Saturday, March 29, 2014

His Third Degree Brown Belt

Have I ever told you that I hate people? Sometimes, I really do.

So today, Nick took a four hour test to earn his 3rd degree brown belt in karate. I was so proud of him. Even when he walked into the dojo, wondering if he would pass, I was proud that he had stuck it out for so long. Lots of kids take karate. Not that many study it for eight years.

I was too jittery to sit at a coffee shop and wait, so I decided to take the dog for a long walk in the rain. We headed to Marymoor park, where Teddy could run with the other dogs. As we walked in, I set RunKeeper on my iPhone and away we went, round and round while I thought about Nick. Five and a quarter miles later, I couldn't wait any longer. I had to head back to the dojo to see if they were close to being done. They weren't. I went through the drive-through at Jack in the Box and got a southwest salad and ate it in the car while I watched them. Thankfully, they had paired kids with other kids and adults with other adults. Nick is pretty solid, but I'm not ready to see him fighting an adult who's testing for either a brown or a black belt. They had brought the group outside in the rain where they sparred in what they called 'the gravel pit.' When they all ran back inside, they were filthy, yet, Nick had a grin on his face. I look for that. If he's got a grin on his face, then it makes me feel better when he's doing something this difficult. It's a sign that it's still worth it for him to be there.

The test ran four hours!

So, that's not what makes me hate people. I expect a brown and black belt test to be grueling. I do. Otherwise, it wouldn't mean a thing.

When I had eaten my salad and was on my way back into the dojo, I ran into a friend, Brad, and his son, Kyle. Now, Kyle has never been nice to Nick. That has always irked me. The family will invite us to dinner and Kyle will ignore Nick or make fun of him all night. It got to a point that we stopped accepting invitations to their home. Out to dinner was one thing, but dinner at their house with an hour or two of talking in the kitchen while the kids 'played' in the den was out of the question. It was miserable for Nick.

As we stood there in the parking lot, I got excited and told them that Nick was finishing up his brown belt test. Brad said, "That's great." And I went on to tell him how hard Nick had been working and how long the test was taking. Then, I asked them what they were up to. The movies. And did they like it? Yes. And so on.

But why was Kyle standing behind his dad, snickering uncontrollably? The kid is about an inch taller than his dad, so he had to hunch down to hide while he laughed. What the hell?

Suddenly, Brad said, "Ah, we have to get going, something we need to get done." And he hustled Kyle off before I had a chance to say goodbye.

What the hell was that?

I texted Mike, who was doing his Scoutmasterly duties, camping in the pouring rain. I explained what I had seen Kyle doing. He probably thinks Nick's training is a joke, Mike texted back. Oh yes, I do hate people. I hate some people with passion. I'm starting to hate some people's fathers as well because they don't make some people apologize for being so incredibly rude.

So later, I left Nick at home with a canteen of water and an ice pack on his shoulder. I had to run to the market for more hot cocoa for the Boy Scouts. It was a wet day out there. They'd run through their hot drinks. In the parking lot of the market, I ran into another acquaintance, Suzanne. I won't exactly call her a friend. Not now. We got to talking and I couldn't help myself. I really am proud of my boy. Again, I mentioned that Nick had just passed his brown belt test.

For a moment, her eyes went wide. Incredulous is the best way to describe her expression. Yes. That's the word, exactly. Oh, she rearranged her face in a flash, and we went on to talk about other things. Yet I saw that look. I saw it in her eyes and the small 'o' her mouth had made.

Did I tell you that I hate people. I seriously do.

Thank you for listening, jules

Thursday, March 27, 2014

One Mom's Victory Over the Space-Time Continuum

I'm mean and sneaky.

This morning, I told my boy, Nick, that I got him up fifteen minutes early so that he could finish his homework. I didn't. In fact, I got him up about three minutes early. I figure he won't notice and I can get away with squeezing time. It's Einstein's theory, not mine. I'm just adding my mom-mass to the equation and changing the time aspect of our morning.

All along, I've been telling Nick to do the next thing, saying I want him to use that fifteen minutes wisely. At first, it went according to his usual time table. One of  the things I've never heard described well is the fact that we can't see time. We can sort of feel it, but we can't really know how it shifts as we flow through it. The one who described it best was the crazy scientist ex-boyfriend in the movie 'Kate & Leopold.' I love science but I don't look at equations and just get it. I hate that about science.

"You're so mean," Nick said from under his quilts before I had even said a word. All I had done was scratch his back a little and pat his leg while he tried to finish whatever he was dreaming.

"You have an extra fifteen minutes to get ready this morning. If you get ready quickly, you can have a half an hour." I pulled the quilts back from his shoulders. He was up and out about a minute ahead of schedule.

After he ate his breakfast, he had accumulated six more minutes. He came back into his room where I still sat with my notebook.

"It's warm in there." He slid both hands under his pillow and began to stretch out."

"It's warm in the shower."

"But it's wet in the shower."

"So, skip the shower and get straight to your work. I gave you the opportunity to have an extra half hour to finish your homework and you're squandering it."

"But I need a shower." In other words, he only heard me say 'so skip the shower blah, blah, blah, blah ..."

It figures. He left and started the shower. I opened the bathroom door a crack, making sure I didn't look in.

"Make it a really quick one. You're running out of time." I could feel the increase in my own mass there for an instant.

I didn't tell Nick that the time I was referring to was the universal time remaining before a random asteroid or galaxy slammed into the planet and wiped us and all our proof of existence into oblivion. I love the smell of Armageddon in the morning.

When he'd been in the shower for five minutes, I knocked on the door and said, "Rinse off and get out. You still have a little bit of that extra time I gave you."

He spent seven more minutes in the shower.

Still, by the time he was brushing his teeth, he had accumulated twelve extra minutes.

"I don't have any socks." I went into his room and looked into his sock drawer. There were at least ten pair of socks in the drawer, just not the kind that he liked. I didn't want to bug Mike in the bedroom as I rummaged around in the laundry pile for Nick's favorite socks. Mike didn't sleep last night, but that's a whole different story.

"Wear these," I said, tossing him a pair I knew he didn't like. Evil, but effective. Increased mass, I tell you. I'd gotten stuck with those socks once. They were the kind that get eaten by the heels of your shoes. I hate wimpy socks. I should throw them out. Somehow I knew he would take less time arguing if I handed him the worst socks instead of the almost good ones.

"Those don't fit."

"Try them." He brought them into the living room along with another pair of socks.

"Mom, these are too narrow." He tossed them at me. Usually, they would have ended up on the floor, but this time, I caught them. Increased gravity too. An added benefit.

"They don't fit?"

That mass wavered for a bit. I'm still not used to how big this kid has grown. He grew a quarter of an inch last week. A quarter of an inch. It adds up to an inch in a month, a foot in a year if he keeps it up. That's got to hurt.

"Okay. Just keep it moving," I said recovering.

When he sat down on the couch, completely dressed and ready to go, he had an extra twenty-seven minutes to do his work, all because of my evil plan.

I let him work uninterrupted for thirty four minutes. I didn't tell him that I was eliminating the time he had at school to hang around with his friends before class. He loves that time.

Just ten minutes before the final bell was to ring, I jumped up, grabbed his notebook, calculator, eraser, sheet of homework, and his pencil and I ran toward the car.

"We have to go. Now!"

He only lagged behind me a minute, not his usual four or five in which he lolls about hugging his dad and watching news on CNN. I guess Mike, in his absence, was in on my plan. In the car on the way to school, I said, "Nick, I lied. I didn't wake you up fifteen minutes early, I ... "

"Mom, please don't talk to me right now. I'm almost done with this page."


Thank you for listening, jules


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Emperor's New Smells

Is it just me or can you smell the shit when you cook meat these days? I just pulled bacon out of the oven. Oscar Mayer. The predominate smell is manure.

I can't eat this!

On the rare occasions that I buy normal hamburger at my regular grocery chain, I smell manure when I cook it. I can't do it any more. There isn't any average meat that smells right to me.

I'm from the farmlands of Indiana and I know manure when I smell it.

I can't get lard for my pies that doesn't smell like poop. I even bought some milk the other day that smelled of dung. I double-checked that it was pasteurized. Isn't anyone else out there smelling that too? I can't believe I live in the United States and I have trouble because there is shit in my food.

Okay, I know about the dangers of cooking meat thoroughly to avoid contracting e coli. Really. Don't you know that if there's an e coli danger, that means there's shit in your food? Didn't you read 'Fast Food Nation' yet?

Mostly, I manage by buying organic meat at Whole Foods and at my local market where they supply Painted Hills beef. Those meats taste good to me. They smell good. I'm a true carnivore and I'd really hate to lose them.

I'm not a germaphobe either. If you were invited to my house, you'd know that. Oh, I wash my hands before I cook and in the bathroom, but I'm not afraid of a little dirt. Shit is different though. When I pick up my dog's poop at the park, I hate when I have a plastic bag failure. I hate it.

And I hate having poop in my food when it's all shrink wrapped nicely from the grocery store. Doesn't anyone else notice these things? Doesn't anyone else care?

It seems to me that it's not about the emperor's new clothes any more. It's about the way he smells.

Thank you for listening, jules

An Old Fart

I'm turning into a crabby old fart.

Here is the evidence:

I sent a kid to the principal because he was eating in the library where it is forbidden for kids to eat. I was tired of picking up half-chewed candy and pieces of broken crackers when they left. If they hide the food when I walk by, it means they know they're breaking the rules.

I got annoyed because my young niece has a sketchy friend on Facebook who posts stuff that's pornographic. He also uses the term 'nigga' and, even though he's black, I am offended by this. I want to send a message to my brother asking why my sweet underage niece is allowed to stay friends with him.

I get annoyed when people talk too long about their trips to a particular cafe along the Rhine river and leave the rest of us plebs out of the conversation.

I heard a woman say that kids these days have no respect for anything and I very nearly agreed with her.

I use too many commas when I write.

I also use capitals at the beginning of sentences and periods at the ends.

When I see people playing with their phone while getting a hair cut or ordering a coffee, I take pictures of them and post them as rude to Facebook.

I drive too slowly, usually a few miles over the speed limit. It pisses people off and I don't care. Just wait until I'm going 37 in a 55 zone.

I don't recognize myself in the mirror any more.

I need my naps. I really do. I need a nap now. I'll probably snore and sometimes I drool too.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, March 24, 2014

It Could Have Been Funnier

You do not want to know what's happening with my boy. He's asleep now, but he could have tried out for the part at the beginning of 'Pitch Perfect' where the singer got too nervous. Nick called it 'cannon puking.' Yes, you're right. That was TMI.


Why is it so funny in the movies, but so disturbing when it's your own kid?

I've finally graduated.

When I was a kid, I was a sympathetic puker. That one kid would vomit and the teacher would send her to the nurse. Then, the janitor came to clean it up, only instead of getting right to it, he'd put cat litter on it and leave the room for a while before he came back with the mop and a bucket of dirty water.

I just could not hold it down most of the time. The smell filling the room was the worst, even if they opened the windows. It was never enough and my gag reflex got to working. It took incredible focus to keep looking at the subtraction problems on the mimeographed sheet in front of me while breathing through my mouth. Sometimes, I could hang on, but then some other kid would start gagging and all it took for me to get going too was to see that movement in the second kid's mouth or hear the gulping sound.

Nauseated yet?

So, I'm getting better at this mom thing because today, I could barely feel that gag reflex when Nick was doing his cannon puking. Thankfully, it didn't smell too bad. I'm sure that helped a lot. But I was proud that I was able to get him a wet wash cloth and a clean bucket to trade. I managed to flush the liquid and throw out the slippery trash liner with barely an urp. I was proud that I could come back into the room, pat Nick on the back, tell him to let it all out, and then give him a glass of water to sip.

I did not join him in the fray. Sorry Hollywood. It could have been funnier.

But it wasn't.

Thank you for listening, jules

Friday, March 21, 2014

Try to Whistle a Happy Tune

I almost always start in here having nothing to say initially. And then it's there, either a gem in the dirt of my thoughts, or a globby green thing that sucks the life out of every good thing.

Why are there globby green things that suck the life out of things? It's the ultimate question. Why is there evil in this world?

I'm not sure anyone has ever answered that one in a satisfactory way for me. The closest is yin and yang. There is light and there is darkness. Without one there is no other.

But why?

It was a beautiful sunny day today, but I wasn't truly happy until I walked with a good friend to the bottom of the Snoqualmie Falls and felt the mist on my face from the flood-stage river, water and debris dropping 482 feet to the bottom of the falls. There was a whole tree balanced on the center rock at the top of the falls. I wanted to see that tree go over. I wanted to see it tumble into the mist and disappear. You'd think it would come downstream right away, wouldn't you?

It wouldn't.

The effect is called a hydraulic. Evidence of the hydraulic at the bottom of the falls lay at my feet, a green tree trunk that looked like it had been grated using a huge cheese grater until the bark and a great deal of the wood had been pulped off of it. That tree trunk had spent some time in the hydraulic at the bottom of the falls, rolling around and around, hitting rocks debris, and churned up sediment in the water.

I feel that way, sometimes, ground down past a layer of my soul. How many layers do I have? Can I grow new layers? What happens when a soul is ground down too deeply?

I was just reading in this month's 'Scientific American Mind' that greed has a domino effect, that people are more likely to pay it forward when it came to meanness than to pay forward kindness. All it took to counteract that sense was to focus on something positive to alleviate that greed-induced response and to feel good about trying to end a greed chain. Well then. Life is just that simple, is it?

Just a spoon full of sugar. 

On the way home from Nick's karate class, I was listening to Terry Gross interview a psychologist who had scanned the brains of a number of murders and found that their brain activity was significantly different than that of normal people. Those who committed premeditated murder had a lack of brain activity in their amigdala, the part the controls emotions and sympathy. Those who had committed a murder in a rage had a lack of activity in their prefrontal cortex, the part the works to inhibit our actions. Terry had just asked the question about 'not guilty by reason of insanity' plea for people on trial.

I wanted to know the psychologist's opinion about that question, but I wanted to drag my tired butt inside my house more. When I got up the stairs, I asked Mike the same question.

"Nope. Put them in jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200."

What about that spoon full of sugar then?

Then, after I'd collected enough stuff from the fridge and set everyone to a meal of leftovers and scraps, I opened my magazine again.

Half of all those in prison have at least one kind of mental disorder, I read. Further, treating these people in forensic hospitals instead of prisons has led to a 60% reduction in repeat offenses. Wow. Sixty percent is a big reduction. The article went on to compare the annual cost of treatment for a patient as compared to the cost of maintaining a prisoner. Treatment was more than fifteen times the cost of the prison. It's a huge difference.

I suspect that the cost was a simple calculation, though. How much does it cost when a released prisoner kills again, the cost to the victim's family and the cost in the courts? And how do you count the benefit to society of bringing an individual successfully back into society?

It makes me wonder - how many people have I met that have killed someone? I would have assumed that none had, but now, I wonder. Are we really all that well segregated? The problem with all of this is that I'm not sure people want to integrate murderers back into society. I'm not sure I do either.

Sure, I think, treat them, but I'd feel safer if they were never let go. Is that greedy of me? Can I get through this question by thinking a happy thought?

That downed tree trunk that lay on the banks of the river at the base of the falls is not thinking a happy thought. Those people who were sent to prisons instead of forensic hospitals are not going to change everything when they think a happy thought. They've been rolled over and over and ground layers off their souls in the hydraulic of life at the bottom of the falls. How does a person come back from that?

And that's why there is good and evil. Something bad happens, then something else. Maybe the first few things were simply bad luck, but then something turns sour. Sometimes a person gets ground down too much and ends up doing something evil. Evil begets evil. It's beyond me how to turn that kind of thing around, though I'm not completely unfamiliar with evil. I have seen evil. I have seen my own capacity for evil.

I should whistle a happy tune?

Oh how did I start down this road tonight? Mike is watching 'Game of Thrones.' It's full of evil. There are stories I could tell you, stories of a family who say that their great great grandpa didn't start beating great great grandma until after he had a high fever during the flu pandemic of 1918. Then, there's a trickle-down of fury through the following generations and that is why so and so, the great great grandson, is the way he is. Is that the definition of bad karma? Or is it just that a single soul has been pounded to a pulp in the hydraulic of life's bad circumstances?

Personally, I don't think either one is a very good excuse.

Thank you for listening, jules

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Early Morning Cat Games

'Let's play the wake-the-human game,' the cat thinks. He jumps up onto the bed and purposefully steps on legs that are tucked under the covers as he crosses to the window. He circles once just to make sure the human registers his presence.

A moan comes out from the pile of bedding. Score.

He steps onto the window sill and bats at the thing that dangles from the shade. This has a double-benefit. It makes the dim light in the room waver and clicks as the plastic piece hits the wall.

Bingo. A hand comes out from the covers and swings around. Score again.

'Missed by a long shot,' he thinks of the human. The hand swings around again and drops next to the phone next to the bed. It finally catches the slow phone and the human clicks a button to see that it is indeed 5:42, a full eighteen minutes until it's supposed to buzz and chirp. The cat likes that the phone plays too, but hates when it wins.

The hand puts down the phone and tucks back under the covers. The cat walks across the pillow, gently placing each foot so close to the face the human can smell cat litter.

Another groan. Score.

Another swing and the human finally scores a point. The cat moves with the push just enough that he's slightly out of reach, but the human could feel the physical resistance to his pushing.

Then, the cat sits and stares at the back of a messy head for a full fifty seconds. The human can feel the effect of the eyes, some ancient predator thing. That head should be groomed. What a mess. The cat steps closer and pulls a strand of long fur through his teeth, gagging a little as he pulls on a knot. Surely the human will appreciate a little much-needed grooming.

Another groan. He knows it isn't from pleasure, but that satisfies him. His game is almost won.

The human sits up, slides her legs off the bed onto the cold floor and leans her elbows on her knees, contemplating the near space between them.

Three points. Game over.

Oh, there are other games to play, the loud-meow-at-various-times-in-the-darkness game, the kick-the-dog-off-the-couch game, the kick-the-dog-out-of-his-beds game, the keep-the-dog-from-eating game, the chase-me-poor-kitty game, and the sit-down-I-need-my-lap game.

Of all the games, this one is the best, by far.

Thank you for listening, jules