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Monday, November 30, 2015

Going Postal

“They’re GONE!”  I texted to my spouse from the living room.

“Let heaven and nature sing!” he texted back from the basement he had just reclaimed. He was working on a spread sheet for a church budget committee meeting, hence the hymnatic response.

Now let me preface my impending rant with the disclaimer that I do indeed love my children. I am proud of the people they have become. I enjoy the conversations we have. And I like the friends they bring around. My kids are clean (not neat, but clean; they do bathe). They are attractive. And they are somewhat law-abiding.

But, sometimes, they make me Go Postal.

And apparently I’m not the only one.

Five minutes after I picked up the last soggy towel off the bathroom floor, I got a text.

“Did I leave my purple folder on the kitchen table?”

Yes. And your scarf. And your hat. And your lesson plans that you worked so hard on while chortling through The Office and Parks and Rec and a Kardashian episode or three or four.  

The funny thing was I consciously bit my tongue. I thought, but did not say, “Do you have everything?” as she left for her home-away-from home. I knew that after spending a week together, I was six days too late to make an impact. All she would hear was blah, blah, blah, so I kept my blahs to myself.  And really, how would she have responded anyway? “Oh, Mom! Thanks for reminding me to make one last loop through the house to collect my forgotten goods.”

No, it just doesn’t work that way.

So I said nothing.

Today I took the workbook, the notebook, the scarf and the hat to the post office. There are two post offices within a mile of my house. I almost always go to the one to the left. But the one to the right is closer and I would pass it on the way to the Stop and Shop where I was going anyway to replenish the bottle of Sierra Mist that was apparently taken for cocktail hour and the English muffins that were pilfered from the pack in the freezer.

I’ve had postal problems before. (See Malaria: The least of my Worries).

The line was long. I picked up one of those all-you-can-pack-into-it-for-one-low-price boxes and stuffed the workbook, the notebook, the scarf and the hat inside. It would cost $17.90. I was okay with the price, but then saw a large padded envelope and thought that would be better because the notebook didn’t quite fit and I didn’t want to crumple the corners.  So, I ditched the box and put everything neatly into the padded envelope.

Twenty-three minutes later I got to the front of the line. Meanwhile a sweet grandmotherly woman conversed with the postal clerk who I truly believe must say one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi in her mind between every single word, thought and deed. The grandmotherly woman chatted about the sixteen people she had hosted for Thanksgiving dinner and she chuckled as she  placed a perfectly posted box on the scale.

“Just sending back the things the kids forgot!” she said sweetly.

Then along came Pam. I had sat on the bleachers for many a game with Pam. She was packing up a forgotten phone charger and though she wasn’t cursing her kid, assured me she had been down this road before. We small talked about our offspring and she laughed as I rolled my eyes over the lack of urgency of the postal clerks.

When it was finally my turn I decided not to make any nasty comments about why it has to take 25 minutes to serve seven people. I simply put my padded envelope on the scale, punched the little circle that said, NO I am not sending alcohol or firearms and was told, “That’s 53.00 for overnight mail.”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “I really don’t care that much about my daughter’s third-graders.”

“OK, then it’s 17 dollars to get there by Thursday. Or maybe she said 18.13.” Whatever it was, it was under $20 and I didn’t care. I had been there for 25 minutes.

“Oh,” Postal Clerk said in her oh-so-slow monotone. “The envelope is oversized (not overweight, oversized) so it will cost $33.00.”

“But, it’s an envelope you sell here.”

She smiled smugly.

I steamed.

“Well, can I put this stuff in one of those $17.90 boxes then?”

“Sure,” she said, slowly. “Just step over to the counter and fill out a packing label. But don’t seal the box because you haven’t paid for the envelope.”

It took me a minute to comprehend what she was talking about, but then I realized that I had to pay the $2.29 for the padded envelope that I was no longer going to use. I seethed, but I kept it to myself. I emptied the contents of the envelope into the box, filled out the Priority Mail address label and got back in line. There were just five people in front of me now so it only took 18 minutes to get back to my Postal Clerk.

“You’re going to have to pay for tape,” Pam warned me.

“I better not!” I warned her back.

I got to the counter and Postal Clerk said in her even tone, “This is the wrong address label. This label is for overnight mail.”

“But you told me to fill out a label.”

She smiled. “Just write the address on the box.”

“Well, I’m not giving up my place in line again,” I said. “I’m addressing it right here.”

She grimaced but then grinned in assent.

I filled out the address that I now had memorized since it was the third time I had done it.

“You need tape,” she said evenly.

“You told me not to seal the box,” I countered.

“I just need the bar code on the padded envelope,” she said.

I thrust it at her.

“I can’t believe I have to pay for it. Why isn’t there a sign there that says, ‘If you choose to use one of these USPS-approved envelopes, be aware that they are oversized and will cost you twice the going rate to mail?”

She smiled.

Now, this to me is like my daughter holding up the hand in the midst of a kid-induced flip out and saying, “Chill, Mom.”

It makes my blood boil.

“You need to tape up the box,” Postal Clerk said in response to my envelope rant.

“Where’s the tape?” I said, knowing what was coming next.

“You can purchase a roll for $3.39 over there,” she said.

“You’re %&&&# kidding me!” I spewed. “So, it’s not $17.90 to mail the box. It’s $17.90 PLUS the cost of the tape, plus the cost of the envelope that I’m not even using.”

She smiled her postal smile.

“And you couldn’t have told me I needed to BUY tape when I was over there? You just want me stand in line for another 20 minutes? I don’t get it. Do you guys do this on purpose? You really don’t care that people are giving up their ENTIRE lunch hours because you’re so slow?”

At least I think that’s what I said. Something like that.

“Would you like to purchase the tape?” she asked, not acknowledging a single word I said.

“NO!” I roared. “Here’s my credit card. Go ahead and charge me the $2.29 for the USPS approved padded envelope that I can’t use because it is too big. But I’m not waiting another 20 minutes to buy tape. This is absolutely ridiculous.”

She smiled a tight-lipped smile.

I swiped my card.

“You know,” I screamed. “I NEVER come to this post office. And now I remember why. I’m going back to the OTHER post office where they are kind and efficient and they tell you when something is oversized or if you need to write the address on the box or a label.”

My insides were shaking and my face was red with rage. I grabbed the unsealed box (because the box is indeed free until you seal it) and stormed out.

“Ma’am, Ma’am,” I heard Postal Clerk calling me in her monotone. “Your envelope.”

I walked out without the padded envelope because it was useless. It was not only oversized, but now it was torn open.

And there was no way I was going to diminish my exit by skulking back in for the envelope.

I left, went home, taped up the box and went to the OTHER post office which took about seven minutes round trip.

But then I realized, the padded envelope has my name and address on it.

So, if you send me a Christmas card this year and I don’t acknowledge it, perhaps it's because the Postal Clerk retaliated and tossed it in the “address unknown” bin along with the oversized USPS-approved padded envelope that I left on the counter.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Oh, God! Now What?

My friend Angela feels Jesus in her fingertips. When she worships she lifts her hands to the heavens and raises the rafters with praise. Her whole church does. I’ve been there. There’s singing and swaying and tearful Amens as the Spirit surges from soul to soul. I’ve been a church-goer my entire life and I’ve never come remotely close to what those passionate parishioners profess to feel.

But, maybe it’s because I joined the church for all the wrong reasons.

I grew up in the front pew of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church next to whichever one of my three sisters I wanted to poke that week. We squirmed and giggled and sang irreverently off-key, drawing daggers from my mortified mother’s eyes.

Sometime in my teens we switched churches for reasons unbeknownst to me. All Hallows was smaller and less liberal and we were welcomed warmly. My sisters and I joined the youth group on Sunday nights and befriended the likes of Tish Ayton, who looked and sang like an angel, and harbored huge crushes on her hunky twin brother, Henry.  

I went off to college and took a hiatus from church. After all, it was much more prudent for me to be out looking for love on Saturday nights and sleeping till noon on Sundays. Once it looked like things were heading in the right direction, I slunk shrewdly back to church so I’d have a place to have a wedding.

After we got married, I reverted back to my heathenly ways. But then I had kids and started prescribing to the “better safe than sorry” philosophy for baptism. It was time to find a church again.

We joined the Presbyterian Church in Leonia without much fuss from me. I didn’t care where we went as long as there was free childcare during the service. My ever-loving spouse was a born-and-raised Presbyterian and I kind of liked not having to kneel for prayers and having communion delivered to my pew. Plus, the potlucks were always good. We became regulars.

Our pastor was a very smart and well-loved man who preached serious sermons that went right over my head. I was never aware enough of the world, nor well-versed enough in the ways of the Lord to catch on, so I didn’t even try. I made grocery lists instead. But I loved our pastor. And couldn’t imagine our church without him.

Until, of course, he was abruptly ousted for sexual misconduct. As a congregation we were shocked and scared and hurt and horrified. We had no idea how to heal. 

And then they sent us Debra.

Though our former pastor left in less than happy circumstances, it was still going to take someone pretty special to fill his robes. I was skeptical. Every pastor in every pulpit I had ever known was a guy. And Debra Given was a full-fledged female.

The first time I met Debra, she was wearing a flowered frock and sensible shoes. She had blond hair that hung untamed to her shoulders and wire-rimmed glasses that magnified her striking blue eyes. She was young and slim with a down-to-earth manner and a big, beautiful, genuine smile. To top it off, she had a dashing journalist husband. three beautiful teenage daughters and  three older stepchildren. She lived in Manhattan, near Columbia University and had attended Yale Divinity School. She drove a bashed-in Toyota mini-van and admitted that she prayed for parking spaces. She didn’t think she was particularly pretty. She didn’t think she was anyone special. And she didn’t come in all ablaze with new ideas or with the intent of fixing us. She just came in as herself and let the rest happen.

On paper, Debra was the kind of person I’d absolutely idolize. But her reality was so relatable I never put her on a pedestal.

Instead, she made me feel like I was on one.

In her subtly persuasive way, Debra pulled me out of the pews and into the bosom of the church. She scoffed at my self-declared unholiness and was convincing in her convictions that even I had something to offer. I did a stint as a Deacon where I was supposed to be kind and loving to a flock of fellow congregants. I taught impressionable adolescent girls unconventional lessons in Sunday school. I served on all kinds of committees and somehow she even persuaded me to come to Bible Study.

I went kicking and screaming, but I went. And still go. For the past ten years, I’ve spent every Wednesday morning with some of my very favorite people in the world. Debra leads the group which we consider a  therapy session as much as a Bible lesson.  We share our thoughts, our doubts and our knowledge, as limited as it might be. And as we relate the stories to our daily lives, we question their validity, we laugh at their stupidity and we honor their value. We're encouraged to question. And question we do. Was Mary indeed a virgin? Did Jesus really walk on water? Are divine coincidences proof or propaganda? But most of all, we respect each others' beliefs or non-beliefs and do so with open minds.

Last week, Debra announced that she is retiring after 15 years at the helm of The Presbyterian Church in Leonia. And while it came as a surprise, we all knew in the back of our hearts that one day it would happen. 

But it doesn't make it any easier.

I still may have to think twice about whether the book of Acts is in the New Testament or Old, but I now have a better sense of my spiritual self.  Through Debra's unwavering faith, understated wisdom and unassuming manner, I found my way. I now know that if you take a hiatus, it doesn't mean you're going to Hell. If you join the church for self-serving reasons, well at least you joined the church. If you let your boys play baseball instead of getting confirmed, you haven't necessarily condemned them to a Godless life. If you pray for wealth or worldly goods or for the demise of your mother-in-law, hey, at least you're praying. If you say no to serving on a governing committee, you shouldn't feel bad, rather be proud that someone felt you were worthy of being asked in the first place.

And, perhaps, most importantly, if you don't feel Jesus in your fingertips, it's really okay. Just as long as you feel him in your heart.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Rock Me Momma

“Our kids don’t have the kind of fun we had,” I’ve lamented many a time. “The things we did would have made my mother’s skin crawl.”

Of course, that’s why my mother still has her skin. She never knew.

Parties in unsuspecting parent’s houses, nighttime nature walks in Morris Arboretum and road trips disguised as job interviews aside, I cringe at some of the lesser, though so much more dangerous choices I made along the way to adulthood.

I was somewhat of a chicken but I happened to be best friends with Margaret, the boldest girl on Woods Road. To keep in her good graces I regularly pretended to be braver than I really was. I was really, really good at egging her on and really good at making her think I was all in when all I really wanted was out.

A mile or so from our house was a big rock quarry that we found fascinating for no other reason than it existed. We could cut through our back yards, through Custis Woods and come out on the graveled shoulder of Willow Grove Avenue. We’d trek down a few hundred yards and there, across from the back door of Chick Orlando’s Tavern which we were years from entering, was the big, deep quarry looming ahead.

Back in the 60s and early 70s, safety was something to be scoffed at, not sued over. I don’t recall seeing one, but I’m sure there was a fence around the quarry. We may have climbed it, but I suspect we walked right through an open gate. The quarry was deep. Really, really deep. It was lined with jagged, multi-colored rocks and way, way down were men working, with or without safety helmets, drilling away and sending dust clouds up to the rim on which we stood.

“Let’s trick them,” Margaret suggested. “Watch this.”

I played along, as I always did, pretending I thought it was a good idea for her to take a step down into the quarry.

“Now scream!” she told me.

“No!” I bellowed obediently. “Don’t do it!”

Margaret started laughing as the workers on the other side of the quarry raised their heads and looked over.

“Get out of there!” they yelled, flailing their arms. “You crazy?”

Because of course, in those days, there was no such thing as political correctness and it would never occur to the men that perhaps we were.

So, Margaret stepped back out of the quarry and the workmen turned and went back to their jobs, shaking their heads muttering, “Kids these days!”

I was done with our fun but Margaret wasn’t.

She did it again.

“No! Stop!” I yelled again, this time kind of meaning it. “Don’t JUMP!”

And so began a cat-and-mouse game. The workers looked up and Margaret stepped out. The workers went back to their work and Margaret took another step down. And I played my role well, screaming with horror at the impending doom of my partner in crime.

Until it all came to a screeching halt when a worker snuck up behind us, shaking a stick, feet from our faces. Because of course, in those days, he could actually hit us with a stick without going to jail. But he didn’t. He just yelled.

“Get out of here! This isn’t a playground!”

The agility of adolescence allowed us to slither past the red-faced workman and out the presumably open gate of the quarry. We ran as fast as we could, hearts pounding, not for fear of what the man might do to us, but because of the words he screamed the loudest.

“I’m going to tell your mothers!”

It didn’t occur to us that he had no idea who we were, where we lived or that our mothers would even care. But the mere threat of a parent finding out was enough to keep us out of the quarry for the rest of our lives.

My mother, who turned 90 years-old last month, winces when we tell her these stories so many decades later. She swears she had absolutely no idea that we were smoking cigarettes in the family station wagon, forging her signature to get out of biology class and hiding cans of crab meat so she couldn’t make that disgusting casserole for family dinner. She believes that we got through our lives unscathed and unscarred.

And I guess to some degree, we have.

I just wonder what kind of stories I’ll hear when my kids think I’m old enough to be able to handle them.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Just a Mother Watching the Mets

I haven’t been this sad about anything baseball since Pete Rose let me down.

I grew up a baseball fan with my father watching the Phillies from his green leather chair in the den, my mother perched in the corner of the couch.  We'd go Connie Mack Stadium after eating dinner at home, forgoing the hot dogs and peanuts and Cracker Jack, instead seeking out secret places to park for free in South Philadelphia.

Once I got old enough to pay my own way, Penny (aka Patty) and I got season tickets. We cheered on those Phillies and fought over which one of us would marry Mike Schmidt or Shake and Bake McBride or M-a-a-a-a-n-n-n-y Trillo. My father nicknamed me The Bull, comparing my physical prowess to that of Greg Luzinski's.

During our courtship, my spouse-to-be and I spent a lot of time at different ball parks across the country. We went to Boston and Baltimore, Montreal and Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago and St. Pete for spring training. I could watch baseball anytime, anywhere and never get bored. We eventually got married (and much to my chagrin, he did not ask for my hand in marriage on the JumboTron) and moved to North Jersey, an area strongly divided between Mets and Yankees fans. Rather than choosing sides, I remained true to my Phillies. But, when my hand was forced, I would go with the Mets, just because they were a National League team.  And because I had a rather strong repulsion toward the Yankees.

Since my first child was born almost 24 years ago, I’ve only been to two professional baseball games.

Instead, I got my baseball fix watching my boys play. Thousands of games. Thousands.

I just didn’t have the bandwidth to follow any other teams.

And, then last November, Leo and baseball got divorced.

He had worked his entire life to become a Division One baseball player. And once he did, he realized it just wasn’t what he wanted to do with his entire life.

The baseball lover in me mourned. The mother in me rejoiced, proud that my son was bold enough to break away from the only life he had ever known.

But for a year, I couldn’t pass a baseball field without feeling a pang in my heart.

And then, in the end of July, as I was flipping through the channels looking for something to watch to fill the void before Scandal and Nashville returned in the fall, I came upon a real-life drama. Wilmer Flores crying.

Around that same time, Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Uribe joined the team and it seemed like some excitement was in store for the Mets. So, I gave it a go. It wasn't long before my heart started thawing and the baseball bug was back.

As it turns out, I couldn’t have stumbled upon a better team to follow. And follow I did. I followed the whole Cespedes yellow parakeet story, and Wilmer’s non-trade and watched Daniel Murphy make up for his glove with his bat. I watched them waltz their way into the playoffs and then sweep their way through Chicago.  I watched one of the oldest guys in baseball throwing his weight around and one of the youngest playing a little chin music. I watched David Wright get it right again and Lucas Duda get it wrong. Way wrong.

I've always been a bit of a Pollyanna of a baseball fan. When my kids would win, I'd feel bad for the losers. When they lost, I’d congratulate the winners’ parents. I bucked the kids up when they didn’t deserve it and talked them down when their heads got the better of them. I watched baseball through a mother's heart.

And I found when I started watching the Mets this year, I watched that same old way. I had sweaty palms and a pounding pulse when Steven Matz took the mound, thinking how sweet it is that he stays with his parents in his childhood home. I felt bad, oh, so bad for Daniel Murphy when he booted another ball in the field. And felt even worse when he didn’t hit a home run to make up for it. I beamed for Michael Conforto when he banged two balls over the fence and swelled with "Atta boy!" pride when the Dark Knight refused to give up the ghost. 

I woke up this morning feeling really sad. I turned off the radio and turned the newspapers upside down.  I thought about last night's game and the couldas and shouldas of the season. And of course, being me, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of happiness for Eric Hosmer, hauling it into home and Volquez doing it for his poor, dead daddy. 

But most of all, I couldn't help feeling just a little bit sad for all mothers of the Mets this morning.