The Great Playground Stick Fight of 9-11

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was bustling around trying to get my oldest kid ready for a day of first grade when my phone rang. A friend was calling to tell me an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. I totally didn’t get it. I was like, hm, that’s weird. Hey, I’m about to be late taking my child to school. Can I call you back?

After dropping off the six-year-old, I turned back toward home with my three-year-old still in the car. And I turned on the radio. Oh.

I had been picturing a small two-seater plane with a confused pilot. I know a lot of parents all over the country retrieved their children from school after hearing the news. I’m going to be honest and say it didn’t even occur to me. I guess I felt we were pretty safe here in the midwest.

I spent the day trying to entertain my three-year-old while surreptitiously checking the news via internet. I didn’t know how much he was capable of understanding and didn’t want my growing internal panic to become contagious. My husband and I were emailing back and forth some and decided we’d have to talk to the six-year-old about the events of the day, but would wait until after dinner when we were all together.

We tried to keep dinner as routine as possible, making our kids feel safe. They were behaving pretty normally, with the usual little sibling squabbles and testing us parents on where the line got drawn vis-a-vis the no feet on the table rule. After we were finished, I don’t remember how we distracted the younger one, but my husband and I sat down with Age Six and said we had something to discuss.

My husband started. “We wanted to talk to you about something really bad that happened today.”

Age Six immediately turned red-faced and said, “They started it! They were throwing things at us first! That’s why we picked up the sticks to sword fight them.”

On any other day, I would have been called to the school and informed that my child was one of a group that prompted a new rule about not swinging sticks on the playground. Apparently, there had been a pint-sized gang fight. Later I heard from school staff that many of the students seemed to be picking up on the anxiety of the adults and acting out that day.

But my kid’s response made me realize we didn’t have to talk too much about the terror attacks. Six years old is still young enough for the most important news of the day to be what happened at recess. So we tackled that topic first, discussing what they could have done differently and what some better behavior choices would have been. We touched only briefly on the New York and D.C. attacks, saying that grownups in charge were working to keep people safe, etc., etc. I’m pretty sure the stick fight still loomed larger in my child’s mind.

What I didn’t understand completely in the moment was how our lives would forever be divided into before and after 9-11. How everything would change, often in ways I found difficult to put into words. I have tried to tell my now 20-something kids about what the world was like Before, but I’m not sure I’ve made them see at all.

As far as they could remember, we’d always been at war. There had always been huge flags flying at car dealerships and hotels. The Department of Homeland Security had always existed. “Drone strikes” has always been a phrase in the news. They’ve always had their bags searched when entering entertainment venues. I can list these details, but the thing I can’t describe in the way I want is how different things felt before the attacks.

I know I just sound old and nostalgic when I say, you used to be able to go to the airport for cheap entertainment. You could hang around to watch the planes take off and land. People could walk right up the ticket counter and get on the next flight leaving without any ID or watch lists or anything.

I’m sad that they’ll never know exactly what it is I’m trying to say. Sad that they don’t really remember the pre 9-11 world. Sad that a stick fight on the playground was so far from the biggest news of the day that the teachers forgot to mention it.

Thoughts on Dependence and Independence

Before I get into my actual post, I feel compelled to say I almost gave up on WordPress because of frustrating formatting problems every time I tried to create a post. But after walking away for a while and cooling down, I bothered to do some research. I learned the new issues have to do with WordPress and Safari not playing nicely together. So here I am, giving it another try, via Firefox for now.


Photo by Pixabay on

On this July 4, I’m having a lot of thoughts and even feelings — those things I sometimes prefer to avoid — about dependence and independence.

My 26-year-old son has been living half a continent away from us for over a year now, while the 23-year-old has remained hunkered down in our home during the pandemic. Health issues, both personal and public, have made launching a challenge for him. But he’s taking some steps toward adulting and attaining life skills. Today, he’s leaving on an airplane to visit his older sibling for a week, his first adventure in traveling alone. Other than a couple of small road trips with friends, he’s never before traveled without at least one parent.

I think it’ll be a great experience for both of my kids. The older one will get to play host, and also finally see a family member in person. The younger one will get to gain some independent maneuvering-through-the-world competencies without a lot of risk. Considering that sibling relationships are typically the longest ones we have in life, I’m happy they get along and want to spend time with each other.

So why am I wracked with anxiety? I will blame it on the pandemic. I have become used to the idea that leaving home is dangerous. I am unused to my (7 inches taller than I am) baby being so far away. I have to remind myself that I was already married, for crying out loud, when I was that age. I also experienced anxiety recently when my husband drove to a city two hours away and back in a single day, so maybe I’m just having issues in general.

My happiness about the offspring’s steps toward independence are winning the war against my fears for the moment. My kid is going to have to learn how to be out in the world without out us eventually, one way or another. It’s nice he can do something enjoyable while learning.

At the same time I’m celebrating his growing, if slightly delayed, independence, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that aging is going to mean more dependence for me. I like to do things for myself and hate asking for help. But I’m just arriving at the point in life where I see the first glimpses of needing more assistance as time rolls on. My energy levels aren’t what they used to be. Both my husband and I are growing weary of heavy-lifting type home repairs and improvements. We had a discussion and conceded that we might need to hire younger, stronger backs for some projects.

As heartily as I endorse the philosophy that we’re all walking each other home, and as often as I ask, what are we here for if not to help each other, you’d think I’d have an easier time with accepting assistance. But apparently, I’m only comfortable on the giving end of it. Humanity doesn’t really function that way, though. You have to be willing both to give and receive aid.

Week before last, I was initiated into the kidney stone club, a real rite of passage, if you will. I spent 24 hours in the hospital. If you haven’t had a stone, let me tell you that the pain lives up to all the hype. I could barely walk, and definitely couldn’t drive myself to the ER. I had to depend on my husband to get me there. Then I had to depend on medical professionals to help me with pain relief, diagnosis, and general functioning for several hours. Almost worse than the physical pain was the feeling of helplessness. I couldn’t take care of this problem on my own.

I had to be wheeled places under someone else’s power. I ended up with all the drugs (at least it felt that way), which meant that even after the pain was manageable, my brain wasn’t functioning well and I was unsteady on my feet. I asked the same questions repeatedly and had to try with all my might to process what anyone else said to me. I needed to be walked to and from the bathroom, a nurse holding me steady.

It rained 5 1/2 inches the night I was in the hospital. Many streets were underwater and closed. When I was ready to be discharged the next morning, I had to wait a while for my husband to pick me up because he was dealing with a flooded basement. Poor guy had to run to the hardware store, buy a new sump pump, and install it all before he could come get me. So dependence means learning patience, something that is always a challenge for me. Independence means I’m more likely to get what I want or need without waiting. It spoils me.

Then there’s the guilt. I felt I should have been helping my husband, rather than being one more task he had to take care of. I guess that’s another issue for me to work on. I recognize as well, that doing the things myself gives me a feeling of control. If I do it, I have power over keeping things from going wrong, or at least over fixing what went wrong. As if we aren’t all at the mercy of chance all the time. It turns out that I have many, many issues here and should probably work on getting a grip. Great — another damn opportunity for personal growth. Who asked for that?

Welp, I should wrap this up. Son two is leaving soon and I need to focus all of my concentration on his flight. I’m pretty sure the pilot will be depending on my telekinetic powers to keep the plane aloft while my loved one is on board.


Of Hard-Working Utility Crews and My Obliviousness

I thought highly of myself and my work ethic because I made it outside to tend to yard maintenance before 7:00 this morning. But these folks were already out working when I stepped through my door.

The city switched power lines from an old bad pole a while back, installing a new one next to it. By a while, I’m speaking about increments of years, not weeks. This morning, the removal of the old pole finally made its way to the top of the city to-do list. The heat was already something by the time they and I were out there working. Stay tuned. I’m about to tell a funny story on myself.

We’ve lived in our house for 18 years this month, and there’s always been a utility pole in our yard, right on the property line between us and the neighbor to the east. It’s been defunct for a long time, too, with the city promising us they’d remove it.

While I was out this morning, weeding, and the utility workers were going about their labors, my husband came onto the front porch to monitor the progress across the street. After we watched them together for a minute, he said, “They already removed the pole from our yard.”


I looked over to where it used to be, flabbergasted. No pole no more, and I hadn’t even noticed. They must have taken it out while I was at work one day this past week. You want to know the worst part of my obliviousness? I fricking mowed the yard yesterday evening, including the place where the utility pole stood for decades, without noticing it was gone. In fact, I came to this spot pictured below and wondered why my husband (or the neighbor, since it’s on the property line) had dug a hole in the yard and then just left bare dirt. I’d been meaning to ask.

Bare patch of ground

I have had a lot on my mind, lately. But geez, Louise. Should I worry about my mental state? In my defense, the spouse has been removing invasive plants from the yard, including a huge honeysuckle bush. One of my working theories posited that he’d seen another small stand and managed to get it out by the roots. If he hadn’t told me about the pole, I’m sure I would have figured it out eventually. Maybe.

Honeysuckle stumps
Just the stumps of the honeysuckle bush remain.

The husband says he’ll get back to the honeysuckle removal and take care of those stumps when he has time. I wonder if I’ll notice.

Look at Me, Being Crafty

A number of times in my life, I’ve uttered these words: “I’m not a crafty person.”

But are they true, though? I mean, I’ve patched and painted many a wall in my life. Is that not some type of craft? And while I always avoided the craft room as a parent volunteer at elementary school parties, I could often be found assisting my children with activities such as making greeting cards or carving pumpkins at home. Are those not crafts?

Maybe my self concept can change, even at my advanced age. I have decided that I am going to have at-home summer camp days for myself this year. I will do crafts — in a low-risk environment, of course, where I can easily dispose of the evidence if things go too awry.

Here’s where I’m starting:

Tie Dye in progress

When my oldest moved out, I undertook the massive task of cleaning out his room. My reward was that I got to keep for myself a handful of things he left behind. One was an unused tie-dye kit. It took me a couple of years, but today, I finally broke it out and tie dyed a t-shirt for myself. It might look hideous when it’s done, but at least the process was fun.

I had some dye left over, so the husband tossed me one of this shirts to experiment on as well. I will post the results in a couple of days. It’s okay to laugh if they look funky.

As an aside, the buckets are only there for weight in the breeze. They’re citronella candles I keep on the deck, not part of the craft process.

How Frugal Am I?

Let it never be said that I’m not frugal. Just how frugal? The image above is an example of my thrift. It usually has a liner in it, but I removed it for the photo.

In 1994, I worked as a secretary. On Secretary’s Day that year, my boss gifted me with a really nice, large fruit basket. Once the contents had been shared and consumed, I was left with a sturdy wicker container. As fate would have it, I was in need of another small trash can for my home. Being true to my nature, I thought, “Oh, this basket will work until I come up with something else.”

27 years later, it’s still in use. We have moved four times, so this is its fifth household.

I wonder if my former manager even remembers me or the fruit basket. If ever I should run into her again, I suppose I’ll refrain from mentioning that I think of her when I throw away my used dental floss.

Make do and use things up. I guess I took that lesson to heart.

Another Trip Around the Sun

Spring bursting through the dregs of winter.

Today is my birthday, and I don’t ever seem to get tired of having them. It’s a great time of year for it, early spring when the day is finally a little longer than the night and daffodils are blooming everywhere. I appreciate my parents arranging this for me.

This past winter, I was about as depressed and anxious as I’ve ever been, but my own light is shining a little brighter again, too. Though this is my second consecutive pandemic birthday, I think I can enjoy the occasion. I’m off from both of my paying jobs today and plan to spend the day not putting pressure on myself. I’m going to Zoom with some friends in a little while. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous later, so a long afternoon amble will be in order. I’ll follow that with sending my husband to get carry-out so I don’t have to cook dinner.

I’v already had my birthday present for a few days — something I’ve wanted for a long time and that has improved my life at least 25%. Friends, I am 57 years old today, and for the first time ever, I have a headboard for my bed. I can now sit up and read without murdering my back. The headboard is nothing fancy, an inexpensive one from Target, but it has not disappointed as far as the reading in bed experience goes.

Happy day, everyone, wherever you happen to be in your own solar cycle!

What Love Looks Like Here

Photo by Gabby K on

In my family, love doesn’t often come in the form of flowers or frilly cards. Here’s what it looks like:

It’s me, already tired, double masking and wading into the fray at the packed grocery store after I get off work on a Saturday so I can make sure we’re stocked up before the next day’s predicted (now occurring) snow.

It’s my husband dragging himself out of a warm bed earlier than he wanted to on Sunday morning and working his way into the weird, cold, uncomfortable corner in the basement to set up a space heater and wrap a heating pad around a frozen water pipe. (Water is running in our bathroom again. Yay!)

It’s my older son, born and bred in the Midwest but now a resident of the Pacific Northwest, going out in bad weather to rescue his stranded friends who don’t know how to drive in the snow. (Always keep a Midwesterner around.)

It’s my younger son spending time compiling a list of resources and advice for a young person he barely even knows because they’d expressed an interest in learning game development but didn’t know where to start.

However you celebrate and express love for those in your life, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Remembering My Mother With Bells

A song in memory of Mom.

My mother left us five years ago today, an anniversary that’s hitting me harder this year than it has the past couple. The five-year mark seems to be driving home the truth that she’s gone permanently. It’s one of those things you know in your mind, but don’t really know in your bones when the loss is fresh. Last night, I kept thinking, “I didn’t understand she was going to be dead for this long.”

When my mom took me for my first day of kindergarten, an eon ago, I was puzzled by the children in the class who were crying, distraught over their mothers leaving without them. I thought to myself, “Don’t they know they’re going to come back?”

Now I’m dropped off, the day has grown long, and I see she’s not returning for me. I’m on my own here. But she didn’t toss me upon the world with no provisions or comforts at all. She had a fascination with bells, and collected all sorts. I experience a lot of joy from this tangible item she left with me — a good part of her bell collection. I rang them all for her this morning.

“Ring the bells that still can ring.” — Leonard Cohen


If I Had Known the Future

Photo by Markus Spiske on

Note: I originally started writing this on the evening of January 6, but I discovered I was too unsettled by events to gather my thoughts. So I’m starting over now, while holding my breath and crossing my fingers for a peaceful Inauguration Day this coming Wednesday.

I have little patience for anyone over the age of 50 making statements or jokes insinuating young people today are somehow soft or entitled or not quite up to snuff compared to older generations. My kids are just at the age to really be laying the foundations of their adult lives. I have a number of friends with kids in the same age range. And what I see is not so much foundation laying as young adults treading troubled waters, trying not to drown. There’s no there there upon which to build.

I’ve read a few posts recently from historians putting the present day into context, and they verify what I suspected. The youngest Millennials and oldest members of Generation Z are coming of age in one of the most difficult periods of American life.

Would I have made the decision to have children if I had known how things would shake out? What if someone had given me a crystal ball that told me the terrible things that would happen by the time they were grown? Would anyone ever choose to have children if they knew what disasters lay in the future?

On April 19, 1995, I was eight months pregnant with my firstborn and shaken to the core by the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I saw the photo of a lifeless baby carried from the rubble and wondered if I’d made a grave error in choosing to bring a child into a world where such a thing could occur. But the delight and wonder of motherhood eclipsed all, prompting me to have a second child three years later.

Then followed the Columbine school shooting, 9/11, the economic crash of 2008, Sandy Hook, the Fukushima nuclear accident, the election of an unhinged narcissist to the U.S. presidency, and a mishandled pandemic leading to widespread unemployment. And now January 6, which it seems is going to be referred to by its date, just like 9/11, with no further explanation necessary.

You make the choice to have kids when the world is one way, with no idea what lies ahead. How different everything is from the 1990s. Everything. I mourn that my children don’t remember the pre-9/11 world, one where you could hang out at an airport and watch the planes taking off and landing as cheap entertainment, one without security checkpoints and searched bags at every venue from airports to amusement parks. One in which we weren’t at perpetual war. A few times, I have feebly opined to them that I’m sorry for how the world turned out, that I had no idea it would get this bad.

Going back to my earlier question — if I had known, would I have chosen to remain childless? Maybe. Do I regret having them? Never. I regret much about the world as it is. I wouldn’t have them disappear from it. My love for them makes it both bearable and unbearable. It’s a paradox.

I suppose every generation could make its own list similar to mine. Would you want to become a parent if you knew the Black Plague was just around the corner? The Dust Bowl? A World War? My mom was carrying me when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, after she’d already lived through the Great Depression, WWII, a polio epidemic, etc. Individually, it feels like we have so little control over world events. We as humans are always working to survive and make our own happiness, create our own hope. I guess that’s consistently true, from the hunter/gatherers of ancient times thinking about the year’s berry crop to those of us today worrying about who has access to the nuclear codes.

Babies are still coming along, in the middle of this big old mess we have right now. Multiple friends of mine have welcomed grandchildren to the world over the past year, vibrating with a happiness that is more contagious than the coronavirus. I hear the news on a Zoom call or see it on Facebook, and a glow comes over me. I feel so much joy for them.

As humans, we keep choosing to go on, to try our best to survive. I would never dream of offering an opinion to anyone about the right time for them to birth or adopt a baby, or about whether they even should. But every arrival of a new baby says to me that collectively, we haven’t all given up all hope. That thought also makes things bearable.

I wouldn’t want to know the future, even if I could. It’s best that we don’t. Things could get even worse. They could also get a whole lot better. So much is possible. Nothing is certain.

A counselor I’ve been seeing told me to notice the times I’m okay, “even if it’s only 15 seconds. Pay attention and remember it. You can build on that.” Maybe that’s the foundation we all can lay.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. Just pondering on the unpredictability of life and how we cope during bad times. I want to do whatever I can, with whatever little power I have to make this a better place for those joy-bringers who are arriving right now. And for the joy-bringers who have already been here a while.

Take care of yourselves, my friends. And let’s take care of each other. Let’s create those moments of okayness and build on them.