There’s so much content running through my brain as well as content already contained. I’d like to invite you, dear reader, into my world of Busted Flip Flops. We’ll explore observations of life, musings about becoming Mom, Cherry Pearl the snorting pug, weird dreams, recipes, movies, ’80’s nostalgia, picking up strays (the furry and the non), and unfeigned poetry. Watch for weekly upcoming posts as these beach reads begin to build and form like, well, a castle in the sand...
Would the waves take me away
from the sorrow of life’s pain
along the crest we could fly
like the flitting migration of butterflies
Beyond the milky way
beside the gulf coast shore
its freckled sparkling light
as if never seen before
Time has ceased upon this
corner of earth
and we are sentenced to it
yet never pardon us from this moment
The only passing of minutes
by the slow descent of the sun
and the dance of insect wings
never coming undone.
It had been several weeks since we walked the beach, crossing side streets and passing intimately-lit cafes and restaurants along the way. The distant downtown lights dotted the southern horizon. Street performers echoed among the hum of engines and the quiet lap of gulf crest. This is our beach– or at least feels that way as we’ve been coming here for sunsets since 2001. Only everything about it is etched in change.
Our now teenage son, who obligingly strolled beside us, was once a tiny mewing thing carried in a pack at my breast. Then onto toddler years when he danced with abandon to steel drums and folk guitarists on the pavilion stage where now only a speaker pumping out rock favorites exists. There was the running-through-the-sand-dunes phase, the must-have-ice-cream phase, the I’m-terrified-of-the-water phase.
I’m trying hard to embrace these new teenage years. But everyone knows I’m mourning the past. My co-parent seems to be handling this new phase better than me. Perhaps it’s a motherhood thing, that we become emotionally consumed and overwhelmed by all the constant transitioning. The buzz of daily life shadows some of this agony but when nighttime unveils sometimes it is downright unbearable.
He was in a quiet but kind mood as we made a stop for drinks at the tiki hut which used to be nothing but the hut and a few picnic tables. Now a sprawl of neatly placed umbrella-covered tables and Adirondack chairs, some outdoor beach games, and a small stage where a talented solo guitarist happily strummed. The two of us sat and chatted as his dad went to get our drinks and the cool January wind whipped at our hair.
“Do you and Dad think there’s something off about me?” he asked.
“Off?” I replied. “Why do you ask that?”
“Because it seems you and Dad are always worried about me, or think I’m acting like something is wrong.” He looked at me with serious eyes, his phone retired to his lap.
“Well I think you’re just a normal teenage boy. And of course we worry. Do you think you’re ‘off’?”
“Good.” Pause. “You aren’t depressed, are you?”
“No,” he answered assuredly.
“Well if you ever do become depressed I hope you know you can talk to me. And your dad. Please just don’t shut us out, ok? We need to be open with each other, ok? You know I’ve had my bouts with depression so I know how it feels so don’t ever be afraid to talk to me, ok?” I wasn’t so much trying to lecture him but just make sure, for the thousandth time, that he could always come to me.
“Yes, Mom.” He gave a nod and a reassuring closed-lip smile.
His dad came back with our drinks and we chatted about happy things, funny school incidents, music, talents we wish we had, until hunger started to invade and it was time to make our way to get dinner.
As we passed the old trampolines (which actually had been replaced by newer, smaller ones) a pang of sorrow shuddered through me. That had been another phase, a long one. We’d stand there with our heads bobbing up and down as we watched his little buoyant body jump higher and higher until his grin was as big as the ocean behind him.
I focused back to what was right in front of me. I have to live in the moment even more so now than ever. Here is my altering but beautiful son beside me. On the other side his dad. And although we are divorced (such an ugly word) we are still a united front when it comes to the most amazing thing we ever did or will ever do.
We commented on the new, wider sidewalks by the pavilion and the now sparseness of the vendors on the pier. Then up ahead we saw him. The odd fella with the rolling podium and the microphone, sending signals to perhaps outer-space, who has been strolling the pier since the days before our son was even a growing light in the depth of the womb.
“So many changes but some things never do,” I commented as we passed the alien.
We arrived at the restaurant, requested an outside table, and waited. I noticed a table of older women, all Golden-Girls style and laughing as they exchanged stories and clinked cocktails. I wondered how these ladies endured the sadness that surely came over them when their children had left their houses and the quiet inside the walls was too much to endure. I hope I’m as happy as they seem now, when I get to that point, I said to myself.
The early winter sky gave a dark but peaceful cast on the streets and dunes and gulf beyond.
“Your table is ready,” the hostess announced. The three of us walked in unison. More of a carefree evening just before us, casting off the fret of time, for a moment.
Gathering from the various articles I’ve read lately expanding on the subject as well as erupting conversations, I believe there’s a collective consciousness occurring. Electronic devices, highlighting the smartphone, are becoming addictive. Really they already are, just science and psychology are in the midst of theories, predictions, data, discoveries.
I think the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was a recent stint with some friends who were so enthralled in their devices I might as well have been talking to a wall. These were adults and children alike and it made me so upset I hurled my own phone across the room in protest. Thankfully it did not break (gasp!)
I’ve since spoken to these friends and they agree their phones are a problem in their daily lives, especially regarding intimate relationships. It’s as if there’s another person there, sucking the life out of the, well, life that is right in front of them.
When I see babies in strollers zombie-fied in front of a screen I feel a pang for all humanity. The addiction is already starting before they can even feed themselves. What the hell are we doing?? When my son was a baby I only had a flip phone and he played with plastic toy keys. It wasn’t that long ago! Now I see him, gaming, watching YouTube, staring at his his phone screen which is twice the size of mine. I don’t mind him playing online with friends (who I’ve met in real life so far) as the laughter is infectious and I know in those moments he’s having a great time. I don’t mind him texting his friends (as long as it’s during appropriate hours) or watching YouTube videos about innovative homemade musical instruments or people making fools of themselves at Costco. But when the weekend is half over and he hasn’t moved from the couch I have a problem.
Yesterday I implored him to walk with me to our beautiful neighborhood park to play Frisbee. The kid complains incessantly about our stifling Florida heat and it’s finally cold outside so here’s your chance to get some of that! He obliged, as he had no choice, and of course ended up having a great time. “Wow, it feels really good outside,” he said as he spun the sturdy red disc towards me. I realize it is me who will have to be the one to set limits, put the brakes on all this device use. Too much is too much. And I don’t discount myself in this, either.
There have been moments when I felt I was spending too much time burying my face in the screen. This is why I don’t partake in Twitter or Instagram and am phasing out Facebook, too. Minutes can turn to hours scrolling looking at other people’s lives. It’s not that you don’t care about them, but we have our own lives to live, right here, right now. My dad is off Facebook completely. My phone addicted friend has also logged out of her account. If you can scroll occasionally and it doesn’t inflict undue depression then go for it. But many people cannot limit the stuff themselves so they are better off walking away entirely.
I’m not saying all devices and apps are evil. But when I’m walking through a restaurant and 80% of the people at the tables are on their phones instead of talking to the person in front of them THERE IS A PROBLEM. My family has implemented a “No Phones at the Table” rule and it has been quite refreshing. I will gently (or angrily, depending on mood) suggest this to friends as well. This can also go beyond the dinner table. Moms, watch your kids on the swing. Sons, put down your phone when your mom is visiting. Girlfriends, take a break from social media when your partner is sitting right beside you. We could all stand to take a moment to look around once in awhile. Even engage in awkward silence. Those nonverbal cues and instances of being present mean more than we possibly realize.
So what do you say? Want to start a revolution? It doesn’t have to be prodigious. Starting small, one step, one day at a time can pave the way to why all this device madness came about in the first place– to connect with each other.
For the love of humanity, please let’s not make this our future.
Photo courtesy of The Sunday Express
In a moment of subtle voyeurism as the band riffed another joyously happy song I scanned the room. People eating, sipping beer from sturdy glasses, engaging in conversation, a couple of older ladies dancing, some tapping their feet to the live music, some staring at sports on one of the obnoxiously looming screens above. Then my eyes rested on a table of three young men in their early twenties.
They looked no more alive than if they were a body in a coffin or a robot waiting to serve its master. One was staring at his phone as we tend to do these days even while a real live body or bodies are sitting in front of us. God they looked bored as hell.
Perhaps their night didn’t go as expected. Perhaps the band was playing the kind of music they loathed. They were obviously dressed to go out. Built better than any guy I ever knew in my twenties. Hair perfectly styled so as not to look too pretty nor too unkempt. Were they there to meet girls or grab a bite with buds? Whatever the case it seemed they were the most miserable table in the room. Even more so than the woman in the corner who hadn’t looked at her date all night, sipping dully at her white wine.
These young men, these guys of a generation that came after mine, and even my own teenage son, live in a world I really do not envy. The more I watched them the more I felt a bit of sorrow for them and their peers. I don’t mean to sound old when I say this (as I have before described myself as a 12-year-old girl trapped in a 44-year-old woman’s body). I just mean they have access to and so much at their fingertips that instead of looking at the world in amazement a look of dullness has washed over their faces. Not much seems to WOW them. Not everyone is like this, I realize, but it’s kind of just a general ma-laze I see wafting through.
I try to imagine what it must be like to grow up in this culture, where you are constantly in contact with everyone and your personal life can be broadcast like a giant movie marquee on the front page of everyone’s daily newspaper. I mean the same thing is going on with us in our 40s. But we had our time of having to wait in excited agony for our favorite song to play on the radio. To stand by the phone booth until our friend called us back after we paged them. To marvel at things in nature which can’t be accessed immediately by Google images. The list goes on. By waiting and not knowing there was a sense of mystery, of wonder. As much as it might have been frustrating at times I can’t imagine my youth without all this archaic simplicity.
Do others feel it too? Or have I become like every other older generation who thinks things were better in “the good old days.” I worry about the amount of time my son spends looking at various screens. On Sunday nights I pry him away from his nest on the couch and take him across the street to our community pool. We always end up diving and flipping and laughing and snorting like kids ought to do.
The young men soon got up and left just as I thought they would. On to better things I imagined. And after their table cleared and cleaned another group of people settled in. Me and my coworker table-danced to the music as one-by-one our large party left for the night. “Die-hards” I said to her, describing our having closed it down. We are teachers. And we don’t get out that much.
I checked my phone for messages once I got to my car. I’m glad I didn’t take it out at the table, looking on dully.
Is there a secret, a recipe, a manual for getting older? Or do we inherently know how, like a mother instinctually knows to pick up and nurture her child and the child to nourish from his mother?
I don’t know why I ask this question as I don’t particularly feel old but my left knee has been in a bit of pain lately. This reminds me I’m not 25 anymore. Not that I have any desire to go back. Except to just spend an hour with my then-self and tell her to chill out with the worry and the self-consciousness and inhale life. Oh yeah and stop eating all the simple carbs and put down the damn cigarettes.
But we cannot go back in time. Or at least not right now. And when we do drift on thoughts of the past many of those memories are sad or regretful, so what is the point in the torture? Unless it is to remind ourselves why we shouldn’t make the same mistakes. And to be grateful for all the roads that lead us to the positives in our life.
I find it unbearable to think back to when my son was a baby. Or when he was 4. Or even 10. Those days are forever a wind off the crest of a wave, a photograph tucked neatly in an album. I love the boy he is and the man to become. But this child rearing thing is so fleeting it’s preposterous. Everyone warns you. Then your kid is a teenager and you’re divorced and you’re all trying to do the best you can peacefully with the choices and circumstances from within or thrust upon.
I can handle a Saturday night alone. I can marginally handle an entire week alone. But I cannot and will not handle growing older, alone. My grandparents slept in separate rooms but at least they had each other. But then they also drove each other nuts. I understand the women I know who are older and single. However they also have hobbies and friends and family so I suppose they are not really alone.
But the loneliness that engulfs when the moon is high or the lovers are kissing on the beach or the old couple is holding hands or the child is dancing and calling for Mommy does not absolve. No one is exempt.
I look to my stuffed animal Snuggles for cuddles and warmth when the proverbial cold night is present. Yes I still sleep with a lovey.
Point is I don’t want to grow old alone. I don’t think anybody really does. I believe we are here to connect with each other. And from that connection, love within and throughout.
Tonight I look to the almost full moon, its bright vanilla glow rising stately and calmly above the pines and palms. And in this moment I think of hope. Because that is all we can really do. For the goodness of our lonely souls.
We stood next to the dining room table, a 1920’s Art Deco antique passed down from my great-grandmother Nanny. Decades-old scratches laced its corners but a fresh coat of furniture polish and a sprinkling of orange and brown Thanksgiving-themed decor, carefully placed earlier before they arrived, brought it into modern festivity.
“How many meals have been eaten at this table over the generations?” my dad observed with a hint of nostalgia as he scanned the room, his grey-white hair neatly combed and a crisp flannel button-up clothing his smallish frame.
I eyed the antique buffet cupboard next to the table. “I thought about taking all that stuff off and putting the desserts on top,” I replied. It was strategically covered with recipe books and photographs and trinkets and candles. It was always covered with coconut pies and chocolate cakes during holidays at Nanny’s house.
This Thanksgiving it was just the four of us- my mom, dad, and teenage son. It still feels weird to say that, ‘teenage’. In so many ways he is still just a boy. His dark-blond hair tousled and his imagination still intact. Although his appetite is one of a teenager. His meat-eating is making up for all the mammals he did not consume the first several years of his life.
I’d also set the table before my parents arrived, arranging the crystal glasses and beautiful black and silver bone china plates on the brown and gold place-mats. The plates were as flawless as they’d been when they arrived in packages at the doorstep as wedding gifts for me and my soon-to-be husband. He did not ask for any of the china when we separated or officially divorced. I would have shared it with him, of course. It took a year or so afterwards for me to even look at the china. Now I wash and dry them carefully after holiday meals, tracing the raised etchings with my fingers.
My mom and I shared a bottle of wine, perfectly chilled and light and brisk, just as I imagine the vines in Washington, from where it came. Back in the small and warmly-lit kitchen our appetizer spread was a gorgeous mingling of banana bread, fine cheeses, fresh fruit, honey, and my mom’s amazing deviled eggs, sprinkled with paprika. We ate and drank and chatted while the teenager napped peacefully on the couch. The main course just an hour from ready to devour.
When the yeast rolls were browned and the salad tossed with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, it was time. We filled our stately plates with an assortment of both mine and my parent’s favorite holiday dishes. The light and crunchy salad paired well with the warm green bean casserole and fluffy potatoes. Tart and sweet cranberry sauce made the perfect coupling with the savory, chicken casserole (we do that instead of the traditional turkey, it is a hundred times better). Baked sweet potatoes sprinkled with cinnamon and a touch of butter is good any time of year.
We enjoyed the dinner back at the dining room table, my dad at the head and my son on the other end, my mom across from me. We filled our bellies and mused and laughed. The pumpkin-scented candles flickered on the dark wood. The open window left a cool breeze to gently cascade in as the squirrels played around the big oak tree. Frank Sinatra and the like serenaded through the stereo speakers. No phones buzzing or ringing.
The table was cleared and an engaging game of “Heads Up” began. Then we slipped into a family traditional card game of “Oh Heck” which brings out the competitive nature in even me and my mom. I finally won! After all these years!
Dessert followed, still on bone china, although these plates smaller and more delicate. Home-made creamy, spiced pumpkin pie from my mom, and Coke-cola chocolate cake made by me and my son. A perfectly sweet ending.
There were times when we had sort of a house full on Thanksgiving. Various friends and family over the years and in several different dining rooms or lanais. Although this one not a house full, it felt full in the way it does when company has encased you with good energy and love and you are left smiling and dancing as you clean the remnants of a Thanksgiving feast, intimate.
When was the last time you stared into nowhere, or better yet at something out in nature? I mean like really lost yourself in the moment with no dings or tings or rings perpetuating your space or thinking?
I find it harder and harder to acquire moments like these. Recently I did a little experiment where I turned off all notifications on my phone. So no matter what form of communication trying to contact/lure/disrupt was not available to my anticipating ear. I found I had more peace in that day and probably lower blood pressure.
It’s not to say I don’t welcome contact with friends or family. But all this technology and availability 24/7 can be exhausting and stressful. Couple that with the daily grind and you find yourself longing to stare out into the abyss.
Especially when the weather is nice I like to gaze at the tops of trees dancing in the wind or under the glow of the moon. This is something I discovered by accident a few years ago. Sometimes days or even weeks go by when I don’t do this, however. Work and domestic duties and the pulsing of time does not lend itself to such leisure provocation. Then perhaps during a buzzing moment I catch a glimpse of a bluebird or heron or hawk and I’m reminded to stop and just watch and BE. There is something so peaceful and organic about engaging in something so simple.
We tend to look down at our racing feet or ahead at our constant to-dos. Children are always looking up and noticing things we don’t, like a wasp’s nest or a pink airplane or a woodpecker in a tree. We should strive to grab some of that youthful curiosity.
Maybe those old ladies who sit on park benches and feed birds have it right, too. Maybe they are laughing at us, thinking we’re out of our minds.
Drawing by John James Audubon, who started a revolution of bird watchers.