Tag Archives: life

Just One

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

When I was young, the expectation was that there’d be a singular answer: doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, policeman or fireman.  Pick one.  No Career Day speaker ever told us little tykes that we might have a first career that would pay off the student loans and build the down payment for the starter home, before transitioning to work that we find ourselves more suited for as we age and change – to say nothing of a possible third gig that supplements the social security in retirement years.  That would have been too much information for little kiddies at Career Day.  That scenario also may not have been as common in the 1970s and 80s as it is in this new millennium.  So it’s no surprise we were conditioned to believe that one is supposed to do one something with his or her life not many.  But I knew before I hit middle school that such would not be the case for me.

At five, I had a role in my school’s performance of The Little Prince.  So in first grade, I wanted to be an actor when I grew up.  Several years later, I sat down at the plastic typewriter my mother gave me and banged out what I thought was a tortured but eloquent memoir.  It was five sentences long.  Suddenly I wanted to be a writer.  Somewhere along the line, struggling working class parents made clear in not-so-subtle ways that the two things I wanted to be might make paying the bills harder than it had to be.  So I added a licensed profession to the list of future jobs.

Flash forward several decades, and here I sit, having enjoyed a successful and fulfilling first career in journalism, a short stint in the law that made me miserable, and several soul-smiling years (and counting) teaching Kung Fu, awaiting news of whether a potential investor in my food company will become an actual one.   While weighing the possibility the investment will fall by the wayside, I’ve been forced to envision a return to career number one or two.  The first thing that came to mind was: “I can’t switch again; that’ll make me look crazy, like a person who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up!”  Gratefully, it took only a moment to toss that thought into the mental trash can.

My problem, for those who would call it one, has never been career confusion.  It’s been sincerely wanting to do them all – and not caring that I was expected to pick just one.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Little did I know at age five, eight, 12 or 17 that the singular answer wasn’t a career at all.  The answer was and is that I want to be master of a destiny as full as my interests, skills and time will allow, with a minimal fear of being broke and a maximum disregard for the scoffing of others.

On most days, for more than a decade now, I’ve been exactly what I wanted to be.  That makes gratitude easy, even in tough times.  It also makes me glad I never thought to stick with just one!

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…Right in the Jungle

“I gotta hurry back upstairs to the television!” I told my son as the screen door closed behind him.  “It’s the final fight scene in Kill Bill.”

“Omigod!  It’s so cool you have it on, too!” Aaron yelled, jogging behind me.  “That’s why I’m late.  I was watching it at Chris’s house!”

“Did you lock the front door?” I asked rounding the corner to the stairway.

“Shit!  No!” he answered, frozen in his tracks for a moment, weighing whether the lock could wait for the end of the movie.

I could launch into a diatribe about the themes of Kill Bill Vol. II and how much this martial arts mom relates to them.  I could present a laundry list of the traits my son and I have in common and how similar our tastes are in art and music.  In fact, I could fill pages with both subjects.

But as my first born and I sang the soundtrack tune “Goodnight Moon,” watching Beatrix Kiddo drive off into the sunset, my mind centered on a collection of facts that had strongly shaped the moment and that are more important than commonalities with my child or my love of a movie:

  • I had to become a mother to care about my character.
  • I had to quit living like a frat boy to learn what character really is.
  • When my son started living like a frat boy in my house, the character that motherhood made me care about compelled me to show him the door.
  • Showing him the door now brings him back through it with a level of respect and love that I’ve wanted us to have from the day he was born.

The rest of the afternoon’s visit consisted of chowing down on hard shell crabs that Aaron brought with him, chatting about his job, friends and flirtations, and waxing philosophical about the best first career choice for a talented young man who’s bound to have more than one.  It was an afternoon that made the week, if not the season.

“The lioness has rejoined her cub and all is right in the jungle.”  That’s the final statement in Kill Bill… and it’s the truth.


A Most Welcomed Surprise

Friday, a child who isn’t mine hugged me as if she were.  When I let my arms fall away from the bear hug around her lanky 10-year-old frame, hers remained so tightly wound across my rib cage and back that I couldn’t move if I wanted to without taking her with me.  A blue sash level student of mine who’s leaving for six weeks of summer camp out of state isn’t just going to miss Kung Fu; she’s specifically going to miss me.  I didn’t expect it and don’t know if I deserve it, but it was a most welcomed surprise.

“I miss,” are two words I find myself saying more often than I’d like.  The most recent family funeral three weeks ago was a goodbye to the last of the four women – two aunts, a grandmother and my mother – most responsible for my character and my better childhood memories.  But it isn’t just the dead I miss.  It’s also the remarkable young man I raised who no longer lives in my house, and the eccentric, now-teenaged girl who stopped dancing in the car years ago.  I miss the former colleagues who only kept in touch when my departure from the office was new.  And I miss remembering with ease where I left my glasses – or simply what day it is.

There is nothing new, of course, about middle aged people bemoaning the passage of time and the unwanted changes it brings.  There’s nothing new about melancholy accompanying loss.  And perhaps the most familiar remedy of life for ridding me of any hint of self-pity is the embrace of a family member.  So there’s nothing new in the comfort of a hug either.

But there was something new in having a child who isn’t mine hug me as if she were.  It gave “I miss” a happy meaning for the first time in recent memory.


Teeth and Tattoos

I’ve spent four months away from writing, and with each day that I’ve been away, it’s been harder to make the time in my perpetually-sleep-deprived days to return.  But with two young Kung Fu Sihengs weighing heavily on my heart these last weeks, one of whom I just finished speaking with on the phone, the re-entry point is clear.

My son is boarding a plane to Texas tomorrow morning to visit his grandparents for a week.  When he returns, he’ll have one day to dot his “i”s and cross his “t”s before heading down the highway to Georgetown University, which is also my alma mater.  I was scared shitless, as they say, when I found out this child was on the way.  I don’t think the fear was evident to anyone but my therapist – a man who knew enough about me to gently suggest that motherhood might not be the best choice at that point in my life.  My marriage was the epitome of dysfunction, which, given the emotional and physical messes we both were, was all it could be.  But to my therapist’s amazement (and my own!), I consciously chose and gave my all to getting my act together for the sake of the boy who’ll be boarding a plane to Texas tomorrow morning.

He’s getting on that plane missing half of one of his front teeth.  That fact infuriates me for two reasons: first, because he injured himself doing something thoroughly irresponsible and thoughtless, which wasn’t particularly legal either.  ‘Nuff said on that.  Second, the fact that he’ll be taking off for college with this new look, despite having the means and opportunity to cap the tooth, tells me it’s a look (persona?) that he prefers, and it will likely be with him a long time.

So, the mom who stopped being self-destructive in order to enable her child to become exactly what he became – the sought-after valedictorian, scholarship student  – will, for the foreseeable future, be reminded every time she sees her boy that it’s now his turn to be self-destructive.  And he’s taking it.  Repeatedly.  If only someone had chipped his tooth in a sparring match!  I’d still want him to cap the damn thing, of course, but it wouldn’t actually hurt to see it missing.

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The visuals that half tooth gives me, both of my past and of my son’s possible future, are probably nothing compared to the imaginings in the minds of the parents of a young man with a brand new tattoo.  The adolescent who taught me how to make a long staff give me gold medals is entering his last year of college – and counting down the days to his commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Siheng Bad-Ass, as I affectionately refer to him, recently returned from an ROTC training mission in Fort Knox that cut him off from the rest of the world for a month.  He was excited and proud as he talked about repelling down walls, while taking practice shots with a machine gun, and I knew before I asked what assignment he’d be requesting ten months from now.

“Oh my God, your poor parents!” I said aloud before I could catch the words.  I was imagining him ducking bullets in Iraq or Syria.   “You’re going in as an officer with a great record.  You can pick anything you want.  You don’t have to choose the infantry,” I said as if I were his mother, telling him what he knew better than I did.

“It’s my calling,” he answered with a big smile.

A week later, he walked into Wushu class with a tattoo on his forearm that reads: “For those I love, I sacrifice.”  I’m not sure I’d be able to read that on my infantry-bound son’s arm without crying each time I saw it.

I worry almost as much about the future of the boy-Siheng who was my teacher as I do about the future of the boy that’s mine.  I haven’t seen the future soldier’s father in months, because my schedule at the store has kept me out of his Saturday class.  But I wish I could give him a hug of commiseration.

We get them ready to walk into the world on their own two feet, then, we have absolutely no control over the size, sound and rhythm of their steps when that walk begins.  At the end of a job well done, what remains is watching and waiting.  Please, God, please…give us a good and happy show.


Long Lines and Loss

I come from a long line of women who won’t take no for an answer – even from God.  When people told my grandmother she didn’t have the constitution to eat whatever she wanted and continue breathing, she ignored them for thirty years, until thirty feet of her intestines had to be removed.  When my father told my mother he would never marry her, she simply changed her last name to his and waited years – for nothing.  When the doctors told my aunt that an epileptic with sickle cell could not carry a child to term, she miscarried five times before menopause permanently decided the issue.

So begins a compilation of autobiographical short stories I wrote a while back.  That opening paragraph has been popping into my head for almost two weeks now, when the last of the three women mentioned in it died less than seventeen days after her ninety-sixth birthday.  That long female line of mine is down to me and my daughter.  I knew that was coming, of course, but I still wasn’t ready.

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I thought my grandmother would make it to triple digits.  Her older sister made it to 101.  But perhaps becoming the last living member of her birth family made her more ready to join her husband and half of her kids.  The longevity of the generation once removed from my own was a source of hope when the early deaths of my mother and three of her siblings made me anxious about my own mortality.  That sporadic anxiety is back.

It is now Good Friday, about a week after I first started this post.  I would love to claim that phenomenal success of the shop has occupied too much of my time to finish writing.  But mama drama is the better explanation.

My son has regressed to his 14-year-old self.  That was the year he acquired new friends and the first real girlfriend and became so out of control that I was ready to ship him to his grandparents in Texas.  Now, a lack of consideration and respect, on multiple levels about multiple big-ticket items, need not lead to a plane ticket purchase.  After all, he is legally – and financially – able to sign a lease.  While my love for him is unconditional, his ability to live in my house is not.  But that fact doesn’t keep the mama bear in me from wanting to keep him safe – especially from himself.

Loss is a natural part of life, occurring in unexpected ways, like sudden illness and teenager confusion, and expected ones, like old age or the end of childhood.  I state the obvious simply so that I can better accept a fact that sucks so profoundly.

Easter weekend was the most important three days of any year to my very religious late grandmother, the woman whose apartment was my second home when my mother was at her second job, the woman who taught me the most about baking and let her daughter provide the finishing touches.  As I receive a host of orders for end-of-Lent goodies, the absence of my baking teacher, who dealt with more loss (four children alone was enough!) with as much grace as possible, leaves me with pain both piercing and acute.

Nellie Mae made chocolate pie once a year for her youngest daughter, my aunt who couldn’t have children.   She taught me to make the ninety-something year old recipe she’d acquired as a child herself on a summer visit my family made to her house, not long after the death of my aunt.  That recipe is my most popular pie and a component of my most popular cupcake.  As long as my shop is here, my grandmother will be with me every day, even more than my mother, whether I like it or not – as will her example of how to handle child-related wounds with grace.

 


Smirking in Silence

“Are you going to make it on just desserts?  Why’d you open a place here?  Why don’t you display the cupcakes over here?  Why don’t you have more flavors for the cookie?  Well…I hope you make it.”

Such is the litany of questions, unsolicited advice and well wishes (if you can call them that) I experience with more regularity than I can comfortably stand.  I’m ready to physically remove from my establishment the next person who asks me can I make it.  It’s never asked by the customer ordering multiple boxes for a birthday party or by one in his pajamas, standing in the doorway of his home, happily taking a box of sweets from me as my delivery hours expire.  It’s only asked by those smirking in the silence during a midday lull or a weekend freeze.  Those same folks never seem to be anywhere around when I’m bitching about how badly I need an employee who’s not related to me, so I can open earlier on the weekend.

The first dozen times or so, my jovial answer to the inquiry was: “Well, I’m going to find out.”  But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve simply treated it as rhetorical, while reminding myself that the person who probably thinks I’m stupid, naïve, irresponsible, deluded and so on is clearly the person with higher expectations than my own.

How is the asker defining “make it”?  I’ve never bothered to ask.  I don’t care.  I just know that the accurate answer to the insulting question rests on that definition.  Is it defined as merely getting to year two?  Turning a profit in the first year?  Making a million bucks?  I define “making it” as the store paying for itself and paying for my share of the family bills.  The former is already happening and the latter is currently fingertips away.  So will I meet my own definition of making it?  I’m confident I will.  Will I meet the ones of the people asking?  Who knows?

What I do know is this: I hate the suggested lack of forethought, planning, realism etc. wrapped up in a question being asked not only of people who don’t know me but of those who often don’t even bother to sample my product. They just pop into my store to suggest that they think it was a bad idea.  Who raised these people?

It’s worth noting that in one week, both a confectioner and a food distributor asked about buying my cookie wholesale.  The few reviews that have been written about the shop all mention becoming addicted to this cookie.  The prototype for packaging it for shipment and shelf life is sitting next to my cash register.  So am I going to make it?  Yeah, asshole, I am!  For now, at least, the odds are in my favor.  So stop asking already!

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So glad I have a kung fu class to teach tonight – and in the boxing room, at that.  I think I’ll do sparring work against the bag before my soon-to-be green sashes arrive.  Maybe that’ll bring the jovial response to the annoying question back to my lips.


Knock on Wood!

“Welcome to the neighborhood!” That’s been the phrase of the week for customers who don’t know that I’ve lived in the neighborhood for almost seven years; it’s just the business that’s new. I’m writing my first post in more than a week (the longest silence of my blogging life) during the first lull in the first Sunday that my business has been open.

Last Sunday was the final day of the second session of my kung fu class, and I just couldn’t manage to pull off working in both the gym and the store when all of my familial employees were off working a day job or visiting their father. But I couldn’t help but notice as I walked home from the gym that there was a lot more hustle and bustle on the street than I’d anticipated, especially since it was the middle of the football game in a town that loves its Ravens. I was compelled – largely by the need for sales that every new business has – to see if the same would hold true a week later. It most certainly has!

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Sunday is apparently the day that everyone wants to ignore the diet and indulge in butter and sugar. I’m more than happy to oblige! Following a large, rush order for vegan cupcakes yesterday and a growing group of neighborhood residents becoming regulars, Stupid Delicious!, www.stupiddelicious.com for you Baltimore residents, is off to a solid pre-advertising start. (Quick – somebody knock on wood!) But to make this double-duty thing work on Sundays going forward, I’m going to need a paid employee a lot sooner than I’d anticipated. That’s a very nice problem to have!

On the kung fu front, the newest revelation about my deteriorating body is that I have a small tear in my rotator cuff. That explains the extreme pain and difficulty sleeping that plagues me off and on – now exacerbated by whipping up various batters and frostings. This could get very interesting right as my stellar corporate insurance goes bye-bye.

The challenges never stop, for sure, but that’s what keeps me on my toes. Right now, just for today, I’m having too much fun and feeling too much gratitude to complain. 🙂


Karma Calling

I rarely use the word fair.  It’s a concept that bothers me.  I’ve never personally experienced or witnessed something that was equitable or just to one person or group that wasn’t undesirable to another.  So I tend to think that there’s usually somebody catching the short end of the stick whenever something is allegedly “fair.”

My discomfort with the concept has served me well as a middle-aged, arthritic martial artist who loves teaching the activity as much as doing it.  It especially comes in handy when, at the start of a Saturday class, just half a day after hitting pay dirt with my newest students and seeing beautiful horse stances for the first time in half a dozen classes, there’s a pop beneath my knee during a routine roundhouse drill.  Moments later, it happens again on the front kick.  And by half time, my left leg is buckling each time I put weight on it.

Damnit! I scream in my head.  When class is over, and it’s just Merle and me collecting our gear to leave, I curse aloud.  I’m so tired of injuries!  I have weak knees, surrounded by muscles that become more pronounced with every good set of low cat stances.   I also have all of last session’s students and three new ones, with interest already being expressed for next session.  It’s not a good time to be out for surgery.  Management would cancel my class.  AND it would be twenty times more challenging to bake desserts and manage a store!

And so I’ve spent the last three days stretching, rubbing, slathering with ointment, freezing in ice, and heating in microwavable heat pads a leg that I must will into continued production. In fact, several hours after the injury, I hobbled over to a carpenter’s wood shop to pick up the furniture for my store.  It was painful and perfect at the same time.

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Two or three times since the weekend, I’ve stopped in mid limp to ask why I have to go through another major leg injury.  I immediately follow the question with the answer: Because that’s just how it goes for someone my age with my physical history who does kung fu for no less than ninety minutes a day, six days a week.

There’s such excitement going on for me right now, the monkey wrench had to come in some form.  I certainly can’t say it’s not fair.


Comedy of Errors

The toilet seat arrived today.  It took two weeks, two different companies and a mis-delivery to a city halfway across the state, but it came.  Now, the fun of putting the damned thing on to satisfy the State of Maryland, which requires that toilet seats in a food establishments be “open.”  The closed circle currently on the commode in the shop won’t do.  Both the floor and the sink in the backroom were objectionable, as was the positioning of the soap and paper towel dispenser.  Nothing, it seems, is as obsessive compulsive as health department regulations – which, perhaps, is as it should be.

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Then, there’s the fire department. Three minutes in and out for three figures out of my bank account.  Now, if I were cooking on the premises, it would certainly have been more extensive; there would have been more to check.  Still, the brevity coupled with the expense left me with a touch of whiplash.

Then, there was the misunderstanding with the carpenter.  I know I said four feet for the shelf.  I have no idea what he heard, but I was handed something that I could sit on a desk, not on the floor.

Then, there was the lost credit card machine that sat in a Fed Ex warehouse fifteen miles away from my house without any notification that someone tried to deliver it.  The door tag must have blown away in the wind, one might think. But no; the recent college graduate who opened my merchant account sent it to the wrong address.  With the most major delivery of all still to come (the long refrigerator with the worktop), I’ll be holding my breath all day tomorrow waiting for the truck to actually pull up to the storefront door – on the actual day it’s scheduled to, for a change.

It’s been a comedy of errors already and the doors haven’t opened yet. The good news: very few of those errors have been mine… and I’ve been able to laugh through most of them.

God willing, the opening is less than two weeks away.  Stay tuned!


Fever and Frenzy

It’s baseball fever in Baltimore, but for me, it’s bakery fever.  And as the temperature rises , so does the level of craziness in my days.  The last forty-eight hours have looked something like this:

-Emails with publicists, authors, journalists and politicos (the day job) interspersed with emails and calls with the staff of the property manager who hasn’t spoken to me directly since calling to tell me the lease is mine; requesting and receiving an emailed confirmation of being approved for the lease.

-Learning from the city’s chief health inspector the brands of ovens that eliminate the need to change the ventilation system in the building; learning more about plumbing building codes than I ever wanted to know; finding out that even my frequently generous plumber has limits to his generosity when tearing out a floor is likely (the three compartment sink might cost more than the specialized oven).

-Sending out the promotional announcements for the next live show, sorting by copyright my guest author’s books and cracking the cover on the first.

-Searching for a place to get passport photos taken for my food manager’s license and having it take much too long, when I needed to keep my lunch hour to 30 minutes.  Having a little birdie whisper in my ear “don’t mail that” right before I walked into a training session for the company’s new edit software and later being glad that it did; calling during training break to find out that the new procedure, just days old, is to deliver the application in person and have the pictures taken onsite.

-After two hours of software training, making a mad dash to the train to get picked up by my family for kung fu class.

-Two hours of sparring and long staff work later, taking the whole family with me on a brief, unimpressive tour of a commercial kitchen I can rent, if sink issues delay opening the store.

-After shower and food, shopping online for the best equipment prices and comparison shopping on business insurance policies; being forced by my better half to shut it down and grab some sleep as the clock sped past 1:30.

-Waking 20 minutes later than normal, needing more sleep and anxious to get into the future store again.  Meeting up with property manager’s assistant to get measurements in the shop and make notes; taking my food manager’s application downtown on the way to the morning train, only to be told it needed to be accompanied by another larger application – and a larger check.

Another dash to another train.  Another day of emails and calls on the current life and the future one.  Another afternoon of training on software I won’t be using for long.  Another day of acting like it was just another day… and loving that it wasn’t.


Short…and Sweet!

Starting a business, while slowly extricating myself from a full-time job that requires a three-hour round-trip commute and continuing to train in and teach a discipline that requires abundant energy, may prove to be the unreasonable endeavor of my middle age.  It certainly leaves me with a fraction of my former blogging time.  In short, I have to keep this short; so I’ll get straight to the point.

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Just when I thought that the highlight of Sunday was teaching my most reluctant student to do a pretty decent long arm swing, I got the call…

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The store is mine!!

May the battle of licensing bureaucracy begin….  Stay tuned. 🙂


Force of Nature

I am not a big fan of time today.

This girl..

..is now this teen.

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And she is, quite simply, a force of nature.  Her smile is infectious, and her bad mood can disappear on a dime.  She’s a talker with no filter and a math whiz who hates math.

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She throws a roundhouse that feels like a log and talks smack about sports better than a middle aged man. She’s made me proud and pissed off in the same moment on several occasions in her short life, and she’s sure to do so again.

Today, my youngest became a teenager….  I couldn’t be a more thankful and hopeful mother.  I couldn’t be less of a fan of time.