Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Same Old Story

When the Matron was but a Wee Miss, say seven or eight, she remembers her mother sighing over Wee Miss's uneaten dinner (which would be from McDonald's or a box, but that's another story).

Mother: "When I was little, my parents always told me that children were starving in China and I should eat my dinner. What good did my food do for starving children in China? But you should eat your dinner. Someone is starving somewhere."

So Wee Miss understood that somehow, another child's starvation was related to her own untouched french fries.

Throughout her childhood, she remembers seeing pictures of hollow-eyed children in magazines and on television, toddlers with huge-heads, vacant faces, and stick limbs. They were always sitting in dirt.

Wee Miss contemplated these images and contrasted them to her own existence. You see, Wee Miss wanted Frances McGuire's life. Frances McGuire lived in a palatial estate (in Wee Miss's estimation). Frances McGuire had her own room and it was ENTIRELY IN PINK. And she had, dream of all dreams, a canopy bed. Her mother baked brownies in a spotless kitchen where all the plates had pretty, matching colors and designs. The bathroom towels were visibly fluffy and Frances McGuire herself wore crisp pretty dresses to school -- it seemed like a new one appeared every week -- and her hair was braided or curled or otherwise styled into something that spoke to Wee Miss about a mama behind a brush, a big house and happiness.

Wee Miss's own home and maternal experience paled in comparison. Her own clothes came from garage sales and there was never any money, let alone time, for good smells wafting out of the oven. The kitchen was shiny or spotless or even a kitchen, but a nook off of the single room serving as both eating and living space.

These circumstances -- her own misfortune and yearning in comparison to Frances and her own vast good fortune compared to the starving children in countries far away -- confused Wee Miss. Was she the luckiest little girl alive or the girl who lived a life far away from privilege?

Funny how some things never change.

As of late, the Matron has been yearning for what she doesn't have: financial security, extra money in the bank, a boundless income. She'd love to say with assurance to her children -- yes! Be smart enough and you can go to Harvard or Yale or any college of your dreams and abilities! She's love to say, yes! Let's tour Scotland and Italy and China and Thailand before it's too late.


But today, while driving to the moderate-income job she's lucky to have, the Matron hit the tail end of a National Public Radio piece on Rupert Murdoch, his riches, fame and current fall. This is a story she's been hearing all week -- his thousands of employees, millions of dollars, infinity of influence and prestige. She supposes she can google and find out how many houses he owns.

Then, she heard the story that isn't this week's news, but the eternal story, the story that simply recycles itself generation after generation after generation: children are dying of starvation and disease. This isn't the story Americans are fed at their own dinner tables, whether those tables are full of fast food or organic greens. Exciting news is the unanticipated suffering of the Rupert Murdochs of the world. Endless news is the enduring, age-old suffering of people who have no choice.

And so . . . the Matron continues to wonder. How does this all relate to her own wealth, ambitions, shortcomings and excesses. How is it possible to have so much and always want more?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Today, the Matron attended an evening meeting which she was under NO particular obligation to attend and which mainly served to fuel a certain smugness that comes from being a good citizen.

Said smugness and self-satisfaction quickly dissipated when she returned to her van to find a ticket for $111!!! That's a whole lotta change, folks! Aghast (when was the last time you were aghast?), she scanned the ticket for cause: expired tabs on the license plates.


Now the Matron and dear husband are diligent about these matter. Still, she scooted down to those plates only to see that someone had scraped off her 2012 tabs! Victim! So much for good citizenship.

Instead of wallowing, the Matron vowed to NOT let this unpleasant incident --and the required follow-up with traffic court or whatever government entity could prove that she'd paid her dues -- bring her down. No! She would continue on as the good citizen.

Even better! She would be spiritual, buoyant, ethereal, even.

In that spirit, she ran some errands before work. Because Minnesota is currently in the midst of a heat wave, those errands were basically a lesson in sweat (with a heat index of about 118 not that she's keep track). Soaked in sweat, yours truly was not unhappy to see the sky darken. A thunderstorm in the making!

Still ethereal and all things peace, the sudden downpour --as in flash flood levels of rain -- out of the blue didn't bother her. No matter that she was in her work clothes, standing outside of a library with her van and UMBRELLA (conveniently in the trunk) two blocks away. No! No matter. She would simply get wet and dry off before the job began.

So she darted and slipped through the torrent. Thoroughly soaked, and somewhat less sanguine, she couldn't find the right button to unlock the car.

Click, click, click.

Matron: " < Insert profanity of your choice >"

The car finally open, she wrestled with the trunk. Rain continued. Now her underwear was soaked and her shoes probably ruined. The damn trunk finally opened. She grabbed the umbrella (why, she wonders in retrospect when she could have just jumped in the car) but the umbrella handle looped into the trunk and got stuck!

Profanity of your choice, uttered the Matron.

After some pouring, she yanked the umbrella out -- now the wind was whipping at about 50 miles an hour, adding an interesting aesthetic twist to the torrential rain -- only to find that the trunk was now broken and would not shut.

Rain poured in that, too. Which also meant she couldn't drive.

Giving up, she decided to dash into a nearby coffee shop to dry off and have some tea instead of sitting in the car while waiting for the rain to stop.


And . . . her purse handle broke, sending the purse and its contents all across the street. In the rain and wind, while her open, broken trunk looked at her longingly and the clock said ten minutes before she was due at work and now her internal organs were wet, never mind the underwear.

Ethereal, indeed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Nest, Emptying

Way back when, the organizers of the Matron's 20th High School Reunion decided to bestow what yours truly felt was a rather dubious honor: the youngest grandparents in the room!

Now, when the Matron attended said reunion, she was 37 years old with a four year old, a two year old and a dim idea of a third, someday. She remembers accompanying her polite clap with a grimace when the 'youngest' grandparents (at 38 with five year old twin grandchildren) accepted their award.

She wasn't sure for whom (note the appropriate use of preposition) she was grimacing, herself or the grandparents.

The grimace today?

Certainly, for her very own self!

Many, many of her friends from high school are solidly into or entering the grandparent phase. She grew up in a smallish town, where many of her former peers remained to raise their own families. Working at a college, many of her colleagues had their children young and then launched careers. Now, the Matron wishes she could say she launched her career and THEN had the babies, but she sort of dilly-dallied with the former and then found herself stuck in the midst of the latter and then launched that career.

A late bloomer, all around.

Today, the Matron realized that she will be 58 years old when her baby leaves the nest. That's old enough for great-grandchildren and the Smithsonian, folks.

Merrick: "How soon will you die after I grow up, Mama?"

Matron: "Many, many years."

Merrick: "Let's count!"

He wants the house.

Merrick's mcenary interests aside, today, the Matron is reflective about her stance as an 'older' parent of an 8 year old. Yes, yes, she can hear those keyboards clicking from other friends, readers and women who had babies well into their forties (actually, commonplace before the availability of birth control). But as one child, He Who Cannot Be Named (HWCBN), is away for an entire month at a prestigious (she had to throw that in) debate institute as the recipient of a national scholarship (if you can't brag on your blog what is the meaning of life?) and the middle child, dear Diva, is headed off to Stagedoor Manor for three weeks in August, the Matron and her husband are now more frequently alone with Merrick.

Merrick will be 13 when Scarlett leaves the house. He's stuck with his parents for five years.

So the Matron has a new understanding of that empty nest. The house doesn't suddenly shed itself of children. They dip their toes into the world, week by week, year by year, until they're ready to go. Sending them off into the world is a long process of love and good-bye, a process that started at birth, she supposes.

She's lucky to have this knowledge. Everything about Merrick is just a little sweeter, a little slower. Dipping his toes into independence currently means a week of day camp and helping Dad build a campfire. God-Buddha-Allah-Oprah-Universe only knows that both Merrick's parents will need more and more help with things like building campfires, hauling garbage and doing yard work as knees and backs succumb to decades of use. Such is the reality for the older parent.

Today, the nearly 13 year old daughter is preparing for her upcoming role as teenager by sleeping for 14 hours and the oldest is far away in another state.

But Merrick is nestled on the couch with two dogs by his side, a fever (poor guy!), tootsie pops, red tea, a Garfield book, and an abiding interest in guns. Sure, the other two are testing those waters, but the little guy? Firmly by her side--and he doesn't care how old she is.

As long as he gets the house someday.