Category: Questions

Houston, What Was My Problem?

A quick story about how an off-the-cuff comment can haunt you for the rest of your life, and then a question for you:

So, it was a Sunday morning.

In our house, Sunday mornings are spent hunkered down at the kitchen table, my husband sifting through the inserts while I work the crossword puzzle. The kids eat their breakfast early and then are quickly shooed away; the husband and I like to talk — completely unedited and without disruption.  You know, like two….adults.

Second cups of coffee turn into third and fourth cups of coffee, and minutes turn to hours as morning threatens to become afternoon.  But who’s watching the clock?

We instead watch cars and neighbors navigating their own Sunday routines, the large picture window framing out a sort of reality TV.  We comment on the ordinary and analyze the mundane, but that’s part of the fun.

It’s Sunday, after all.

Sunday mornings are just….easy.  Easy and nice.

So, on this one particular Sunday morning, the husband and I were doing our usual — he, comparing lawnmower prices from two different ads, I, gnawing on a Bic pen as I contemplated a five-letter word for “spectacle.”  I’m pretty sure we were on our third cup of coffee.  The kids were long gone.

Safe to say, I was blissfully absorbed in “Sunday.”

Which is probably why I had my guard down, so to speak, though I still contend that there should be no need for such “guard” in your own home in front of your own husband — especially on a Sunday.

Anyway, I guess I had my guard down, because I made a comment that I am still hearing about, and likely will continue to hear about until one of us dies or at least becomes senile.

Thinking I had solved 1 Across, I inked S-C-E-N-E into the top left of the crossword grid.

Five-letter word for “spectacle” is “scene,” I reasoned.

But then, by my later estimation, “scene”  didn’t work with some of the surrounding clues.

Damn it.

All caps in blue ink is a bitch to correct.  My crossword was gonna look a mess, and I had just started.

I bit my lower lip as I lifted the magazine from the table, holding it square in front of my face.  Maybe a different perspective and a better view would somehow make it “right.”

No….it was definitely wrong.

I drew in a deep breath as I set the puzzle back down on the table.  Hunching over, I propped my elbow up and rested my head on the upturned palm of my hand.  I grabbed my coffee cup, and as I drew the cup to my mouth — but before taking a sip — I said:

Houston…..we have a problem.

I don’t know why I said that, because I never say that.  Like, ever.

But I said it, and I said it seriously.  As in, long and drawn out and contemplative, and punctuated by a heavy sigh — an even more dramatic delivery than the astronaut’s, who, in a moment of distress, made that phrase famous.  Only, I wasn’t an astronaut in distress.  I was just a mom in her robe at the kitchen table, coming to terms with a few errant letters on a crossword puzzle.

Houston, we have a problem?” repeated the husband, his eyes wide with mild shock and his grin slightly mocking.

I looked up to meet the husband’s eyes and immediately looked away.

WHAT –?” I challenged.

I knew “what,” though.  I sounded like a complete nerd.

“Houston…..we have a problem?” the husband repeated, now laughing.  “Oh, babe…..really?”

“Shut up, [husband’s name],” I fired back, now feeling my cheeks flush.  “I was just being silly.”

“Baby….no you weren’t.  You were serious,” he teased.  “It’s okay…..” the husband trailed off into more laughter.

With my legs outstretched and my feet snuggled into the husband’s lap, I felt even more vulnerable.  Like a rabbit trapped in a snare, having to watch the hunter load his gun.  I couldn’t figure a graceful way to recover my legs and feet, so I just sat there partly frozen.

This comment provided the fodder for a few more minutes of gentle heckling before the husband became once again engrossed in his inserts.

I went back to my crossword, deciding that morphing some letters into new letters was much better than scratching out all the letters.  But the whole time I worked to solve the puzzle, my mind kept re-setting to that fateful comment, re-playing it with the exact inflections and cadence.

Houston…..we have a problem.


It was pretty awful, I admitted to myself.


I know I’ll hear about this again tomorrow, I thought.

And I did.

So, there’s my example of how an off-the-cuff comment can haunt you for the rest of you life.  Now I ask you:

Have you ever said something seemingly benign that became the source of your social undoing?  What have you ever said — off-the-cuff in casual conversation — that now makes you squirm to remember it?


Sounds Good To Me

A quick discussion of pleasant and unpleasant sounds:

A few weeks back, I posed a question that asked you to divulge the things that run through your mind as you work yourself into sleep mode.  In my own response, I mentioned crafting really good answers to James Lipton’s Actor’s Studio queries.

For those of you unfamiliar, Lipton closes his celebrity interviews with a quick Proust-like session (“what is your favorite….what is your least favorite…”); the answers — reactive and yet somehow deeply reflective — reveal more about the subject than anything  gleaned from the previous 45 minutes of standard back-and-forth.

I’d like to use today’s post to address one of Litpon’s questions.  As you work toward an answer, try to stay true to your original instinct.

What is your favorite sound?  What is your least-favorite sound?

My favorite sound would have to be a church choir on Christmas Eve.  More specifically, my own church’s choir singing Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I cannot offer any further explanation.  I can only say you’d have to hear it yourself.  When I crave “close-enough,” I listen to the version by The King’s Singers (itunes) — loud, in stereo.  Chills.  The good kind.

My least favorite sound is the sound of the phone ringing anytime after 11:30 p.m.  At my age, no one calling after 11:30 p.m. ever has good news to share.  This sound becomes exponentially worse in half-hour increments:  12:00 midnight, heart races; 12:30 a.m., heart races into eardrums, creating that whooshing horse-trot effect; 1:00 a.m., horses now galloping through ears and down sides of neck; 1:30 a.m., I have been stampeded and am therefore dead.

Close runners up:

My second favorite sound is my husband asking, “Wanna swing over to Lowes and pick up those cabinets for the kitchen renovation?”

My second least-favorite sound is a tie between one of my boys saying, “Um….I don’t feel well,” and the actual sound of  vomiting.

Okay, so on that note, what say you?  What are your favorite and least-favorite sounds?

All The World’s A Stage…

A short essay on whether we notice the weird behaviors of others, and then a question about the last time you were self-conscious:

I remember taking my older son, who was quite young at the time, to a birthday party at the ever-popular play gym in our area.  Because of his age, I elected to stay, planting myself among all the other hovercrafts who were sitting on the good side of a two-way mirror.

The adults looked on as little bodies tumbled and jumped, kicked and rolled and ran, each of us tracking our own child’s every move.  We guided their balance with a fixed and steady gaze.  We helped them land safe dismounts by breathing deep and holding in.

But mostly, we just prayed our kid wouldn’t do anything weird.

As is often the case at events like this, one kid was doing something weird.  And his mother was visibly panicked.  No longer sitting with the other parents, she was standing, thisclose to the glass, audibly coaching her child through his episode as if he could hear her.

I was doing a fairly good job of not paying attention, though it was difficult because she was blocking my own view of the party.  Instead of focusing on my son, I tried very hard to seem incredibly interested in a stack of tumbling mats shoved in the leftmost corner of the play area.

No way would I let on that I noticed a thing.

After several minutes, this poor woman turned to me and gave me “the look” that parents — usually moms — exchange in a quest for a “hey-I’ve-been-there-too” head nod.  I smiled broadly and gave “the nod,” after which she said,

“It’s funny.  We’re all worried about how our kid is coming across in front of the others, but the thing is — nobody notices.  Because they’re just focused on how their kid is coming across.”

I laughed with her and “completely agreed.”

Except, I really didn’t agree.  Because I noticed.  I always notice the weird.

So, I took my boys bowling over the holiday break just last week.

The bowling alley was relatively crowded; families occupied the lanes on either side of us, forcing us to share a ball machine and snack table with lots of people I didn’t know. Other families floated in the background, waiting for an empty lane to come up.  Like I said, there was definitely a crowd.

As I stood up to bowl my turn, I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious.  All at once, I was way too aware of myself:

The way I awkwardly gripped the ball.

The way I sort of sashayed up to position — a half walk, half completely unnecessary gallop.

The way my ugly bowling shoes caught on the waxy floor, causing me to fake-pivot (the best save I could come up with on the fly).

The stupid expressions I could feel myself making once I turned around to face my kids after knocking down only three pins.  What is it with that face, by the way?  The face we make in that precise moment we spin around to go back to our seat…’s like a dopey outtake from the opening credits of a bad ’80’s sitcom.  Look directly into the camera.  Now, give an “oh, gee” shrug, and then shake your head in amused resign.

All of it — every stitch of it — weighed like lead on my shoulders.  It was gross to be feeling so lame.

Now, this very minor crisis was unexpected, I’ll have you know.  The advent of my thirties several years ago brought with them a new found sense of peace.  A peace that helped put such gripping insecurity to rest (mostly).  I learned that I’m not the star of anyone’s show.  Nobody cares.  Really, they don’t.  And they aren’t looking to care, either, so it’s highly likely that no one is watching me — or you, for that matter — so rest easy!

I reminded myself of this,  but for some odd reason, my mind forced upon me the memory of that play-gym party years ago.  Don’t ask me why, but I remembered the weird kid, the panicked mother, the attempt she made to reconcile the awkward situation, and my own private acknowledgment that people do notice these things.

People are watching us.

They’re watching us, and they think we’re weird when we bowl.  Or chew, or dance, or puzzle over a map, or when we ride in cars.

So….today’s question:

When was the last time you said or did something that left you feeling surprisingly insecure?  When was the last time you felt certain you were being unnecessarily weird?

As I mentioned, my moment was four days ago, in a bowling alley.

Now get going with those comments.  If you leave me hanging here, I’m gonna feel…….