What do you get the girl who has everything, when that girl is your mother and shes turning 80?
Apparently not Rick James singing "Super Freak."
"Too much hard rock and people of color talking about some kinky girl," Mom said from Florida after listening to the second batch of songs Id loaded onto her iPod.
It is not easy making a running mix for your mother, when shes so fussy about what revs her engine.
I thought I had nailed it the first time. That one had too much rap, she said.
What was I thinking?
Id paid too much attention to studies that say the way to move that body is to build a soundtrack with tempos of 120 to 140 beats per minute, roughly the same as those of a well-exercised heart.
So there were lots of raucous grooves by Outkast ("Ms. Jackson") and Nelly ("Hot in Herre") and Black Eyed Peas ("My Humps") light on the bad words because while my mom is proudly liberal, she is also a lady.
Turns out my mother runs on hope.
"I like that She drove a Plymouth Satellite song," she said, picking up a lyric from the B-52s "Planet Claire." "And that Mr. Jones is back in town has a good beat. I like that." That was Talking Heads.
"But what I really liked was that song, Stay Positive."
That ones a gritty, mid-tempo number by a young British bloke known as The Streets.
"It was sort of inspirational," she said. "He sings about people who have a lot of problems, but it had a good message. Its so hard to relate to some of these people people in desperate straits, street people, junkies. I have empathy for people who try hard and cant make it. Its hard to relate to those who live on the street and smoke crack."
Mom plays her iPod Shuffle as she runs along a manicured lakeside path, well-watered palm trees sheltering her from the baking sun. She does a mile one way, then a mile back, moving so slowly that she keeps pace with her walking partner, Selma, who is 84.
The last time I ran with my mother, I had to do a bee dance next to her, continually circling so I wouldnt lose her. A social creature, she nods to every soul she passes.
When the weathers foul, my moms still at it, relentlessly rounding her condos hallway.
When my folks first started flying south, about 20 years ago, her new neighbors were not sure what to make of her.
"I had a woman who was in her late 80s. One day she opened her door and said, You know, youre going to wear out the carpet."
"I told her, But Im only here six months of the year so Ill only wear it out halfway."
Mom said shes starting to ease up. She used to run three miles. Now she does two. But she doesnt miss a day. Her energy, she said, comes from her father, who played softball deep into his 60s.
"I dont feel old," she said, pans clattering in the background. "Thats because I have a lot of discipline. I think thats the secret. If you dont have discipline, everything slips through your fingers. Youve got to have a plan."
Her problem, she said, is that she has too many things to think about with the birthday approaching menus, weather forecasts, travel arrangements, the health of friends, the health of the country. It keeps her up some nights.
"All right, dear, do you have enough? Ive got to make dinner for your father."
Yeah, just one more thing, Ma. Happy birthday and thanks. Ill be bringing down a real gift from your children and grandchildren when I visit for the weekend.
Its a tiered necklace by some fancy New York designer, something pretty to wear because its important to look good while youre running in paradise. Dont worry. Nothing could slow you down.