Hello from the other side: remember party lines?

“The fly-around Internet is dead,” I yelled, needlessly. That’s what I call the magic that makes my computer work. Nothing would connect. I checked the little light up box and saw just two of eight tiny lights blinking back at me.

Our connection to the outside world, our very existence, had been snuffed out. I started messing with my handy unfolded paper clip, fumbling around in the back to hit things to reset. I do this blindly because I can’t see back there but I am ever hopeful.

“Stop messing with it, I’ve already called them,” said Ari. “It’s the actual modem and they can’t get someone here until Friday.”

I thought his face would break with sadness. There is nothing he can’t fix himself, except when our supplier needs to actually supply some equipment.

“Well, we can live for a couple of days. I can work somewhere else,” I shrugged. My son, on the other hand, looked ashen.

“I pushed hard to get an appointment sooner. I told them we have a working professional here who has deadlines.”

I looked around, wondering who this working professional could be. My sons think I play minesweeper and watch cat videos all day. I started laughing. I became a working professional because my son wanted his Internet connection back faster.

He talks with most of his friends through an open chat that means I can hear their conversations when he doesn’t have his headset on. When I walk in the room, I hear a chorus of “hi, Ari’s Mom” which I find kind of endearing and a little creepy. But every time I hear them talking, I can only think of one thing: the time my little sister had a convulsion.

I’ll begin at the beginning. It was probably 1968. We had a phone, but it was a party line which was cheaper. When I explain this to the kids they think party means party. I have to carefully describe what this meant back in 1968.

I don’t recall how many people shared the line, but I do remember you were supposed to keep calls short. These other voices were a mystery to me. They weren’t the Eichenbergs next door, and my world essentially consisted of my house and theirs.

You’d pick up the phone and a woman would be talking. All the time. Same woman. Talking, talking, talking. My mother would check in at intervals because nobody was supposed to hog the line and this woman hogged the line. She was like this ghostly member of the family. My mother would silently fume but her manners always won and she never said anything.

My older sister Roz used to shush me and we’d gently pick up the phone and listen, sometimes. I learned about gossip from this woman. She talked so much she never even heard the audible click it made when we picked up.

Having a phone back in 1968 mostly meant waiting to use the phone, until the day Gilly had a high fever and started convulsing. My mother needed to call the doctor. With a limp baby in her arms, she grabbed the phone and heard the usual babbling. She said she had an emergency but the woman told her to wait a few minutes.

Words came out of my mother’s mouth that I had never heard before and would never hear again. The doctor was there instantly and Gilly lived. We got a private line.

I smile now when I realize how much I pay every month so we can always have someone on the other line.

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When the secret ingredient doesn’t work as planned

I don’t cook often because I don’t do it well, and nobody around here can be bothered to lie about it. If my mother tried a disappointing new recipe, my sisters and I would politely say it was good while my father would push his chair back from the table and exclaim, “Well, you don’t have to make that again.”

I used to think this was horribly rude and wondered in my little head why anyone would ever be anything other than grateful if somebody cooked for them.

Then I grew up and made things and realized you can’t hide the truth when you’re choking down every bite with a swig of wine or water.

When the boys were younger, they’d ask what I’d opened for dinner that night. Or what I’d melted cheese on. They thought this was hilarious, because we all know successful humour is rooted in truth. Bitter, sad truth.

One thing I can make from scratch is spaghetti sauce. By age 2, Ari vetoed anything store bought. Not so tough; even I could master that one. I did, for decades producing a reliable, if boring, standard.

Ari’s girlfriend, Taryn, is an excellent cook. Trust me; I spent a lot of time on this section of her interview before she moved in. I am happy to buy all the weird spices she wants and get out of her way. Often, I make my basic sauce and then she steps in to dump in the magic.

She was at work yesterday and not around to help. She works crazy hours in a restaurant and I don’t think it’s fair to ask her to cook when she gets home.

Gilly and I had been at Rozzy’s a few weeks back and the two of them had made sauce. It is not Sisters Cooking; it is Two Sisters and One Onlooker. I’m sneaky, though, and paid careful attention.

“Ew. What’s in this sauce?” asked Ari, spoon poised over the pot.

“It’s something Rozzy does. Pretty great, eh?”

“It tastes like gingerbread. It’s awful.”

I had put a little cinnamon in it. I couldn’t remember if it was coffee, cocoa or cinnamon, but I knew it was one of the c’s.

“How much did you put in, anyway?”

“Rozzy puts in just a little.”

“I didn’t ask how much Rozzy puts in. I asked how much you put in.”

I’ve been known to freelance in the measuring department. “Just a little, I promise.”

“Spaghetti sauce shouldn’t taste like Christmas. I don’t think I’m having dinner.” Just like that, he turned into his grandfather.

“I’ll fix it. Don’t worry.”

“I doubt you can fix this. Wait until Taryn gets home,” he said, leaving the kitchen.

I raced to the fridge and dumped a bunch of Frank’s hot sauce in the pot. Frank’s fixes everything.

Ari rambled back in 10 minutes later. He sniffed the pot.

“What’d you do to this?” I told him I’d done nothing. He tasted it. “Gross. You dumped Frank’s in here. Now it’s like gingerbread with Frank’s on it. Why do you think that fixes things?”

I have no answer for this, except when in doubt, I vote to incinerate tastebuds. If they can’t taste anything, they can’t know it’s bad.

I waited patiently for Taryn to get home, warning her dinner might not be exactly as advertised. She smiled, no doubt sure she could fix it.

She made rice and curry. I have enough spicy Christmas spaghetti to last for days.

I’ve decided it’s festive.

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When you’re not sure if you’re keeping something in, or out

You’ve probably heard that Steven Wright joke in which he wonders why 7-11s have locks on their doors if they’re open 24 hours a day.

I live within many Steven Wright musings, actually, where you ponder the odd and laugh at the ordinary. Until recently, we were also a 7-11, in that somebody was up around the clock and our doors never closed.

My sliding glass doors have never had a functioning lock. I think when my parents had them installed, the locks worked for a day or two. We then relied on living in one of those safe neighbourhoods you read about — right before the serial killer jettisons it into the headlines.

When I read those stories I always cast a suspicious eye around my street, and practice saying, “but he seemed so ordinary, I never suspected a thing.”

I do remember Mom asking Dad to fix the lock, and he did. For 40 years we have had a sturdy chunk of wood to fit into the track. Dad, the locksmith.

He once explained to me it was a far better door block than some stupid lever lock, and besides, if someone was breaking in you could pick up the piece of wood and whack them over the head with it.

I was 10 at the time. Most parents would tell a 10-year-old to run from a burglar but Dad believed I should engage one in armed combat.

When the boys were little, I was insistent on that bar being in place because I told them someone might try to steal me. They didn’t even pretend to hide their snickering.

To make my point abundantly clear, I might have woken up slumbering children many mornings swinging a wooden stick over my head like a madwoman demanding to know who didn’t bar the door the previous night.

Christopher was our night owl. Between working as a bouncer and bringing about world peace via computer games, he was usually up when the rest of us weren’t.

The other kids also had varied schedules, the upshot being that somebody at any given time was awake. You might have broken into my house thinking you’d hit a jackpot, until six-foot-four wall of boy asked what you were doing in his house.

When he and Pammy moved out a few weeks ago, I promptly announced the stick would be back in the door every night.

After Shelby has had her last pee (Shelby is the dog, not another kid), the door has to be barricaded. Ari and his girlfriend Taryn are excellent about it. I feel optimistic that nobody will steal me.

I was away recently and upon returning, found out just how large an impact I have on my family.

Taryn had gone out back with Shelby, carefully pulling the sliding doors shut behind her. With four indoor cats desperate to be outdoor cats, we have to watch it.

When she started back inside, the door wouldn’t budge. Knowing it couldn’t be the lock, she gave it another tug. Nothing. Just Mark, our biggest-cat-though-still-technically-a-kitten, sitting staring at her through the glass. She glanced down.

Mark had pushed the wooden stick into the track.

Pyjama clad, Shelby at her side, she pounded on the door until Ari showed up.

I told her later she was lucky he wasn’t at school. If she’d managed to somehow get over the fence, our new-found security meant a locked front door, too.

I have no clue if Mark can open that lock, though I wouldn’t bet against it.

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If I had a million dollars…I’d still need a quarter at No Frills

“We’re trying to decide how we’d spend the money,” said Ari, 21, his girlfriend Taryn smiling beside him. “The pot’s at something ridiculous like $50 million. Can you imagine?”

I can’t, but I think it’s worth ten bucks for the entertainment of trying to wonder how your life would change. I don’t buy lottery tickets, because a psychic I paid a hundred dollars to 25 years ago told me I’d never win. I’m sure he made his fortune a hundred dollars at a time, but he did save me a lot of angst by nipping that particular tax in the bud. He also told me Ari would be a girl, something that would come as a surprise to Ari, not to mention Taryn.

Listening to the kids talk, I’m aware of how much things shift. What they consider winning the lottery and what I consider winning the lottery sports a chasm that widens as the years pass. Ari was responsibly telling me while he couldn’t figure out what order he’d buy his new cars in, though he wouldn’t spend more than $400,000 on one. This is possibly relative; I’d had him in a $2.2 million car a few weeks back, and I guess I should be grateful this hasn’t become the new standard.

The two of them chattered, imagining a world that didn’t involve kitchen cabinets desperately in need of paint and a pack of Lysol wipes permanently displayed on the counter to clean up hairballs. Ari was in the midst of building himself a massive log cabin when Taryn addressed the biggest issue.

“Wait. Would we still need jobs?” I started laughing. My sons have been raised with a rock solid work ethic, and a deep-seated dedication to duty and purpose. They are industrious, innovative and at times very nearly entrepreneurial.

“Why?” asked Ari. I made a thudding sound as I fell over. “Are you crazy? Every episode of Winner to Welfare starts with someone quitting their job!” I reminded him. There is no show called this, but I make things up as required. “You need a purpose! You need a reason to get up each day!”

“I’ll have a dozen $400,000 cars in my meticulous garage,” he said. “There’s twelve reasons right there.”

“Fine,” I sighed. “At least tell me you’ll set up a foundation so you can start constructively giving away the money.” He raised his eyebrows as he peeked out from beneath the brim of a Mercedes hat I realized he had taken from my dresser. “Are you high?” he asked me.

“On your beautiful new acreage with your log cabin you build a lovely building to run a foundation from. You decide what matters to you, and start implementing scholarships and endowments to make things better. Hire a board you trust, and you run it. That can be your job.”

“Can I mostly do nothing?” he asked. I nodded. “Will you run it for me?” he asked. I nodded again. Ari and Taryn exchanged a glance I totally understood meant ‘that’ll shut her up’ and continued dreaming. I relaxed knowing if his numbers rang in, he’d let me hold his place until he was old enough to know big riches can be found in quiet places.

Like when someone is bleeding and their tetanus shot is up to date. When a cat pees in the dirty laundry instead of the clean. When someone else changes the light bulb in the garage. When I have a quarter at No Frills. When the expiry date on the yogurt happens to be my birthday.

Guess it’ll still be okay if he cuts me a cheque, though.

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It is not sexist to call Justin Trudeau hot

Justin Trudeau is nice to look at. So what?

Everybody screaming “objectification” needs to stop comparing the recent high pitched swooning over our new Prime Minister to the actual treatment a woman in his place would be receiving. There are no secret nude photos being displayed across the internet, like many high profile actors (Jennifer Lawrence) and anchors (Erin Andrews). There are just a smattering of high quality posed shots where he looks alternately thoughtful, wistful, determined and, because he was doing a charity boxing match, shirtless. Most men who box are shirtless at weigh-in. His opponent, the always ridiculous Patrick Brazeau was wearing a Speedo. Who’s the attention whore?

As if he needs defending, some are jumping into the fray to do just that. Why? Bending over backwards to point out a double standard is okay if there is in fact a double standard: but good looking people are often called good looking regardless of their gender. I have a tiny inkling that Justin has known for quite some time that he is handsome; I think the fact he is ignoring the outpouring of attention about his looks proves that.

For everybody bleating that if he were a woman we’d be in an uproar over such treatment, siddown. You want to know what happens when women are objectified for their looks? You want to know what actual sexist garbage is? It’s if Justin Trudeau stands up in Parliament and someone screams, “show us your t**s”. That is objectification.

Maybe for some insight you could have a chat with Shauna Hunt, the Toronto reporter who finally called out a goon for doing that hilarious worldwide stunt: as a woman does her job on camera, random men will holler out, “f*** her right in the p***y”. That is objectification. “Boy, that new Canadian politician is a babe” doesn’t come close to the bar.

If someone were calling him something actually derogatory, like, say, Shiny Pony, that would be worthy of your derision and defence. But no actual news organization would stand for that, right? Cheap shots like that would be left to the bottom feeders of the reporting pool, desperate for something to attack that has nothing to do with issues or platforms. That would be objectification. The fact Ezra Levant and Sun News has been calling Trudeau “Shiny Pony” for years merits an eyeroll; worldwide media calling him “hot” merits a pile on. What am I missing here?

They actually did him a favour, looking back. By calling attention early and often to Trudeau’s looks, it made the rest of us very consciously avoid it. Before election night and the rest of the world tuning in, there were no overt on and on and on discussions about Justin Trudeau, Scale of 1 to 10. Sure, there was a burble when he did the boxing gig, but that slipped beneath the waves until unearthed when he won the keys to the country.

There have been good looking female politicians. Some point to Belinda Stronach and think she got a rough ride. Her biggest liability was hardly her looks; it turned out to be openly dating a fellow politician who pouted when she left him. Rona Ambrose was frequently called one of the Conservative “hot” women, until people realized she had as much to contribute as a pile of rocks. Sometimes those good looks call unwelcome attention. The fact is, there are far more politicians who are simply a bag of jowls under a bad haircut who get elected over and over.

Defending Prime Minister-designate Trudeau is nice, maybe even noble, but totally misplaced.

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Wherever you go, there you are: kids are always kids

On a recent trek through a remote part of Mexico on a road comprised of switchbacks and rockslides, I was busy focusing on not pitching over the side of mountain to a sudden – though picturesque – death.

We finally stopped in Batopilas, a small town punched out of the Western Sierra Madre. Cobbled streets and plazas run along the river, the 1200 residents carving out a living officially in tourism, and unofficially drugs. It’s a beautiful little town that is sometimes accompanied by a travel warning.

When a slew of shiny new BMWs pull into town, it’s news. Schoolchildren, aged maybe 6-9, had a double recess to enjoy the spectacle. Barely kept in check by the nuns, their animated chatter built as more and more cars pulled in. I asked if the kids could sit in the car I was driving.

The translator translated, the message made its way to tiny hears, and in a second I was inundated with 50 small uniformed school children whose laughter rose in the hot noon sun.

I speak no Spanish, but two little girls chattered away to me anyway. They waited patiently for me to answer them, and I could only smile like a fool and wish I could. Finally one pointed to my ornate boots, and smiled and nodded to her friend. Footwear, the common language of women everywhere.

The kids were clambering into the seats, jostling for position and then sitting there happily when they’d claimed it. I flipped up the rear door, and had to plunk down to show them they could sit here, too. I barely made it out in time. I mimed to all of them they could take turns, as they sat and posed and waited for me to take their picture. I got dozens of shining eyes and huge smiles, including one little guy who somehow made it into nearly every picture.

Over and over they asked me questions in Spanish, and over and over I regretted I could only say please, thank you, and can I have a beer. I heard a scuffle behind me and found two 7-year-old boys wrestling each other near the rear of the car. Before their teacher noticed, I walked over and hauled them apart. I may not speak Spanish, but I am fluent in little boy.

Dozens of cars and pickups lining the narrow roadways. All were banged up – no doubt those rockslides played a role – and many had flat tires. Vehicles were transportation here; our presence was pretty but artificial, like a silver Christmas tree or blue carnations.

I wondered what the future held for these kids, at an age when anything seems possible. I wondered where you go when more cars than not are slumped by the side of the road, disabled, some sporting bullet holes, and I wondered when the plaid pinafores and neatly pressed white shirts give way to something else. I’m always torn in places like this, where I’m tempted to put my personal template atop a place I know little about. I do know the one thing we all have in common is investing in our children will always reap dividends. I admire those doing it in challenging places and troubling times.

I could have stayed in the nest of little ones for hours, but everyone had a timetable, including us. As we left the town centre headed for the road back, I glanced at three little boys energetically stomping on something by the side of the road. I deliberated not looking any closer; as I said, I know little boys.

Instead as we crept past, they waved and laughed; they were taking turns jumping up and down on a sheet of bubble wrap.

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If you date a woman with cats, here’s what to expect

It is a fairly well known fact that I have four cats. It is also fairly well known that I am single. A colleague of mine recently pointed out the fact that those four cats did not bode well for my romantic future. He didn’t quite say “romantic future”, but close enough. He added I was crazy to have so many. I reminded him I was already out- and- about diagnosed crazy as well. There was a thud on the other end of the line.

As everybody knows, cats rule the internet. There is a reason for that: everyone either loves cats or secretly loves cats. It’s the same reason horoscopes are always one of the most read thing on even established papers’ websites: the things we click on in private are never the things we admit we click on in private.

Cats are also the answer to nearly any problem. Think about it: etiquette and advice columns always tell you topics to avoid at gatherings. You can’t talk about politics, religion, sex or money. You know what you can talk about? Cats.

Based on my colleague’s misconceptions about me, I decided I should assemble a primer for anyone considering dating a woman with cats. For simplicity’s sake, I shall use the name “Kitty” as a generic placeholder.

  1. If you leave the cap off the toothpaste, she will get angry. Kitty can throw up in her favourite shoes and nothing will happen except she will buy new shoes.
  2. If Kitty has always slept on the pillow next to hers, Kitty will continue to sleep on the pillow next to hers.
  3. There is no perfect spot to keep a litter box, because by definition, it is a box full of poop. It won’t go away unless Kitty goes away. Kitty is not going away.
  4. Women view cats the way men view beer: “What’s one more?”
  5. You will only have to learn once that you cannot work on a laptop with a drink beside it if you live with a cat.
  6. If Kitty lies on your keyboard it does not mean you move Kitty. It means you can’t work until Kitty decides to go shed on your clothes instead.
  7. If you move in together and keep a very careful budget, it will work well until you get a vet bill. Never, ever try to discuss how much Kitty is worth. You will lose.
  8. Kitty will watch you making out. Try not to think of all the things Kitty has seen.
  9. Don’t walk around barefoot in the dark. They’re called hairballs. You’ll get used to them.
  10. There are three first date admissions that must be made: if you’re married, if you have kids or if you’re allergic to cats.
  11. Humans hug to show affection. Cats show you their bum.
  12. If Kitty doesn’t like you and you wonder just how long Kitty can live, the answer is as long as it takes to wait you out.
  13. The biggest problem is that you’ll fall in love – with the cat. If you break up you’ll have to get your own, and explain to the next person you date things they should know before they date a man with cats.
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The problem isn’t with kids today; it’s with us

I overheard a dismissive “kids today” conversation by mistake the other day. Well, I suppose I could have stopped overhearing, but I didn’t. There is a certain rubber stamped judgment that seems to set in for some people that makes me want to wave an entire parade of those “kids today” in front of them to show them how wrong they are.

Kids today, according to my eavesdroppee, are too lazy to work and too spoiled to leave home. I wonder sometimes if they really stop to think what is awaiting those kids today in the world they are apparently too lazy and spoiled to join. I wonder if they consider a job market full of contract positions and exploitive practices and it doesn’t matter your degree – or degrees –because there are very few dental plans and certainly no gold watches.

Kids today have been handed a world in disrepair, continual war, and a country that’s been ransacked by a government that has hidden the cost of keeping a select few at the top of the pyramid. We’ve given them leaders who campaign on fear until kids today learn they don’t vote for someone, they only vote against them. We offer them a choice of dark or darker, and wonder why they feel trapped in an emotional vice.

We saturate the media to the point no detail is too small, no fact too unknowable and no picture too compromising for public consumption. But that is juxtaposed with the other option, where no public figure, no politician and no CEO can go off script. Where every detail must be sanitized, every picture scrutinized, every comment and gesture decided ahead of time in a war room full of people hired to pull just the right strings at just the right moment.

We either hear too much truth or none at all. That is the choice, and we’ve become numb to both. If kids today can’t muster up much critical thinking it’s because there is an overload of the former and little of the latter.

We live in some kind of suspended hyper-world where truth and lies weave back and forth over a shifting imaginary line. People who offend aren’t sorry, they’re sorry if you’re offended; we should stop allowing these nonpologies to ride free and clear. Once the hateful thing is said, it’s a bell rung and nobody hears the feeble apology that wasn’t sincere in the first place.

Like banner headlines of yesterday corrected with a few lines buried deep in the fine print the following day, the original noise will never be outweighed, or even equaled, by the original words of those who always believed what they said all along. If forgiveness is never really wanted or warranted, how do kids today know mistakes are real and so are the consequences? More importantly, how do they learn mistakes don’t have to be fatal?

Social media is that irritating Christmas letter gone daily, and very much awry. But I don’t care, you say, and maybe you don’t. But like that wave slowly eroding that rock, you will be inundated with details you don’t need about people you don’t know because that is the way we communicate now. Think about kids who have never known any different; what is their reference point to remind themselves what a useless game so much of this is?

I may marvel at the internet delivering so much to my fingertips, yet in reality it is a pile of manure you must dig through frantically to find the pony. There is a pony, right?

How can you blame kids today?

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It was an awful lot of work for five tomatoes

Weeds rush in where tomatoes fear to flourish, it would seem. This year’s garden has been a dismal failure.

When I was seven, I planted four apple seeds about four inches apart. I assured Dad I would move them before they took over the whole yard.

Two came up. Dad said I was wrong, they weren’t apple trees. I knew I was right. I was wrong. I was frustrated and decided to quit gardening.

He told me to be patient and handed me some bean seeds. Bean seeds sprout seemingly overnight, and he knew it. I forgot about the apple trees.

Last year I was late to the gate and brought home a bunch of wounded, discarded tomato plants that would have been mulched, I am quite certain.

Instead they spent a few months failing to thrive in my sorry excuse for a garden as I endured doubtful looks from everyone I had assured of a repeat performance of the previous year’s bumper crop.

I plug in a bunch of tomato plants right where Dad used to plant his. Same dirt, same sun, I reason, and that first year’s success provided me with real tomatoes and false confidence.

I even tried to out-farm Dad by planting a cantaloupe plant, which sprawled across most of my turned earth and produced one cantaloupe that was eaten by a skunk one night.

Maybe Dad knew something I didn’t. Maybe he knew a lot of somethings.

This year I made sure to get the plants earlier, but stupidly went highbrow. The garden centre only had heirloom tomatoes, which are noted for being ugly — which I knew — and high maintenance — which I didn’t.

Maybe skunks like only esthetically pleasing plants, and heirloom tomatoes have Darwined their way to present day by way of their great personalities.

Too late, I realized they’re called heirloom because like many heirlooms, the work required to care for them must be a labour of love.

I don’t labour for love. Or heirlooms. Or tomatoes.

They looked healthy enough when I brought them home, but as the weeks marched on, they stubbornly refused to do more than offer up a handful of tiny promises on every other plant.

Another quality of heirloom tomatoes is that they’re all different colours. When I bought them, this seemed rather enchanting. I bought an assortment.

The problem was, I didn’t know when they were ripe. More than one fell to the ground, its screams to be picked falling on deaf ears.

More than one was also picked too soon, producing some interesting looks over dinner.

The various peppers I put in were carrying on happily enough. I remembered to leave their little identifier tickets stuck in the ground, after last year’s hot pepper fiasco.

The tiny cherry tomato plant I planted put the heirlooms to shame. My mother always wanted Dad to plant some of these, but he couldn’t be bothered. He was busy growing hundreds of tomatoes as big as his head, why bother with handfuls of miniature ones?

In a week or two I’ll tear it all down, and turn out the weeds that are now knee high.

I’ll take down the fence that Ari put up to keep the dogs out, and repot a couple of chives to see if they can make the winter.

I’ll conveniently forget how much those fussy heirloom plants cost me and pretend I can’t hear Dad asking what I was thinking.

He’s still puzzled over the cantaloupe decision, no doubt.

Maybe next year I’ll just grow beans.

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Lightening the Motherlode; two kids move out

When I say to friends it would be lovely to have an empty house, they all shake their head sadly and tell me to be careful what I wish for.

“You’ll miss them when they’re gone, and it happens so fast,” they say.

“Oh, you think that now, but you don’t really mean it,” they say.

My household is comprised of two sons, their girlfriends, the girlfriends’ dogs and four cats. It is not a large house. I am not a particularly sociable or amiable person. Like most things in my life, I have arrived at a place I had little intention of being and it shows.

As I type this, there are 31 pairs of shoes and boots in my front hallway. I’m not kidding. I admit a bunch are mine, but 31. For five of us. The bathroom is full of so many lotions and potions I have no idea what they’re for. I use shampoo, conditioner and soap. At last count, there were 13 kinds of things in the shower. Not counting the bar of soap.

Every few months, Christopher, 23, and I have a blistering fight and I throw him out. His girlfriend Pammy has lived with us for about five years, and they both know I would never throw her out so it’s kind of an empty threat. The next morning he’ll lift something heavy or cut the grass and we trundle on, much as we ever were.

I channel the Amityville Horror movie and creep around in the middle of the night whispering “get oooout” but nobody does. I offer parting gifts (“first one out can have the living room furniture!) yet still, no takers. I’ve been saving pots and pans and dishes and cutlery since Christopher was teething. It’s not that I don’t love my children, it’s that I do. I want them to be independent and happy and learn to buy toothpaste.

About a month ago, Christer and Pammy showed me an ad for an apartment they’d found. I was totally surprised because I hadn’t thrown anyone out in the previous week. But they were serious and dedicated, and I was delighted. My friends were wrong; seeing the excitement in the eyes of two kids I adore as they get ready for a new beginning makes me smile.

They have had the luxury of an unhurried move in, and have been schlepping things to the new place all week. Well, mostly Pammy has. Christer found out when the new bed would be delivered, announced that was when he’d hook up his computer, threw 4 pairs of underwear in a bag and announced he was good to go.

Ari is so excited to see his brother leave that he’s helping lift furniture without complaining. The couch they bought would barely fit (Ari: “Didn’t you take a tape measure when you went to look at it?” Christer: “Shut up.”) but such was the determination of both young men for different reasons they made it work.

When they go, of course Alfie goes with them. I’m still no dog person, but Alfie and I have grown to tolerate each other and we hang out when everyone is at work. Just as I was telling him I’d miss him, Pammy told me not to worry, I’d probably still see him every day. They’ve moved about three blocks away.

“We’ll get you your own key made,” said Christopher. I smiled, figuring there would probably be some Alfie rescues in my future. “So you can bring over dinner, you know, if you feel like it,” he finished.

Independence. One step at a time.

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