Columns

Nothing Doing on My Birthday

This year when my husband asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I was ready.

“Nothing,” I said. “And I know just the place to do it.”

My reply didn’t have anything to do with pandemic-limited restaurant and entertainment options, and everything to do with needing a break and a change of scenery.

Both of those things are an option thanks to the generosity of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. They own a cabin at Diamond Lake that they keep open year-round, offering it to family members who want to get away.

Unlike many whose work situations have changed due to COVID-19, I’ve always worked from home. The short commute from my bedroom to my basement work area, with a detour to the kitchen for coffee, is a godsend. The downside is I’m never really away from work. It’s always waiting, just a few steps away.

Also waiting? Hungry men folk, needy cats, baskets of laundry and weekly shopping lists.

I’m not good at ignoring any of those things, which means days off feel pretty much like days on.

After checking the cabin’s availability with my sister-in-law, I took a deep breath. It’s wonderful to have something to look forward to, even if that something is doing nothing.

I called Mom to let her know we’d be out of town for a few days.

“But it’s winter! What’s there to do at Diamond Lake in the winter?” she asked.

“We’re just going to snack, sleep, watch TV, and do a jigsaw puzzle,” I replied.

Mom wasn’t impressed.

“Oh, honey, don’t do THAT! That’s what OLD LADIES do ALL the time!”

I pointed out that I’m in my 50s, and old-age is fast approaching.

“Well, you don’t need to rush into it,” she said.

But being at the lake is the opposite of rushing – it’s resting. From the moment we drove across the crusty snow, through the gate, we both relaxed.

After schlepping supplies from the car, I opened the slider and stood on the deck, bundled up against the cold. The frozen lake glinted in the afternoon sun. In the distance I spotted a lone ice-fishing hut. The deep tones of a wind chime, the only sound.

May be an image of nature, lake and tree

Meanwhile, Derek had set out some snacks and had opened the jigsaw. When we stayed at the lake in November, I had purchased a 1,000-piece puzzle featuring cats and books – two of my favorite things.

“Kittens? Books? Why didn’t you get a puzzle with whiskey and cars?” Derek grumbled.

However, he’d been quickly obsessed with what turned out to be an incredibly challenging puzzle, staying up till the wee hours and rising early to finish it before we had to go home.

We can’t do puzzles at home. For one thing, we have actual cats; for another thing we have no table space.

Mindful of our limited stay, Derek requested that this time I buy a 750-piece puzzle, which I did.

“Cats again!” he said, looking at the box.

I can’t help it if the only 750-piece puzzle I found featured cats. Of course, I didn’t look too hard once I’d spotted it.

May be an image of indoor

Aside from a lovely afternoon in Sandpoint, we spent the next three days cuddled up in the cozy cabin. Noshing on snacks, reading, binge-watching a new Amazon show, napping, and of course working on the puzzle.

The snow-shrouded lake provided a peaceful backdrop. One morning we were watching an ice boat skitter across the frozen expanse, its single sail, taut in the stiff breeze.

No computers, no work calls, no work emails, no cats waking me up demanding breakfast. It was possibly one of the best birthdays in recent memory.

Honestly, I still wrestle with the working mom mentality in which quietness and rest often seem self-indulgent. That’s why sometimes it takes a special occasion for me to give myself permission to do nothing. And when I do it feels blissfully satisfying, like fitting the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

If Mom’s right and my idea of a fun birthday moves me directly into the old lady category, I’m ready. Bring it on.

May be an image of mountain, nature, lake and tree

Diamond Lake in winter.

Columns

Can’t do 55?

I stood in the middle of the bedroom and spun in a slow circle.

A few minutes earlier I’d left my desk and rushed upstairs to get something. Something really important. Something I needed immediately. But darn, if I could remember what that something was.

Walter, our tabby kitten, sat on my feet and looked up.

“Meow?” he asked.

“No, I didn’t rush in here to cuddle you,” I replied.

He padded over to the closet and sat by his food dish.

“Meow?”

“No, you’ve already had lunch.”

Flummoxed, he hopped onto our bed. That’s when I saw the notebook I’d left near my pillow.

“That’s it!” I said. “Thank you, Walter.”

When you have to rely on a 10-month-old kitten to keep you on task, you know something has shifted.

My husband thinks he knows what it is.

That evening when I told him about my memory lapse, he grinned and started singing, “I can’t drive 55, oh no!”

Knowing his penchant for belting out Sammy Hagar songs, I waited until he’d sung through the chorus twice, and let him get in a few air guitar licks.

“What does my lead foot tendency have to do with why I can’t remember what I went into the bedroom for?” I asked.

Derek pointed to the calendar.

Ah. We’d just celebrated my 55th birthday.

“So. You’re saying I’m old? That I’m having senior moments?”

He wrapped his arms around me.

“Look at it this way, you’re not old, you just need to start shopping at Fred Meyer on Tuesday, so you can get the senior discount.”

Actually, those forgetful moments have been happening to both of us for years. We’ve begun texting shopping lists and errand reminders to each other. Of course, that means we have to remember to check our phones when we’re out.

And lately we’ve become one of those couples who fill in each other’s blanks.

“What was the movie we saw when we were first married?” Derek asked. “It was a part of a horror triple feature with Ronnie McDowall.”

“Fright Night,” I replied. “And it was Roddy McDowall.”

“What was the name of that restaurant where we used to eat at after church?” I asked.

“Rancho Chico,” he said.

“No, before kids.”

“Oh! Mr. Steak.”

Shared memory is one of the perks of a long-term marriage. And speaking of perks, I was really excited to realize I now qualify for the senior discount at the movie theater. When my friend Carol and I went to see “The Call of the Wild” recently, I proudly asked for the discount.

Honestly? I was a bit disappointed the cashier didn’t express surprise at my request, or even ask to see my driver’s license, but the cheap ticket was worth it.

Carol and I headed to the restroom before finding our seats because that’s what you do when you’re 55. As we left the restroom and headed toward the line I reached into my coat pocket for my ticket. No ticket. I checked my other pocket, then my jeans. No ticket!

I went back to the bathroom to see if I’d set it down while washing my hands. Nope. I dug through my purse. Derek calls it the Black Hole for a reason. It’s large with lots of pockets. I scoured it. I shook it. No ticket.

Mortified, I explained my dilemma to the manager.

“And it’s the first time I’ve used the senior discount, too,” I said.

He graciously waved me through.

Meanwhile, Carol was laughing so hard, it’s a good thing she’d already used the restroom.

“Your first senior discount and your first senior moment,” she chortled.

Well, one out of two of those statements was correct.

We took our seats, and as the previews began, I unzipped the cellphone pocket in my purse to ensure my phone was on silent.

“Carol,” I whispered. “Look, I found my ticket.”

Thankfully, we were able to get our hysterical giggles under control before the movie started.

Looks like Sammy Hagar isn’t the only one who has issues with 55.

War Bonds

Birthday letter from my son

My heart is full and I am so thankful.
Cindy

Dear Mom,

I don’t think I’ve ever posted on your Facebook for your birthday before. But that’s just one of the many mistakes I have made, and continue to make. I’m not a perfect son. Sometimes I don’t fold the laundry when I’m told. Sometimes I leave dirty dishes in the sink. Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t. Sometimes I lie. Sometimes I make you cry. Sometimes I make you furious.
But despite all of my faults, you have never once stopped loving me with all of your being every second I’m alive. You spent sleepless nights wondering if you would ever be able to see your son healthy and living before I could even speak or understand what that meant. You’ve had to listen to me rant, rave, and ramble. You’ve given me harsh, but much needed advice. You don’t mince words, or hold back the truth. You’re the first one to ask me what’s wrong when I’m gloomy. You’re the first one to make me laugh when I’ve had a bad day.
Sometimes I’ll attempt to walk past you, eyes on the ground, grumpy and angry, and you’ll quickly grab me and wrap your arms around me. You’re the strongest person I know, and also the funniest. Your words have touched the hearts of me and people all over the country. You inspire me, challenge me, and keep me alive with love and hope.
I want you to know that every hug in the morning was real, that every compliment was the truth, and that a Facebook post, a card, or a present will never be able to describe how important you are to not just me, but to thousands of other people.

Happy Birthday, and thank you for giving me life and all that it entails. Your existence has been one of the best gifts in the world.

Sam

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Columns

Third place isn’t so bad

044Today is my #3 son’s birthday. In his honor I’m posting the column I wrote for his 14th birthday, which seems like it must have just been yesterday.

When your mother is a writer, your life can be an open book. Just ask my sons. Their names regularly appear in this space as well as in books that are sold all over the world. And readers often ask if the boys are embarrassed to have their lives discussed so publicly. I get a kick out of that.

The fact is they love to see their names in print. “Am I in this column?” they’ll ask, and if I say no, they don’t bother to read it. I often run stories by them to make sure they’re OK with the content, and not once have I heard, “Please don’t share that.”

However, when I look through my files and clippings, I see that one name doesn’t appear quite as often as the others. That would be Zachary. He’s a middle child. As I type this I can almost feel the collective sighs of middle children all over the world. They can relate.

Our firstborn gets lots of print because even at 18, everything we experience with him is still new. He’s the first to do just about everything – including being the cause of my first gray hairs.

The second-born is the family athlete. He’s a bit on the wild side and accumulates adventures like other kids add Matchbox cars to their toy collections. He’s got the scars to prove it.

Then there’s the baby – everything he does has added poignancy because he’s my last glimpse into the world of childhood.

But Zachary was the third child added to our family in a five-year span. His brothers expressed mild interest in his arrival. And though I remember every excruciating detail of his birth, the months and years that followed seemed to whirl and blend together in a kaleidoscope of bustling boys and sleepless nights.

Thank God for video cameras. The magic of Zack’s first bite of solid food, first giggle and first steps are preserved on tape. His birth is also on tape, but as Zack would say, “It’s best not to talk about that.”

This middle child has always had a way with words, though his vocabulary got off to a shaky start. His first word was uttered from his high chair as he watched his two older brothers attempt to communicate entirely through belching. Frustrated that he’d not mastered that skill, he hollered, “Burp”

That provoked gales of gleeful laughter from his siblings and only encouraged the now verbal tot. “Burp!” he yelled. “Burp, burp.”

Fortunately, he’s continued to sharpen his wit. A few weeks ago, after his younger brother’s birthday party, we waited in the car for Zack, who was still somewhere in the bowels of Chuck E. Cheese.

Finally, the van door slid open and Zack announced with great disgust, “They didn’t want me to leave without a parent!” He slammed the door shut and added, “However, negotiations were brief.”

He’s always been full of surprises. When asked to share what he learned on his first day of kindergarten he was momentarily stumped. He pondered the question deeply and finally had an answer. “I learned this,” he said, and jumping up from the table he inserted his hand under his shirt and began flapping his arm wildly. He’d mastered the art of armpit flatulence.

“He’s gifted,” his oldest brother opined.

But for all his words and talents, what I most appreciate about this middle son is his affectionate nature. Our firstborn was reserved, and we could never catch the second-born long enough to cuddle. But Zachary’s warm and loving heart spills over into hugs, kisses and spontaneous bursts of affection.

Last week I was driving the kids home after school. Traffic was heavy and my temper was short. “I love you, Mom.” Zack said. “I love you, too,” I replied distractedly.

We were quiet for a few blocks and then Zack said, “I want my last words to you to be ‘I love you,’ because you never know how long we have.”

He has a knack for reminding me what really matters.

His Sunday school teacher once said that Zack has the soul of a poet, and I agree. I’ve worried about his tender heart, watching the way unkind words can wound him. I’m torn between hoping that he’ll toughen up so he won’t get hurt so often, and praying that his heart stays soft. The world could use a little more tenderness.

A couple of years ago he asked for a guitar for Christmas. With wonder, I’ve watched the way he’s made a place for himself through music. He plays beautifully. Each afternoon, strains of Marley’s “Redemption Song,” or Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” wail through the house as our son unwinds from an arduous day of middle school.

Today is Zachary’s 14th birthday, and this column is for him. Zack, every home needs music, and I’m so grateful that you are the song in ours.

Columns

On My Son’s 21st Birthday

I wrote this column for our number 3 son, seven years ago. The speed of the passage of time takes my breath away. He’s 21 today.

When your mother is a writer, your life can be an open book. Just ask my sons. Their names regularly appear in this space as well as in books that are sold all over the world. And readers often ask if the boys are embarrassed to have their lives discussed so publicly. I get a kick out of that.

The fact is they love to see their names in print. “Am I in this column?” they’ll ask, and if I say no, they don’t bother to read it. I often run stories by them to make sure they’re OK with the content, and not once have I heard, “Please don’t share that.”

However, when I look through my files and clippings, I see that one name doesn’t appear quite as often as the others. That would be Zachary. He’s a middle child. As I type this I can almost feel the collective sighs of middle children all over the world. They can relate.

Our firstborn gets lots of print because even at 18, everything we experience with him is still new. He’s the first to do just about everything – including being the cause of my first gray hairs.

The second-born is the family athlete. He’s a bit on the wild side and accumulates adventures like other kids add Matchbox cars to their toy collections. He’s got the scars to prove it.

Then there’s the baby – everything he does has added poignancy because he’s my last glimpse into the world of childhood.

But Zachary was the third child added to our family in a five-year span. His brothers expressed mild interest in his arrival. And though I remember every excruciating detail of his birth, the months and years that followed seemed to whirl and blend together in a kaleidoscope of bustling boys and sleepless nights.

Thank God for video cameras. The magic of Zack’s first bite of solid food, first giggle and first steps are preserved on tape. His birth is also on tape, but as Zack would say, “It’s best not to talk about that.”

This middle child has always had a way with words, though his vocabulary got off to a shaky start. His first word was uttered from his high chair as he watched his two older brothers attempt to communicate entirely through belching. Frustrated that he’d not mastered that skill, he hollered, “Burp”

That provoked gales of gleeful laughter from his siblings and only encouraged the now verbal tot. “Burp!” he yelled. “Burp, burp.”

Fortunately, he’s continued to sharpen his wit. A few weeks ago, after his younger brother’s birthday party, we waited in the car for Zack, who was still somewhere in the bowels of Chuck E. Cheese.

Finally, the van door slid open and Zack announced with great disgust, “They didn’t want me to leave without a parent!” He slammed the door shut and added, “However, negotiations were brief.”

He’s always been full of surprises. When asked to share what he learned on his first day of kindergarten he was momentarily stumped. He pondered the question deeply and finally had an answer. “I learned this,” he said, and jumping up from the table he inserted his hand under his shirt and began flapping his arm wildly. He’d mastered the art of armpit flatulence.

“He’s gifted,” his oldest brother opined.

But for all his words and talents, what I most appreciate about this middle son is his affectionate nature. Our firstborn was reserved, and we could never catch the second-born long enough to cuddle. But Zachary’s warm and loving heart spills over into hugs, kisses and spontaneous bursts of affection.

Last week I was driving the kids home after school. Traffic was heavy and my temper was short. “I love you, Mom.” Zack said. “I love you, too,” I replied distractedly.

We were quiet for a few blocks and then Zack said, “I want my last words to you to be ‘I love you,’ because you never know how long we have.”

He has a knack for reminding me what really matters.

His Sunday school teacher once said that Zack has the soul of a poet, and I agree. I’ve worried about his tender heart, watching the way unkind words can wound him. I’m torn between hoping that he’ll toughen up so he won’t get hurt so often, and praying that his heart stays soft. The world could use a little more tenderness.

A couple of years ago he asked for a guitar for Christmas. With wonder, I’ve watched the way he’s made a place for himself through music. He plays beautifully. Each afternoon, strains of Marley’s “Redemption Song,” or Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” wail through the house as our son unwinds from an arduous day of middle school.

Today is Zachary’s 14th birthday, and this column is for him. Zack, every home needs music, and I’m so grateful that you are the song in ours.

Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

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