrees. But this little bitey furball has reminded me that the vulnerable come in all shapes and sizes. I’m not just learning how to cope with Alfie, I’m learning how to cope with myself.

Posted in motherlode | 6 Comments

The new cat’s first road trip. Epic fail.

I quietly announced I was sneaking back to the cottage for a few days. Because of work schedules, I was forced to go alone which meant there would be nobody to cook for, no wet towels to pick up, no beer pong games that went until 3 a.m. and no rap music. Somehow, I would manage.

As the four kids realized they’d be taking care of two dogs and four cats as well as themselves, I broke down and said I’d take the kittens with me. Cairo and Mark are eight months old now and total brats; we don’t actually call them the kittens, we call them something that rhymes with kittens that is less flattering. It would also prove to be prescient, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I packed while they walked in and out of their cages that rested on the kitchen floor. I’d lined them with nice fluffy towels, like putting blankies in a prisoner transport van. The two cats staying behind were wearing t-shirts that said Older and Wiser.

Cairo stuck her head under her towel and was silent. Mark started yelling as we backed out of the driveway. He never stopped. Actually, he did stop long enough to throw up. I’d gotten as far as Square One in Mississauga. I desperately got off the highway, keeping my eye on the road and reassuring a puking cat that I still loved him and everything would be alright. If you’ve ever been to this part of Mississauga, you’ll know it’s a concert mess of box stores and roadways designed to never let you leave. My cat was throwing up in the Hotel California.

I finally found an empty corner of a parking lot, and tried to figure out what to do. From the trunk I got Lysol wipes and a new towel, and debated just cleaning Mark up and carrying on north. Surely it couldn’t get worse. Trapping myself between them, I eased open the cage door. It took me two seconds to realize it most definitely could get worse. As I went to remove the towel, I discovered I had a cat busily working both ends of the car sick equation. Cairo shrugged and said “I told you so” and burrowed further down into her cage. Forty years of cat ownership, first time this had happened.

As Mark stood in the rear windshield holding up SAVE ME placards (conveniently omitting that his distinctive markings now included poop) I somehow cleaned and relined the cage. I plugged him back in and rhetorically asked if we should continue north, or go home. Mark threw up again. I drove in circles trying to escape; I’ve been making fun of Mitt Romney all these years for no good reason.

Mark didn’t believe I was taking him home. He rolled his cage onto its side, his paws getting caught in the holes. I yelled like a mad woman for him to hang on, asking for fifteen more minutes. Cairo checked her watch and went back to sleep. Another five minutes and I heard the cage roll at the same time I realized the poor little bugger had crapped himself again.

This was the reverse of the Caramilk Secret.

I raced up the stairs yelling for Taryn, Ari’s girlfriend. I gently wept as we stuffed a yowling cat in the beautiful freestanding bathtub I’d had recently installed, imagining myself covered in bubbles, candlelight gently bouncing off a champagne flute. Instead I was scrubbing crap from a cat that had more nooks and crannies than a Thomas’s English muffin.

I eventually settled for a beer on the dock.

Posted in motherlode | 9 Comments

I’m going to need to see some I.D.

In recent years, many of the small country general stores in areas around our cottage have started selling beer and wine and liquor. This is a godsend; there is nothing worse than trying to justify a half hour trip – each way – for a bottle of wine, even when you camouflage it with needing a newspaper or butter tarts. That explanation can only fly so many times, and people can only eat so many butter tarts.

One of the conditions of non-restrictive establishments selling restricted goods is that they have to be, well, restrictive: fines are steep and that magic liquor licence is tightly guarded. That’s a fair trade. I’ve watched owners require people to fill out a registry tracking their identification for regulatory follow up, and I’m not inconvenienced waiting for this to happen. Then again, I am willing to drive an hour to get a bottle of wine.

My sister Roz and I dropped into one such shop in Orrville; there is a fabulous bakery just up the road (The Orville Bakery) and because woman cannot live by chocolate croissants alone, we stopped into the Orrville General Store to get some extra supplies. I plunked a bottle of vodka on the counter to check out (because iced tea on the dock just wouldn’t be the same without it) and the clerk smiled and started apologizing.

“I’m so sorry, but I have to check for I.D.,” she began. I laughed, but stopped her. I’ve been in Las Vegas where they carded the 75-year-old at the next table. Keeping that liquor licence is important. I hauled out my driver’s licence as Roz came up to the counter with a couple bottles of wine. The lady behind the counter looked at my licence, and did what I like to think was a small gasp of amazement.

“You do not look that old; I’m serious. Wow.” Now, at the cottage the Sommerfeld women could rarely be called stylish. Hairdos involve a lot of ponytails, and I never wear any makeup to interfere with my girlish aura.

“She’s gonna card you,” I told Roz, who was already reaching for her licence.

“You can card her,” I told the clerk, “but she’s five years older than I am.” This time the clerk really did gasp. I later used the word “giddy” to describe Roz. Roz denies it.

“No way. She’s older than you?”

Now, Roz has a certain je ne sais Dorian Grey quality about her. I long ago stopped pretending it bothered me because it makes her so happy. I am the bigger person, obviously. I knew this encounter at the Orrville General Store would be replayed for years to come; it was replayed twice on the ten minute drive back to the cottage.

Back home, I told the story to Gilly so she could be sure to go get herself some carding before the summer was over. I’m sure she wouldn’t be mistaken as being the oldest instead of the youngest – that honour apparently is all mine – but it’s a nice boost for shallow people. She started giggling immediately.

“Manny got carded the other day,” she said. Her husband is younger than all of us; he’s a few years off reaching his 50th, even. Where I’m usually a tangle of unbrushed hair and questionable fashion choices, Manny always looks like he happened on purpose.

“Ha! He must have loved it!” I said, because getting carded at home actually means something.

“Nope, it was at Shopper’s Drug Mart.”

It took about two seconds for it to register.

Posted in motherlode | 10 Comments

Can a kid use a Visa wisely? Giving credit where it’s due

“I’ve applied for a Visa card,” said Ari, 20. “I have to pay my tuition, and I think I should do it myself this time.”

Credit card companies start sending applications to kids while they’re still in high school. I noticed the trend with Christopher, and I was appalled. They wanted to give a credit card to someone who once went on a three day winter camping trip with a steak and four pairs of socks.

When I was a teen, we’d all go to Eaton’s to get our first credit card. They’d issue one to anyone who knew their postal code, and we’d happily sign up for the usurious thirty percent interest rate to have the ability to hide forty dollar jean purchases from our parents. I worked at the library; my weekly take home pay every two weeks was about one pair of those jeans. It was hard to amass a fortune on $2.15 an hour. But at least you were limited in where you could throw caution to the wind; Eaton’s had more offerings to my grandmother’s set than to mine, so it was a safe proving ground.

A Visa or Mastercard though? I destroyed the applications as they came in. Because I’m away a fair bit, both boys have had a card in their own names on my account for years, but I’ve also had it patiently explained to me why nachos were an emergency. Once they became legal adults, I understood my control was imaginary, but I did try to pass on the best advice I ever got from my Dad, who despised credit cards: never charge anything you’re going to poop out.

I have an odd relationship with my sons. If I want to know something, I ask them. I never snoop. I’ve lived with a snoop and it is a soul destroying situation. My kid could be a pen pal with a serial killer and I wouldn’t know it unless he volunteered the information. Instead, I know their friends, and we talk. A lot. It’s an amazing concept.

Ari showed me his new card when it came in. I glanced at the credit limit.

“Huh. You must be doing something right, they don’t usually give students a thousand dollar limit,” I told him.

“What’s the normal one?” he asked.

“I think they offered your brother fourteen cents.”

With Ari handling his own tuition deposits, I gave the matter little more thought until his first statement arrived. I called him down.

“How’d you know this is my Visa bill?” he asked me. “Because they always have pictures of missing kids on the back of the envelope,” I explained. He squinted at the before and after photos. “This boy would be like, 21 now,” he said. I then told him that a parent would never, ever stop looking. Ever. For all the razzing I give my kids, that envelope gives my heart a squeeze every month. I still look for your kid.

He opened it and scanned the statement. “So, debit and then credit for a thousand,” he pointed out. “I have zero balance. Good.”

I looked at it more closely. He had paid the thousand dollar deposit with the Visa, then immediately transferred the money from his account to the credit card. Within a few minutes.

“You’ll get a statement every month. It will show what you owe, and give a date it’s due by,” I explained.

“But I don’t want to pay interest.”

“But interest doesn’t start unless you don’t pay off the balance by the due date.”

“I’m okay with doing it my way,” he said.

Another set of training wheels gone.

Posted in motherlode | 2 Comments

Seasonal depression: clean up on aisle one

In a couple of months, around mid-October or so, my shrink will raise one of her perfect eyebrows just slightly and wait for me to say what we both know. It might be time to do your annual meds tweaking, her eyebrow will say. And I’ll waste fifteen minutes explaining why this year will be different and another fifteen accepting that it won’t.

Many of us have certain times of year that are worse than others; maybe it’s the anniversary of some loss, still felt profoundly long after you thought it would be neatly knitted into the rest of your life or maybe it’s simply as basic as a loss of sunshine during winter’s grey grasp. It’s usually on you before you know it, because it’s more like a train that mows you down instead of one you sit waiting to catch.

Growing up, there was no better time of year than September. Back to school was magic; my sisters thought I was crazy (I should tell The Eyebrow that) for ushering out summer on a pile of Seventeen magazines full of dog-eared pages and lists of the mythical outfits I’d be wearing as I reinvented myself in a new grade. Seventeen was for thirteen-year-olds; by seventeen, I’d be reading Cosmopolitan to learn new sexcapades (though I slept in a twin bed with a cat named Nooley) instead of pining for Bass Weejuns. As a kid, those two months held promise. I could be a first round draft pick for a few shiny moments even if only in my ever fertile imagination. I believed anything was possible.

For now, the cicadas continue to drill the air with their buzzing operas, a sound so pervasive I notice only when it stops. My Dad showed me one in his hand once, and I was suitably grossed out while simultaneously fascinated that something could wait thirteen years to put on a show for a few weeks and then disappear. Kind of like me and my new back to school outfits, come to think of it.

I’ve always found it difficult to explain to The Eyebrow how I could love September yet dread October. Contemplating that inevitable chilly slide is hard to do during my favourite month, like having your seatbelt on when the car wasn’t even running. This year I’ve been more aware, however. I’ve recognized that August is the problem; I used to be able to bury it in new pencil crayons and three-ringed binders but I finally realize it’s those damned cicadas power drilling home the message that summer is over. Like those bugs, we wait far too long for far too little.

Dad died in October, and The Eyebrow and I both know that plays a huge part in my upheaval. I pay so little attention to birthdays and Hallmark holidays that I didn’t even get a connection until someone else pointed it out. After nearly nineteen years you’d think I’d be over it already, or at least find a more attractive sack to drag it around in. Mom and Dad now reside under a small tree at the cottage; at the time, we’d envisioned it growing into a majestic pine overlooking the lake, but instead it got run over by some snowmobile one winter and now sits stunted, crookedly on guard. It’s stubborn and more than a little sad; my father hated snowmobiles.

I’ll ride out August so I can flirt with September, then let The Eyebrow help me power through the rest of the year.

I still want to believe that anything is possible.

Posted in motherlode | 8 Comments

Every house needs a bag of googly eyes and a psychic mother

When Ari, 20, and his girlfriend got to the cottage, I greeted them in the usual way.

“Did you remember your toothbrushes?”

They hadn’t, and I tossed them two new ones I’d brought along for precisely this purpose. I’m not sure how it happens, but becoming a mother somehow triggers things lying dormant deep in your genetic coding. I knew over the course of several days up north, someone would be looking for toothbrushes, Polysporin, tweezers, socks, ping pong balls, a machete (don’t ask), marshmallows, my red shirt no my other red shirt and Cheez Whiz. I’m aware Cheez Whiz is as close to being food as a ping pong ball is, but I’m also aware that cottage traditions die hard.

When I go away on my own, I can happily — and precisely — pack seven things and be fully prepared. When I know the kids are along, my car suddenly resembles a tinker’s cart. I think the slippery slope begins with the diaper bag. When we finally get to ditch that, we just move all the junk to our purses. I don’t carry a purse, mostly so I don’t have to “can you hold this?” for everyone in proximity.

It took becoming a mother for me to appreciate just how many bases my own mother had covered. Things like Q-Tips and toilet paper and vinegar and detergent and soap and Benadryl and toothpicks and flour and Band-Aids and soup and shoelaces and cream of tartar, something I found out I needed once when I was making play dough. Mom had it.

I think mothers bolster their supplies and use crystal balls for shopping lists out of self defence: I know if I only have one of something and a kid wants it, I’ll give it to the kid. We have a running joke around here; if someone goes through a drive-thru to grab dinner, the order in the bag is inevitably short. The boys will unload everything, then peer into the empty bag and tell me the restaurant forgot my burger. Doesn’t matter if we all ordered the same thing, if it’s short, it’s mine that was left out. I don’t think I’ve had an entire meal since Christopher was out of a high chair.

As the boys need me less, I’ve transferred my pack mule skills. When I travel, everybody I’m with knows I have tissues, wetnaps, an array of drugs, earplugs, mints, licorice, apples, pens and a lot of other things, but not cream of tartar. My backpack is like some bottomless pit of things you didn’t know you’d ever need. Boy scouts can brag about being prepared, but I’m a mother. We invented it.

The kids of the house do most of the grocery shopping now, but every once in awhile I have to go and buy things like sugar or baking powder or pasta, or the hundred other things that just happen. I think of Mom every time one of them yells “where do we keep” instead of “do we have.”

One of the cats was playing with some googly eyes the other day, torn from a bag long forgotten in that kitchen drawer we all have. It was a hangover from early craft days, when we didn’t just have packages of googly eyes, we had different sizes of them. We kept them next to the glue sticks and pompoms. I made a joke on Facebook about the interesting litter box possibilities with a cat that was eating googly eyes. The comments were fairly predictable, but I laughed over one of them that said he had bags — yes bags — of googly eyes!

Must be a Dad.

Posted in motherlode | 12 Comments

Tapping into my inner handyman

We have some general cottage rules: claim times before you set your holiday schedule at work; first one up cuts the grass; last one up stores the canoes; and leave it as clean as you found it.

My sisters both think I’m a slob and that I don’t know they talk about me behind my back. I know.

Probably the toughest rule is this one: if it breaks on your watch, you have to get it fixed. If that means finding a plumber or electrician during high season, that’s what you have to do.

Gilly has an edge because her husband is really handy and we have no problem allowing Manny to spend his holiday fixing things. Roz is super organized and can find receipts and knows things like when the septic tank should be cleared.

I have Christopher and Ari and everyone is just happy we don’t burn down the place.

As Gilly was packing up last week, we got a note that the bathroom tap had started leaking. I was coming up the next day, so I told her not to worry, I’d handle it. Roz said we probably needed new taps, as the ones on there came from the Sears Early Poverty line. No problem.

I picked up a set of taps in town, paying careful attention to the size and knowing we wanted something with a higher spout. I did not pay attention to the drain part. This becomes important later on.

We still work with the tools my father left behind, many of which were in turn left behind by the previous owner 43 years ago. My father believed he could fix most problems with a hammer.

I rounded up some tools that looked promising, if a little rusty.

I read the instructions (it was only going to take three simple steps), shut off the water and got to work. It wasn’t hard to get the offending taps off and the new ones on.

I spent an hour lying with a cricked up back under a tiny vanity alternately swearing and saying lefty loosey tighty righty under my breath.

I got the little water hoses hooked up and couldn’t figure out why the taps were still all wobbly. I spotted the little black things you screw on to anchor them, and took everything apart to get them on.

I still had a part left over. The drain in the kit was very different from the drain in the sink. I’d already disconnected some bits, and now they just lay there looking at me.

Making an executive decision, I started tugging out the old drain. I felt some pride in finally using tools the instructions hadn’t thought to tell me I’d need.

When everything looked about right, I turned on the taps and water fell all over me. I picked up the phone to call our local contractor, Rod. He calls us Those Crazy Sommerfeld Women. The next morning, he surveyed my handiwork.

“The taps aren’t quite centred,” he told me. I was aware of that, and knew it would make Roz nuts. She’s a little OCD-ish and I knew she’d say how nice they looked while silently measuring the half centimetre they were off.

After a couple of days, I’d call and tell her how to straighten them.

“You’d do that to your sister,” he said.

“Of course,” I replied.

Turned out the issue was in the black bendy bits under the sink, not my mad skills. Rod did a bunch of real plumbing while I watched, though he gave me points for getting the taps on.

Never did use the hammer.

Posted in motherlode | 12 Comments

If you’re going to break a trophy, make it a loser

We were sitting down for dinner when Ari looked quizzically at a stout, glass trophy in the middle of the table.

“Oh, that’s only there because one of the cats broke it last night. Check the base,” I told him. A good sized chunk of glass had broken cleanly off. I was considering gluing it back together.

“Well, good thing it’s not a winner or anything,” he said.

You could have driven a truck through the slow motion moment of silence that ensued. Emblazoned on the piece were the words Runner Up; while technically correct, the rest of the table knew it was a second-place grab for a national auto writing award that only issues two spots.

Not a win, but not bad.

Even as he finished the sentence, Ari was slowly looking up at me to make eye contact. Like he could stop me from reaching for my gun holster or something. Everyone else at the table froze

“All I mean is busting the other one would have been worse.”

There is actually a first placer the cats could have knocked over instead, because I never put anything away.

“If one had to be broken, it’s better it’s that one.”

Pammy started laughing; Ari’s girlfriend Taryn gave him a deliberate look before saying, “you need to stop talking.”

“No! All I mean is if one of my fifth place track and field ribbons got lost, I wouldn’t care!”

By now Pammy was laughing so hard she put her fork down. Taryn was shaking her head in disbelief.

“So, let me get this straight. You’re comparing my writing award to your Grade 3 track day ribbon.”

“Just the fifth place one.”

“The ones that everyone got just for attending the meet.”

“I’d be mad if it was the first place ones,” he said after some consideration.

“You were eight years old.”

A few years ago when I changed papers with my car work, I thought Motherlode was done. Though still a freelancer, I thought leaving a parent company might spell the end of the column.

The boys have pretty much grown up in this space, the highs and lows of our world unspooling each week. They have never paid it much attention because it’s always just been there.

When I sat them down that night to tell them the news, I was surprised most by Ari’s reaction.

“Why can’t you still write Motherlode?” he asked.

“Not sure if I’ll have a conflict, but it’s been a great run. I’ll miss it,” I said, which was a very big understatement. I’d been walking around all day imagining the end of Motherlode like a small death.

“Look,” Ari said with some force. “I’ve never read a single one, but that’s just not right.” He and his brother have threatened to have silent days, to withhold what they call my material.

I make a living doing something I love and to my sons, it’s just business as usual, albeit comparable to a third grade track day. I sit at my computer in the kitchen as the household pulses around me. Look at a weather map when they’re forecasting a hurricane; I’m that swirly crazy part in the middle.

There have been many don’t-you-dare-write-that moments, and many more times I’ve self-censored to protect the guilty, including myself.

I long ago stopped looking for what sets us apart from other families by understanding that our strengths lie in the things that make us the same.

I actually don’t care much about the trophies, only the material.

Posted in motherlode | 8 Comments