Thursday, October 30, 2014

Grumpy is the New Accountable

There has always been a group of Moms at school whom the staff and even fellow parents referred to as sour pusses, grumpy grumpersons. They would constantly have a scowl on their face, stomp around, and even when you'd smile and greet them, they'd mumble back a sorry excuse for a response and just seemed dismal and eternally dissatisfied. I always tried to give these people the benefit of the doubt and chalk up their behavior to a bad day. But how many bad days can one person have?

I’ve realized that I’m becoming this person and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t know if it’s just the people at my kid’s school or the world at large, but I feel constantly disappointed and let down by mankind. Are my standards too high? Or are we all really going to Hell in a hand basket?

Last week, a couple of teachers started a Bible study for girls before school. I was so excited by this opportunity and was equally excited when my daughter showed interest in it and signed up. I’ve prayed for the teachers and their leadership and also for the girls and that their hearts and minds will be fully open to receive and comprehend everything that God speaks to them during this time.

It is supposed to be before school on Thursdays, from 7:00-7:30. Today, I had volunteered to bring breakfast for the group, at the risk of taking on too much. I set the alarm early this morning. By 5:30, there were muffins in the ovens and I was counting out and packing up the right number of cups for OJ and little plastic spoons for fresh fruit and plates. The kitchen was alive and I danced around like an orchestra director:  stir this, stick a toothpick in that, take those out and put these in.

In the meantime, I got dinner going in a crockpot, threw some clothes in the dryer, made sure Little Bit was awake on time, cuddled with her for a minute, and made lunch. I gave the five-minute-until-we-walk-out warning and went to brush my hair and teeth. Then I realized the pets weren’t staring at me because of unconditional love as much as their bowls were empty and they were ready for breakfast. My daughter came out and needed help which took my remaining hair and teeth brushing time but it’s a small price to pay and I’m glad to do it. We dashed out the door going over study points one last time for a test today and with me looking like a pack mule. As I quizzed her on state capitals, I went over my mental checklist.

We arrived at school with two minutes to spare. Plenty of time to park illegally in the drive, run the goods in, throw them out on a table, give my girl her morning hug and blessing and inquire as to the spelling of “Annapolis” one last time as I walked away. Instead of being greeted by a smiling (and maybe just a teeny bit appreciative) teacher, we were met with a dark hallway and the distant hum of a custodian and her vacuum. We turned the corner for the designated Bible study classroom and found it locked and dark. It was now 7:00 on the dot, the time when this activity was supposed to start.

For the next 10 minutes, we stood out in the hall, greeting passing teachers, arriving Bible study group members, and holding our basket of breakfast goodies. At 7:10, one of the Bible study leaders arrived, but she was not the one who had the key to the classroom. Knowing I was risking incurring the wrath of the traffic nazis out front, I unceremoniously dumped my breakfast spread on the floor outside of the still-locked classroom, and bid farewell to the group of eight or 10 girls now assembled for this activity which was not yet started and a third of the way over.

I left feeling betrayed. I held up my end of the bargain. Look at me. My hair’s not brushed, I have flour on me, and there are fresh muffins, for goodness sakes. Yes, I could have grabbed some at the grocery but I made fresh ones. I got here on time. I did my part. I’m mad. And I’m hurt. It may sound a bit dramatic, but we all have a part to play. I played mine and am often left feeling like others don’t take theirs as seriously.

Yes, I know things happen. Life happens. Cars don’t start and alarms don’t go off when you thought you set them. Kids get sick. Traffic. I get that. But it just seems like more and more, we, as humans, are slacking on punctuality. I guess it’s going the way of other social etiquette:  hand-written thank you notes and responding in a timely manner to party invitations. There’s a small part of me that thinks, “well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” But I know deep down I don’t want to join them. I couldn’t if I tried. I want to make them want the same thing I do: for us to all play our part. To show up. On time.

As I left the building, the principal was walking in. I’ve never seen the man without a smile on his face and he greets everyone he sees with a smile and by name. Bless him. But as he called out “Good morning!” to me, all I could think was, “what’s so good about it?” and all I could muster was a faint “hmm, hey there.” As I stomped to my car, that’s when it hit me. Every time that man sees me, I’m mad about something or someone. I’m disappointed in the human race and someone’s behavior. But I don’t want to be inducted into the grumpy grumperson’s club. I can’t be responsible for every, single person’s bad behavior nor take it personally. So, starting today, I’m going to make a concerted effort - give it my best shot - to beat them without joining them. But I’ll go to my grave chanting this mantra:

Early is on time. On time is late. Late is not acceptable.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Stayin' Alive

“Papa Collins would have been 112 today,” Mom said one year when I was an insolent and (self-proclaimed) omniscient 13-year-old. “Yeah? And Methuselah would be a million,” I replied. (Best educated guess, in 1987, Methuselah would have been 5,206.) Okay, so I wasn’t actually omniscient.

I didn’t understand, at least as a teenager, why one would play this seemingly futile and borderline macabre game of marking someone’s birthday as if they were still here. 

Papa was very tall. Pictures attested to that fact, but I’d also heard how his wife, Mary Ellen (or Mama Collins), a bit more vertically challenged, would stand under his stretched out arm with plenty of clearance. He loved the Lord and knew the Bible intimately, but he didn’t like to go to church. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a love of the written word, he always had a stack of books by his armchair. As a profession, he was a carpenter, a handyman, and made a living for several years digging storm shelters for people, right here in middle Tennessee.  Rarely was he seen without his trusty pipe. He had seven children, four of whom lived passed birth, and one of them was my Mom’s Mom, my maternal grandmother. Papa Collins was Mom’s maternal grandfather.

Every year, we’d play this game. “So and so would have been ____ tomorrow.” It, like many of the things my mother did, drove me insane. It seemed pointless. Oh, but she got the last laugh. Several times over. Because, now that she’s gone, you better believe I play that game on her birthday. Why? Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s a way of keeping a memory alive and passing down genealogical information to the next generation.

Papa (John Calvin Collins) died in 1951, so I never knew him. Yet, in part because of stories kept alive and passed down, I feel like I did. So, yes, I will open time capsules of memories and stories and share them. And I can only hope, one day, someone will keep my memory alive.

I awoke yesterday morning, October 5, 2014, and you know what my first thought was? It's my Mema's birthday. Hmm. She would have been 102.

Collins Family, (c) 1947
(L-R) Myrtle Collins, Bessie Collins, Anna Bell Collins Bennett (my Mema), Felix Bennett (my Papa), Mary Evelyn McGowan Collins (John's wife), Gene Collins (the only boy), and John Calvin (Papa) Collins. A cousin is peeking from the back. And the little girl in the front? That's my Mom, Patricia Ann Bennett Eagan.