All Write

Making room for new traditions

A few weeks ago, I received this note from a reader:

I have been searching for a column you wrote about Christmas traditions. My mother had it posted on her refrigerator for years to remember each Holiday Season and your wise words of wisdom.
When she passed, I took the column for myself, but the first paragraph had been torn out. The second paragraph reads: “This new year, I’m going to hold on to traditions that fit our family and let go of the old ones we’ve outgrown, etc.”
I am now the age of my mother with grown daughters/sons-in-law/grandkids and have continued to heed your suggestion of compromise. I was discussing the article with my daughters yesterday and they remember the article on grandma’s refrigerator. Could you send me the entire article for us? I am not sure of the year it was published but it must be older because the paper has turned yellow.

It’s hard to believe I wrote this column TEN years ago! I’m reposting it here because sometimes we all need a reminder that often we have to let go of the old to embrace the new.

Cheers!

Four Hval boys many Christmases ago.

When Tevye and the cast belt out “Tradition” in Fiddler on the Roof, they’re singing my song.

 I especially love the ritual, familiarity, and comfort of holiday traditions. For me, it begins on the day after Thanksgiving. While many folks shop ’til they drop on Black Friday, I decorate ’til I drop.

My sons unearth the red and green plastic tubs bulging with garlands, angels, Santas, and candles, and lug them to the living room. Then I pop a Christmas CD in the stereo and spend the day awash in memories of Christmas past.

Each item from the Play-Doh nativity set, to the Homer Simpson Santa Claus, to the, chipped and scratched snowman dishes has a story.

This year I’m making room for new stories by learning to hold less tightly to treasured traditions.

Actually, the process began a couple years ago with the Christmas tree. Since our boys were tiny, Derek has taken them to Green Bluff to cut down a tree. But our sons are now 21, 19, 17, and 12. Finding a time when everyone has the day off from work to make the trek to the tree farm became impossible.

Derek eyed fake trees, but the younger boys and I rebelled. We reached a compromise: a freshly cut tree from a local tree lot.  We also gave up trying to find a night that everyone would be around to trim the tree. I don’t feel too bad about that. Six people, two cats, and one tree can create a lot of Christmas chaos.

Other changes have been more difficult to embrace. For 26 years I’ve celebrated a traditional Norwegian Christmas Eve with my in-laws. The feast is a smorgasbord of Norwegian foods and delicacies, but the real flavor comes from the gathering of extended family.

My father-in-law loved Christmas Eve. He was in his element at the head of the table with his wife by his side, surrounded by his four children, their spouses, and his 14 grandchildren. His booming laugh and warm bear hugs made everyone smile.

This was our first Christmas since his death. Instead of ignoring the empty space, his absence left, family members shared their favorite Papa memories. And in the light that shone from his grandchildren’s eyes– in the echoes of their laughter– Papa’s presence was felt once again.

When we got home, no one mentioned leaving cookies out for Santa. That’s okay, Santa’s trying to slim down. Besides, I’m pretty sure our kitty, Thor, would eat them before Santa got a chance.

Christmas morning is different now, too. Santa still leaves filled stockings outside each boys’ bedroom door, but our oldest has to drive over from his apartment to get his.

In years past, four little boys would clamber on our bed at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning and dump their stocking bounty out for us to see.

I don’t miss the crack of dawn part.

And Sam, 12, informed me last year, “You know we all open our stockings while you’re sleeping and then stuff everything back in and take them to your room. You do know that, don’t you?”

Yes, I know that, because my sister and I did the same thing when we were kids.

The six of us still gather around the tree and read the Christmas story from the Bible before the unwrapping begins, but now there’s less unwrapping. I’ve discovered the older the kids– the smaller the presents. Unfortunately, smaller tends to equal more expensive.

Even so, I don’t really miss hundreds of Legos strewn across the floor, or tiny GI Joe guns getting sucked up the vacuum cleaner.

Clinging to traditions no longer current is like trying to squeeze a squirming toddler into last year’s snowsuit. It won’t fit and someone will end up in tears.

This new year, I’m going to hold on to traditions that fit our family and let go of the ones we’ve outgrown. I don’t want to cling so tightly to the past that my hands are too full to embrace the present.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

Columns

Last one out

Texas.

He never said anything about Texas. I would remember that.

When our youngest son was in fifth grade he informed me that he wouldn’t live in Spokane forever.

“I’m going to live in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York,” he said.

Last week, Sam, 22, moved to Odessa, Texas. He accepted a full-time position at Odessa College to teach English and composition classes. Odessa is 1,767 miles from Spokane.

I would have much preferred he stuck with his fifth-grade plan and moved to Seattle, but Sam has worked hard to become a college professor and his first post-graduate school job is exactly what he envisioned during his long hours of study. It’s just that none of us envisioned it in Texas.

I’m getting a bit of an attitude about that state. Our second son moved to Houston at 21, stayed almost three years, and then moved to Ohio. Thankfully, our other two sons don’t seem inclined to move to the Lone Star State and both have places within a mile of our house.

Of course, I knew this day was coming – eventually, all parents get to enjoy an empty nest. But neither Derek nor I were prepared for how rapidly this last fledgling flew.

Last month, after two Zoom interviews, Sam went to Odessa for an in-person interview and was offered the job immediately. He found an apartment, flew back home and started packing.

He had a lot to pack – mainly books. (Seven boxes full and he left an overflowing bookshelf in his room.)

We shopped and scheduled last-minute dental and eye exams. In hindsight, we should have skipped those because his extensive benefits include 100% health care coverage.

His dad slaved over the aging Oldsmobile that Sam inherited when I got my Ford Escape. Derek needed to ensure it could make the trip across six states, towing a small U-Haul trailer. Then he excitedly mapped out the route he and Sam would take.

We hosted a big family bon voyage party filled with cousins, aunts and uncles, and suddenly we were in our week of lasts.

His last Friday family dinner with his brothers.

Last visit with his Grandma Shirley, 91.

Last back-to-school s’mores night in our backyard gazebo.

Last night in his childhood bed.

Last cuddles with our cats, Thor and Walter. (Well, last cuddle with Walter because Thor ran and hid. Thor hates goodbyes.)

I wasn’t the only one shedding tears.

For 32 years, we’ve had at least one son in our home.

“I’m going to miss having another dude around,” Derek said.

Apparently, our male cats don’t count.

Those lasts aren’t exactly final. Sam will come home for Christmas, and he’s going to meet us in Ohio this summer to visit Alex’s family with us.

But I’ve been through this three times before. Once a kid has a taste of independent living, they don’t want to live in Mom and Dad’s basement anymore. That’s a very healthy thing.

After raising boys for 32 years, Derek and I are ready for the next chapter of our story to unfold. Friends who’ve walked this path before us have all said the same thing.

“You’ll be sad for a few days, and then (here they all grinned) you will love having an empty nest!”

They’re probably right, plus I have something else that comforts me.

All those years ago, when Sam mapped out his life’s plan for me, he was adamant about one thing.

“When I’m done traveling around, and I’m ready to settle down, I’m coming home to Spokane,” he said. “That’s where I want to raise my family.”

I’m counting on it, Sam. I’m counting on it.

Columns

A mother’s (and grandmother’s) heart always has room for more

The instant I felt his butterfly-fluttering kicks in my womb, I was besotted with my first child.

Ethan arrived with golden hair and a sweet disposition. I documented his first smile, first tooth, first word (mama, of course) with the absorption of a Ph.D. candidate completing her dissertation.

Eighteen months after his birth, I was delighted to learn another baby was on the way. But as my delivery date drew closer I worried: How could I love this new son as much as I did my first?

On a sunny April afternoon, they placed the heft of Alex in my arms. Weighing in at 10 pounds, 6 ounces with a head of dark hair that already needed a trim, he peered at me through the bluest of eyes. Instantly smitten I began to hum, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine …”

And I didn’t worry a bit when my third and fourth sons arrived. I’d discovered that a mother’s heart expands with each child – its capacity for love encompassing every new arrival.

I thought about that during our recent visit to see Alex and his family in Ohio.

Six years ago, when Alex fell in love with Brooke, he got a twofer – she had a beautiful 2½-year-old daughter.

After they moved from Texas to Ohio, I flew out to meet my son’s new loves and just like that my heart expanded again. How could I not adore the woman who made my son so happy? Her beautiful daughter, Farrah, was the icing on the cake.

When they told us they were expecting their first son, Ian Lucas, my joy knew no bounds.

My grief when Ian was stillborn at full term was equally limitless – an ever-present ache.

The birth of their identical twin sons, Adam and Nicholas, in November 2019, offered our broken hearts a way to begin to heal.

Two weeks ago, we took Derek’s mother, Juanita, with us to Ohio. She hadn’t seen the twins since they were eight months old and was eager to reconnect with Farrah.

She celebrated her 79th birthday with us during our trip. Alex took the day off of work to take her and Farrah on a shopping spree to the landmark Columbus book store, The Book Loft, and then out to lunch.

While Derek and I entertained the twins, Brooke decorated their house for GG’s (great-grandma’s) birthday. GG spent the afternoon at their beautiful backyard pool and taught Farrah how to dive off the diving board.

I’d simmered pulled pork in the slow cooker all day for dinner, and GG chose a bakery carrot cake for her birthday treat. We all sang while Alex brought the cake to her, and Adam helpfully blew out the candles.

As I watched four generations of Hvals swim together that evening, I marveled at the ways families shrink with sorrowful losses, but grow with the joy of new additions.

The next morning, Nick needed some Nana cuddles and crawled up in my lap with his blanket. Adam wasn’t about to be left out. He ran and got his blanket and scooched onto my lap.

Adam, Nick and Nana Cindy

I wrapped my arms around them both and swayed and sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray …”

It was a tight fit for two gangly toddlers, but oh, there’s always space on Nana’s lap and plenty of room in her heart. That’s just the way love works.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and bookstores nationwide.

All Write

Turning Tables

It’s always a bit surreal to be the interviewee instead of the interviewer, but I had fun chatting with Hara Allison on her podcast “See Beneath Your Beautiful.”

See Beneath Your Beautiful podcast is raw and intimate, sometimes funny and always entertaining. With new episodes every Saturday, Hara explores our loves, fears and hopes with a delicious combination of depth and lightness.

We chatteed about writing, parenting, grandparenting and lots of stuff in between.

You can click here https://bit.ly/3okAtTe to listen to the episode, or find it on any podcast streaming service.

*Disclaimer* I utter the 3 forbidden “p” words!

Columns

Still afloat on the pond of English 101

I am absolutely not going to tell you how many years ago I took English 101.

For one thing, I’m not good at math – something my college transcript verifies. For another thing, it was a really long time ago. How long ago? Well, let’s just say all of my essays were handwritten. In cursive. In pen. No, not with quill and ink.

Memories of that class were triggered when our youngest son headed out the door to Eastern Washington University last week. He’s not taking 101 – he’s teaching it.

Sam’s first day of teaching English 101/First day of kindergarten.

Sam is in the final year of his graduate degree and is a composition instructor in the English Graduate Student Assistantship Program. His 22nd birthday was Friday, but he’s already teaching a class of 24 students.

He’s relishing his new role, and I’m sure his students will benefit from his enthusiasm. For many of them, English 101 will be just another required class to get out of the way, but perhaps for some the class will trigger a desire to learn more about writing.

That’s exactly what happened to me at Spokane Falls Community College.

At 18, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. The career aptitude tests I took my senior year of high school pointed me toward fashion merchandising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way to say retail sales clerk, but I could be wrong.

Dad said college would be a better place to discover my aptitudes and paid for my first quarter at SFCC. I’d been the editor of our school newspaper and co-editor of the yearbook, so English classes didn’t scare me. I was far more terrified of classes involving math – a justified fear as evidenced in the above-mentioned transcripts.

I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember the name of my English 101 instructor. I do remember he was also the tennis coach and often wore his tennis whites to class. Maybe fashion merchandising should have been my thing, after all.

Yet, he’s the one who lit the spark of interest – who first made me wonder if perhaps writing was something I could actually be good at. To be sure, 101 is the most basic of college classes. Students typically learn the different stages of writing: gathering material, drafting ideas, revising drafts, editing and proofreading.

Sitting on my desk is one of the first essays I wrote for that class. The title? “From Duckling to Swan,” in which I related my middle school to high school transformation.

Honestly, reading it now is cringe-inducing, but I’ve saved it all these years because of the comment the instructor wrote in pencil on the title page.

“An essay like this can keep you afloat in the pond of 101.”

When that paper landed on my desk, after he first read it to the class, it was an a-ha moment for me. I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to do. I want to write and I want people to read what I’ve written.”

And here we are.

Now, it’s Sam’s turn to make a difference.

Who knows? Maybe someday a writer will sit down to pen a newspaper column or write a book, and remember an English 101 class at EWU, and the instructor who encouraged her to believe that she had a way with words. And perhaps that teacher’s name will be Sam Hval.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

Columns

Bleak bad times can reveal sparkling gems of goodness

I wish whoever keeps asking “what next?” about 2020 would stop it.

Last week the “what next” was thick, choking, hazardous smoke. Each morning, I checked the Spokane air quality before getting out of bed. As the smoke cleared ever so slowly, I’d grimly brush the dusting of ash from my car before heading out.

How bad was it? Well, I actually had to work out at the gym for the first time since it re-opened post-shutdown. Hazardous air is not conducive to long strolls through the neighborhood.

But Saturday morning I woke up to find my husband had opened our living room and kitchen windows. Rain and cooler temperatures cleared the sooty skies. I’ve never before been so giddy about being “moderate,” and cheered as the air quality neared “good.”

Standing on the deck I gulped in the fresh air with my morning coffee and wondered why it so often takes the bad to make us appreciate the good.

This year has certainly given us plenty of opportunities.

During the long weeks of shutdown when just about every place that makes life enjoyable was shuttered, we had to discover new ways to find joy.

Instead of the warm fellowship of Sunday morning church, we cuddled on the couch in our pajamas and streamed the service on Facebook.

In lieu of romantic dinners at upscale bistros, date night morphed into driving to our favorite spot together to pick up food to go.

Weekly meals with our adult sons became regular Sunday Suppers complete with dessert, as we drew our family closer during this worrisome time.

As things slowly opened up, the Sunday Supper tradition became a fixture, and I love having a designated day to spend with my sons.

We haven’t attended in-person church yet, because seating is limited, and we are well aware that for many older folks, Sunday service is as crucial to their emotional and mental health as it is to their spiritual life. We’ll join them when we can all attend.

Date night is on again, though we usually pick a spot that offers outdoor dining. We enjoy eating al fresco in the summer anyway, and it feels amazing to be eating at a venue, instead of taking home Styrofoam boxes.

Yes, sometimes it takes the bad to help us appreciate the good.

That thought sits with me today as we celebrate our youngest son’s 21st birthday. There’s nothing bad about Sam, but his entrance to the world proved incredibly frightening.

On a golden Sept. 24, our grand finale arrived weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders, and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

Having given birth to his three older brothers without complication, I assumed we’d be taking our new arrival home the next day. Instead, it was three long weeks.

Within hours of his birth we were told Sam had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Our newborn was given a 50% chance of survival.

He was airlifted from Holy Family to Sacred Heart and placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to his bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

When he was 3 days old, he underwent surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm. And then we watched and we waited, struggling to care for our sons at home, dealing with the unbearable ache of leaving Sam in the hospital night after night.

But at 21 days, he finally came home, healthy and whole in every way, with a pretty impressive scar on his midsection.

Twenty-one years later, he’s our last fledgling in the nest, and having already earned his undergraduate degree, this week he started the quest for his master’s.

He’s filled our home with so much joy; it’s hard to comprehend how close we came to losing him. Those horrible days when his life hung in the balance have made me forever grateful for his presence in our family, and maybe a bit more prone to appreciate the sparkling gems of goodness the bleakness of bad times can reveal.

Sam and Cindy Hval, 2019

Columns

Twin grandsons make heart grow two sizes

2,142 miles. That’s the driving distance between Spokane and Columbus, Ohio. Even if you fly, that’s a heck of a long way, especially now.

But our recent pre-pandemic-planned trip was worth every mile and occasional discomfort, to celebrate our youngest son’s graduation, and to see our twin grandsons.

Sam recently earned his BA in English with a focus on Literary Studies from Eastern Washington University. He’s 20, graduated cum laude, debt-free, and is already enrolled in the Masters program at the university.

We wanted to celebrate his amazing accomplishment in a meaningful way – and for him nothing could be more meaningful than seeing his brother, Alex, and meeting his identical twin nephews.

Sam hasn’t seen Alex in five years, and Derek’s 76-year-old mom has been longing to meet her first great-grandchildren. So even when the airline changed our flights to include a five-hour layover at SeaTac on the way over and a four-hour layover on the way back, we were just relieved our flights weren’t canceled.

Apparently, air travel is picking up. SeaTac seemed busier than ever and everyone – and I do mean everyone – wore masks and endeavored to maintain social distancing. Even better, Alaska Airlines is continuing to limit seating. Every middle seat was empty on our flights to and from Columbus.

We arrived in Ohio, with just enough light to find our Airbnb house a few blocks away from our son’s place. However, it was dark by the time Derek and I finished our grocery store run, and we got hopelessly lost on our way back. Our GPS was no help. Thankfully, Alex and Brooke are night owls and were able to talk us in by phone.

And then? Four blissful, baby-filled days with The World’s Most Beautiful Boys. At just shy of seven-months, Adam and Nick had already changed so much since our last visit.

Of course, great-grandma Nita and Uncle Sam promptly fell in love with the perpetually grinning, good-natured boys.

“You know, I wasn’t sure if I wanted kids,” Sam said. “But I love those babies. I want some of my own.”

Sam and twins

Sam meets Nick and Adam

That right there was worth the price of the trip, though I did ask him to wait a few years, and maybe not move any place as far away as Ohio.

He and Alex spent hours together, making up for lost time, making new memories, making every minute together count.

They went to the Book Loft in the German Village in Columbus, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores. It’s so big; they lost Grandma Nita in the two- story maze of book-filled nooks and crannies.

And then while the guys lunched at the Thurman Cafe, featured on the television shows “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and “Man vs. Food,” we girls bonded over babies.

And oh, those babies! I was filming great-grandma tickling Adam’s bare feet, when he turned and saw me. Recognition, excitement and love beamed from his face as he reached for me.

I thought when I became a mother I couldn’t love anything more fiercely than my sons. And then my grandsons arrived, and my heart grew at least two sizes that day.

Sam, Adam, Nana, Nick

Spending Father’s Day watching my son dote on his sons, filled me with indescribable joy. I never doubted Alex would be a wonderful dad; after all, he had the best role model.

Speaking of Derek, true to tradition, every time a twin nodded off in his arms, Papa fell asleep, too.

“I can’t help it,” he said. “Babies make me sleepy.”

But when Adam or Nick fell asleep in my arms, I didn’t want to miss a thing.

In fact, if I could freeze one moment in time it would be this: the feel of my grandson’s head heavy on my shoulder, the rise and fall of his chest against mine.

If I could bottle one scent it would be this: the sweet smell of his head tucked beneath my chin.

If I could capture one sound to listen to repeatedly it would be this: his sleepy sighs, soft against my ear.

After 2,142 miles, and more time at SeaTac than anyone would ever want to spend, we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Twins

Adam and Nick

Columns

Grateful for Trip Before Pandemic Havoc

Earlier this month when we left for Ohio to visit our twin grandsons, there were just two cases of COVID-19 in Spokane – the remaining cruise ship passengers that had been sent to Sacred Heart Medical Center to recuperate. There were no reported cases in Ohio.

By the time we returned home, Ohio’s governor had closed schools, libraries and restaurants, as had Washington’s governor, and coronavirus cases in both states had skyrocketed.

A lot can change in a week.

But the change that happened to me over the course of the week had nothing to do with viruses and everything to do with love.

How to describe the feeling of holding your son’s son in your arms for the first time? The joy of discovering your child’s blue eyes peering at you from a new face or, in our case, faces.

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Adam and Nicholas are identical twins and, in my completely unbiased opinion, worthy of #TheWorldsMostBeautifulBoys hashtag I created for them.

Born 7 1/2 weeks early on Nov. 23, they had a lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit before coming home in January. Thankfully, they are healthy, and did I mention beautiful?

Derek and I rented a small Airbnb house near our son’s home, so we could watch the twins and their big sister, Farrah, 6, as often as Alex and Brooke were willing to part with them.

To our delight, we got to have them every day. We timed our arrival with Brooke’s birthday, and Alex surprised her by taking time off from work so he could ferry the boys back and forth for her.

We wanted her to be able to rest and enjoy some much needed self-care time. I remember well the exhausting days and endless nights of caring for infants who seemed to rarely sleep – and I only had one baby at a time.

After our first stint of babysitting, Derek and I sprawled on the sofa, exhausted.

“How does she do it?” he asked. “How does she do this every day? I mean, she’s by herself when Alex is at work. Look how worn out we are and there’s TWO of us!”

Two of us, whose only agenda was cuddling, feeding, burping and changing our adorable grandsons. Our only other objective was to be able to tell them apart by the time we left. More on that later.

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When the boys napped I cooked meals for the family – another reason I’m so glad we chose an Airbnb over a hotel. But I didn’t have to clean, or tackle laundry, or do any of the myriad things Brooke has to do on a daily basis. We are simply in awe of her.

On our first full day in Ohio, we bundled up the boys and took them on their first walkabout in their double stroller.

It was a new adventure for them, and Adam was not a fan. Nick, however, took in the sights, sounds and smells with equanimity and wonder.

We slowly began to get a sense of their personalities. Alex and Brooke weren’t kidding when they told us their boys are very opinionated and not shy about making their preferences known. We thought it was mighty kind of Adam and Nick to let Nana and Papa know how they like to be held and fed, but the first time they both cried at the same time, we looked at each other, stricken.

Nick hollers, but Adam’s cry is more dramatic and heartbreaking. It quickly became clear my job was to calm any tears, and Derek’s job was to fall asleep with a baby in his arms.

Not much has changed in the 20 years since we had our last baby.

Initially, Brooke dressed them differently, so we knew who was who, but when Alex dropped them off wearing identical outfits, I panicked.

“Which one is which?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” he said.

Then he showed me his dad trick. He swiped his thumb across their foreheads.

“This is Nick,” he said. “He has drier skin.”

That was helpful, but Nana’s no dummy. I quickly popped their labeled pacifiers in their car seats.

The boys have their dad’s beautiful lips and when they smile, it’s like cuddling Alex all over again. They love to “talk,” and enjoy lying next to each other and kicking their legs like crazy.

Of course, I took oodles of photos and videos. Leaving them to come home was incredibly difficult because I know how much they’ll change before we see them again.

And we will see them again.

Coronavirus restrictions and protocols won’t last forever. We’ve already scheduled our next visit for the end of June. Grandparents are optimistic to a fault.

I understand our world has been forever altered by this pandemic, but not all change is bad. For instance, I’ve discovered my heart really can be in two places at once.

Me and my boys

Columns

Word Trouble: I don’t think that means what you think it means

I’ve been told I have a way with words.

After all, I’ve spent many years making a living writing them. But this summer I learned I’d apparently lost my way – at least when it comes to contemporary euphemisms.

Each year I host a gathering of friends in our backyard gazebo. The Great Gazebo Girlfriend Gathering provides a way for me to bring friends from varying parts of my life together to reflect, reminisce and laugh.

It’s also quite an educational event.

My friend, Judi, told us about her stay at a cute bed-and-breakfast with interesting room names.

“I saw that on Facebook!” I said. “I thought it was cool that your room was ‘Netflix and chill.’ ”

A brief silence fell.

Then someone giggled. Someone else tittered. Judi’s eyes got big.

“What?” I asked.

“Cindy, don’t you know what ‘Netflix and chill’ means?” my friend Sarah asked.

Puzzled, I gazed at her.

“Of course, I do,” I replied. “It means you’re going to watch a movie and relax.”

I’m pretty sure the resulting howls of laughter could be heard for miles.

Apparently, somehow, when I wasn’t looking, that innocently descriptive phrase has morphed into meaning something entirely different.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition: Netflix and chill, as a distinct phrase, means to watch Netflix with a romantic prospect with the eventual expectation of sexual activity.

And that’s the most family-friendly definition.

Reader, I beg of you, do not look this up in the Urban Dictionary.

Horrified, I gazed at my laughing friends.

A blush spread over my face and deepened to a reddish hue as I recalled my response when a much younger colleague asked what Derek and I had planned for the weekend.

“Oh, we’re going to Netflix and chill all weekend long. I can’t wait!” I replied.

He grinned.

“Good for you!” he said.

Then I remembered how I’d told the grocery store cashier the same thing. He paused in the midst of scanning my items, smiled and winked at me.

“Awesome,” he said.

I endured my friends’ good-natured ribbing for the rest of the party, but honestly, I hoped they were pulling my leg (definition: to make someone believe something that is not true as a joke, which I looked up to be sure that meaning hadn’t changed).

When they left, I turned to my trusted youngest son.

“Sam, what does ‘Netflix and chill’ mean?”

Peering at me, he cautiously replied. “What do you think it means?”

That’s how I knew my friends were telling the truth, and I was mortified all over again.

I hoped this was something only teenagers, young adults and their parents knew, but recently that hope was dashed.

When we met my friend Jill and her husband for dinner, the subject of my embarrassment came up again. (Honestly, I’ll be 70 before I live this down.)

To prove the phrase wasn’t known to merely the younger set, Jill asked our server, “Do you know what ‘Netflix and chill’ means?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And I only do that with my husband.”

Lesson learned. The next time someone asks what my plans are for the evening I will reply, “My husband and I are going to watch a movie via an online streaming service and relax.”

Or, because truthfulness is important to me, I might just smile and say, “We’re going to Netflix and chill.”

Columns

Toddlers, Teens and Sir Walter Scott

Question: What do you get when you combine the terrible 2s of toddlerhood with the terrifying tenure of teenage years?

Answer: A kitten. Specifically, Sir Walter Scott.

I recently read this quote: “Dogs prepare you for babies, cats prepare you for teenagers,” and boy, is that true. At 4 1/2 months, our tabby is still more toddler than teen, but I swear he just rolled his eyes at me.

Since I sat down to write this column, Walter has knocked every pen off my desk, gotten stuck on top of the filing cabinet and waged war on his own tail.

I just heard a huge crash from Sam’s room, but at this rate I’ll never make deadline, so that investigation will have to wait. (And people say working from home must be so much easier.)

Walter is a whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm. He adores jumping, galloping, wrestling and exploring. Unfortunately, Thor, our middle-aged tabby, is often the focus of Walter’s enthusiasms.

Thor does not play.

He never has. He’s a strictly low-key, lounge-around-the-house lap cat. Unless there’s food involved, then he’s energetic, bordering on obnoxious. He is not amused or entertained by Walter, but the rest of us sure are.

Walter keeps a busy schedule. After our son feeds him an early-morning breakfast, he gallops to our bedroom to ensure I’m awake. Of course, I’m not. So he hops onto my chest and nudges my cheeks with his cold nose, and softly pats my eyes with his paws until I open them.

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Early morning wake up call.

I stagger to the kitchen, grab my coffee and the newspaper and return to bed, where Walter has thoughtfully kept my spot warm.

Here’s the sad part. Walter hates The Spokesman-Review. The minute I shake out the pages, he goes into attack mode. He slinks to the foot of the bed, wiggles his behind and leaps into the newspaper. If he can successfully grab a section from my hands, he’ll proceed to shred it with his tiny sharp teeth and claws.

This makes it difficult to read the paper and dangerous to drink my coffee.

Walter also has animosity for my cellphone. He’ll squirm between my phone and my face and smack it until I put it down.

Perhaps it’s not so much the paper and the phone but that they come between him and my undivided attention.

When he’s received his expected amount of adoration, he’s off to share the love with Thor.

As previously noted, Thor does not want the love.

Toddlers, teens and kittens all suffer from poor impulse control. How else to explain the 2-year-old touching a hot stove, the 13-year-old careening down a steep hill on his skateboard and Walter’s mistaken belief that Thor enjoys being ridden around the house like a pony.

Thor does not enjoy being used as a racehorse with a pint-sized jockey on his back. He has demonstrated his feelings repeatedly by hissing, growling and smacking Walter silly.

To Walter, it’s all part of the fun.

Toddlers, teens and kittens also have inflated beliefs about their own mortality. That’s why toddlers dart into traffic, teens text and drive, and kittens climb things like bookcases and entertainment cabinets. It’s also why parents and cat owners get gray hair.

I know Walter is edging toward his teens because he’s angling for more screen time. He enjoys watching football and soccer on television. Unfortunately, he prefers to be part of the action. He parks himself in front of the screen and tries to intercept the passes.

My husband prefers to watch sports sans kitten. He actually downloaded the Cat Alone app on his tablet so Walter can chase bugs and flies on the screen while Derek watches the game in peace.

There’s another troubling sign that Walter’s teen years are near. On Saturday morning, he was even more manic than usual. He could not seem to settle down.

Then Derek discovered a small baggie behind the couch.

It was Walter’s stash.

Somehow, he’d gotten the catnip out of the cupboard, punctured the plastic and had himself a party. We’ve locked up the catnip and are hoping to avoid an intervention.

For all his boundless energy, Walter is extremely affectionate and a world champion cuddler. In fact, right now he’s sprawled across my desk, snoozing. Unfortunately he’s lying on my arms, which makes typing difficult, but he just sighed and made that adorable kitty chirp, so I’m not inclined to dislodge him.

Sweet moments like these are why we love our toddlers, our teens and our kittens.

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Classic case of writer’s block.