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We’ve discussed quite a few TMI things on this blog over the years, particularly lady-bits stuff.  Breast lumps, kidney stones, and menopausal symptoms are just a few that come to mind. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? So it’s time we had another of those intimate chats. (In other words, some of you may want to leave now.)

We’re going to talk about bladders. Not pig bladders, which, back in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s days, Pa blew up after the hog slaughter and let the girls play ball with.  But women’s bladders.  Or perhaps just my bladder.  But I don’t think I’m alone.  Which is why I’m sharing the love.

The pig-bladder-ball-playing-picture.

I don’t remember my own potty training as a child. I suspect few of us do. Although I do remember the little enamelware pot that I used. In fact, I still have it. I believe it’s at ex-Pat’s house, and should likely be rescued.  It’s a rather odd childhood memento, but there you are.

Very similar to this one.

Of course, I remember potty training with my own daughter, but out of sensitivity to the fact that she’s a teenager, I won’t discuss any of the entirely entertaining stories I have about that here – yet.  Unless she irritates me.  Then all bets are off.  Because the point of this post really is about my daughter.  At least she’s the cause of the point of this post.

If you are female and you’ve had a baby, you may have noticed that your nether regions aren’t as toned and easily controlled as they were before you had that little bundle of joy.  I believe this is because of the uneven weight distribution of carrying the equivalent of a 40-pound human inside of you, pressing down on said nether regions for nearly a year. There’s really no other experience like it. (And I wouldn’t have traded the experience or the outcome for anything in the world.)

Nor is there any other experience like pushing an entire human body through a hole the size of a quarter.  I don’t care how elastic something is.  Every piece of elastic reaches a stretch point of no return.

Elastic…quarter…only one image missing, and I’ll spare you that.

Following childbirth, many things get back to normal. But a few things don’t quite. You may notice that when you sneeze, you pee just a drop. Or if you laugh ridiculously hard, things get a touch moist down there. Exercise  helps. Toning up those mushcles makes a huge difference. And you can do kegels until the cows come home and no one will be the wiser, nor will you break a sweat. (They’re great at stoplights.) These things WILL make a difference, and you may even find yourself better than ever.

But then, you reach a certain age. And perhaps a certain carelessness with the kegels. It’s that age where you notice that your skin has a few more spots, a few more lines, a bit more of a crepe paper quality to it.  It becomes harder to take off weight when you put it on.  And you can no longer say you’re trying to lose the baby weight when the baby is 16.  Well, of course, you can, but others may look at you oddly. I know they do me. Especially when they ask her age, and I say, “Oh, she’s 190 months now.”

So back to this weird certain-age/bladder thing. This is new to me. Just like always, before I leave the house to catch the bus to work, or to take a long-ish car ride, I check in.  Do I need to go?  The answer is often, “Well, not really, but it wouldn’t hurt anything, so might as well, just in case. It will save any trouble later.”  No big deal, right? It’s a precautionary measure. There is no sense of urgency, as one often feels when one actually needs to go.  And so I enter a bathroom or a bathroom stall accordingly.  Something I’ve done a million times over nearly 50 years.

But here is where things are suddenly different.

It’s as if my bladder has developed a brain of its own.  It’s like the toilet is crack to my bladder.  My bladder is fine up until the time it is within about two feet of a toilet, and then it becomes like a frenzied weasel. It must have that toilet. It must possess it.  It MUST pee. There’s no stopping it.  It doesn’t give a toot about the barriers of jeans and underwear that stand in its way.  It’s going to go.

So what started out as a blase visit to a bathroom becomes, within less than a minute, a desperate race against time to shed my clothes before my bladder decides to damn the torpedoes and go full steam ahead.

Most of the time, I can beat it to the punch, though I’m sure it would be highly entertaining to watch my antics.  Not that anyone will ever get to.  But, given the nature of buttons, snaps, and zippers, the copious fluidity of some skirts, and the tightness of jeans, particularly on a hot summer day, sometimes I come up short.

Super embarrassing.

And then there’s some blotting and wandering around commando for the rest of the day.

I mean, really, am I two again? Like I say, I’ve done this for almost 50 years and NOW I’m lapsing?  WTF, bladder?  Since when did you start making the decisions here, independent of my brain signals?

It’s not enough of a problem for medication, and certainly not enough for Depends, and pantiliners are gross and uncomfortable and I had more than a lifetime’s share of them during pregnancy, so NO to that too. In fact, I’m not asking for any suggestions. I just needed to put it out in the open, because it’s not something we discuss, and as I said at the start, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, so maybe it’s something we SHOULD discuss.

So, you’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go do some kegels.

It can happen to the best of us.

I know that really, every day is special. But today is especially special for me. Why? Because today is the day that my most special and precious daughter arrived on this earth (at least this time around – she’s a very old soul.)

Because some of her friends read the blog, I’m not going to inflict much gushiness and reminiscing on her. After all, she’s 15 today, and you know what that can be like. At least I do. I remember 15 quite well.

The idea that she’s 15 is amazing to me. How could that be? Like an excellent vacation, it feels like she’s been here forever, and yet the time seems to have passed in the blink of an eye.  I wish I had been (then and now) the one to spend more time with her. I missed a lot of her day-to-day growing up by working so much to support us all these years. But she had an excellent parent in her dad for those many years.  And I do feel that the time we have spent together has been “quality” time, more precious for its scarcity.

It snowed the day before she was born; it is snowing now. That day was a Sunday. Today is a Thursday. But at 4:06 pm on that day, my life changed forever for the better because this strong, smart, beautiful, funny, caring soul decided to grace it.

I can’t wait for many more years of roadtrips, inside jokes, kitchen disasters, epic fails, soul-level hugs in front of endless fields of sunflowers, famous chats, and getting to know one another better as we both continue to grow and change.

Happy birthday, Kelsea, my dearest daughter and friend.

Kelsea and Jack. Machyllneth, Wales. June 2007.

Picking up en route from Mount Rushmore…

After a bunch more “Think or Die” signs, we reached Crazy Horse or, more properly, the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Our first experience at the monument was a faux pas in which we saw a white Suburban with 20 kid icons on the back windshield.

We exclaimed loudly that it must be the Duggars, then realized that the matriarch was sitting in the passenger seat with her window down, right next to our squawking selves. We hastily passed by, trying to deflect her icy stare, which we could feel even through her sunglasses.

Neither of us had much background information on the Memorial – Kelsea wasn’t even sure if Crazy Horse was a man, a place, or an event. So we watched the informative video, encouraged by the docents at the Center. The sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, was so cool, and his family carries on the legacy of being so cool. We love that they accept no government monies for the project, which explains why it is taking so long. Korczak started working on it in 1948 and it’s far from finished, whereas Mount Rushmore took 14 years to complete.  We’d like to donate dynamite to the cause. We like the idea of being part of blowing something up.  I know that sounds wrong.  But hey.

Korczak’s attitude towards the government reminded me of Jim Bishop of Bishop’s Castle in Colorado, but it was clear that Korczak, unlike Bishop, did accumulate some wealth and possessions in the course of his project.  The part of his “house” that was open felt a lot like a European castle.

You can’t get close to Crazy Horse unless you pay extra to take a van tour, which we didn’t, but the renderings that are used for the actual sculpture are beautiful.

There’s a nice little museum in which I had a minor spiritual journey with a Native American dress.

We got to take home a rock that had been blasted out of the mountain to form the monument.

The spot has its own post office and zip code.

There were some random pieces that seemed unrelated – like Shaquille O’Neal’s shoe.

Korczak’s studio was really cool.  It had the feel of a place that would be ultra-creepy at night.

There was also a hall with Native Americans selling various wares.  Somehow, we both had a problem with that. It felt like we, as white folks, were saying, “Hey guys, let’s massacre you and steal your lands, but we’ll build a monument to you to say we’re sorry and throw in a couple of folding tables so you can eke out a living on our terms.” There is no possible reparation.

We didn’t stay here too long. The vibe felt kind of empty, hollow, not right. But at least they’re making an effort.

So we left and immersed ourselves in one of the most cluttered places ever – Doyle’s Antiques and Stuff, where we were greeted by a goiter-laden donkey.

This place had unbelievable amounts of Stuff (as advertised) crammed in every corner.

and another owner reminiscent of Jim Bishop, based on the random signage.

I barely resisted the giant rooster.  I would have loved to drive back to Colorado with that sitting in the back of the truck. In fact, I loved it so much, I may have to go back for it. Perfect for the front yard. Can’t you just see him peeking over the fence?

I also barely resisted the FREE stuffed pheasant whose head had been eaten by God knows what. We have Kelsea to thank for that tasteful veto, as she was thoroughly opposed to it continuing to molt in the truck for the remainder of the trip.

We did pick up an antique apothecary bottle (free) and a vintage first-aid kit for my not-soon-enough-to-be EMT.

Our last excursion on this busy day was Custer State Park. Even with all the literature, we never did figure out why the park was named after Custer, as it didn’t look like he had much of a positive influence in this area.  But then I suppose that’s a matter of perspective – he was clearly influential in some way, so maybe the positive doesn’t matter.

We took Needles Highway into the park. I couldn’t really figure out why it was called Needles Highway until we got to the tunnels. It’s called Needles Highway because going through some of those tunnels is like threading a needle. We shrieked the entire way through one – and we have it on video. I’m amazed that anything larger than my truck could make it.

Needles Highway is edged by the distinctive rock spires of the Black Hills.  It is also full of idiot drivers who park blocking the roadways so they can get out to see the spires from 20 feet closer, thus causing fuming road rage in certain other drivers who shall not be named publicly.

Craving calm (or tequila, but calm was my first choice), we pulled off the road at a LEGITIMATE parking spot a bit further along, and went for a climb. We each found our individual rocks for peace and sat separately for a while, doing some soul-level housecleaning. It was quiet and beautiful and I released some things into the ancient richness of the Black Hills. I hope they can float with more ease now, and find their perfect drift in the universe wherever the current leads.

Kelsea leapt from rock to rock like a winged mountain goat. I watched her silently, my stomach leaping into my mouth each time she went airborne. As we headed back to the truck, she found a boulder stack she wanted to free climb. She’s a good climber, having spent some time at the climbing gym, and so I didn’t stop her, but as a mother, all my thoughts were, ‘Oh God, what if she falls and breaks her head open like Piggy in Lord of the Flies?’ Of course, she didn’t.

Needles Highway runs into the Wildlife Loop Road, which (as you might imagine) loops around the Park. It’s a great road and took us through a variety of changing terrains of equally matched beauty.

We hadn’t been on the loop for five minutes before we saw a buffalo nomming grass on the side of the road. Then we encountered some anti-social antelope, and another small bison herd in the distance.

Kelsea can tend towards carsickness, so she distracted herself by taking pictures of her shoe.

I did the same, though I was stopped at the time.

And then we came upon the donkeys. I suspect that the park has planted the donkey herds to guarantee any passing tourist an up-close and personal wildlife experience.

Because there was no avoiding the donkeys.

Totally social, tame, hand-feedable, another visitor gave us peanuts to feed them.

The babies were adorable.

And each donkey dutifully checked out each car to see who had the best treats. I love donkeys and haven’t had such interactions with them in, well, ever.  But I han’t been around baby donkeys since Anegada. And a little further down the road was ANOTHER herd, with the littlest baby just getting his legs. They caused a donkey traffic jam.

And one decided to give me a close-in hello.

A few mule deer sightings, and we were back on the road to Rapid City, marvelling at the cool softness of the air and the diversity of the landscape we’d seen today.

We were both starving and went to Botticelli’s Restaurant, which smelled amazing, but was understaffed. Our wait was 45 minutes and I thought Kelsea was going to eat me. She did eat the paper from her straw before her food came. And the food was good, particularly the chicken piccata, but probably not worth the painful wait.

And so Day 3 came to a close.  We have a couple of stops on Day 4, and then we are homeward bound.

Day 3 started too early for Kelsea, but what are mothers for if not to wake their children in some annoying manner?

We partook of the too-expensive breakfast buffet at the Inn, and left loaded for bear (oh wait, that was Day 2). Well, we left, at any rate, excited because today was the day we got to see it: Mount Rushmore, aka, the Big Heads.  Goats were dining on tightrope walkways in the air at Old McDonald’s Farm (we didn’t stop). En route, we decided that if we ever own a Jersey cow, her name will have to be Snooki.

Kelsea was keeping track of the disturbing death marker signs with little tick marks (just FYI, in this one day, we counted 27) as we headed through the Black Hills, unsure of what to expect from Mount Rushmore. Some of our acquaintances had said “Oh, they’re smaller than you think.” Others had said it wasn’t worth it, especially not with the crowds. Well, our first peek at the peak was pretty cool regardless of those misguided expectations.

Parking was only a minor challenge, probably because I made it so by debating if the EXIT signs on the structures REALLY meant exit, or if that was just a suggestion. The level-headed one told me not to be an ass – they say exit because they mean exit (and remember the “Road Closed” signs?)  Much to our delight, many, many (many) Mustangs were still in evidence, making a long weekend out of the Sturgis Mustang Rally.  Each got a “hey-ay” shout out from us.

I never knew I had a childhood dream of seeing Mount Rushmore until I fulfilled it by actually seeing it. It’s fabulous and don’t let anybody tell you differently. The Big Heads ARE big, plenty big, the perfect size, in fact.

The monument is laid out well, clean, accommodating, everything a monument should be. Even the soda machine in the ladies room maintained the theme.

The background museum is worth a stop, and I now regret not having stayed for the video, because we both have some unanswered questions. The museum had details on the sculptor, the heads, the presidents, and the area, as well as some cool giant photos.

The Avenue of Flags was a fitting entryway to the full-on views of the monument.

At the end of the Avenue of Flags, you come upon an amphitheatre with a fantastic view of the heads. It’s the prime viewing spot, if you are unable to walk any farther. We walked to the bottom of the amphitheatre (no one else seemed to do that) but declined to get up on the stage.

The Presidential Trail winds through the forest, a wooden walkway to give you a closer look at the Big Heads.

There was one little viewing hole. We stood in line for it, not knowing what we were standing in line for and double checking to be sure that people ahead of us in line were actually coming out, and it was not some sort of bizarre Big Head feeding tube.  Standing in line for an unknown reason made us feel slightly stupid, but we did it anyway.

Being us, we had numerous absurd observations about the Big Heads:

Kelsea: “George looks like he has a little something right there.” (Pointing to the left of his nose)
Me: “It looks like Thomas is leaning in, trying to tell him about it.”  (Thomas looked like he was kind of creeping on George.)

We cracked ourselves up with remarks about how rock-hard and sculpted they were.

Kelsea didn’t know that Teddy was wearing pince-nez. Teddy looked a little mad. We decided he felt kind of squooshed and didn’t like it.

Abe was kind of off by himself – not so snuggled up. We speculated that he was being treated as some kind of outcast.

Everyone had some spidery cracks through their faces.

We kept trying to get photos in which trees were sticking up presidential nostrils, but failed, and settled on the classic, “Add YOUR big head to Mount Rushmore” shots.

The trail took us to the sculptor’s studio, in which we discovered that the original idea for the whole thing showed much more torso and hands.  In the current version, only Abe seems to have lapels.

The studio exhibit also reveals the existence of the secret cave. Not a secret if you tell everyone about it, eh?

If you were unaware, the sculptor who was behind Mount Rushmore was Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish polygamist immigrants.

Borglum most wisely thought that the Big Heads needed some explanation, and that said explanation needed to be WITH the Big Heads. So, he put a brief US history, and explanation of the Big Heads, carved on tablets, in a titanium box in a cave that is behind (or perhaps inside) Abe’s head. There were pictures of people doing the dedication.  But of course, the cave is off-limits to visitors and there is no marked or visible trail to it. Kelsea appropriately scoffed at my idea that they covered the trail with dirt.

The concept of the secret cave spurred much discussion between us, and seeing it is now on Kelsea’s list of life goals (which sounds a lot better than Bucket List when you’re 14).

Our dialogue ran along the lines of this:

Her: How do we know what he wrote on those tablets? What if he made up a whole bunch of stuff?
Me: We just have to trust him.
Her: What about now? Do they update what’s in there?
Me: I doubt it.
Her: Then won’t it seem like the world just ended when the history did?
Me: I’m sure there will be more records on earth than just that one.
Her: Who’s going to read it?
Me: I don’t know…aliens?
Her: How do we know they’ll be able to read English?
Me: They’re aliens. They’re smart enough to get here, they’ll be smart enough to figure it out.
Her: And why do we send up things like DVDs on space missions? Why do we possibly imagine that aliens have DVD players?
Me: Good, yet unanswerable question.
Her: What if aliens never find this place? Then the whole titanium box thing is pointless. So I should be able to see it.
Me: Well, maybe the survivors of the future destruction from the nuclear holocaust will find it.
Her: If there’s a nuclear holocaust, there won’t be any survivors.
Me: New survivors might evolve.
Her: They couldn’t. There’d be nothing left for them to evolve from.  And how would they know English?
Me: Look! A chipmunk.

Truly, our voices were slightly raised during this debate, and we got many strange looks.

All in all, it was a highly satisfying experience. On the way to our next destination, George presented us with a lovely profile.

Next stop: Crazy Horse, Boyd’s Antiques, and Custer State Park.

As a single working mom, the amount of time I get to spend with my daughter is limited to weekends, and even the weekends are often limited to a day and a night, if either of us wishes to have a social life, which we both do.  That’s really tough because we love each other and have fun together and each helps the other make sense out of life.  I know it’s the quality of time spent together more than the amount, but most of our time spent together is quality time – it just would be nice to have more of it.

So we had last night and today together.  We were both kind of tired last night – she was a little quiet, so we just hung and watched Jersey Shore and Ghost Adventures. She stretched out on God’s Cat.  I took a bath.  As I say, a quiet night.  Today, upon rising, we ate and then talked about life and compromises and how to live with difficult people and right/wrong conundrums and all sorts of things for an hour or more.   I think we both felt like we got a lot of value from our talk. Each time we have one of those really good talks, we seem to understand one another better.  So, no, this is NOT how to annoy your teenager. Or at least not how to annoy mine. We’re getting to that. Trust me.

Wanting to go out but not being sure what we wanted to do, we decided to hit Longmont and the flea markets. It’s a pretty good flea market town, and we like its Main Street.  So off we headed.  Our first stop was where we got God’s Cat, and we had been contemplating a second, but fortunately for my wallet, this flea market was closed on Sundays.  Across the highway, however, in their old location, was another flea market, with a parking lot sale going on.  Unfortunately, I did not realize the extent of the parking lot sale until I had actually placed my truck in the middle of the parking lot sale.  At that point, I realized that there was no place to park because there was a sale in the parking lot (see how I’m not picking up on the parking lot sale concept) and I had two choices:  run over people in their booths or squeeze between the cones indicating that I’m where I shouldn’t be. As Kelsea can tell you, I have extensive experience with putting my vehicle where it shouldn’t be. The people at Home Depot and at Camp Lejeune Marine Base can vouch for this as well.  We made as graceful an exit as possible and parked far away, hoping not to be recognized when we approached on foot.

We love flea markets.  We poked around to our heart’s content and found some things that were too expensive but too wonderful, such as PorkChop the metal boar:

$599 was a bit over my PorkChop budget.

An old freezer that had a buckle latch as opposed to an actual handle, and was in mint condition:

The freezer even had a name already!

China cats were nestled in the corners of your grandmother’s couch, staring at you psychotically for all eternity:

I love humans, I just can't eat a whole one. That's why I have so many little cat friends.

We both agreed that we would have to leave the house and never return were this to arrive at our door:

One of the creepiest things ever - or is it?

I revelled in a totally inappropriate sock monkey:

Totally inappropriate sock monkey

Made all the more inappropriate by its tag:

Yes, you read right.

As we exited, we encountered a life-sized nutcracker:

Open wide!

Kelsea looked askance at me when I said that you could fit a baby’s head in there.

We headed down to Main Street, and though most of the shops were closed on Sundays, because clearly any money spent on Sunday in Longmont should be going to the church, we did enjoy our window shopping experience.  We were also greeted by two gentlemen occupying a bench, who asked us if they could buy a cigarette from us, and when we said no, asked us for money to buy cigarettes, leading us to wonder how they intended to pay us for cigarettes had we had them to sell.

I wanted to share some of the interesting signs and displays from Main Street with you:

Yea for us! Tough luck for you.

I believe the torso on the right has a club foot. Who would do that to a (half a) mannequin? And both are going to wind up with yeast infections from wearing their jeans too tight.

A very clever window display for men’s clothing:

Just a friendly game.

With incredibly high stakes.

Longmont has lots of free and easily accessible public parking and numerous small public art installations:

Courtyard Mosaic

Incomprehensible Cheese-Covered Fork with Small Ball of (Apparent) Snot on the Third Tine

We did find Barbed Wire Books to be open. It claims to be the largest used bookstore in Longmont, and one we hadn’t yet visited, so we went in. I picked up a couple of mysteries.

Armchair in Barbed Wire Books.

Kelsea told me she was hungry enough to eat me, so we made our final stop The Pumphouse. The burgers were good and they had misters (those things that spray mist, not men – and when I say “not men”, I don’t mean that they don’t spray men, they WILL spray men, but men is not what they spray – oh, never mind) above the patio diners that sprayed just enough to cool, but not enough to dampen. Kelsea shared with me her most recent app acquisition:

Just say "moose". Just once. Just for me.

And so, we headed for home.

Now, you may be wondering about the “how to annoy my teenager” part of the day.  Well, that comes into play when I share with you what we bought at the flea market.

We found her a new army jacket from either the WWII or Korea era – I can’t tell which, but it’s in excellent shape, was only $10, and was a medic’s coat, so she is totally thrilled with that.  But sorry, no image.

We found a small $2 sign for the kitchen. It’s a reminder for me of a) how to cook, and b) how to live:

Can I take the advice of a tin plaque?

I discovered a 1960’s Ouija Board.  Previously, I have refused to have a Ouija Board in the house – perhaps because my Mother was so strongly opposed to them – but when I saw this one, I knew that it was the perfect time for it to arrive in my life.

Perhaps it will help me communicate with the Bungalow spirits.

And last, but so totally not least, I found Him.  I had been in the booth where He was before, and didn’t even see Him, but when I walked in again, He immediately caught my eye, and it was all over.  I had to have Him.

Him (or He)

And this is where I began to annoy my teenager.  She found Him terrifying.  Their initial meeting went something like this:

Me:  Look! I found the coolest thing ever!
Her: GAH! What IS that?
Me: I don’t know. Isn’t it awesome?
Her: NO!  You are NOT buying that.
Me: But He wants to come home with you.  Here, hold Him.
Her: Get that thing away from me.

Clearly, they did not have immediate chemistry.  So the rest of our afternoon played out along similar lines.

Me: He likes you. He’s looking at you.
Her: Well, make Him stop.
Me: Sorry, I can’t do that.  He does what He pleases.
Her: Mom, you’re sick.

Her: I’m hungry. Let’s go get a burger.
Me: Okay.  He likes burgers too.  And He thinks you’re pretty.
Her:  Mom, STOP IT.
Me: What? I’m just saying.

She offered to carry Him on her lap if she could keep the truck windows open, but I’m smarter than that.

He was apparently all the rage in the 1950s, with numerous other incarnations, and was highly collectible among housewives of the day.  Can you imagine coming home after a hard day at the office and being confronted by multiple versions of Him?  Kelsea would rather stick her head in a garbage disposal.

So I will keep Him until I sell Him on Ebay, or tire of annoying her, whichever comes first – and I think we know which one that will be.

I am so looking forward to the coming months with my daughter.

Kelsea is grounded.  She is not allowed to hang out with her friends for a week.

Why, you may ask?  After all, as I’ve expounded on endlessly, she’s such an awesome person and an amazing teenager.  But she wouldn’t be a perfect teenager if she didn’t screw up sometimes, would she?

That time arrived on Friday night.  At 1:15 in the morning on Friday night, to be exact.  I’m sorry, but at age 14, you CANNOT come home at 1:15 in the morning and not be in trouble (one way or another, and frankly, I prefer this way to the alternate troubles.)

I was supposed to pick her up when I got back from Denver, after going out with some friends after work.  About 6:30, she called me to ask if she could go to the movies with three of her friends.  The movie didn’t start until almost 8:00, which would put her home around 11:00, but one of the other moms was driving, and 11:00 is the shank of the evening for these guys.  Fine by me!

I arrived home around 9:30, and at about 10:00, I texted her to check on her timeline.  Her response?  ‘Still at movies.’  That worked from a timing standpoint – a movie can run about 2 hours these days.  She would be home soon.  I skyped with a friend, watched something on the Bonnet Channel, and at about 11:00, tried to call her.  It went to voicemail – not so good.  OK, I’ll wait a while.  I fell asleep on the couch, since going to bed without her being home was not an option.  When I woke up, it was 12:45 – no call, no text, nothing but silence.

I didn’t know what to think.  Be angry?  Yes.  Be scared?  Absolutely.  I called her Dad, so as to put him into the same state of mind – probably not the best idea, since he and I are in a not-getting-along phase, but I felt it was my parental responsibility to let him know what was up, and I just had to bear up under any accusations of bad parenting.

She still wasn’t answering her phone.  I had no idea where she was.  The movie let out hours ago. 

I remember the only argument I ever had with my own father.  I was about 16, and I had stayed out with my friends, lost track of time, and came home about two hours late without having called (this was before the days of cellphones – we used coconuts and smoke signals back then).  My parents had been frantic.  They had called my friends’ parents.  They had called the hospitals.  They had even called the morgue.  I’m not kidding.  I was so angry that they had so overreacted that I told them I was leaving again.  My calm, peace-loving, gentle dad – the man from whom I got my temper – stood in front of the front door with his arms spread and said, “If you’re going, you’re going to have to go through me.”  I thought about that for a split second, my teenage rage boiling like Vesuvius – then turned on my heel (no doubt with some choice words), stalked off to my room and slammed the door.  For me, there were no other repercussions; like me, my parents did not believe in curfews – they believed in our being committed to our words about when we would be home.  But it certainly never happened again.

Back to the present day.  I figured out that if Kelsea wasn’t answering her phone, one of her friends might, so I called Uber-Cool Will, who quickly handed the phone to Kelsea.  “I’m getting dropped off soon,” she said hurriedly. “We’re dropping off Will first.”  Where had they been?  “At dinner at Old Chicago.”  And she didn’t think to call.  She lost track of time.  She had her phone turned off since she’d been at the movies.  Hmmm. 

Ex-Pat called one of her other friends right around the time she and I hung up, so she knew she was in deep.  I was furious by the time she got home – 1:15. 

“Am I in trouble?, she asked, standing in my bedroom door.  ”
Yup,” I replied. 
“What are you going to do?”
“You’re grounded.”
“REALLY?”  She sounded so incredibly pleased. “I’ve never been grounded!”

This punishment wasn’t turning out exactly the way I had imagined.  She’s always been so good, I think she was excited to feel like a “bad” teenager.

“Is this the worst thing I’ve ever done?”
“I think so.”
“Wow!”  She smiled broadly.

What the heck.  That’s tough to parent.  She was extremely apologetic, and clearly understands the worry she caused us.  She wasn’t defensive or combative.  And I know she’s not going to show up on an episode of  “16 and Pregnant”.  Had I been the mother who was driving, things would have been very different. There’s no way I would let kids stay out that late without being sure everyone had contacted their parents – and I don’t think I’d even consider allowing kids to stay out that late anyway.  But I wasn’t in her shoes at the time.

So Kelsea is grounded for a week.  Meaning she can’t hang out with her friends except at school.  She just gets to hang out with me.  Poor thing.  Fortunately for her, the week’s punishment ends in time for the season opening of Elitch Gardens, Denver’s equivalent of Six Flags, which she and her friends have been looking forward to for months.  If I were a stricter, tougher mom, I would ban her from attending.  But I think she’s learned what not to do.  I trust so.

I really, really hope so.

When Kelsea was little-little, she was afraid of thunderstorms.  Many grateful kudos to her Aunt, who finally said something that clicked in her little brain and enabled her to overcome her fear.  It hasn’t been a problem since she was small.

But the other night, a huge clap of thunder woke me out of a sound sleep.  It had been clear that evening and the rain was unexpected.  I lay there, wondering if I should check on Kelsea, just to be sure it hadn’t woken her, but I heard nothing from her room, and so I was drifting off, closer to asleep than awake, when I sensed it.  Yes, it was her little spectral presence by my bed. (This is how she wakes me; she just comes and stands silently by my sleeping form until I sense her.  It never fails.) 

The thunder had indeed woken her, and she asked if she could crawl in with me.  Of course, I made room for her.  We were snuggled up when a bolt of lightning hit in the field beside the cottage – so close that the flash and the crack of thunder came at exactly the same second, sharp and loud.  We both jerked like we’d been shocked.  And cuddled closer.  I came as close as I ever have to being struck when we were at Topsail this past summer, and so I was having a little PTSD myself.  It was nice to have her there.

We lay there, wide awake, waiting for the next shoe to drop, so to speak.  A few more flashes, a random rumble, and the storm moved on.  I fell asleep again, rolling over to find that Kelsea had gone back to her own bed.

But it was so sweet and comforting – and a bit of a flashback to her toddler-hood – to cuddle the storm away with my teenage daughter.

We finally arrived at Topsail Beach yesterday afternoon – it’s good to be “home”.  I’ve stayed in this house every summer but one for the last 35 years.

Our last half day in Durham was good.  My old friend Tom and I made efforts to connect, as he was in town with his family as well, but alas, we were, as he put it, two ships passing in the night.  At least we got to talk briefly on the phone.

After a too-expensive, poorly serviced breakfast at the Washington Duke, we packed up and headed out.  Give me a diner anytime over a foo-foo breakfast – it’s like a monkey in a tuxedo. 

Our first stop was my parents’ grave.  Sounds morbid perhaps, but I hadn’t seen it since E-Bro had made the arrangements.  He had given me directions over the phone and said it was easy to find, but he must have forgotten to whom he was speaking (a.k.a. the reincarnation of Wrong Way Corrigan).  We drove around the cemetary, which had the ultra-creepy element of an open casket under a canopy at one gravesite.  We walked around the cemetary.  We tried to go to the office, which was closed on Saturdays, since that’s the busiest day for people trying to locate their dearly departed loved ones.  Finally, I stopped next to a large bearded man who looked semi-official and asked if he could help me find them.  Tom (everyone named Tom is nice, just like everyone named Dave is doomed from birth) got permission from someone, opened up the office for me, looked them up in the file cabinet, marked it down on a little map, lead us to the spot in his truck and walked us up to the grave.  He then discretely left.  What a wonderful guy.

It was a less emotional experience than I had expected.  We dusted off the grass trimmings and sat with them for a few minutes.  I got the flash of light that often accompanies my mother’s spirit, but they – meaning their spirits – are not there.  I can connect with them so much more readily in other places.  Still, I’m glad I went, just as I’m glad I went by my old home.  It was time to exorcise some ghosts.  Sometimes your fears of your own emotions are larger than the reality of those emotions.

I took Kelsea past the property of another of my childhood friends, past the old building on whose top floor I used to take ballet lessons, and past the park where my second boyfriend pulled off to pee on our first date.  Classy.

On our ongoing quest for San Pellegrino, we stopped at what used to be Fowler’s Market.  It was an institution in Chapel Hill for as long as I can remember and had opened a store in Durham about 6 years ago.  Fowler’s is completely gone now, but a small market (without groceries, but with lots of wine and stuff) has taken its place, and we did find San Pel, as well as two other mineral waters to take with us.  (And some pickle band aids, Jujubees, and Moravian gingerbread cookies).  A quick stop at the always amusing Morgan Imports to find a gift for my nephews, and we were on our way.

The drive to Topsail was easy – a couple of traffic knots along the way.  Highlights:

–  A car with a backseat FULL of burka clad women that was speeding like a crazed demon, cutting everyone off. 
–  Kelsea was sure she had spotted Miley Cyrus in a town car driving next to us.
–  The van containing Alberto Renada y les Sentimentos.
–  The bug (I hope) that created a swath of bright red blood splatter that stretched all the way across the driver’s door window.

Things have changed somewhat on the mainland as you approach the bridge to Topsail, but I guess that’s to be expected everywhere.  Sigh.  Traffic was backed up for over a mile to turn onto Hwy 50.  The little cabin at the corner of Hwy 210 and Hwy 50 that was overgrown and ramshackle has been torn down – along with the 6 acres of woods that surrounded it.  It’s being developed.  I found it ironic that they left ONE magnolia tree standing.  They’ll probably call whatever they build there Magnolia Acres.  I gave them an extreme Bronx Cheer.

The Docksider, an island institution and the site of many happy hours shopping, arcading, feeding fish and riding the little kiddie rides outside, is closed – actually, foreclosed.  If only I could buy it and restore it to its former self.  Now, I will not be able to play Whack-A-Gator, which was my favorite.  I think they had the only remaining Galaga machine, too – I was an expert at that during my pizza days.

But once you drive over the swing bridge, it is like passing into another dimension.  It’s as if you cast off the weights of your life into the Intercoastal Waterway (which I taught Kelsea to say when she was 2).  Most of our favorite familiar places are still there – The Crab Pot, the Surf City IGA, Batts Grill, the old Assembly Building.  There are more and more oceanfront two-story houses with too few windows, but I guarantee that they will be gone come the first big hurricane – the island had a target on it for years, and it has been years since it has taken a direct hit – I think we’re overdue.

The Beach Shop, the Gift Basket, the Quarter Moon Bookstore, the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier and Motel all stand welcoming us.  The little arcade, which was up for sale, is no longer for sale and appears to have been rescued from its fate of becoming grist for the developers, at least for a while. 

We arrived home, unloaded, unpacked, started laundry and went to Homeport for dinner, stopping at Mr. Godwin’s store for essentials for the morning, and dropping by the Beach Shop to say hi to Annabelle, the famous island bulldog. 

Home and pajamaed, we played a few rousing games of Parcheesi, watched a little TV and went to bed happy and tired.  We share my old bedroom here – I still sleep in the same twin bed, and now Kelsea sleeps in the other twin.

We’ve agreed that this is the end of Cycle 1 of the Excellent Adventure Roadtrip, which we define as the drive from Colorado to Topsail.  Our stay here will be defined as Cycle 1.5, since we are not driving; our drive home will be Cycle 2.  She sleeps still this morning, while I’ve already had a quick road run and done my sit-ups.  The tide is high and the beach is narrow and the sun is shining.  Almost perfect.

Damn the Millers.  Damn them.  They are back.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you may perhaps recall last year, at almost exactly this time, we had a serious moth problem – I discussed it here.  From my many years in Colorado, and the discussions about the moth crisis last year, I thought this to be a cyclical thing, with the cycle being something like every 20 years.  Apparently, I was mistaken.

They are back with an enthusiasm that portends vengeance.  I thought it was just one or two – no big deal – but then realized that’s how it started last year.  And nightly, their numbers increase.  They flirt with self-destruction in the single bedroom light at night.  Their wings beat the walls and ceiling in the darkness.  They hide during the day, in folds of curtains, in underwear drawers (seriously?!), in shoes, like stalking lions, waiting to leap out upon the unsuspecting gazelle.

Kelsea came into my room last night at 1:30, and stood spectrally by my bedside, as she does when she wants to wake me.  It always works, no matter how quiet she is.  “There was an earwig on my pillow and a moth in my room,” she said sleepily.  The dutiful mother, I got up and killed them both and put her back to bed.  But at 2:30, the spectre was back.   “There are more moths in my room.  I can’t handle it.  I’m freaking out.  They’re flying at my face.  They chased me  out of the room.  I can’t stay here.  Can we call someone?  Why aren’t they at Dad’s house?  Can I sleep with you?”

Of course, she can and did sleep with me, and we both slept well, undisturbed and mothless.  I know they’ll be back today though, and tonight.  It IS creepy.  I don’t know how they get in the house, and I don’t want to entertain the thought that they’re hatching in here somewhere, but it has crossed my mind.  While the weather a few weeks ago was coolish and dampish, it has been hot since then, so I wouldn’t have thought that the breeding/migrating/whatever pattern from last year was being replicated.  I just don’t understand it.

What I do understand is that Kelsea (moreso than I, but I too, to a certain extent) has developed a veritable phobia about these buggers.  I truly thought last night that she wanted me to get out of bed and drive her to her Dad’s house at 2:30 am.  Of course, that will never happen.  She needs to get over it, and I need to figure out how to help her to do so.  When she was very small, she found a skunk skin in the backyard, and from that experience, developed a strong fear of skunks.  It eventually passed, but I tried many things to “cure” it:  stuffed skunks, skunks sweetly portrayed in cartoons, skunk puppets, discussing skunks, songs about skunks – nothing worked except time.

And I guess time is what it will take this time as well.  The good news is that neither of us have seen the following:  “In high populations, however, they have the unusual habit of banding together in army-like groups and may be seen crawling across fields or highways in large numbers.”  This is what the Colorado State University Department of Cooperative Extension says happens sometimes.  Thank you, NO.  I doubt we’d ever recover.

Well, time to go check every crack and crevice in the cottage for the creatures in an effort to drive them out before nightfall.  And to set the lightbulb bucket trap in the kitchen.  Say a little prayer for us.

As we know, according to my Mother, I was born asking where the next bus was.  I’ve never been content in this incarnation, this body, much less in being settled in one place.  In my head, I’ve been planning my journey around the world for years.  I’ve been longing for a life on a tropical island since I was eight years old.

My Mother’s mother went from home to home in the South and Midwest with my grandfather, who would buy land, build a house, live in it, teach school, farm, then sell the place, buy land somewhere, build a house, live in it…you get the picture.  I suppose my grandmother was content with this lifestyle – I never thought to ask.   But I know that at some point, late in her life, she had some kind of epiphany, which resulted in my Mother receiving a letter that started with, “By the time you read this, I will be in Yugoslavia.”  I think she had the wanderlust in her as well.  I have two mental images of my grandmother – one is of her sitting in a chair in The Barn, the last house my grandfather remodeled.  She’s wearing a plaid shirt, her glasses, looking away, looking peaceful.  The other is of her in a trenchcoat, her head covered by a white scarf, walking on a hill at the Acropolis.  Such a contrast, both so lovely.  Both so her.

My Mother was very like my grandmother – practical, peaceful.  On one of our last days together, we talked about the wanderlust thread that runs through the women in our family.  She had it too, always happy moving from house to house, always wanting to go to Europe, to see the Grand Canyon.  Her burning desire for most of her life was to go to India.  She never told me about that until that conversation.  My father was never happier than when at home, and so her dreams of journeying were thwarted.  She never resented it.  But after he died – in fact, while we were still in the room following his memorial service, she turned to her friend Jane and started discussing going on a Caribbean cruise.  (She felt a little bad about that, but she had no reason to.)

She did go on her Caribbean cruise that Fall, and I met her in Tortola and took her and her best friend around the island.  It was wonderful for all of us.  But she never got to see the Grand Canyon.  I suppose now she’s able to see it all, and that’s a nice thought.

Then there’s me.  Always planning, sometimes going.  I am learning that having the right place to call home is a good complement to traveling.  It changes the wandering from an escape, a search for something, to pure adventure and peaceful exploration.

Kelsea daily says to me, “You know what I want?  I want to go to Ireland.”  She fell in love with Ireland, even moreso than she loves Wales, when she went to Europe last summer.  I told her that I never even got on a plane until I was 14, and here she’s been to Europe twice.  She can now say, in an annoyingly blase manner, “I didn’t care for Paris.  I much preferred London.”  To which I snarl, “I’ve never SEEN Paris.” 

She says this is all my fault.  I’m the one who put travel posters (one, ironically, of the Eiffel Tower) on the walls of her nursery.  I’m the one who showed her pictures of exotic places around the world from the time she could sit in my lap.  I’m the one who sent her to Europe to experience other cultures.  And all of that is true.  But it’s not my fault.

It’s something in our bloodline, something that runs through the women just like the shine does, a spark that makes us want to see the world, while having a true home to which to return.  A longing  for a life that is a perpetual Grand Tour.  A desire to meditate with Buddhist monks in Tibet, to beachcomb on deserted islands off the coast of Brazil, to watch breaching whales in Alaska’s waters, and swim with seals in the Galapagos.  To see lava creep down a Caribbean volcano in Montserrat, the moonlight on the Taj Mahal, and the sun shine through the ceiling of the Pantheon.  To climb the hills of Bray, and count each sheep in Wales.

Homer said, “There is nothing worse for mortals than a wandering life.”  I heartily disagree.  My thinking is more in line with Robert Louis Stevenson’s: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.”  (Stevenson died and is buried on an island in the South Pacific.)

In my eyes, our women’s wanderlust is a true blessing.  My mother and my grandmother are smiling.

June 2022


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