I have nothing to add to this girl’s words; they need no help from me.
One evening near my fifteenth birthday, I was summoned to stand before the Kitchen Tribunal. My mother was there; recently widowed, understandably shell-shocked, and exhausted by the demands of a fragile household and three needy teenagers. Also in attendance were my two older brothers, their adolescent snickering temporarily pushed aside by the weight and severity of the matter at hand, which was this: A few days earlier, an acquaintance of theirs (several years older, a bit snarky, and appropriately enough, named Dick) had driven past me as I crossed the Market Street Bridge, then reported to my big brothers that their little sister walked like she wanted it. The family was solemn and disapproving; the kitchen smelled of fried egg sandwiches and scandal.
Well, I was affronted! I was mortified! I was. . .intrigued. So after clearing my good name with Mom and the brothers, I retreated to ponder this new development. I turned it over in my mind: She walked like she wanted it. Those words couldn’t possibly apply to me, a self-described wallflower and slow starter who hadn’t yet learned how to flirt. I mean, I certainly knew what IT was, but I wasn’t sure I wanted IT anytime soon. To be honest, IT was a little scary. Besides, exactly how did I walk like I wanted it? What was happening back there that I didn’t know about?
Therefore, I turned to my cultural icons for clues. The men on Gilligan’s Island (even the Professor!) were dumbstruck each time Ginger walked by, but I’d have described my walk as more . . . Mary Ann-ish. And there weren’t enough Underalls in the world to make my back porch swing like Ann-Margret’s. But in the privacy of my room, I had to admit I kind of liked knowing something about the way I walked caused Dick to take notice. Is this what made Aerosmith’s Walk This Way such a dirty song?
Until that moment, the only womanly walk I’d ever analyzed was my mother’s. Her long legs moved with quick, purposeful strides. “Keep up, Lisa!” she’d insist as we rushed from store to store each Saturday morning, trying to get our shopping done before some deadline (Yes, I grew up in a world with downtown stores but no Amazon.com.).
Mom also instructed me on how to walk like a lady. “Move your legs from the hips, not from the knees, Lisa.” And because I tended toward pigeon-toes: “Point your shoes forward, Lisa. Don’t let your toes turn in when you walk.” I assure you, Mom was not being critical; back in the day, it was a mother’s duty to teach her daughter the finer points of being a woman. How ironic that the very walk my mom worked to cultivate in me would one day attract the attention of boys like Dick.
I never managed to duplicate my mother’s walk, though. At 4′ 11″ inches tall, I just don’t have the equipment to cover ground in the same fashion. Now 79, Mom still out distances me step by step.
But as I made my way through the mall recently, I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being stalked by my Great Aunt Lois (May she rest in peace.). Great Aunt Lois was smart and generous, a veteran school teacher with a no-nonsense attitude, a woman esteemed by the family at large during my formative years. Great Aunt Lois’s walk, however, was nothing like my mother’s.
The Grand Dame was short, stout, and plagued by arthritis. She waddled stiff-legged from here to there with knees and hips that moved like rusty gears. I imagined her carrying an oil can in that oversized handbag on her arm. And whoever was caught climbing a flight of stairs behind Great Aunt Lois had better not be in a hurry; coaxing those creaky joints to rotate in such a manner was a process that simply could not be rushed.
And so it was Great Aunt Lois’s walk that followed me past each store window— in the form of my own reflection. Nowadays, I walk like I want some ibuprofin and a nice, long, soak. And since he’s a grandpa now, I’m pretty sure Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler walks this way, as well.
And such, friends, is the walk of life.
At the big home improvement store where I work, there are managers and project specialists and customer service associates. There are cashiers, loaders, and night stockers. But of all my coworkers at the big home improvement store, my favorite is the little sparrow who lives in the rafters.
In most stores, the presence of any animal would be an oddity at least, more likely a disturbance. But because of our store’s size and openness, birds fly in and out at will. They’ve become our unofficial mascots—ad hoc good will ambassadors at whom adult customers smile, and which their children regard with unabashed glee.
What is it about birds that makes us humans feel all homey? Our vocabulary is seasoned with bird-related idioms meant to evoke home and family: A couple just setting up house is said to be nesting, with that first shared home likely referred to as a love nest. Advancing one’s position in life is sometimes called feathering the nest. An expectant woman is on the nest, or on the egg, and when the children are grown, we say they’ve flown the nest. At that point, we nickname their parents empty nesters.
So charmed are we by our winged friends, that many of us openly invite them into our lives— transforming our yards into bird havens by decorating with feeders, baths, and nest-friendly houses. Perhaps you’ve seen that clever commercial in which Mama and Papa Cardinal use their local home improvement store to build the bird house of their dreams. That’s no coincidence.
Still, it’s not the result of advertising that I’m so fond of the store sparrows. It’s the harmonic relationship which has developed between the two; it’s what the birds have come to represent to me: adaptability and survival.
Snugged in the beams above the lumber area cash register is a nest built by a little brown sparrow. I watched as the nest took shape; at first she flew out the loading doors and back in again with twigs gathered from the ground, but soon she was incorporating materials from the store itself. Tufts of insulation were carried up into the beams, along with snippets of twine and other packing materials. The little brown sparrow and her mate made themselves at home in their adopted, block- and- steel meadow. Undaunted by the noise, the clutter, and the close proximity to creatures of a much larger and much different species, they learned to raid the seasonal shop for spilled bird seed and other goodies. And unless I’ve misjudged the signs, they’ve filled their carefully-built nest with a clutch of eggs. How could my heart not be happy at such good news?
Who knows what brought the little brown sparrow into our store weeks ago? It’s a big, wide world out there. But journeys tend to begin and end as they like, and we make our homes wherever that road leads. Sometimes the journey is geographical, with starting and ending points in different physical locations. But for many of us, the journey is an emotional one—or a spiritual one, or one of self-discovery, or of self-improvement. The point of some journeys—so it would seem—is to overcome an obstacle or survive a crisis with perseverance and grace.
Likewise, the home we make might be a three-dimensional structure built of supplies found in the aisles of a home improvement store; yet, home can just as accurately be defined as that state in which a person feels comfortable with his situation, or within his own skin. What a home, sweet home that must be!
I applaud the little brown sparrow: her determination, her creativity, and the moxie with which she hops among employees and customers, shopping for bits and pieces to take back to her nest, are the embodiment of home improvement, both literal and metaphorical. I can only hope to do my job as well as she does hers!
I was at work the other day when I received one of those phone calls. You know, the phone call that everyone dreads, with the voice on the other end saying something like this: “Hello, I am calling from (insert emergency facility here), and I’ve been authorized to tell you that your (insert loved one here) has been air lifted to our facility for treatment. If you are unable to drive yourself, you should find someone to bring you here as soon as possible.”
Hours later, my daughter, my son, and I stood together outside an ICU treatment room listening as the medical staff performed an intimate, uncomfortable procedure on my already broken husband. Luckily, we’d learned that his injuries were treatable, and after a week of hospital care, he’d be coming home to continue his recovery while we look after him. Hallelujiah! Still, we clung to each other there in the hallway–exhausted and frazzled– struggling to comprehend all that was going on around us.
At that moment my son remarked, “What an unfortunate name. . .” and my daughter and I looked to see what had caught his attention.
The shock/trauma unit employs a Dr. Kephart. Only the letter board didn’t say DR. KEPHART; it said DR. K PHART.
Someone–a coworker, perhaps a custodian–had removed the “e”, effectively transforming the doctor’s good name into a bit of potty-themed onomatopoeia. Don’t ask us how we know the absent letter was intentional; we just know. And for a few moments we brushed away a heavy cloud of anxiety by letting ourselves in on the joke: Paging Doctor Phart. . .paging Dr. K. Phart!
There is no doubt in my mind–not the tiniest bit–that dear Dr. Kephart knows his name has been tampered with by a mischievous gremlin. I believe absolutely that Dr. Kephart is taking one for the team; that he knows a sprinkle of light-heartedness might go a long way toward comforting people like us–people with scary news to digest and anxious hours to pass.
So here’s to you, Doctor Phart! Thanks for becoming a doctor so you could be there to help mend my husband’s wounded body. And thanks for giving me a smile each time I make that long walk back the hallway to the ICU.
I dreamed the other night that I was lost in my hometown. I wandered down streets I should have known past landmarks I should have recognized, and yet everything was strangely unfamiliar. It wasn’t scary, but incredibly sad, and I cried as I turned corner after corner feeling more and more disconnected.
Suddenly, a big, black SUV pulled up beside me—finally, something that felt right—and the window opened to reveal my husband at the wheel.
“Get in,” he said gently. “We’re going home.”
I woke up next to him, just as I’ve done for many years, and I wasn’t crying at all.
Of all the paths my life could have taken
Walking this one with you has been my salvation.
It might have been the watermelon margaritas talking. It might have been the fact that my son was celebrating his 21st birthday without me. But whatever the reason, our table conversation at Ruby Tuesday‘s turned to childbirth, and I was the resident expert. Of the four, I was the only person who had actually given birth. Two of my companions—a man and a woman—had at least witnessed babies coming into the world, and the third—another woman—made little effort to conceal her distaste for the whole process. Over our drinks, we all agreed that the miracle of childbirth is one disgusting miracle.
Lately my blog has become the go-to website for people who want their bubbles burst, their rainbows drained of color, and their warm fuzzies strung up by their warm fuzzies. This I know. Just a few weeks ago I reduced the charm of my 29-year, happy marriage to nothing but good luck, good timing, and good science (click to read). So why not shovel around my observations on having babies?
Before I’d ever considered having a child, I’d watched the Ridley Scott film Alien, with its terrifying, unforgettable alien-exploding-from-a-man’s-body scene. If you’ve never seen it (Perhaps you were raised by wolves?), or if you just want to refresh your memory, go here:
Anyway, when I imagined childbirth, I imagined it being rather like this. At least I liked to think this is what it would be like if men gave birth. Because let’s admit it: in the battle of the sexes, childbirth is the trump card. No amount of knees in the nuts will ever top the experience of shooting an entire human being out your boy howdy. But I digress. . .
Turns out real life childbirth isn’t so much different from the scene in Alien. Of course the person writhing on the gurney would be a woman, and the baby’s off ramp wouldn’t be her stomach. And very rarely does the newborn actually bare its teeth and go skittering off the delivery table. But other than that. . .
Now, before you click on that response chastising me for sullying the most wonderful day of your life, let me just acknowledge how your own child’s birth was dreamlike and magical, with the clouds above parting for angels to herald little Junior’s arrival into a perfect world and the completion of you as a person. All I’m saying is my children’s births were loud, painful, and messy.*
It’s not like I wasn’t prepared. I’d read every single book I could get my hands on, watched all the childbirth videos, and interviewed every mother I could find. My wallet still holds the card proving my successful completion of childbirth classes just in case someone attempts to repossess my kids.
But I don’t care; nothing prepares you for a parade of strangers going in elbow deep to check things like dilation and effacement and denudement and potability. My own doctor sneezed while he was performing just such an intimate internal exam—now, there’s a moment neither of us will ever forget. Nothing prepares you for the second when some yahoo holds a mirror between your legs so you can see a crowning head the size of a bowling ball (Aw, HELL, no! were my exact words). And NOTHING prepares you for the doctor raising a scalpel and announcing that it’s time for the episiotomy (clickety click).
Then there’s the spurting goo, all that cheesy stuff that covers the new baby until someone hoses him down, and the likelihood that he’ll be all cone-headed and scrunched up when he finally makes his appearance. And don’t even get me started on the afterbirth.
Then, suddenly, it’s all over and everything’s like this:
Come on, now, did you really think this was going to have a bad ending?
Not only did I have the baby girl in the picture above, but three years later I went back for seconds and ended up with a baby boy. So it’s all good—all good in a loud, painful, messy, alien-explosion kind of way. But don’t take my word for it: click here for more info from our friends at Cracked.com. You’re welcome.
*Plain, ordinary, hospital birth with no pain meds or epidural. That’s right, I’m an amazon, and I kick ass.
Birds are my friends. Really. It’s purely coincidental how my only two attempts at saving the little feathered fellows ended in utter heartbreak.
For awhile I lived in a second-floor apartment that overlooked a flat roof. Tar Beach, as it was called, was just perfect for star-gazing, grilling, and cold beers at sunset. The resident cats, Tigger, Yoda, and Valentine Michael Smith, were fond of Tar Beach as well. When the front window was opened, the three kitties could spent hours outside sunbathing and watching the world go by from above.
My Russian Blue Yoda was the devil in a grey fur coat. Left to her own devices, Yoda would catch and bring home any creature that walked, crawled, or flew within paw’s reach. One day, she climbed back into the apartment through the front window carrying a little brown bird in her mouth. Yoda was justifiably pleased with herself, but the little brown bird was in a panic. There had been plenty of impromtu funerals for Yoda’s less fortunate prey, but this tiny creature was still very much alive, and very frightened. A recue was in order.
It took some coaxing to get the bird out of Yoda’s mouth. But once I did and the offended cat went off to sulk, I held the bird in my palms and assessed the situation. It was obviously young, but with no apparent blood or wounds. Relieved, I cradled the little bird in one hand and crawled out through the window onto Tar Beach. But what to do now? No trees grew near enough to place the bird safely on a branch, and if it were simply left there on the flat roof Yoda would snag it again as soon as my back was turned. But wait! Birds can fly! To the very edge of the flat roof I carried the little brown bird, where I gave it a gentle toss toward freedom.
Which turned out to be a really, really stupid idea.
Remember that scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, in which Jimmy Stewart falls from his window in slow motion while looking at the camera all helpless and terrified? Yep. Poor little bird fell like a rock, and its last Earthly sight before the pearly gates of Bird Heaven opened was my clueless, yet horrified face. May it rest in peace.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Several years later, my husband and I were driving home from work when we spied a robin quivering near the center line in the road up ahead. When the bird didn’t flee at our approach, I pronounced it in need of help. That ominous music you’re no doubt hearing right now is the sound of foreshadowing.
My dear husband knows what a force of nature his wife can be, so when I requested that he pull off the road next to the bird, he sighed deeply and did it. “And what do you propose we do?” he asked. Well, wasn’t it perfectly obvious? My proposal was that he get out of the car and shoo the poor robin off the road before it was hit by a car and killed. With an even deeper sigh, the sweet man put the car in park, turned on the flashers, and went to do my bidding. And that, of course, was a really, really stupid idea.
When he got within two steps of it, the robin suddenly realized my husband was there, and in a flurry of wings it took off—right into the path of an oncoming pickup truck.
Nothing but feathers. May it also rest in peace.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’ve lived with the guilt of those two dead creatures for years now. And although I know that birds are incapable of higher communication skills and feelings such as spite, it seems more than a coincidence how every single morning my car is covered with white splotches of bird crap even though I park nowhere near a tree.