Nothingburger, with ketchup

 

Turns out that sneaking into your daughter’s elementary school looking disheveled, with an object clutched to your chest, and breaking into a run down the hallway is a really, really bad idea.

Last week, life was a solid blue-green on the suburban terror index, it was a nothingburger.

This week, slather that dull burger in a coat of screaming code red.

I do not mean to make light of the recent tragedy — I cannot think of it for a second without welling up and feeling helpless.  I do not mean to poke fun of our growing fear for safety in public places. I am merely casting light on my total lack of forethought earlier this week. After recounting the story dozens of times in the last few days, I recast my role from bumbling doofus to undercover security evaluator. So there’s that.

My story starts as many do, with a solid excuse: I was tired and in a hurry.

My modus operandi was to hurry to the school to deliver my daughter’s water bottle, which had the misfortune of tumbling out of her backpack at the bus stop. It’s been a rough few weeks around here, with me working a little more than usual, the holiday stuff that adds layers of duty and stress to everything, and extra homework projects to keep my daughter up too late each night. Twice in the last two weeks she’s forgotten her water bottle. Just the day before there was an unfortunate sock choice that led to tears and frustration before school. I just wanted a good day free from glitches.

I just wanted a good day.

I arrived at the quiet building, before it bustled with the energy of young students, to find administrators and support staff standing stiff with their heavy duty at the main entrance.  Clutching the bottle, I ducked and ran. Not for long. As I bolted to get to her locker (This is more about me not wanting to be seen in public in glorified PJs and a knit hat than anything else.) I stepped over some invisible sensor, triggering a few moments of alarm and embarrassment.

Within seconds the front-door crew shouted “Hey! Hey! HEY!” and ran after me. I felt a hand hook my arm. It was the school principal, his brow crinkled in consternation.

“What are you doing?” he asked, gently but firmly.

“Don’t you watch the news? Don’t you know what’s happening?” said one of the hall monitors, with a hint of shrill.

“I, uh, my daughter dropped her water bottle at the bus stop,” I said breathlessly, noticing them gather around me. I felt like a criminal. My entire psyche wilted in humiliation.

“I just wanted to put it in her locker. I’m in a hurry,” I said.

“Didn’t you read the district newsletter?” the hall monitor asked again, taking the bottle from my hands and turning it over to find a name label. “No one is allowed in the building without a pass from the office.”

“No, I mean, yes, I know what you are talking about but I thought ….”

“Water bottles should be labeled,” monitor said. Another admonishment. Should I just bend over and wait for the spanking?

The moment was over. I gave them my daughter’s name and room number and skulked out the door. I was not a gun-toting madwoman, just a frazzled mother with an overly tired daughter and a raging case of mommy guilt.

Just a week earlier I’d strolled right into the building before morning bell as I helped my girl carry her special project to her classroom. Just a week ago, we had school security, but moods were light and breezy. The very same people smiled and waved at me.

Everyone said they were glad to know the school was taking security seriously, even if it was at my expense. I guess I feel good about that part of it.

What I don’t feel good about is the rising paranoia and fear and the idea that more weaponry will make us safer. Each morning at the bus stop, parents talk of homeschooling, of pulling their kids out early before holiday break, of a renewed fear of what might happen on Dec. 21. War zones are stocked with guns and weapons. They are not safe places. What I don’t feel good about is a society in which one false move, one lapse in judgment puts you and me and anyone else under suspicion for plots and evil deeds. Although it may be necessary, making school entrances as tight as airports makes me very sad.

At times like these I feel very old. As cliché as it sounds, I long for the simpler times of my childhood.

Snake charms

Garter Snake, close up, taken in North Ontario...

It's NOT gardener snake. It's garter snake. Without arms or legs you cannot effectively raise crops.

Having been reared by a person rife with irrational fears, I’ve had to work hard all my adult life to reign in the crazy. Two things I’m still working on in the fear department: packs of feral dogs and small electrical appliances spontaneously combusting. (I’ve had an unfair share of freak accidents involving home appliances.) The former is a justifiable fear as I live one-half mile from a particularly mean part of Detroit that regularly expels feral dogs. The latter, well, that’s what therapy is for, right?

I do not have a fear of snakes, per se, but when I go West I take measures to avoid rattle snakes.  LIttle did I know some folks keep them as cuddly pets. (Stop goofing around and click on over to The Bloggess; you won’t get what I’m saying unless you do. Plus, she’s so funny.)  I showed this post to my husband and he gave me “the look.” Even though our marriage is so good it goes to eleven, I know my husband doesn’t always get a certain side of my humor.

The Bloggess’s post about snakes — or is it about signs? — reminded me of period in my life when posting crazy signs all over the place was a major part of my weekly routine. The best ever? Removing all the toilet paper rolls from the ladies room (two floors up from our office in a crumbling old high-rise), posting explanatory signs on the stall doors about paper rationing and how employees could earn squares on the merit system, and stashing the emergency supply on the 23rd-floor fire escape. (Wow. Who knew wind could unravel toilet paper so quickly?)

The Bloggess’s post about signs — or is it snakes? –begs me to share this:  On a bike ride through a thickly forested park last week, my friend and I happened upon two women walking their dogs. Suddenly, they began shrieking and waving their arms. We pedaled over to see if they needed help.

“Snake!” they shouted and pointed toward this bitty little striped garter snake slithering silently past my front tire and over a bed of fallen leaves.

“It’s harmless, only a garter snake,” I told them.

Then, (It was not my goal to be a bitch, but I knew it was bitchy the minute it came out.) I said to the snake: “Go on, little snake, before someone runs over you or steps on you.” Because I knew, just knew, that if we hadn’t come along, a foot or a log was coming down on that snake.

Silence.

“Well, we’re not afraid of snakes,” one of them finally said.We just didn’t expect to see one out here.”

Of course not. The dense Michigan woods is no place for a small snake.  They belong in the Wal*Mart pet department next to the goldfish.

Now, if I were shivering in a paper gown at the hospital awaiting a colonoscopy and I saw one slinking along the carpeted floor, I might scream and wave my arms because there was nothing in the pre-procedural literature about snakes. Nothing.

 

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Mask/unmask

I came upon this angelic form outside the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing in Los Angeles. Awash in patina, she stood regally on the deserted streetscape. The flowing locks, the wings, the open arms beckoned me to approach. As I got closer I noticed the angel was wearing a mask.

I thought about why this shocked me just a little.

I am a keeper of secrets. A wearer of masks.

This comes from a lifetime of practice.

Having an alcoholic parent, I learned to clean up/cover up/divert attention/lie/gloss over the facts/rewrite history for public consumption.

It goes on from there. A bad first marriage made it  easy to slip back into the habit of  clean up/cover up/divert attention/lie/gloss over the facts/rewrite history for family consumption.

Having sprouted from a family tree whose limbs are heavy with the weight of secrets/lies/cover ups is another big part of it.

It gets to the point where I cannot buy a pair of shoes without wondering if I should say anything to anyone.

I’m trying to unmask a little more. But it’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t know how to defend my own truth. I put something out there and the consequences seem endless. It’s easier to keep it tucked away.

Sometimes, when in the right company, I can just be me. Later, always later, I cringe. I went too far, I think.

Then there are those times when candor  is nothing more than handing ammunition to the enemy. Years ago I revealed to a partner — one to whom I thought I could go maskless —  that I am an abuse survivor. He couldn’t handle this truth. Ultimately, it destroyed our relationship.

I want this to end. I’m aware that every mask I strap on my psyche further clouds who I really am. Not only to others who have nothing other to go on than what they see and hear and read, but also to myself. How can I live an authentic life and interact with others when I am not presenting to the world who I am?

This is one of the many goals I’ve set for myself. I want to unmask a little more and live with the consequences. If someone can’t deal with my truth, I need to let it go.

Fear

fork

By Sun Dazed via Creative Commons

“You must do everything that frightens you, JR. Everything. I’m not talking about risking your life, but everything else. Think about fear, decide right now how you’re going to deal with fear, because fear is going to be the great issue of your life, I promise you. Fear will be the fuel for all your success, and the root cause of all your failures, and the underlying dilemma in every story you tell yourself about yourself. And the only chance you’ll have against fear?  Follow it. Steer by it. Don’t think of fear as the villain. Think of fear as your guide, your pathfinder — your Natty Bumppo.”
From “The Tender Bar: A Memoir” by J.R. Moehringer

I’m reading “Tender Bar” as part of a book club series. Maybe you’ve already read it since it came out in 2005.  It’s a memoir about a boy who grew up fatherless and all the colorful characters in and around a Long Island neighborhood bar who played stand-ins for the role.

I came upon the passage above and stopped. I watched the words leap off the page like a swarm of fruit flies rise off a blackened banana. Like the pesky insects, the words buzzed around my head. No amount of hand waving sent them away. I had an issue to chew on for a few days: Fear.

After Moehringer’s words settled back onto the page, I decided that they might have been of use to me some years ago. It’s quite possible someone did say something like that to me. If nothing else, one thing I know now is that you can stuff words into a young person’s head, but you cannot prevent them from seeping out the other end.

I’m curious what happens next in this young boy’s life. I know where he ends up. But the choices made along the way, the decision to pick the high road over the low road, the dangerous trail over the sidewalk, these are the things that sometimes make the difference between a Pulitzer Prize and Happy Meal prize.

What do you do about your fear?