Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mama Bear

Over the years, my kids have teased me when I’ve thrown my arm across their chest anytime I brake hard in the car. You know what I’m talking about; chances are good your mom did the same thing to you.

I know it’s presumptuous of me to think my arm is going to do more than a factory-tested seat belt, but alas, it’s instinctual for a mama to protect her young, even when her young are both taller than she is at this point.

On Dec. 2, our 15-year-old daughter and I were hit by a car. The driver t-boned the passenger-side door where Lily was sitting. Neither of us saw it coming, and it wasn’t until Lily’s window shattered and her side air bag deployed that I realized what was happening.

After the initial impact, the oncoming car pushed us across three lanes of traffic, up over the curb of the sidewalk, and along a chain link fence until we finally came to rest, narrowly missing a telephone pole in the process.

What probably lasted five seconds felt like 10 minutes, and the most vivid thing I remember is my hand reaching out to grab Lily’s arm – not quite able to make it up to shield her chest. Instinctual responses persist, especially during crises.

The paramedics waited with us until Craig came and took me to the hospital where I spent the night for observation, having fractured four vertebrae during the collision. Miraculously, Lily was cleared and suffered only surface cuts and abrasions from the broken glass and air bag. She played in a lacrosse tournament a week later.

I’m at home recovering, resting and spending most of these days being still ¬¬- none of which are my resting state. People have been amazing, bringing me slippers to the hospital, dropping off meals at the house, providing Lily rides to her activities, sending texts that make me laugh and generally being the hands and feet of Jesus. And through it all Craig is ever present and helpful. I am blessed.

I know it’s not my arm that protected her. My silent prayer continues to be “Thank you, God.” If anything, I’m aware now, more than ever, of how little control I have over anything that happens to my kids.

Despite that knowledge, I don’t think I’ll stop throwing my arm across their chest anytime soon. It’s just what a mama does.

“But You, O LORD, are a shield about me. My glory, and the One who lifts my head. Psalm 3:3

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cheering for the home team is not so easy

There's an old English proverb that says, "Home is where you hang your hat." As someone who has lived in 10 different places during my married life, I understand that concept.

Still it's difficult for me to point to one place on a map and say, "That's home for me."

Never before has my sense of homelessness mattered, but now it does.

The upcoming National Championship game is between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks, and I have one foot in each camp. As an Ohio native and resident until age 25, I feel torn between Ohio, my childhood home, and Oregon, my home since 1997.

We've been in Roseburg for 18 years now, and for my children it is the only home they've known. But their relatives are all back in Ohio. My kids have sweet memories of visits to Ohio in the summer ... catching fireflies in jars and camping in the woods of Mohican State Park.

I call myself an Oregonian, and I refer to Roseburg as my home, but I catch myself saying, "My friends back home" when I'm referring to our Ohio pals.

I thought I might find some clarity in literature and poetry. First I came upon Emily Dickinson who wrote "Where thou art, that is home." That would be Oregon. But then T.S. Eliot had to confuse things by writing "Home is where one starts from," which would be Ohio. Thank you, poets, for once again confusing matters.

My husband, an Ohio State University alumnus, has no such ambivalence. He is rabidly anticipating the upcoming game. This year, as every year, he wears his alumni colors proudly on his car, his sweatshirts, his baseball hats and pretty much anything that will sit still long enough for him to affix the Buckeye symbol on it. Our children were sung the Ohio State fight song as a lullaby. We even have a bottle opener that plays the fight song each time we use it.

I thought about choosing my allegiance based on the merit of the people living in each state, but that's a tough call. Both states are made up of strong, resilient people. The Oregon native is known for his independent spirit, seeing that many of his ancestors were the original pioneers who ventured here on the Oregon Trail. But put an Oregon Trail ancestor head-to-head with a survivor of an Ohio winter and, I have to tell you, it's going to be a toss-up.

In fact, I remember as a child seeing Ohioans proudly wearing T-shirts that read "I survived the blizzard of 1978" like they had run the Boston Marathon. Those Ohioans are proud of living through hellish winters, and they will tell you so - anytime, anywhere. Their weather is the stuff of legends, and they love to recount the time they couldn't open the screen door "for the 4 feet of snow blocking it."

As someone who has lived in both states, I can say the Oregon Trail and the Blizzard of '78 are equally impressive and took equal parts endurance.
So what am I to do?

As much as I love living in Oregon and proudly call it home, I have to say that marriage and heritage have to take precedence here. I have to be true to my Ohio roots.
Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel in 1940 titled "You Can't Go Home Again," and I guess that sentiment is true. But I plan on cheering for my home team Jan. 12, wearing my scarlet and gray proudly.

And truth be told, I don't want to actually move back to Ohio. Why? Have you HEARD how bad their winters are?

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Kindergartener’s Christmas Story

A few years ago, when our youngest Lily was in Kindergarten, I sat down with her classmates and we discussed the meaning of Christmas. Their insights were just what you would expect from a five year old – entertaining, inaccurate, yet full of certainty.

The first question was simple: Why do we celebrate Christmas? One little girl said, “We celebrate Christmas because that’s the day Jesus was born. His father, Joseph, sawed boards for a living and his mother, Mary, took care of Jesus all day.”

Next question: What happened on the day he was born? Lily’s friend Mia, said, “His parents went to a little temple and they put baby Jesus in the hay with a blanket, and they had a donkey and animals.” A little guy got so excited to contribute that he shouted, “Oh, and when he got born, an angel went there to the wise men and said, ‘I have great joy!’” Then according to Lily and two other girlfriends, the wise men brought the baby Jesus some gold stuff in a little gold basket, a bottle with smelly stuff in it and some mercury.”

I decided to switch gears a little bit with my line of questioning: Where does Santa live? One little boy was absolutely confident when he said, “Santa lives in the North Pole, which is on the moon.” But his buddy next to him countered: “No, it’s at the bottom, I mean the top. Is it the bottom or to top? Oh, I don’t know!”

And what is the North Pole like? One boy had an extensive description: “The North Pole is like an arctic place and it has Christmas trees and whole bunches of elves and reindeer that have magic in them that make them fly.”

“Really?” I asked, completely surprised. He giggled. “They can fly?” I gasped. ”How in the world can they do that?”

One little girl explained patiently, “His reindonkeys fly him to our houses.”

“Okay,” I said, “but HOW do they fly?” The guy who thinks the North Pole is on the moon started moving his arms up and down, saying, “The reindeer fly by flapping their feet,” he demonstrated.

After his display, I think I caught him rolling his eyes at the others as if to say, “Can you get a load of this goofy lady? She doesn’t even know reindeer can fly!”

Next I asked them what Santa does in the North Pole. Flappy-armed boy spoke to me patiently, as if speaking to a child, which is ironic, if you think about it: “The elves live there and work and work and Santa’s their boss.”

Which begged the question: What does Santa’s wife do? One girl told me very plainly, without a hint of a smile, “It’s Miss Santa’s job to fix the T.V.”

Next I asked them how on earth Santa gets the toys from the sleigh into their house. Much discussion took place around the chimney, and they all assured me they don’t make a fire on Christmas Eve so Santa doesn’t get burned. One shy little girl finally spoke up: “My mom leaves the door unlocked so he can get in. We make chocolate chip cookies because he loves chocolate chip cookies. And sometimes we pour milk for him too.”

Then I asked, Have you ever actually seen Santa? One boy said that he’s tried, then added, “But I’m usually very tired at that point.” And his buddy said his family camped out on the floor but still didn’t spy him. “He must have turned himself invisible,” he explained.

Of course I asked the obligatory question of the season: Were they naughty or nice this year? Without fail, they assured me that they had all been nice, but one honest boy added, “Sometimes we can be a little bit naughty.”

Last question: If you could say anything to Santa, what would it be? I expected to hear additional gift items to add to their lists, or questions on how he does it all. But instead a little girl’s response caught me by surprise, which seems appropriate, given the fact that this holiday is all about surprises and wonder.

She smiled and whispered, “I’d say, ‘Santa, I hope you have a fun time.’”

The end.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Say cheese

It’s that time of year again … the time when I start thinking “I really should get an ‘official’ family photograph taken so we can send it with our Christmas cards.”

Every year our refrigerator is covered with our friends’ family pictures, each one more beautiful than the last. Here is one family frolicking in a pile of leaves, tossing a few in the air, laughing at some private joke. In another the kids look like they stepped out of a J. Crew catalogue immediately after getting their braces off.

And every year I have the best intentions of getting my brood all together in some lovely outdoor setting and taking a picture that captures our essence as a family. But instead we end up with a candid shot of the kids thrown in front of the fireplace with a string of twinkly lights wrapped around them for a festive touch. Or the four of us, shivering in the snow at Lemolo Lake on our trek to find a Christmas tree, which, in theory, sound lovely. But our smiles are always off, more grimace than smile, because we can’t find a tree that doesn’t look like Charlie Brown’s, our feet are soaked to the bone, someone forgot the Hershey’s bars for the s’mores, and we are somewhat tired of the sight of each other.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sure, these are still technically considered family photos, but not the family portraits of my childhood. What I’m saying is they are NOT Olan Mills Portrait Studio.

If you did not have the pleasure of experiencing an Olan Mills Portrait Studio as a child of the ‘70s or ‘80s, you missed out on a cultural event. Kids, think Awkward Family Photos and you can envision what I’m talking about.

And my mom LOVED her some Olan Mills, much to the chagrin of her four daughters.

Despite the fact that my sisters and I were all in various stages of the awkwardness that is adolescence, my mom insisted that we get dressed up and get our family portrait taken.
This was the era of feathered hair, cowl neck sweaters and gaucho pants. Yeah, we were styling. And thank goodness someone forced us to get photographic evidence of these days (she said, sarcastically).

Stepping into an Olan Mills Portrait Studio felt like stepping into Kojak’s apartment … shag carpet, groovy music, and indistinguishable smoke smells. The lighting was dim, which I suppose was to create a mood, but instead created a sense of anxiety and doom.

Inevitably the “photographers” were middle aged men down on their luck, making minimum wage forcing people to pose in positions that, 30 years later, require regular trips to the chiropractor.

“Here, you - you in the Marcia Brady ponytails - come and sit next to your sister but with your back to the camera. Now put your arm around her shoulder and look over your shoulder.”

My oldest sister would mumble out of the side of her smile, “Yeah, ‘cause this is always how we sit at home.”

Poor guy. He had no idea the sarcasm that was eking out from behind those smiles, but to be completely honest, none of us were happy to be there, the photographer included.

I was always intrigued by the nature backdrops in the studio. The photographer would lower a screen with a picture of a forest in the background and we’d stand in front of it, fully clad in clothes you’d never wear in the forest. Never mind that there was a park with trees RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE STUDIO. But he’s the “photographer,” and this was clearly the more artistic and natural approach.

So as I take another crack at a family photo this year, at least my kids can rest assured that we won’t be heading to an Olan Mills Portrait Studio. However I see quite a few leaves collecting in our back yard and I feel a frolic coming on.

Now, if I can just find those gaucho pants…

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Family, like fish, are only good for three days

I just booked a trip to Ohio for my niece Maggie’s upcoming wedding. It’s a real circle-of-life moment for me, seeing that Maggie was our flower girl at our wedding 22 years ago.

I’m hoping it will be a fabulous visit. It has to be better than our visit four years ago.

How could it possibly be worse?

The hosts in this case were my sister Peg and my brother-in-law Jeff, parents to the bride-to-be Maggie. They are lovely people with, as you’ll see, amazing patience for me and my brood. It was just me and the kids (hubby had to work) so I assumed it would be no big deal, right?


The first incident occurred within minutes of my arrival. I took my suitcase up to the guest room to unpack. I went over to open the shades and they collapsed on my head. As I balance them above my head, trying to re-insert the ends into the hardware, the curtain rod fell down as well. I tried my best to replace the shades but later in the night the whole contraption fell again.

Our second night there we made popcorn, caught fireflies and watched a movie with the kids. Someone (the jury’s still out on who) put the popcorn kernels down the drain, causing the garbage disposal to emit a groan that was not unlike a dying seal. I found Jeff at the sink, his arm in the disposal up to his elbow, pulling them out one handful at a time.

On day three I thought I would redeem our family name by running out to the store to stock up on some grocery items. I was borrowing my niece Maggie’s car during our trip, and when I started to back up out of the driveway I slammed into something. I looked out the window just in time to see the back hubcap rolling in the yard. Upon closer inspection I realized that I had struck the basketball hoop’s post.

Later that day I overheard Jeff say to Peg, “Our ice maker in the freezer is broken.”

“I wasn’t anywhere near the thing,” I yelled across the room, exasperated by the carnage that was piling up, seemingly as a result of my family’s presence.

Then Lily and her cousin were playing in the garage and decided to pull the garage door rope down, disengaging the automatic door opener, thereby trapping Jeff’s car inside until we figured out what had happened. At this point, I was ready to call the airline and get us on an earlier flight home.

Instead, I decided to do a load of laundry and ended up accidentally washing Nathaniel’s iPod among a load of darks. I immediately put it in a bag of rice since that had worked for my cell phone a couple of months ago. Jeff looked skeptically at the bag, and asked, “What happened here?”

I assured him that this would work, as it had before, and he said, “Yeah, but you dropped your cell phone for a moment in the toilet. The iPod rattled around in water for an hour.” Sad but true, Jeff was right and the iPod died that night in Ohio, alone in its rice tomb.

On day four, the last day of our visit, Peg asked Jeff, “Do you think it’s a Burmeister curse?”

“No, because they’ve stayed here before,” answered Jeff. “But then again, they’ve never stayed this long…”

“You know, I can hear you guys,” I reminded them, sitting across the table, a mere inches from this discussion.

So here we are, four years later. I can only imagine the conversations Peg and Jeff are having anticipating our arrival …

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer who lives and works in Winchester. You can reach her at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Monday, August 11, 2014

From the nursery to the dorm room

I remember before our first child was born, I spent hours upon hours imagining, planning and decorating his nursery to welcome him home. Craig and I settled on a stars and moon theme for the room and I started purchasing everything with constellations I could find.

Of course this was early in our marriage when we were dirt poor, living off of the humblest of salaries while we finished graduate school. Let’s just say we ate a lot of Ramen.

So I did what every poor, non-crafty person does: I found crafty friends to help. One friend helped me make the bedding for the crib out of dark blue fabric with metallic gold stars on it; another friend helped me refurbish a hand-me-down chest of drawers so we could paint it like a dark, cloudy sky and then stencil gold stars on it; another friend helped me make curtains to match the crib bedding.

I then went in search of quotes that referenced the stars and sky and created them into wall hangings.

So why did we spend months in advance of our baby’s birth painstakingly decorating his nursery? Because we wanted this little bundle of joy to know from the moment he opened his eyes each morning that he was loved, safe and home.

Last weekend, however, when it was time to pack up that little “baby’s” room for college, we were done in a matter of hours.

How did that happen?

We went from Lego pieces strewn across the floor, a life-size Han Solo figure and a Yoda talking doll (sorry, action figure) to nothing more than a teenager’s clothes, books, musical instruments, laptop and a cell phone.

There are no longer any signs of Lego pieces anywhere in his room. Han Solo, while still cool, is nowhere to be found. Yoda, thankfully, was out of order after a certain parent took a hammer to him after he shorted out and wouldn’t stop saying “Tired, you are” at 3 a.m. (I was exhausted.)

As far as I could see, only one thing remained in his room that had roots in his childhood: the fleece blanket. I received this full-size blanket for Christmas one year in college, and for some reason, Natty adopted it at a very young age. As I stand at the door of his almost empty room, I can see it among the blankets on his bed.

Just the other day he asked me, “Do you mind if I take the fleece blanket up to school with me?”

Of course I smiled and said, “No, I don’t mind at all,” as my eyes filled up with tears.

As we head up today to take him to school, I may not be able to decorate his room like I did when he was about to be born. Yet our goal is still the same for him today: We want this young man to know from the moment he opens his eyes each morning that he is loved, safe and home.

I’m hoping that everything we’ve taught him over the last 18 years has communicated this message clearly, but just in case, it’s good to know the fleece blanket will stand-in to convey the same message for us.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alive women don't wear plaid either

I went shopping the other day and realized, to my horror, that plaid clothes are making a comeback. The mere thought of this makes me shudder.

I’m not a big fan of plaid clothing. Never have been; never will be. And I don’t mean I just don’t care for plaid, I mean I break out in hives and start itching at the mere thought of plaid clothing, which is eerily similar to the physical response I have at the sight of clowns. But I digress.

Why do I feel so strongly about plaid, you might ask? Two words: Catholic school.

Beginning in first grade, I was given the plaid uniform to wear EVERY DAY FOR THE NEXT EIGHT YEARS. Think about that … outside of weekends and summer vacation, I had no choice whatsoever on what to wear for a solid eight years.

There ought to be a therapist who specializes in this, but you’ll be surprised to hear there is not. Trust me, I’ve checked.

Sure, at first I was excited to wear the uniform, especially since I had watched my three big sisters march off to school in their matching uniforms (in the ever-lovely colors of forest green, gray and black, I might add). But once the novelty wore off, it became a bit of a grind.

“Wasn’t it nice to not have to give a second thought to what you’d wear each day?” friends ask, meaning well.

Sure, just as much as you’d like eating the same breakfast of a hard-boiled egg every day for EIGHT YEARS, I think.

Too much of a bad thing is just – well, bad.

Never mind the feeling of suffocation these restrictions placed on my freedom of expression by the time I was in eighth grade. I wanted to be adventurous, experimenting with respectable clothing choices, such as leg warmers, parachute pants, and jean jackets (with the collar turned up).

Can you say “Hello 1980’s?”

As if it wasn’t awkward enough to be a 13-year-old in the early ‘80s walking to and from school in this hideous plaid monstrosity, there were other hurdles to jump.
Exhibit A: The Bay City Rollers. In the late ‘70s, the Scottish pop band was promoted as the “tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh.” I’m sure that is because nothing says rock-and-roll like matching tartan plaid outfits on grown men, am I right?

Exhibit B: The Outsiders. The book read by all middle school students portrayed the gang fights between the Greasers and the Socs (short for socialites). In the book the Greasers are the well-meaning, mistreated and misunderstood underdog while the Socs were just jerks. Of course, every time a Soc is mentioned he is wearing a … wait for it … Madras plaid shirt. I rest my case.

Exhibit C: Daisy Duke. Back in the ‘80s the Dukes of Hazards was popular, as was Daisy Duke, the racy side-kick country girl who had a penchant for plaid shirts. Of course Daisy tied her plaid shirt above the waist and wore hot pants, neither which is acceptable dress under the Catholic School Girl Dress Guide of 1981.

Now, I can wear gingham shirts (the younger step-brother of plaid, which was just not brave enough to cross paths with one another). I can even wear argyle (the slightly off-balance sister of plaid).

But if the ‘80s film is right, and “Real Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” neither does this girl. Ever again.

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer in Winchester, Ore. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Mama Bear

Over the years, my kids have teased me when I’ve thrown my arm across their chest anytime I brake hard in the car. You know what I’m talking...