The Raffi Years

The other day, a colleague was talking about one of his young children and their behavior in the car.  It made me remember when Richard and Russell were little, during what I now think of as “the Raffi Years.”

71zba6fuual-_sl1259_Raffi (whose name is actually Raffi Cavoukian) was a singer of children’s songs whose CDs dominated the playlists when the kids were in the car in the early ’90s.  We had multiple Raffi recordings, and they were played on strict rotation.

At first, our discovery of Raffi — no doubt occurring through the “Moms’ grapevine” by which women with children disseminated information about what to do to keep from being driven crazy by those little hellions at home — was a blessing.  A Raffi CD actually got Richard and Russell to stop poking each other, fidgeting in the back seat, and repeatedly asking “when are we getting there?”  Instead, they listened to the music and would pipe up “put on Raffi!” whenever we got into the car.

And that quickly became a double-edged sword, because as they listened to the music, we did, too.  And I’m not saying that Raffi’s music was utterly puerile, but songs about baby whales that are targeted for little kids simply aren’t meant for repeated listening by adults.  At first I appreciated Raffi for helping to keep the kids occupied on car trips and introducing them to music, then repeated exposure to his songs started to really irritate me, and finally I would grit my teeth whenever the kids wanted to replay “Baby Beluga” again and think about how pleasant it would be to drive steel spikes into my eardrums.

Of course, one day Richard and Russell decided they’d had enough of Raffi and moved on, and soon enough they were listening to their own music on Walkmans and iPods and other devices.  I feel grateful to Raffi for getting us through the squirmy years, but it was wonderful to take his CDs out of the car, forever.  And I’ve got no desire to hear him sing, ever again.

A Day To Remember Something Important

It’s February 14, in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately.  Today, with love and passion in the air, the daters among us will give each other gifts, send each other cards, and go out for a romantic dinner, and the jewelers, florists, candy shops, restaurants, and Hallmark stores will turn a few handsprings at the surge in sales.

vintage-valentine-clip-art_232457But what of those of us who have long since moved past the dating phase and have been happily married for years?  With our metabolisms slowing, we’ve made each other promise not to bring home that enormous, heart-shaped box of sinfully rich chocolates.  Because we’re in the perennial savings mode another piece of jewelry doesn’t seem like a smart move.  And a card stamped with some generic, manufactured sentiment doesn’t really seem to fill the bill, either . . . because a stilted, sappy poem can’t fully capture the depth of feeling generated by years of happiness, love, and devotion.  That leaves flowers and a nice dinner at a fine restaurant as the preferred option, for a delicate floral bouquet and a good meal and chance to spend some time together and talk about our world together is always welcome.

Valentine’s Day has its cheesy, commercialized elements, of course, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the huge difference a single person can make in your life.  And even in an ever-changing world, both those who are searching for that person, and those of us who are lucky enough to have found them, can remember that once again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Cleaning Wave

The Cleaning Wave comes rarely.

But when it does, it always begins with a whispered internal thought.  “I’ll rinse off my coffee cup and put it in the dishwasher,” you think, innocently.  Then you decide to wipe down the sink, until the stainless steel is bright and gleaming.  “That looks nice,” you think.

Then the wave begins to build, as waves always do.  The next thing you know, you’re wiping down the countertops, cleaning the range, and sweeping the kitchen floor.  “Hey, the kitchen looks great!,” you realize.

You could stop there, but by now the wave has got you and is rushing you forward, tumbling and unstoppable, and you move to another room and then to another and yet another, fussily straightening and polishing and putting away, until no surface in the house is uncluttered and there is a noticeable scent of Windex in the air and you begin to think about reorganizing the pantry or tackling the “messy drawer” that is found in every kitchen.  But then a kernel of doubt creeps in, and you wonder whether you really want to spend your whole blessed Saturday on a room or a drawer that is just going to end up in three weeks looking like it does right now, anyway.

By then, the cleaning wave has been spent.  It has crashed onto the shores of “messy drawer” reality, leaving you dazed and your place ready to greet the Queen of England — so long as she doesn’t go into the pantry or pull open that drawer.  And you think:  “You know, every house really needs a messy drawer.”

My First Phone Number

The other day the Jersey Girl and I were discussing the wonderful movie Lion, and specifically the part where a five-year-old boy, suddenly finding himself in a strange city a thousand miles from home, was unable to communicate his home town or his mother’s name — but nevertheless could fend for himself and survive for months.

Could we have done the same?  As five-year-olds, would we also have been unable to communicate to the authorities about how get us home?

rotaryphone-jpeg-size-custom-crop-755x650I’m quite sure that, at the age of five, I didn’t possess the kind of hardiness, stoicism, and long-term survival skills “Saroo” showed in Lion.  (After all, he and his brother were out stealing coal from trains and using other techniques to try to help feed their family, and I was just growing up in a small but tidy house in Akron, Ohio.)  But, I did have one thing that Saroo apparently lacked — my mother drilled all of the little Webners relentlessly, so we would memorize our names and our phone number.  Even as a small boy, I knew my name, my street, my city, and that seven-digit number that someone could call to let my parents know where I was.  And, in fact, when I went wandering around the block on one occasion, I told the nice people who found me my phone number, and they called and Mom came and got me.

Even now, 55 years later, that same phone number comes immediately to mind.  I can’t remember the phone numbers I had in my college apartments, or when Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., or in our first homes after moving back to the Columbus area, but I remember that first phone number with ease.  It’s as if the drilling with Mom at the kitchen table as I ate another bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter morning engraved that phone number into the deepest synapses of my brain, where it can never be erased.

Of course, it’s totally useless information now — but still, it’s kind of comforting to know that I still remember something from so long ago.  Mom did a pretty good job.

Crossword Morning

It’s another grey winter day in Columbus.  I woke up early and started puttering around the house.  I picked up the German Village Gazette, our local weekly newspaper, saw it included the New York Times Magazine crossword, and thought: this is a perfect day to tackle a crossword puzzle.

I used to do crosswords from time to time — often on planes, if the people who sat in the seat before me hadn’t already marked up the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket — but it’s been years since I’ve dusted off the mental thesaurus and given it a go.  In the Webner clan, however, crosswords are a long and storied tradition.  Dad was a big crossword fan, always doing them with a back felt-tipped pen, and Aunt Corinne is an ace.  She would particularly like this one, because the unifying theme is grammar, and that’s her bread and butter.

If you haven’t done a crossword in a while, getting the knack again takes some time, but I got a few words and acronyms at the bottom of the puzzle, and it started to come easier.  Once I figured out the puns for the theme — i.e., “Santa’s nieces and nephews” = “relative clauses” — it came easier, and an enjoyable hour later I was done, and set my pen down with satisfaction.

The experts say crosswords and other mental puzzles help to keep the brain synapses sharp, and I think it’s true.  There’s a strong pun element to crosswords, of course, but the clues also often make you think of the world and the words in a different, slightly off-kilter way.  A three-letter word for “Bull’s urging”?  Red, perhaps?  Nope!  It’s a Wall Street “bull” that we’re supposed to think of, and the correct answer is “buy.”

Sometimes, thinking of things in a different way is a useful exercise.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Paisley has arrived for her brief stay with the Webners, and immediately she upset the well-oiled rhythms of our household.  For one thing, she follows Kasey around wherever Kasey goes — no surprise there, dogs are pack animals and Kasey’s the leader of the pack — and Kasey clearly finds it unnerving.  At heart, Kasey’s a loner . . . which is why seeking some solitude behind boots and shoes seems like a good idea.  And, of course, when tiny puppies are around you worry about accidents, and chewing, and stains, and curious little pooches getting trapped in inaccessible areas where they can’t get out and you can’t get in.

Who’d have thought that an impossibly cute eight-pound bundle of fur could cause such chaos?

Today the upset will end, as Paisley heads up to her new home in Hamtramck and Kasey gets to get some sleep and slide back into her leisurely lifestyle.  

A New Pup in The Family

Russell and Emily decided to get a pooch to add to their household, which already includes a cat.  We’ve become big fans of rescue dogs — Kasey taught us an important lesson there — so today Kish drove down to Athens to pick up Paisley, a beagle mix.  (Kasey’s taught us a good lesson there, too.)

I’m not sure if Paisley will keep that moniker, but I do know one thing — puppies are cute, no matter what their name.