Friday, February 26, 2010

Dancing with Myself

A number flashed on my scale after a holiday season (apparently) heavy on edible cheer, a number not seen since my postpartum days.

Fearing the looming 4-0 was already wreaking havoc on my metabolism, I called my friend, Paula, for support.

“You should try Jazzercise,” she said.

I laughed. “My last dance class was when I was four,” I told her, “and my coordination has not improved much since then.” (True story, I once fell down a flight of stairs. On a date.)

But Paula had faith in me. So, powered by her confidence and my six-week holiday eating binge, I ventured into the studio to dance away the pounds that had landed on my backside.

Several other women were already there when I entered, ranging from grandmothers to a pair of snack-sized sorority girls.

“I like to stand away from the mirror,” another mom offered as I stared at the young coeds, secretly wishing breach births upon each of them someday.

Heeding her advice, I grabbed a spot away from my reflection as the instructor took the stage.

“Let’s warm up!” the instructor cheered as the music started, “Look right; now left; now right… “

The room started swaying. I searched for a focal point, determined to not pass out three minutes in.

“Are you ready to move?” she asked.

Before I could answer, the music pumped faster, “… step-ball-change and now chasse… ” My two left feet tried to stay out of each other’s way while my heart rate blew right past its target.

“How’s everyone doing?” she smiled, looking right at me.

I did not know. I could not see the mirror. I had, however, decided that “Hip Hop” music would more accurately be called “Hip POP,” as that is what mine seemed to do with every swing to the beat. But I could not tell her this. I could not tell her anything. I could only pant.

I glanced back at the coeds, who had yet to break a sweat, and the grandmas, who were kicking it high and having a ball. I was being schooled.

Song after hip-popping song played on, and I had not performed a single combination correctly since the neck warm-ups. But then the familiar sound of Billy Idol, from my own (pre-hip-pop) era, filled my ears, and I knew I had this one in the bag…

However, the instructor’s moves were nothing like those from the ‘80’s, not a single Robot in the whole routine. Just like in high school, I was dancing with myself.

Triceps on fire, I was ready to throw in the towel - had I been able to lift it - when, as if from heaven, the cool-down began. Two songs later I was heading home to a warm bath, savoring the taste of victory in my first hour of battle against the holiday bulge.

Not surprisingly, that victory tasted a lot like sweat.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

All They Were Missing Was Danica

Until a couple of weeks ago, the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby had remained a suburban legend to me. Sure, I had heard tales of thrilling victory and agonizing defeat, but none of them measured up to experiencing the derby firsthand.

Never in one room had I seen such a competitive, anxious – and TIRED – group of dads. “I finished a car two nights ago,” one dad lamented, “but then I tried to tweak the wheels and broke it. We bought another kit yesterday. I was up past midnight balancing the thing.”

Some took it all in stride. “I don’t know why my son chose to decorate his car like a banana,” another dad commented, scratching his head. “I questioned his choice from an aerodynamic standpoint, though admit it has a certain appeal.”

And it turned out I wasn’t the only rookie there. “I didn’t realize we had to actually make it ourselves,” yet another dad said. “I couldn’t believe it when I opened the box and a block of wood fell out.”

But not every dad had fashioned his own (son’s) car.

“My grandpa cut mine since my dad couldn’t find the saw,” my son told his friends. This is because I hid the saw after the ceiling debacle of ’02, never to be wielded by my husband again.

Luckily my dad had fashioned many a winning derby car for my brothers back in the day and was happy to emerge from retirement for another go at a title.

Over 90 cars raced down four parallel tracks, rotating through each track and timed with Olympic precision to the nearest one-thousandth of a second. Round after round, countless hours of sawing, sanding and sweat were put to the test.

There were tears, there were cheers and there were boys who did not notice the race going on around them. But it was the dads who saw their reputations speed along the track with each run.

A shaky start on the first run held my son’s car back from placing within his den, but the next three runs were just fast enough to qualify him for the pack finals. My son was relieved. His grandfather was mortified.

“He didn’t win the den?” he muttered to himself as he shook his head. “My cars always win their dens.”

Unable to re-graphite the wheels, the two were forced to sit by and watch as their car raced against the other 30 finalists. Tanks, rockets, and even the banana flew down the ramp, until the checkered flag waved and the results were announced.

“Papa, I got sixth place!” my son beamed, holding his sixth place trophy.

“That’s… great!” his grandfather said, forcing a smile while mulling over design changes for next year. Then he turned to me and whispered, “You aren’t going to tell anyone I came in sixth, are you?”

“Oh, Dad,” I grinned, patting him on the back, “no one would believe it, even if I did.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On the Roof

Last week's story about our ailing hermit crab included the phrase "on the roof." Because several friends have asked for clarification, I am going to take this week to explain where the phrase originated for me and my husband...

There once was a man who went on vacation, leaving his cat under the care of a neighbor. When the man returned from vacation he went to his neighbor and asked, "How's my cat?"

The neighbor, lacking in social graces, replied, "The cat's dead."

The man was distraught. Not only did he lose his cat, but the news was dropped on him like a bomb.

"You can't just tell me my cat's dead!" he cried. "You have to ease me into it! Say, 'Your cat was on the roof,' and then, 'Your cat fell off,' and then 'Your cat was badly hurt,' and then 'The doctors tried everything they could,' and THEN, 'Your cat passed away.'"

"Gosh, I'm really sorry," the neighbor replied.

"That's alright," the man said, regaining his composure. "How was my mom while I was gone?"

The neighbor's face became very stoic. He drew a deep breath before starting, "Your mom was on the roof..."

Have a fabulous week, and stay off the roof!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

RIP Kermit

(an updated version from the Lawrence Journal-World's River City Jules)

Our family grew by two over the winter break.

We planned to give our two older daughters Taylor Swift concert tickets for Christmas and wanted to get our youngest daughter, Caroline, something equally exciting that would not involve taking a six-year-old to a concert.

Or owning a puppy.

So what does one give a miniature diva that is equally as awesome as a ticket to Taylor Swift?

And is not a puppy?

Hermit crabs, of course.

Our plan worked perfectly Christmas morning as Caroline squealed with delight at the tank while her sisters danced around her, waving their tickets and singing “Love Story.”

(Luke sat oblivious to them all as he dug into his new magic kit.)

She named them Hermit (the yellow one) and Kermit (the green one, duh) and immediately began playing them on the living room floor. Meanwhile, I studied the crab care book and learned that we needed to create a Florida-Keys-like environment in order to keep the crabs alive.

This is not easy to do in the middle of a Kansas winter. The challenge of feeding, warming and watering these seemingly h-i-g-h maintenance sand-dwellers with whom Caroline had so deeply bonded quickly took over my life, and I began to crack under the pressure.

My days soon revolved entirely around keeping these creatures from dying on my watch. My husband grew concerned about this relentless quest for humidity and warmth, concern he finally expresses one evening after work.

“Why is the tank in front of the fireplace?” he asked.

“The crabs were cold,” I replied.

“So why is the fireplace off?” he asked, reaching for the switch to turn it back on.

“DON’T TOUCH IT!” I screamed. “The tank hit 90, I almost baked the poor guys.” I ran over and poked them to make sure they were still alive, a habit reminiscent of the early days of fretting minute-by-minute over the wellbeing of our firstborn. Post-crab-purchase depression was only one more sleepless night away.

“Julie, they’re crabs. They live on beaches,” he said, shaking his head, “without anyone regulating the temperature for them.”

“I know, it’s a miracle,” I said. “Do you think the vet would take them when we go on vacation? And neuter and vaccinate them too?”

“They’re crabs, Julie, not dogs,” he said, leaving the room.

Alone with the crabs, I began to wonder if my husband was right. Was I taking this whole crustaceous pet ownership thing a bit too seriously? I looked down at Kermit again, wishing we had sucked it up and taken Caroline to the concert instead.

Just then Caroline joined me, skipping over to the tank and giggling with delight as she pulled her two buddies out for a little playtime, and I realized these hermit crabs are a far better love story for her than Taylor Swift.

And a lot easier than a puppy.

Or so I thought...

Fast forward one month later, when I received the following text from my husband:

"Kermit is on the roof" (code for nearly dead)

After some text debate over whether or not I should call our family priest, I called my beloved to find out the scoop.

"He's dead," he said with about as much fanfare as you might imagine.

"How do you know?" I asked, having never seen a dead crab before, save for those in the seafood case at the grocery store.

"I'm a doctor," he said (family practice for humans, btw), "I know what dead looks like. I saw him in the corner staring out into space, so I tried scaring him. He didn't retract like usual. I tried to pull him out of the tank, but he slipped out of his shell, limp and lifeless."

"Caroline is going to freak," we agreed.

I will spare you the details of her reaction and simply say that I hope when my time comes she is even half as sad as she was about the crab.