Friday, July 30, 2010

Well, it ain't Ozzie and Harriet...

I consistently suck when it comes to anything that requires a commitment. (The exception would be my cell phone contract, and they not only required a two-year commitment from me, but I also had to promise a kidney and some bone marrow as needed.) I keep telling myself that I could do great things with my life if only I would commit to the process of making it happen. But, in my true slacker fashion, I keep running into the same brick wall every time I think of ways to enrich my life and the lives of those around me. You see, achieving these “great things” requires more energy and stick-to-it-ive-ness than even a truckload of Red Bull and a serious pep talk from Lance Armstrong himself could afford me. And, unfortunately, I’m really okay with that.

I was thinking about my lackluster sense of ambition the other day (while surfing the internet for some obscure 80’s song…you know, instead of applying to grad school or teaching my children to speak French), and I realized that I should try to put a positive spin on my negative track record of completely failing on the follow through. (It must be all this pink and green I’ve been wearing lately that is making me look on the sunny side!) So, I tried to come up with something – anything - that I’ve committed to and actually stuck with like I promised. I could only come up with one thing: I have been with the same guy for twenty-three years.

I’m a horrible wife in every sense of the word. I’m not sure, but it might possibly have something to do with the fact that I have this teeny, tiny, little issue with needing to control everyone and everything I come in contact with. In our wedding vows, we (umm…I) decided to remove the part about “obeying” because I didn’t want to lie right there in front of God and everyone. It’s still a mystery as to why this man didn’t turn and run screaming in the opposite direction from me on our wedding day. I mean, it’s not like I’m a super model who does charity work. My feet smell bad, and I hog the bathroom. You would think that after two and a half years of dating, he would have collected his combat pay and moved on to some sweet doctoral candidate who works with orphaned children and enjoys baking cupcakes for the elderly shut-ins. But, he stayed.

I am difficult with a capital B-I-T-C-H. I have always been a My-Way-Or-The-Highway kind of gal, and he decided to stay on that bumpy road any way. Carol Brady, I am not. I don’t administer shoulder massages after a tough day at the office or sit back while The Man of the House has the final say on issues that affect us all. (Although, I would totally dig having an Alice to live with us for cooking, cleaning, and the occasional madcap adventure.) Even after witnessing my ranting and raving over hand washing and bed pillow placement, he stayed.

What I lack in compassion, I make up for by being completely unsympathetic. Whenever an illness befalls him, he knows to look elsewhere for someone to feel sorry about it. The exchange goes something like this: "Oh, you have a cold?  Well, I gave birth to two children without one, single ounce of medication, so, you know, suck it up."  Doesn't it make you want to rush right out and make me your bride?  Honestly, I'm not sure why he still hangs out with me.  It must be my lasagna...or my awesome brain full of useless music trivia.

So, there you have it.  I did do something I said I would do.  I promised to stick with this guy through the good and the bad, and I actually followed through.  (He can, without a doubt, attest to the fact that we have had more than our share of bad.)  He has put up with The Queen of Mean and lived to tell about it.  It's too bad they don't make a Purple Heart for Courage and Bravery Under Fire from a PMS-ing Know-It-All,   because this guy has certainly earned it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Monday, Bloody Monday

My children are well versed in the “Rules of Engagement” that I have laid out for them regarding how they are to interact with me during the sixty minutes each day when I am exercising. I do not feel even one ounce of guilt for demanding that my kids allow me this uninterrupted "Me" time to get in my workout and, hopefully, de-stress enough so that I can avoid feeling so stabby all the time. My children are preparing to enter first and fifth grades, so I am confident that they can find an acceptable (and hopefully quiet) outlet of entertainment for that snippet of their day when I am forging a sweaty, desperate attempt (mostly in vain) to make my body look like it doesn’t belong to a forty-something mama.

The laws I have imposed for them during my workouts are very easy to understand. The first one is Leave Mommy Alone. This is sort of a blanket rule that can mean “don’t start a fight with each other that I will have to referee”, or “don’t ask me to inspect your butt for cleanliness after a bathroom visit”, or “don’t plop down directly in front of me and recite your Christmas wish list”. If you can’t get Barbie’s new snow boots on yourself, then she will have to remain barefooted until I’m finished. Ken won’t mind at all. They know that if there are no eyeballs dangling out of sockets or dismembered limbs, they should steer clear while I am in The Yoga Zone.

My children usually do fine with this rule, although there have been several occasions when a fight has erupted, and I have shouted from a down dog position, “You two are NOT adding to my peace!” (I really, really suck at the introspective, meditative part of yoga.)

The second rule is even easier to understand: If Mommy is exercising upstairs, you are not allowed, under any circumstances, to go downstairs. Period. I don’t care if you want another cheese stick. I don’t care if you left your library book in your backpack. I don’t care if you are suddenly stricken with a thirst so extreme that only Juicy Juice can quench it. No one goes downstairs. However, one afternoon in May, this rule was busted all to Hell, and what happened next goes down in the “I Told You So” Hall of Fame.

The morning of what has come to be known as “Monday, Bloody Monday”, I was the first out of the house. Later, as my husband and children were getting ready to leave for school and work, my husband pulled out a small, never-before-seen-by-me pocket knife and showed it to my son. (Okay, here is where the stories differ. My son swears that he was told he could have this knife for his very own. My husband balks at this version claiming no such promise was ever made.) It’s not like we’re hunters, though. What good would come from giving a knife to a ten-year-old boy who isn’t going for some sort of Boy Scout badge? Is he going to whittle himself a harmonica from a hickory branch? Have there been frequent bear attacks in our suburban neighborhood? No and no. Call me crazy, but I fail to see any sensible reason to heavily arm a kid.

I was halfway to Zen that afternoon when I heard a faint sound coming from my son in the stairway down the hall. “Mommy.” I didn’t respond, assuming that he would just come into my room for whatever he needed, as usual. “Ooowwww…my finger.” He wasn’t crying or screaming, so I didn’t break out of my pose to inspect what I figured to be nothing more than a pinch. (Call me a bad mother if you want, but this kid is a worse hypochondriac than I am, so unless I hear true pain or fear in his voice, I tend not to jump when he says, “Ouch”.) I heard him coming down the hall, not running or full of panic, but just walking and calling for me. When he entered the room, I turned around to find him holding his arm up over his head with blood free-flowing to the floor. (Now you can call me a bad mother...)

I grabbed him and rushed into my bathroom. “I cut my finger” he said. I didn’t bother to inspect the injury because with the amount of blood all over him, I was afraid of what I would see or, more specifically, what I might not see. I thought he may have cut part of his finger off, and the idea of my son’s hacked up fingertip lying in the hallway made me just a little woozy. I jerked a towel from the rod and quickly covered his hand in order to stem the tide of blood.

I stood there for a minute trying to wrap my mind around my son’s appearance. He looked like he had just brutally slaughtered a large cow. Not only was his arm covered in blood, but it was also splattered across his glasses and face, in his hair, all over his clothes (front and back), and on his feet and legs. There was blood dripping all over the white counter and sinks, and trailing down the cabinet to the floor. “I was trying to close the pocket knife, and it cut my finger when it snapped shut” he told me. “What knife?” I asked as I mustered the courage to take a peek at his finger. He very meekly replied, “The one from the drawer downstairs”. Downstairs, huh? Grrrrrr… Apparently, he crept down to the kitchen as quiet as a mouse, and while slinking back to his room with the contraband, the knife snapped shut...on his finger.

Once I realized I was dealing with only a cut and not a severed finger, I began to regain my composure. We followed the trail of blood (literally) from my bathroom and headed toward the stairway where this unfortunate incident took place. I was stunned. It was as if I was standing on the set of “CSI: Miami”. There was blood everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It was all the way down to the first floor, and a good nine feet up the wall in the landing. I’m guessing he took that blood-spurting finger, held it up in the air, and shook it while jumping around on the stairs. I was all at once impressed and disgusted.

I picked up the phone to call my husband, and with every ounce of self-righteousness I could channel, I announced, “You need to come home right now. Number One Son cut his finger on the knife you gave him, and he’s going to need stitches.” (As it turned out, my husband didn’t actually give him the knife, but as a controlling and grumpy be-yotch, I never miss an opportunity to rub his face in my parental perfection. That’s probably why he loves me so much.)

With my husband and son off to urgent care, my daughter graciously volunteered to help with the clean up. We scrubbed and sprayed and scrubbed some more. I found out that blood doesn’t willingly come out of carpet, and it took several chemical concoctions before we finally claimed victory over the carnage. (Peroxide…who knew?)

My son ended up with four stitches along the side of his ring finger. Did I lecture him? Yessirree! Did I explain the many ways he could have killed himself with this little pocket knife? You betcha! Did I instill a morbid fear of All Sharp Objects In General and how it’s nearly impossible to escape death when walking around with one of these instruments of destruction? I sure hope so!

So, when all was said and done, and he was safely at home and drinking the Milkshake of Guilt my husband bought him on the way back from the doctor visit, I’m sure it’s no surprise what my last words on the accident were to him: “See? This is what happens when you go downstairs after I tell you not to…”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kickin' and Screamin'

Hell has frozen over.

Right about now, Adolf Hitler, Leona Helmsley, and whoever those evil guys were who invented the bikini and the thong are toasting me with a tall, frosty glass of lemonade and basking in the delightful change of climate down there. Recently, I had a sudden change of heart that flew in the face of my best laid plans. I broke down, gave in. My weakness resulted in a nice, chilly breeze ruffling through the Devil’s goatee today, for I am becoming something next month that I swore I would never be: a Soccer Mom.

I know that I have made many far-reaching, sweeping declarations regarding things I will “never” do. It’s a ridiculously long list that is now mostly obsolete. Some of my “nevers” include:

1. I will never have kids.
2. I will never have pets.
3. I will never drive a mini-van.
4. I will never chop off all of my hair. (I break that one at least twice a year.)
5. I will never go to the beach in July.
6. I will never shop at Wal-Mart again. (Why do I keep declaring that one?)
7. I will never waste an entire afternoon watching an “LA Ink” marathon.

Needless to say, I really suck at follow through. (Umm...hence the name of this blog.)

I thought I was safe from soccer. My son has about as much interest in playing sports as a sober Lindsay Lohan has in going to church bright and early every Sunday morning. He would rather ride his bike, draw pictures, and chase turtles than don a helmet or cleats and chase a ball. When my daughter came along, I pictured myself molding her into the Barbie-loving, toenail-painting delicate flower that I thought a little girl would be. Geez, was I ever wrong. She would be just as happy knocking around a baseball as she would be playing dress-up. She will kill a bug for you or carry bags of groceries for you or help you clean splattered blood off the walls (you know, in case there is an unfortunate pocket knife incident).

She scares me…in a good way, of course.

Actually, I can see myself living vicariously through her. If I had not been present at her birth, I would swear that this child was not mine. She is everything I’m not: ambitious, confident, vivacious, athletic. (Let’s not confuse my type of athleticism with the real thing. Mine was bred from vanity. Her athletic endeavors blossomed from a pure love of the sport.) She will be the popular girl who makes friends easily. She will be that pretty girl who makes the other girls secretly jealous because she gets straight A's in her advanced courses while lettering in cheerleading, volleyball and academics. She's the girl I always wanted to be but never quite made it happen.

So, at five and a half years of age, when she told me that she wanted to play soccer, how could I refuse those big, hazel eyes? The day I received the confirmation of her soccer league registration, I was sure I heard what sounded like an air conditioner come to life and the voices of rejoicing, long-dead sinners from way down below. Once again, I had to eat my words.

It's official. I did it. I just booked up every one of my Saturday mornings in autumn for games and a night or two a week for practice. I see sensible shoes and cases of Gatorade in my future. The upside is that my sweet little girl gets to show off her ball-kicking prowess and her penchant for upstaging any boy who thinks he has the cojones to actually challenge her. She’ll learn what it means to be a part of a team and, at the same time, maybe she will burn off some of that maple syrup she puts on everything. (We seriously think she may be part elf. She prefers to stick to the four food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.)

There is one little thing about my new-found title of Soccer Mom that keeps me up at night, though: Does this mean I have to buy a mini-van now?

Friday, July 9, 2010

There is no such thing as too much butter.

My mama knew her way around a kitchen the way I know my way around the prepared foods section of the Harris Teeter deli. She was, without a doubt, the epitome of a Southern Cook. I loved the way she would whip up a batch of buttermilk biscuits from scratch in less time than it would take me to figure out how to crack open a tube of the refrigerated Pillsbury variety. Every meal was rife with girth-inducing comfort food that would never fail to leave you feeling fat and happy. I certainly can’t say the same for my own culinary exploits. It’s fairly common to hear my husband say, “Hmmm, I want something, but I’m not sure what” after finishing one of my meticulously prepared (not) meals. Sadly, I didn’t inherit the Sweet Potato Pie gene from my mom’s side of the family.

Now that summer is in full swing, I have been thinking about my mama more than usual. It was two summers ago that she lost a quick and painful battle with cancer. I find myself remembering where I was each day of that summer, how I felt and the sights and smells that went along with it. I have flashbacks of the faces belonging to the mostly forgotten elderly patients, sitting in their wheelchairs that dotted the hallways of the nursing home. I recall the aroma of freshly-baked cookies that the hospice nurse offered us daily during the last week of my mama's life and the sickly-sweet scent of the flowers that littered the entire first floor of my house after her funeral. I can still plainly see the fear and pain in her eyes as I left her each evening to return home. I wonder how many summers I will commemorate those gut-wrenching days.

I have made an uncharacteristically optimistic decision to use my energy to remember one thing about my mama that always made me feel better: her cooking. Yes, long-term exposure to her cooking would put you at a much higher risk for heart disease, but the downward spiral toward plaque-filled arteries was a delicious ride, a ride that included chocolate-covered peanut butter balls, fried okra and buttery, homemade, mashed potatoes. That being said, I have created a "Greatest Hits" list of my favorite tasty Southern dishes prepared by my mama. These calorie-laden concoctions forced my rapidly expanding rear-end onto a treadmill and a strict diet at the age of twenty-two:

Cornbread Dressing: It’s my all-time favorite green food at Thanksgiving and Christmas. What? You say that you have never seen green dressing? Then my mama could have taught your mama a thing or two about the proper use of sage. There is no such thing as “too much”. And if your dressing comes out of the bird itself, then you just may be a Yankee.

Potato Salad: There are just so many wannabe’s and imposters out there. First of all, potato salad should NEVER be white. If your salad isn’t sunshine yellow, then you are missing a very important ingredient: mustard. I still have never tasted potato salad that was exactly like my mama’s, ever so slightly creamy, a tad bit tangy and always delicious.

Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese: Her mac and cheese was, simply put, nectar from the Gods. It was gooey and luscious and you were willing to risk third degree burns to the roof of your mouth because you didn’t want to wait for it to cool. I would even make a cold macaroni and cheese sandwich with the leftovers. (On white bread, of course) This manna from heaven was scrumptious hot or cold.

Fried Chicken: I was lucky enough to be a kid whose mother came home from a full time job and made fried chicken from scratch instead of dragging that red box of Banquet “Severely Breaded Mystery Chicken Pieces” to the oven. It was one hell of a mess to clean up afterward (a job my brother and I unfortunately shared), but the smell of it cooking would make you woozy with delight. To top it off, we always had home-made, hot, baked buttermilk biscuits on the side.

Chicken and Dumplings: Ah, yes, the coup de gras, if you will. It is my all-time favorite. If her chicken-fried steak didn’t send you to the doctor for a blood pressure check, then this amazing dish would certainly finish you off. Let me just say for the record to all of you folks who think you know how to make chicken and dumplings that the use of refrigerator biscuits is strictly forbidden. Likewise, if you use canned chicken instead of carefully boiling a whole chicken and lovingly taking it off the bone, then you have just cheapened the World’s Most Perfect Food. This is not a dish that can be perfected by taking shortcuts, people. If you can’t find the time to make biscuit dough from scratch, roll it out and plop those baby dumplings into the fresh chicken stock to blossom, then you just need to take your double boiler and go home.

Even though my mama was a strong Christian woman, there is no doubt she would have made it into heaven on the merits of her cooking alone. She seemed to enjoy watching us devour her goodies, and many times after I became a staunch believer in “less fat equals skinny”, she did her best to goad me into a piece of fudge here or a helping of pumpkin pie there. My mother may not have discovered a new planet or a cure for cancer, but her lasting legacy of mouth-watering Southern vittles is one I can really sink my teeth into.